London Unitarian Heritage Trail

The presentation is divided into three parts: present day church buildings (1-12); previous church buildings still mainly or partly in existence(13-30); and other sites of Unitarian interest. In the Greater London area there are 11 church or chapel buildings still in use, and six of these date from the twentieth century, which is perhaps a little surprising. The photographs are arranged in date order of the current building, starting with the earliest.

Church Newington Green Church (the oldest non-conformist place of worship in London still in use), dating from 1708. The new façade was added in 1860. It contains several memorials of note, including those to Richard Price (minister for 25 years, 1758-1783), Samuel Rogers the poet, Mrs Barbauld the writer and Samuel Sharpe the antiquarian.
Church Hampstead, quite difficult to photograph; the present building dates from 1862, with additions in 1886 by Thomas Worthington. There were two previous chapels on the same site, of 1692 and 1828. Thomas Sadler was minister for 45 years (1846-1891).
Church Stratford Church, the building dates from 1869 and was designed by T. Chatfeild Clarke. Note the Italianate tower. The last service was held very recently, and the site is to be redeveloped to include a new church. This photograph was taken in 1993.
Church Bethnal Green Church, built for the Congregationalists in 1880, and purchased by the Unitarians in 1889 to house the Spicer Street Mission from Spitalfields; Romanesque façade, with a memorial to Charles Corkran, missioner at Spicer Street for 31 years.
Church Richmond Church, built in 1896 (Unitarian Heritage says that the 'interior is better than the exterior'). Lovely Burne-Jones windows in the apse. The church was joined by the Putney congregation in 1985. A rear extension designed by Kenneth Tayler was opened in 1966, using some funds from the Bell Street Mission in Marylebone which had closed in 1963. Rev Walter Long had held a joint ministry with the Bell Street Mission from 1954-1963. It was named for Catherine Holland (also at Bell Street).
Church Golders Green Church, built in 1925 on land donated by the four Misses Field, daughters of Edwin Wilkins Field MP; the congregation had been founded in 1903 by members leaving Hampstead (see ' Religious Devills' of Hampstead , page 197).
Church Golders Green - interior. The church is in the Byzantine style, and is notable for the semicircular mural in the apse by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979). It was painted in 1919 as a war memorial, and is his first known painting. It was restored a few years ago.
Church Islington - the present building dates from 1958, but no, this is not it. This shows the 1862 building on the same site (no photos of present building). The congregation has a long history, and originated in Blackfriars in 1667 (Richard Baxter was minister for 4 years). It moved to Little Carter Lane near St Paul's in 1734, then moved to Upper Street in 1862 due to the redevlopment of the area. This building was destroyed by bombing in 1940. Kenneth Tayler was the architect of the present building.
Church Croydon Unitarian Church. The present building dates from 1959. The 1883 church was destroyed by bombing in 1941. Inside the church an attractive mural at the front incorporating words from the Wisdom of Solomon provide a focus.
Church Brixton Church. The present building in Effra Road dates from 1962. The first church of 1839 was destroyed by bombing in 1940. The architect of the 1962 building was Kenneth Tayler, who also designed Islington, Putney, the extension at Richmond and indeed the new Essex Hall in 1958. Brixton has spacious grounds and good facilities.
Church Lewisham. The present building has been in use as the church since 1968, but the house is clearly earlier. The previous building in Lewisham High Street (known as the Unitarian Halls) dated from 1910, was badly damaged in 1941 by bombing. It was sold to Lewisham Council in 1967, and it was demolished in 1994. However the 1910 foundation stone was saved and is now in the rear garden of the meeting house.
Church Kensington - the most recent of our London churches to date, the new building opening in 1977. The congregation from Lindsey's Essex Street Chapel moved westwards in 1887 to a new building in Notting Hill Gate and joined a group already meeting in the area. The 1887 building was demolished in 1973 as part of a redevelopment scheme. A new manse flat above part on the church was completed in 2003, allowing the previous basement premises to be altered and rented out.
