Stories & People – Paper 3

Extending the Community (1):


in the Reformed Churches of England and Wales 1901-2000














Paper 4, Building a Vocational Community, is a broadly-based ecumenical study of people in building and church/ministry.

My aim in this further paper is to extend the concept and sense of community by examining the Reformed Churches of England and Wales in the 20th century.

The source for this work is:

Taylor, John and Binfield, Clyde eds (2007)

Who they were in the Reformed Churches of England and Wales 1901-2000

United Reformed Church History Society

ISBN 978 1900289 825  

I am grateful to the United Reformed Church History Society for permission to quote extensively from this source.



John Taylor and Clyde Binfield, with a team of biographers, have compiled the stories of leading people in the Reformed Churches in England and Wales in the twentieth century. Their purpose is to hand on the story of ‘Who They Were’. They comment:  

Anyone browsing in the book will become aware of the diversity it exposes. The fabric of British life, distinctively patterned, is displayed. There are pioneering missionaries, politicians, ecumenists, hymn writers, scientists, social reformers, administrators, teachers and benefactors. There are industrialists, architects and journalists as well as the expected academics, theologians and preachers  (Taylor and Binfield p xi)

In this Paper I have drawn out from their work some of the details of contributions made in the particular field of building and built environment, categorising them under the following headings:

1.      Built environment professionals                                      

2.      Building-related philanthropy and public service             

3.      Local church and community building projects               

4.      Theological college building projects                                           

5.      Building-related central church activities                         

6.      Building-related overseas and mission projects 

7.      Special relationships to buildings

Some general observations follow the detailed sections below.



Taylor and Binfield give information on three people whom I would regard as mainstream built environment professionals, by which I mean they practice in the community at large for a range of clients but are clearly identifiable as belonging to the Reformed churches. Two of them, Thomas Figgis and Percy Horder are architects and one, Thomas Mawson, a landscape architect. 

Involvement in professional life over and above day-to-day practice is evident in Mawson who was the first President of the Institute of Landscape Architects . Horder’s brother Gerald (1877-1939)’ was an admired quantity surveyor, marking out that new profession’.

Two further members of this group are Oliver Lancelot who was a builder and Francis Salisbury whose early career was as a stained glass artist.  

Figgis, Thomas Phillips (1858-1948) FRIBA Architect

Articled in Dublin , Figgis moved in 1882 to the London offices of AE Street and John Belcher, studying at the Royal Academy and travelling in France and Italy . In independent practice by 1889 he developed an impressively versatile portfolio matched by influential clients.

His work included:

Moorgate Station, headquarters of the City and South London Railway The Coopers’ Company Schools, Bow               

Woolwich Polytechnic                                                 

Radium Institute (behind All Souls’ Langham Place)          

Conversion of St John’s Lodge, Regent’s Park

Houses at Bickley, Hampstead and Letchworth

Training Colony for Men, Wallingford

Home for Epileptics, Lingfield

Church-related projects included:

St Andrew’s PCE, Ealing

St Ninian’s PCE, Golder’s Green

St Columba’s PCE, Oxford                                        

Refurbishment of St Paul ’s, Isle of Dogs

Goodspeed House, Poplar

Goodwill House, Poplar, flats for Presbyterian Housing Scheme

Mission Hall, St Mary Abbott’s, Kensington  

( Taylor and Binfield pp67-8)

Horder, Percy Richard Morley (1870-1944) FRIBA Architect

Horder trained under Devey and Williams and struck out on his own at an unusually early age and at unusually good addresses: Bond Street , followed by Arlington Street in St James’s. From the mid 1890’s until the late 1920’s he sustained an enviable practice in ecclesiastical, domestic, commercial and educational buildings. His clients included:

Industrialists    - Jesse Boot; Arthur du Cros (Dunlop Rubber); Lord Bearsted (Shell) and several Harmsworths

Congregational churches       - Muswell Hil;, Fetter Lane, Leyton; Trinity, Hackney; Bowes Park; Bushey; Penge; Brondesbury Park

Other church projects - Silvester Horne Memorial Institute, Church Stretton; Cheshunt College , Cambridge

Horder’s brother Gerald (1877-1939)’ was an admired quantity surveyor, marking out that new profession’.

( Taylor and Binfield pp104-6)

Mawson, Thomas Hayton (1861-1933) HonRIBA Landscape Architect

TH Mawson was one of the most successful landscape architects of his day, with an international reputation. [He] attracted Andrew Carnegie, WH Lever (qv), Gordon Selfridge and the Greek Royal Family but appealed less to Garden City England . His business acumen was envied, his technical skills undoubted but his influence as educator and advocate has been downplayed. His was an exemplary career of self-help and upward social mobility. Its chapel connection provided key contacts at critical moments and chapel values shaped his social and aesthetic attitudes.

