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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Disillusion : Dissolution : Re-Formation

Taken from our 1982 history, Chapel Next The Green


The 1860s had begun with the death of Lady Shaw, following which the ownership of the site was secured, and the premises enlarged but with borrowed money. Looking back on 1870, Abraham Slade recorded, on January 1st 1871: 'our own Congregational Chapel does not well fill. Mr Jackson, our minister, has been ill 6 months and the pulpit has been supplied by neighbouring ministers, which does not tend to forward the cause of Christ here (as we have no pastor)'. That year Mr Jackson ended his eventful pastorate and resigned from the ministry. He continued to live in Twickenham at his home, Stowford Cottage, which still stands facing the Green. We now come to a turbulent time in our history.

Samuel Fisher, Minister 1871-1877

Samuel Fisher, came to us in October 1871. He was then aged 42, and had previously ministered at Boxford, Suffolk and at Boston, Lincs. A picture of worship in Mr Fisher's pastorate has been left by the 'strolling correspondent of the fledgling Richmond and Twickenham Times who attended morning service in October 1873 and reported [unedited version]:

"The seats (are) well arranged so that all the congregation can see the preacher. The place he occupies is not easy to describe. It is not exactly a platform, nor is it exactly a pulpit, but perhaps it is more the former than the latter. Elevated on a structure of red and white bricks and partly polished wood and partly painted ... it presents a most singular appearance ... which excites some wonder in the mind of the visitor...

At the chapel door was a circular ... in reference to ... the debt on the building ... (and) another notice which should have an especial interest to the young men of Twickenham. It was headed 'Twickenham Mutual Improvement Society' and ... its meetings are held weekly in the schoolroom.

As a set off against indifferent architecture, the service was in every respect a most pleasant one. The prayers were simple, earnest and impressive; the reading of the lessons was effective and careful; and the unpretentious choir, in many respects, a model one... For really good congregational singing, a more compact little choir could not be desired.

There are some preachers whose faces are an index to their sermons. Of this class is the minister of Twickenham Congregational Chapel. It did not require any great amount of intuitive knowledge to tell the character of the discourse which was to close the engagements of the morning. I anticipated a written, carefully thought-out, logical, and at the same time earnest sermon; nor was I deceived ... Mr Fisher is not an eloquent speaker. He aims at a better characteristic of the good preacher; his words have weight because they have been well considered ... Each thought so clearly followed its predecessor in proper sequence that to summarise such a sermon would be almost impossible.

If my readers desire an illustration of Mr Fisher's preaching ... let them pay a visit to Twickenham Congregational Chapel and hear for themselves. There every attention will be shown them, that courtesy can suggest, and if they spend in the chapel as pleasant a morning as did the writer of this notice last Sunday, they will be amply repaid for their visit"

The debt is cleared

1870s fund raising poster

Mr Fisher's ability extended beyond the pulpit. When he came to the Church it was, as Abraham Slade had foreseen, weighed down by debt incurred from the rebuilding, totalling £1100. Clearing this was made a priority, and on May 5th 1874 a thanksgiving meeting was held "to commemorate the extinction of the long standing debt". The chairman of the meeting, Mr E.Nicholson of Colne House, had evidently promised £50 subject to the debt being liquidated within three years. Samuel Morley MP had promised a sum of £100 on similar terms. The chairman "was sure that the greatest amount of praise was due to their minister who seemed to have a call to kill debts". Mr Fisher had solicited 920 contributions netting £1050. "Many letters had to be written, nearly every house in Twickenham likely to assist was visited, and many in Richmond. To the city, suburbs and neighbouring towns one hundred and fifty two journeys were taken. Twenty five counties were honoured by written and personal appeals and ten long journeys were made in England". Two Bazaars had yielded a further £205, and collecting cards £59.15.3.

Shortly after this a series of 'popular entertainments' was instituted to fund the purchase of an organ but resolve was not so strong this time - in 1877 a replacement harmonium was purchased.