Church Hackney - the original Gravel Pit chapel building of 1716 survives in Chatham Place off Morning Lane and is now a shoe factory, but it is difficult to believe it was once a chapel. When I was there in June 2004 I was rather surprised to find that the foreman was aware of something of the history, and he proudly showed me a cutting on their notice board. The Gravel Pit had several eminent ministers - Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Belsham and Robert Aspland.
Church The Priestley Plaque on the old Gravel Pit Chapel building was unveiled in November 1985: "Joseph Priestley 1733-1804 Scientist Philosopher & Theologian was a minister to the Gravel Pit Meeting here in 1793-1794". It used to be visible from Morning Lane, but it is now hidden by new housing and is rather difficult to see.
Church The Gravel Pit congregation moved to a new building in 1809, which was itself rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1858 - this is the 1858 building, which closed in 1969. The area was acquired for new housing by the GLC, leaving only the burial ground. This was 're-discovered' by Alan Ruston who wrote about it in The Inquirer in 1996.
Church The burial ground is now surrounded by tall blocks of flats and has been fenced off. This is a general view of the cemetery. However a few years ago new railings and illustrative panels were designed in conjunction with local school children, and after some information had been provided by Alan Ruston ( The Inquirer 3 June 2000).
Church This plaque explains the initiative, and this picture was taken in June 2004: "The railings were designed with pupils from Morningside School in 1999. They were inspired by the natural beauty of the site and the history of the New Gravel Pit Chapel which stood on this site from 1810-1970, and its graveyard".
Church This panel commemorates 10 of the people buried in the cemetery behind. They include John Martineau who was a partner in Whitbread's brewery, Daniel Whittle Harvey the first commissioner of the City of London Police, Rev William Vidler and John Christie, a business man with many interests in transport, mining and the India trade, but who was not connected to the firm of auctioneers as far as I can tell.
Church The panel for Robert Aspland (1782-1845) who was minister at the chapel for 40 years from 1805. He is also buried in the cemetery.
Church The former Bishopsgate Chapel in Parliament Court (near Liverpool Street Station), now the Sandys Row Synagogue, had a complicated history. The building dates from 1766, apparently put up for a Huguenot congregation. The Rev Elhanen Winchester established a Universalist congregation in 1793. He was succeeded by Rev William Vidler who after some years adopted Unitarian views and stayed for 22 years. The congregation moved to a new chapel at South Place in Finsbury in 1824. The building became a synagogue during the 19 th century. The original entrance on the east side (Parliament Court) was replaced by this new entrance on the west side (Sandys Row). You need a good street plan to find it. I was there during an open day in 2003.
Church This illustration shows Lindsey's Essex Street Chapel of 1774 during the centenary service in 1874 (of course on the site of where we are today). The minister at the time was Rev James Panton Ham, but I wonder if the man holding forth is Sir James Clarke Lawrence MP. The Lawrences were a strong Unitarian family, supporting many of our causes in London. It almost looks as if there is a committee meeting going on in front of the speaker! Is there a man in a turban (bottom right, open pew)? I like the coat left over the end of a box pew. The author of the engraving is not known. As you enter the vestibule of Essex Hall today from the street there is still a plaque to Lindsey on the left hand wall ("Theophilus Lindsey MA, sometime vicar of Catterick, Yorkshire, opened this building for Unitarian worship, April 17 1774, and was minister here until 1793". Underneath is a smaller notice which says "This stone was in the original Essex Hall, destroyed by enemy action - July 1944").
Church Blackfriars. Behind the National Theatre on the South Bank you will find Stamford Street, and towards the eastern end are the remains of the once very grand Stamford Street Chapel, namely a classical portico. The chapel dated from 1821 or 1823, depending which authority you take, and the congregation was itself a merger of two older foundations from Southwark and Westminster. The Rev Robert Spears revived the cause at Stamford Street in the 1860s, when it was almost deserted. The chapel closed in 1962, and most of it was demolished shortly afterwards. A plaque remains.
Church Stamford Street plaque. "This portico was the entrance to the former Unitarian chapel erected on this site in 1821. The main body of the chapel (then in disuse) was demolished in 1964, and subsequently the portico was restored by the Greater London Council". The portico now fronts a sports area of the London Nautical School. When I was there a few years ago there were two netball nets attached to the back of it.