He joined his younger brothers in Mawson Brothers, Windermere, concentrating from 1889 on his own practice and by 1902 had offices in Lancaster and London . Besides private clients, he developed a line in civic landscaping, from Hanley to Lord Street , Southport . He became a persuasive author, advocate for a new profession, lecturing at Liverpool University ’s pioneering School of Civic Design (1912-24), and internationally known as consultant and practitioner in North America , Australia and the Continent. Professional honours accumulated. He joined the new Fine Arts Commission. Then Parkinson’s disease struck. From 1924 he was increasingly wheelchair-bound; his inaugural presidency of the Institute of Landscape Architects (1924) was exercised in name only. ( Taylor and Binfield pp150-1)

Oliver, Lancelot (1853-1922) Evangelist

An Evangelist in the Churches of Christ was a builder by trade (he and his brother John put up the Bedlington Meeting House) based in Birmingham ....

(Taylor and Binfield p167)

Salisbury , Francis (Frank) Owen (1874-1962) Portraitist

His father was a plumber. As a lad he became an apprentice at his brother’s stained glass workshop at St Alban’s. Drawing was part of his training [and he became] a celebrated portrait painter. (Taylor and Binfield p198)



I am commenting here on seven people. Two early 20th century philanthropists, Lord Leverhulme, soap manufacturer, and Sir Halley Stewart, brick-maker, built villages for their workers consisting of housing and community buildings including churches. Rowland Lishman’s work similarly embraces housing and community building. Later in the century Sydney Caffyn and Daniel Jenkins were involved with the Meeting House project at the University of Sussex and Bruce Kenrick is the founder of the social housing organisation, Shelter. In the political arena, Lord Stallingborough was Minister of Reconstruction under Lloyd George following the First World War.  

Lever, William Hesketh, first Viscount Leverhulme (1851-1925), Businessman, philanthropist

Lever’s showcase was Port Sunlight, the Wirral works village, and its neighbouring Squires’ village, Thornton Hough, each with its Congregational church. Like Titus Salt’s Saltaire nearly 40 years before, it expressed community for the sake of one man’s firm. Its Garden City appearance, however, 20 years ahead of its time, expressed community for community’s sake. Lever’s interest in the Garden City movement was genuine. He held advanced views on the municipal ownership of land. At Sunlight he developed ‘property sharing’ or ‘co-partnership’ with his work people. Was this secular Congregationalism? It never quite succeeded but within limits Sunlight became a model community....

Christ Church, Port Sunlight (1904), undenominational but vested in Congregational trustees, and St George’s, Thornton Hough (1907)....... are magnificent ‘parish churches’ of Lever’s creation, the former Perpendicular and the latter Norman........ Lever and his brother James (1854-1910) built Bolton ’s finest Free Church, Blackburn Road Congregational Church (1895-97), in memory of their parents, He was the largest contributor to Bolton ’s Old Road Church (1902) and he built and endowed Neston Congregational Church (1902). ( Taylor and Binfield pp129-30)

Stewart, Sir Halley (1838-1937) Business man, philanthropist, politician

In 1900 Halley acquired a firm of brick-makers, which in 1923 absorbed and took the name of the London Brick Company. The business was based on Wootton Pillinge (later renamed Stewartby) which became the largest single brick producing plant in the world.

Though adept at producing wealth, he believed it should be used for others. He devised a co-partnership scheme for the brick-makers and converted Stewartby to a garden village. ( Taylor and Binfield pp219-20)

Lishman, Rowland (1876-1958) Industrialist, philanthropist

Lishman was a trustee of several bodies with sizeable funds and their help and his own anonymous giving largely accounted for a large YMCA, a house for the blind, church buildings, and a large housing development at the east end of North Shields, overlooking the river and out to sea. His Bible Class established a housing trust. (Taylor and Binfield p137)

Caffyn, Sydney Morris (Sir) Businessman, public servant

Caffyn’s service in Eastbourne included chairmanship of the Education Committee and membership of the governing bodies of various colleges and schools. He became deeply involved in the development of Sussex University , serving as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council. The Meeting House (chapel) there, designed by Basil Spence, was funded by Sydney and Annie Caffyn. Daniel Jenkins (qv) also contributed to the design. Chaired the British Council of Churches Committee on the Church and Technical Education. (Taylor and Binfield p23)

Jenkins, Daniel Thomas (1914-2002) Theologian

As Chaplain and Reader in the University of Sussex , Jenkins contributed to Basil Spence’s design of the Meeting House (chapel) funded by Sydney and Annie Caffyn (qv). (Taylor and Binfield p115)

Kenrick, Bruce (1920-2007) Minister, Housing campaigner

The Notting Hill years were his most creative. His lasting legacy ...... is the two housing organisations he founded, the Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) and Shelter. Kenrick was appalled at the housing problems he encountered in London and in December 1963 the Kenricks called a meeting which led to the founding of the NHHT. They raised money ... and they even mortgaged their own house to enable them to buy properties for renovation. This was carried out by volunteers and then the property was rented to those in greatest need. (Taylor and Binfield p123)

Addison, Christopher, first Viscount Stallingborough (1869-1951) Politician

He rose to be Minister of Munitions and then Minister of Reconstruction. (Taylor and Binfield p1)



It is interesting to note the variety of church building projects with which various ministers were identified – church and institute in Leeds , post-war rebuilding in Coventry , a children’s church in Ealing and at Hampstead a new church building and involvement in the sanitary reform of local housing. Brief mentions of work at Stroud Green and in the Potteries and in Sussex are doubtless representative of many similar, unrecorded instances. A road in Bolton becomes Bert Hamilton’s vision of Family Church . Arthur Gray’s retirement project was with Presbyterian Housing and Geoffrey Dimbleby must be representative of many Elders and Deacons involved with church-based housing projects.  

