Forty years ago my history of the Twickenham Congregational Church (Twickenham United Reformed Church from 1972), Chapel Next the Green was published. This post and the one that will follow are about the researching and production of the history respectively, not the history itself. For this refer to the book itself or the church website.
I always had an interest in local history and having grown up in the church I had heard all sorts of stories of its past. Back in 1951 the then church secretary, Reg Peirce, had put together a history to mark what was though to be the church’s triple jubilee (150 years).
Some time in the 1970s I thought that it was time for an updated history and the church meeting agreed to me producing this. I had no background in historical research – at the time I was a council building inspector – and my original plan was to do a relatively quick update to Reg’s history. But I’d started on a journey which would last a good few years.
My starting point was with the church archives, such as they were. These included copies of leaflets, reports and other items of interest (including a programme for the 1902 Centenary Bazaar) and, most importantly, Church Meeting and Deacons Meeting minute books starting with the re-formation of the church in 1882 after a very testing few years. I soon realised I would need to read through these minutes twice: on the first read you get the facts, but because you don’t know what will happen next it’s hard to tell what is or isn’t significant. Needless to say, all this reading and note taking took an extended period.
By now I had a picture of church life from 1882. My next step was to visit the United Reformed Church History Society’s library. Congregation Yearbooks furnished obituaries of the church’s ministers back to the 1850s and sundry other information.
But now I had a problem. Reg’s history (probably based on Andrew Mearns’ 1889 London Congregational Church Directory: “1800 Church formed by B.H.Kluht assisted by Lady Shaw and Dr Leifchild“) left me puzzled. Debrett’s Peerage had failed to provide a suitable Lady Shaw. There was no Rev Kluht active at that time – only one who wasn’t born until 1816. And I’d also found that First Cross Road where the church stands was a result of the 1818 Enclosure Award; before this it was part of Twickenham Common.
And then the penny dropped. What if Reg’s history was wrong? Yearbooks from 1862-1884 stated that the church was founded in 1838. All fell into place: Lady Shaw became such on her 1834 marriage to Sir Robert Shaw at Twickenham Parish Church. Benjamin Kluht came to the church as its first minister in 1840. During his seven year pastorate the first chapel was built on land at the rear of Sir Robert and Lady Shaw’s garden.
Then as I widened my research I found the December 1835 certificate of registration of Lady Shaw’s school room as a place of worship which can be taken as the birth date of the church. Now it all made sense.
My research took me to the Greater London Record Office, the Congregational Library at Caroone House, Dr Williams Library, the Guildhall Library, the Public Record Office and British and Foreign School Society Archive. And I made a visit to the elderly Rev Harold Bickley who had become the church’s minister in 1916. The more I knew the more there was to discover. But given that the aim was to publish an updated history, I had to stop somewhere. The decision was made to have a special weekend marking the centenary of the re-formation of the church on 27th April 1882 and so work switched to assembling all my research into a coherent account. Next month I’ll try and recall how this was done.