23A. South Place Chapel, Finsbury, which no longer exists. The congregation meeting at Parliament Court under William Johnson Fox moved to this new building in 1824. Fox remained minister there until 1852. He was a man of very radical political and social views. Writings in the TUHS in 2003, Andrew Hill says that the London Unitarian ministers disassociated themselves from him because of his 'domestic arrangements' and his 'modern' views on divorce. So the most vigorous and radical of the London congregations was expelled from the Unitarian midst. A plaque remains on the site.

Church Finsbury - South Place Chapel plaque. This plaque is on a building called River Plate House at 12-13 South Place, west of Liverpool Street Station and near Moorgate. The plaque reads: "1824-1927, on this site stood South Place Chapel, minister 1824 William Johnson Fox, 1864 Moncure Conway. In 1888 the society adopted the name South Place Ethical Society".
Church Conway Hall. The society meeting at South Place transferred to new premises in Red Lion Square, near Holborn, in 1929. The building was named Conway Hall after their American minister Moncure Conway, who was minister for some 26 years in two periods between 1864 and 1897. He had been a campaigner against slavery in his home country, and also wrote a celebrated biography of Thomas Paine. Conway Hall is still the home of the South Place Ethical Society, and became well known for its Sunday concerts and for its radical speakers and meetings. The launch of the new William Hazlitt Society was held there last September. Their library aims to be the UK's largest humanist research library. Their website is very good on the rather complicated history of the organisation. There is a statue of Bertrand Russell in the garden of Red Lion Square opposite, now looking rather the worse for wear. The Russell family had strong connections with our Richmond church in its early days.
Church Stepney College Chapel, Stepney Green. The building dates from 1867, and the Unitarians acquired it from the Congregationalists in 1875. The founding minister was Rev Robert Spears, who was secretary of the B & FUA at this time, and clearly a man of enormous energy. The College was the early home of the Central Postal Mission, which did a lot of outreach work and could be seen as a forerunner of the NUF. It was associated with the Suffolk Village Mission. The origins of the name 'College' are unclear, but Sunday afternoon conferences were held. The College chapel closed in 1940, possibly after war damage. Note especially the mock Tudor façade around the doorway on the left.
Church Stepney College Chapel - the remaining façade. This picture was taken in 2001. It is now in the grounds of the local city farm - note the goat on the extreme left.
Church Dingley Place Mission. Several domestic missions were established by Unitarians in the 19th century to minister to the poor and deprived. Perhaps the most well known was the Spitalfields Mission, becoming the Mansford Street Mission in Bethnal Green, but there was also the Rhyl Street Mission in Kentish Town and the Bell Street Mission in Marylebone of which no traces now remain. Perhaps less well known was the Cripplegate Mission operating in the area around the Barbican and Moorgate today. In 1877 the mission moved north to new premises designed by T. Chatfeild Clarke in George's Row, later renamed Dingley Place, just around the corner from Moorfields Eye Hospital today. The mission closed in March 1945, and in 2003 the building housed the offices of the Islington Council Youth Justice Team.
Church Putney Unitarian Church. The Wandsworth Unitarian Church in East Hill was compulsorily purchased for road widening in 1967 (the Wandsworth Bridge approach road). A new building opened on the Upper Richmond Road on 12 October 1968, designed by Kenneth Tayler. In 1985 the Putney congregation decided to sell its building and combine with Richmond . The building is now used by the All Saints Liberal Catholic Church. The site is quite hemmed in, on a very busy road.
Church Last June I had a phone call from someone who leads historic walks in South London. She said that the 1st World War poet Edward Thomas (of 'Yes, I remember Adlestrop' fame) had lived in the area, and she had discovered from his memoirs that he had attended a Unitarian church in his youth. We were able to work out that this must have been at East Hill. It later emerged that Wandsworth Museum were planning an exhibition about the life of Edward Thomas (1878-1917). I went down to see it and took this photo actually in the exhibition. It describes how ET attended chapel with his father, didn't enjoy it, but was quite influenced by it and its then minister, Rev W.G. Tarrant, minister for 37 years (1883-1920).
