Last Sunday, after ten years in suspension, ‘All Souls’ Church in Northcote Road was reinstated as the parish church for ‘St Margarets-upon-Thames’. After a simple ceremony involving a bell, a book and the handle on the old church door Revd. Richard Frank was also installed as its Vicar.
In the 1870’s and 1880’s, when people started moving into the new houses in north St Margarets they must have thought that they had everything that any aspiring Victorian family could hope for – schools, shops, a couple of pubs, open spaces for recreation, a railway station up the road, running water inside and flush toilets out. The only thing missing was a local church – so in February 1886, with the help of the Bishop of London’s Fund, they bought a patch of land on the corner of Haliburton and Northcote Roads for £530 - and built one. The “Iron Church” was a temporary structure and it was soon obvious that it would not be large enough for the rapidly growing population in the area.
By January 1898, working to a set of plans borrowed from a church in Acton, they had constructed a splendid brick church and they called it ‘All Souls’. It was large enough to accommodate up to 500 worshippers, with an organ, a high wooden ceiling supported on 10 columns and to mark its status as the parish church of the newly created parish of St Margarets upon Thames, a statue of St. Margaret set on an arch over the main entrance.
For over a century this popular church served the community and its parishioners well. Together they mourned the death of Queen Victoria, saw their young men off to two World Wars and in 1953 celebrated the Coronation of a new Queen. By the 1990’s however, as the church approached its 100th birthday, attendance was in decline despite the efforts of its small, faithful congregation.
Eventually it became clear that ‘All Souls’ was no longer viable, either communally or economically. With developers showing a marked interest in the large corner plot ‘All Souls’ and its status as parish church was placed “in suspension”.
In 2000 Michael Colcough, the Bishop of Kensington, came for one final visit before making a decision on the church’s future. As he walked around the area he realised that although the church appeared to be fading away the community that it had once served was not. There were young families moving in. Old homes were being modernised into new homes. There was a vibrant new community out there and it was looking for a focus. Michael Colcough realised that all the old church needed was a new congregation.
His first step was to invite St Stephen’s Church in East Twickenham to ‘plant’ a small group from its own congregation into ‘All Souls’. Led by a curate 50 people stepped up to the challenge, bringing to ‘All Souls’ a lively, more informal type of worship and a substantial financial gift towards the repair and upkeep of the church. Encouraged by this new sense of purpose ‘All Souls’ blossomed into a vibrant hub of community life. Now there is a regular weekly congregation of around 200 along with a nursery group and a mother and toddler ‘drop-in’ centre. There are ballet and art classes in the church hall and active engagement with local scout groups and residents associations.
Helping to carry the revitalisation forward is Revd. Richard Frank who came to ‘All Souls’ in 2005 as “Priest-in-Charge”. His work and that of his team and congregation were recognised last Sunday when he was formally inducted as Vicar by the Area Dean of Hounslow and the Bishop of Kensington. After 10 years in suspension ‘All Souls’ was also reinstated to its rightful place as parish church for St Margarets. The ceremony of ‘collation’, which took place in front of a crowded congregation, was a mix of thanksgiving worship and arcane ritual involving signing a book, ringing a bell and with Richard’s hand resting on the handle of the church door, formally accepting responsibility for the church and its parish.
None of this would have happened had it not been for the parishioners of St Stephen’s Church who ten years ago came and ‘planted’ themselves into ‘All Souls’. Without their generosity of spirit and willingness to support what seemed like a failing church ‘All Souls’ might now be another of those “luxury executive home” developments that speculators dream about. Whether or not you have faith our community is richer because of it.
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 1, Verses 11 and 12
Since the ‘All Souls’ plant St Stephen’s Church in East Twickenham has repeated the exercise on the Ivybridge Estate in Isleworth and at St Saviours in Sunbury.
– from Martyn Day
Credits: Photographs by Amanda Day