Social concern and controversy

Another concern of Mr Fisher's was to reduce working hours. Addressing the Annual Meeting of the Wesleyan Sunday School in October 1874 , he suggested that many Sunday School teachers who worked as shop assistants could not prepare their lessons adequately and urged all "to do their best to get the shops closed up at all events not later than eight o'clock up to Friday night - seven if they could - and not later than nine or ten on Saturdays". This idea was subsequently adopted by the town grocers, several of whom were nonconformists. His address to the 1875 meeting was more controversial:

"The Rev Samuel Fisher addressed the meeting on the necessity for exercising care in the training of children. He said it had been ascertained that out of fourteen hundred young persons who had passed through penitentiaries, thirteen hundred had been Sunday School scholars. Where was the cause of this? He thought it might be traced in great measure to the practice of holding special Sunday Services for the children instead of training them up to attend the regular services of the House of God. Children ought to be trained to attend the services they were expected to be at when they grew up to be young men and women. He concluded by addressing the children in suitable manner..."

Those of us who have adopted the post-war notion of a 'Family Church' could well find ourselves largely in sympathy with these views, but contemporary reaction was hostile. Several letters were published in the RTT, including one by Mr Fisher, defending and explaining his views.

Whether because of this or otherwise, support for Mr Fisher began to wane. Abraham Slade, who had been elected a deacon in 1872, noted this in his journal:

Feb.28th 1876: "Have taken sittings at the Baptist Chapel - cannot tolerate Fisher's conduct (the pastor of the Independent Chapel)"

Dec.25th 1876: "The past year has been an eventful one ... the turnout of nearly all the Congregationalists and school over to the Baptists"

By September 1877 Mr Fisher had resigned . Shortly afterwards he accepted the position of Secretary to the School for Sons of Congregational Ministers at Lewisham (now Caterham School) though for some while after he continued to live at "The Laurels', Belmont Road, where his wife ran a day and boarding school for girls.


In September 1877 the London Congregational Union (LCU) requested its West District Committee (WDC) to confer with the Church. With the agreement of the Church, the WDC had formed a committee to superintend the Church. On 16th December 1878 the LCU General Committee was advised that:

"The divisions in the Church and Committee were such as to give no hope of any good being done by the one or the other. The District Committee recommend that the Church should be disbanded. The following resolution passed at a Trustees meeting held on 12th December was read: "That we are of the opinion that it is desirable that the Church at Twickenham should be dissolved and that the Chapel and schools should be used for a time as a mission station for public worship and instruction: and we are prepared in the event of this course of action being adopted to ask the London Congregational Union to take the direction of the work for a tine and give them our sympathy and aid in carrying out the same."

It was resolved that the District Committee be empowered to act with a view to disbanding the Church and the Secretary was empowered to continue the supply of the pulpit."

Oversight from Revd George Walker

Acting on this, the Rev George Walker was engaged to take charge of the fellowship. Revd R.Macbeth, minister of Hammersmith Church and WDC Secretary reported to the General Committee on 17th March 1879:

"that the Church had been dissolved, that services were being continued, and that the Trustees were prepared to cooperate with the Union if the Union would provide supplies... The W. District Committee recommended the General Committee to sanction the engagement of Mr Walker to supply ... It was agreed that he be engaged for six or 12 months ... and a grant of £100 be promised. The understanding to be that this appointment did not constitute him to be the pastor."

George Walker was to supervise the work of the Church for two years. Noted in the RTT was a series of fortnightly lectures was started in November 1879. The lectures included 'Longfellow, his place and power as a poet', by G.S.Ingram, former pastor; 'American Humour' and 'Ferns of Devon', by George Walker himself; and reflecting an interest in the 'new technology' of the time, 'The Phones: Microphone, Telephone and Phonograph', by J.E.Greenhill.

By March 1880 the WDC were having second thoughts and recommended the ending of "the engagement with Rev G.Walker, who gives the impression of busybodying in two or three Churches at one time". The Church expressed an opposite view, so the LCU agreed to continue the arrangement "with the hope that it will not be unduly prolonged". In February 1881 Mr Walker wrote to the LCU stating that "if a greatly reduced grant was made for the half year he would leave at the latest by the end of June" . To encourage him on his way the grant was promptly halved to £25 for the half year!

This left Mr Walker with little option but to leave, though for several years after he was writing to the LCU complaining that he had not meant to be taken seriously. During this period he published two editions of 'Sermons preached at Twickenham Congregational Church'. His last pastorate was at Long Melford, Suffolk (1884-1894), after which he remained out of charge until his death in April 1908.

Towards re-formation

To ascertain the situation for himself, Revd Andrew Mearns, Secretary of the LCU, conducted the services on July 3rd and 17th 1881, and reported that "the total number present on the Sunday was about 50 in the morning and 100 in the evening including the boys from Fortescue House".