Church Bunhill Fields Cemetery, off City Road, an oasis of calm in a very busy area. It was a Dissenters' burial ground, long disused but now administered by the Corporation of London as an area of open space. William Blake, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe are here. More to our purpose, Rev Theophilus Lindsey lies here. And not only Theophilus and his wife Hannah, but also the Rev Thomas Belsham and Mrs Elizabeth Raynor, a friend, supporter and fellow worshipper with the Lindseys, lie in the same grave. Bunhill Fields had closed for burials in 1853, but its grounds were re-opened in 1869 by the then Lord Mayor, Alderman James Clarke Lawrence, one of the several notable Unitarian Lawrences (whose own memorial lies in Kensal Green Cemetery).
Church Dr Daniel Williams (1643-1716) was a Welsh Presbyterian minister, but his connection with our movement is the Dr Williams's Library, now in Gordon Square, which houses one of the most important nonconformist collections in the country. This rather fine tomb was refurbished by his trustees some years ago. However it is in the closed part of the cemetery, so you need to ask for access.
Church Dr Richard Price (1723-1791) was minister at Newington Green for 25 years, 1758-1783, and also at Hackney from 1770. Outside the Unitarian movement he is better known these days for his pioneering work on actuarial science and life insurance. As you can see his grave is in rather a poor state. Perhaps we need a campaign.
Church This rather indistinct photo shows a memorial plaque to Thomas Firmin (1632-1697). It is on the back of the tower of Christchurch, Greyfriars, in Newgate Street, just north of St Paul's Cathedral. The tower is almost all that remains of this Wren church which was bombed in 1940, the rest now being a rather attractive rose garden. Thomas Firmin is of interest to us because he was a supporter of John Biddle (1616-1662) who is often called the 'father of English Unitarianism', and also a main promoter of the 'Unitarian Tracts' of the late 17 th century. He was a great philanthropist, making his money as a mercer in the city, and giving most of it away. He was also a governor of Christ's Hospital, a school whose pupils used to worship at Christchurch, Greyfriars. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb were later pupils at the school. Rather sadly the site of Newgate Prison just down the road (on the corner of Old Bailey) is the only place than can be identified with John Biddle, as he died there of prison fever, having been imprisoned several times for promoting his heretical views.
Church William Hazlitt's grave in St Anne's churchyard, Wardour Street, in Soho. This was taken in April 2003 when the unveiling of the new gravestone was performed by Michael Foot, with a large crowd in attendance. This was after a campaign spearheaded by The Guardian to mark the grave properly. Hazlitt was the son of the Rev William Hazlitt, sometime minister of our chapel in Maidstone.
Church This shows the plaque to William Hazlitt (the son) in Frith Street, Soho, on the building where he died in 1830. He is now being re-discovered as one of the most gifted writers and critics of his generation. If you're not familiar with it, I would recommend his essay 'My first acquaintance with poets', which describes how he walked miles through the Shropshire mud to hear the poet Coleridge preach in the Unitarian chapel in Shrewsbury in 1798. This was when his father was minister at the chapel in Wem. 'Hazlitt's' in the photo is now a rather expensive 4 star hotel.
Church Benjamin Franklin House at 36 Craven Street, between Trafalgar Square and the Embankment. He lived here 1757-1770, and it is the only original house still standing connected with him on either side of the Atlantic. There has been an ongoing project for many years to renovate the building, and it has actually come to fruition this week with the opening of the house to the public (BBC local TV on Monday). It is intended that it will be a 'dynamic museum and educational facility'. Benjamin Franklin attended the opening service at Lindsey's chapel in 1774, and he was an intimate of many of the leading radical thinkers of the day including Priestley and Richard Price.
Church This is St Pancras old cemetery, about half a mile north of St Pancras Station. Mary Wollstonecraft was buried here in 1797, and it was over her grave in 1814 that Shelley and her daughter Mary confessed their love for each other. However in 1851 Mary Shelley had their her mother's and William Godwin's remains moved to St Peter's churchyard in Bournemouth because she was concerned about the state of the cemetery. What you see here is the remaining memorial stone to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Their remains in the Shelley family tomb are just yards from where the Unitarian Congregation in Bournemouth now meets in the 'Chapel of the Resurrection'. The family tomb is also said to contain Shelley's heart.
