Thames Ditton United Reformed Church

History 1804 - 2004

200 years in Thames Ditton

An interesting book deposited in the Surrey Archives which records details of the earliest years of the church states that "The Chapel at Weston Green, in the Parish of Thames Ditton, Surrey, was erected at the sole expense of Jacob Hansler Esqre. and was opened for the worship of God, Nov.21:1804"

In 1804, England was at war and in danger of invasion by Napoleon's troops, slavery was divided question, and Thames Ditton was a quiet backwater. Mr Hansler, a man of means, who did not find a church to his liking, moved here and built his own and brought preachers, mainly from London, to conduct services using the Church of England liturgy. The preacher at the first service was Revd John Townsend, a former minister of Kingston Congregational Church.

After Mr Hansler's death in 1814, Revd James Churchill accepted the call to become pastor and adopted a middle course between the rigid methods of the Dissenters of that time and what he saw as the lax practice of the Anglican church. He introduced a covenant for membership, a practice which continues to the present. James Churchill was a remarkable, dignified man, who achieved national reputation, whilst living in this small village for 30 years. He retired in 1844 and died five years later.

Throughout the history of the church in Speer Road, there has been a repeating pattern of prosperity followed by decay, of apparent death followed by resurrection. Each low point was succeeded by a period of revival and rebuilding often with Kingston Congregational Church and the Surrey Congregational Union coming to the rescue.During the forty years from 1850 to 1890, the church had a chequered history. In 1857 the building was found to be in a dangerous condition and services were held in a member's house, which proved to be unsatisfactory. In 1859 membership fell to four. In 1862 the church became a member of the newly formed Surrey Congregational Union. A deacon from Kingston Congregational church conducted an evening service every Sunday. The attendance increased from ten to over fifty, but history was repeated and in 1882 there was but one member.

For more than 100 years there has been friendship between the Parish Church and ourselves. In 1894, when deep suspicion and even hostility existed in other parts of the country, The Vicar of Thames Ditton, Revd E. H. Rogers attended the occasion when Revd Walter Greig became minister and made a speech showing that he was ahead of his time. It is noteworthy that the two congregations continue in friendship and co-operation to this day.

Mr Greig felt that no church could be effective if its premises were limited to one room. In spite of the congregation being "few in number and poor in circumstance", he launched an appeal for 1200. In five years, in 1899, construction of the present building began and the earlier building was retained as the church hall.

The war years 1914-18 saw a decline in the life of the church. Over the next twenty years a succession of ministers sought to revive the church with no avail. In 1938 the church was disbanded and the premises were let as a furniture store. However there were a few who retained hope in the church's future.

By the end of the 1939-45 war there had been a significant change in the local population and several Methodists in the area explored the possibility of taking over the building. With this indication of Free Church interest, the Surrey Congregational Union decided to reopen the church and Revd Frank Wheeler, a former Moderator, came out of retirement and led the first service on 5th October 1947. He served for two years, during which the church was formally constituted with 37 members from many denominational backgrounds. The long serving Church Secretary at this time was Albert Feasey, the wellknown greengrocer in the village.

In 1949 Revd Jack Newport was ordained and inducted as minister and he encouraged the growth of the youth group and saw a steady growth in membership.

He was succeeded in 1957 by Revd George Williams who initiated the building of the halls on the site of the original church and caretaker's cottage and the provision of a new entrance a foyer. The halls were opened in 1964.

The United Reformed Church, formed by the union of the Congregational Church of England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England, was inaugurated on 5th October 1972 during the ministry of Revd Derek Wales (1967-73)

In 1982 Rosalind Goodfellow was chosen to be Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC which was a great honour for the church

The longstanding friendly relationship with St Nicholas church was strengthened in 1976 by a formal agreement of cooperation between the two churches and is celebrated each year in a joint service. In addition to worshipping together four times a year there are joint social occasions and a Liaison Committee meets. The church is part of Churches Together in the Dittons and supports joint meetings with its sister churches in the area.

The Revd Hamish Maclagan served as minister from 1973 before leaving in 1978 to serve as an Army Chaplain, followed by Revd Keith McNicol (1978-83), who moved to Maidstone URC and is now Vicar at the Anglican church in Willesborough. Kent. Revd Robert Blows came to Thames Ditton in 1985 and served until his retirement in 2002.

The church then had to face the present day problem of smaller congregations and fewer ministers and in March 2003 Revd Gerald Moule was inducted as minister in a shared ministry with Richmond Green and East Sheen URC and we are glad of the opportunity of getting to know our sister churches.

John King

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