Within two weeks the LCU engaged a young man, Aurelius Gliddon, to take charge of the Church. Mr Gliddon had trained for the Methodist ministry at Headingly College, and until March 1881 had been a Wesleyan chaplain to the forces in Malta. He quickly made an impact in September it was reported to the LCU that "the attendance at the Sunday services and the weekly offerings had considerably increased". The following month it was reported that "the Trustees are anxious for the Church to be reformed and a mortgage raised to pay off all liabilities".

In January 1882 the LCU agreed that the WDC could proceed with the arrangements for the re-formation of the Church. Before these were completed Mr Gliddon took a short break, and on March 16th married Margaret Lelean at Ebenezer Chapel, Guernsey. It was a gesture of confidence in the future that was not to be misplaced. On their return the delighted members of the congregation held a reception for the couple, the RTT reporting that "Mr Gliddon had only been the minister of the Church for eight or nine months, but has during that time won the esteem and regard on his people". Slight journalistic licence - but it was not to be long before he was minister. With his new wife, he moved into a house in Popes Avenue, which he rented from Abraham Slade.

Aurelius Gliddon, Minister 1882-1884

"Notice is hereby given that a Meeting will be held on Thursday 27th April at 1/2 past 7 o'clock in the evening in the School Room of Twickenham Congregational Chapel for the purpose of considering the desirability of reconstituting the Church worshipping in the Chapel, and if thought desirable of taking steps to carry into effect the decisions of the Meeting. All Communicants and other persons desirous of attending are invited."

It is with this meeting that our surviving Minute Books begin. Present at the meeting were the Rev Andrew Mearns and the Rev R.Macbeth, who was elected to the chair. The minutes record:

Mr Mearns said that the legal formality of reading a notice on the 2 preceding Sundays having been complied with, the Friends present were therefore competent to form themselves into a Church and carry out the wish already frequently expressed. Proposed by Mr J.R.Cole, seconded by Mr T.Franklin, and carried unanimously: 'That it is desirable that a Congregational Church be now formed in this place'"

Mr Mearns then read a declaration outlining the principles of a Congregational Church and invited those present to assent to it. "He again read the declaration and whilst doing so all whose signatures appear on the page overleaf stood up agreeably with this request and signified by holding up the right hand their willingness to join the Church and their assent to the above declaration... Mr Macbeth then said 'after what has been done you are a Christian Church, and having assigned to you all the responsibilities and privileges of your position you should proceed to organise yourselves. It is necessary to have someone to preside over, take the lead and carry out the ordinances and appointments of your Church. God has shown you whom you should choose"

Not surprisingly Mr Gliddon was then unanimously invited to accept the pastorate, and Mr Macbeth vacated the chair in his favour. A vote of thanks to the two visitors for their help and interest was then passed. At this meeting 38 members signed the declaration.

On June 1st five Deacons were elected: Alfred Child, John Cole, Thomas Franklin, John Gould and Frederick Venn. On June 20th the Rev R.Macbeth presided over Mr Gliddon's ordination; Andrew Mearns and George Ingram (of Richmond Vineyard, our minister 1854-64) also participating. The Trust Deed was restored to the Church, nest of the original trustees signing a memorandum to it.

The new Church had inherited debts of nearly £200 and a special effort was made to clear these. Mr Augustin Spicer (of Spicer Bros, the paper firm) donated £50 and persuaded the LCCBS to reduce their claim on the Church by a further £50. The Jubilee Fund of the LCU contributed another £50, and by February 1883 the debt was cleared.

For the second time in ten years an organ fund was then started. During this time the pastoral work of the Church went on uneventfully. In late 1883 it was agreed to place the schoolroom at the disposal of the British School Committee and on 31st December the school was re-opened.

It came as a great disappointment to the members when in February 1884 Mr Gliddon tendered his resignation "in order to take up missionary work in Paris" (another report says because of ill health). He ended his pastorate on 30th March and shortly afterwards resigned from the Congregational ministry.

The 1891 Census shows him in Cheltenham, occupation 'manager of medicine depot', the 1901 Census, living in St Albans, 'Patent medicine drug vendor', elsewhere recorded as being the UK distributor of Count Mattei's electro-homeopathy remedies: his book Stepping Stones to Electro Homoeopathy being one of the authorities on the subject. Mr Gliddon died in Croydon in 1929. His daughter, Katie Gliddon, born in Twickenham in 1883, was a noted artist and suffragette.

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