Church Highgate. We now travel north to Highgate, where there are a number of interesting things to see, though sadly not the Highgate Unitarian church which closed in 1961 and was demolished. This picture shows Channing School on Highgate Hill. The school was founded in 1885 at the initiative of the Misses Sharpe (daughters of Samuel Sharpe of Newington Green) and Rev Robert Spears, to provide education for the daughters of Unitarian ministers. It was named after William Ellery Channing. The Unitarian connections may be less today, but Rev Keith Gilley still teaches RE at the school, and there may be some Unitarian governors. The Boys School did not survive.
Church Sir Sidney Waterlow statue. Across the road from Channing School are Waterlow Park and Lauderdale House. Both were owned by Sir Sidney Waterlow, a printer, stationer and one time Lord Mayor of London, whose father held a pew at South Place chapel in Finsbury during the ministry of William Johnson Fox. Waterlow spoke of the influence that Fox had on him as a young man. The last resident of Lauderdale House was Rev James Yates, a founder of the Scottish Unitarian Association. Sir Sydney gave the house and grounds to the London County Council in 1889 'for the enjoyment of Londoners'. This statue was erected by public subscription in 1900, and is said to be the only statue in London showing someone with an umbrella.
Church Highgate Cemetery lies next to Waterlow Park. It was consecrated in 1839 and, according to the London Encyclopaedia, was an 'immediate success', the Eastern part being added in 1857. Many famous people are buried there, including Karl Marx and George Eliot, and our very own James Martineau, who was himself quite well known in the 19 th century. The grave is a little difficult to find, but is in relatively good condition. I usually take my secateurs when I go there to cut back the ivy and brambles. In the same grave are his wife Helen, and their daughters Mary Ellen, Edith and Gertrude. If anyone would like to visit it I can provide directions.
Church Mrs Barbauld's grave. Anna Laetitia Barbauld was the daughter of Rev Dr Aikin. She was a poet and writer, associated with the chapel at Newington Green for many years. This is Mrs Barbauld's tomb in the cemetery of St Mary's old church in Stoke Newington Church Street. This picture was taken in July 1995, but I understand from Annette Percy that the grave is now rather overgrown and barely visible between lime tree shoots. There is also a plaque to her on the house where she lived further down the Church Street, and a Barbauld Road nearby.
Church Sir Henry Tate, the sugar manufacturer, was a philanthropist who provided funds for the library at Manchester College in Oxford and for Ullet Road Church in Liverpool. In London his picture collection became the Tate Gallery, and he also promoted public libraries. This bust is in Effra Road, Brixton, opposite Lambeth Town Hall, with the Tate Library behind. His father was the Rev William Tate , minister in Chorley from 1799-1836.
Church Charles Lamb plaque. Crown Office Row, Inner Temple. "Charles Lamb was born in the chambers which formerly stood here, 10 February 1775, 'Cheerful Crown Office Row (place of my kindly engendure) . a man would give something to have been born in such places'." He lived there til 1817, just round the corner from Essex Street. It was probably his Aunt Hetty who introduced him to Unitarianism. She had wandered into Lindsey's chapel "Finding the door open one day - it was in the infancy of that heresy - she went in, liked the sermon and the manner of worship, and frequented it at intervals for some time after. She came not for doctrinal points, and never missed them" (from London for Heretics ). The Inner temple garden is a haven of quiet in a busy area, and down towards the river is a statue of a boy known at the Lamb Statue, though it is not thought to be of Lamb himself, but so named because he lived nearby. The boy is holding an open book on the pages of which is written 'Lawyers I suppose were children once'.
Church Joseph Priestly statue at 30 Russell Square, the former premises of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (which merged with the Chemical Society to become the Royal Society of Chemistry at Burlington House). This picture was taken in 1992, so I hope the statue is still there and in good shape.

Howard Hague January 2006