More broadly, Silvester Horne campaigned on behalf of young people against rapacious landlords in London , Frederick Meyer operated a window cleaning business for discharged prisoners in Leicester .

Smith, Bertram (1863-1943) and Wrigley, Francis (1868-1945)

Joint ministers of Salem, Leeds

In 1891 Smith and Wrigley brought to Salem the concept of the Institutional Church which would provide for the spiritual, cultural, social and educational needs of the industrial population of South Leeds ...... In 1906 a new Institute was erected and the church remodelled and extended to accommodate growing numbers. Frank Smith says of 1908, ‘From Hunslet’s rows of back-to-back houses the people came in their hundreds to the light and warmth and vibrant atmosphere of church and institute... The range of activities was amazing...’ (Taylor and Binfield p208)

Cooke, Dr Leslie Edward (1908-1967) Minister

Gatley was growing, the church was growing and the old chapel was replaced by new buildings on a new site. Coventry was a challenge. It had a membership of over 600 and was soon to face the blitz. Devastation led on to reconstruction in which Cooke played a leading role. His friendship with Richard Howard, the Cathedral Provost, bore fruit in the Chapel of Unity and the Christian Service Centre based on the new Cathedral.

(Taylor and Binfield p41)

Rix, Wilton Edwin (1881-1958) Minister

Perhaps his greatest work at Ealing Green was his children’s church. Feeling sorry for a twelve-year old boy sitting, rather bored, in the church gallery, he determined that children should have their own church to go to after joining in the initial worship with the adult congregation. Eventually this led to a new and beautiful building attached to the church. (Taylor and Binfield p191)

Horton, Dr Robert Forman (1855-1934) Preacher

.... through friends in Hampstead he became interested in the beginnings of a Congregational church in an iron building in Willoughby Road where he ministered on Sundays...... The numbers attending grew and thought turned to erecting a permanent building.... The famous architect, Alfred Waterhouse, designed the building, Romanesque in style, hexagonal in form and capable of accommodating 1500 people.

Horton founded a sanitary committee out of his men’s Social Reform League, which sought to get the law applied to in-sanitary housing in the neighbourhood. (Taylor and Binfield p107)

Griffith-Jones, Dr Ebenezer (1860-1942) Minister and College Principal

An active and energetic pastor who was engaged in building programmes at Llanelli and Stroud Green....... (Taylor and Binfield p88)

Baker, Hatty (dates unavailable) Minister

Dissatisfied with churches in Horsted Keynes, she with Sussex Congregational Union negotiated the foundation of a new Congregational Church

(Taylor and Binfield p6)

Harris, William Melville (1862-1939) Educationist

Little is known about his early life and not much about his pastorate in the Potteries except that during his time there a new church building was erected.

(Taylor and Binfield p96)

Hamilton, Herbert Alfred (1897-1977) preacher, educationist

A visionary, in his first pastorate at Bolton Hamilton reflected on the fact that on one side of a busy road stood an elegant late Victorian Gothic church where a membership of 250 worshipped on Sunday mornings, and on the other side of the road stood a red-brick Sunday School where nearly 700 scholars gathered in the afternoon. The gulf represented by that road led him, as Youth Secretary to the Congregational Union of England and Wales , to develop the Family Church concept, which was picked up by post-war churches of all denominations. (Taylor and Binfield p95)

Gray, Dr Arthur Herbert (1868-1956) Preacher

Gray’s retirement in 1932 opened one of the busiest and most important chapters of his life. After a spell working at Kingsley Hall, he engaged in raising money for Presbyterian Housing (Limited) which was building flats and reconditioning buildings for casual labourers and their families in Poplar.

(Taylor and Binfield p80)

Dimbleby, Dr Geoffrey William (1917-2000) Environmental archaeologist, ecologist

Dimbleby was church secretary at ....Trinity St Albans. He chaired the Executive Committee of the St Albans Council of Churches and helped to set up the Churches Housing Association and the St Albans World Poverty Action Group. (Taylor and Binfield p53)

Horne, Charles Silvester (1865-1914) Preacher, Home Missioner

As Superintendent of Whitefield’s Mission in central London , Horne’s objective was to support the young people who swarmed into the capital seeking work and took lodgings locally. He became their champion. As well as opening an institute for them, he engaged in hard-hitting criticism of rapacious landlords and pitiless employers. This brought trouble upon him, including a libel case which, however, he won. (Taylor and Binfield p106)

Meyer, Frederick Brotherton (1847-1929) Evangelical Preacher

Under Meyer’s leadership in the 1880’s, Melbourne Hall in Leicester was a phenomenal success. Most noteworthy efforts were with released prisoners. For nine years, Meyer stood at the prison gates, offering breakfast and advice. He acted as ‘banker’ for many people, provided accommodation and established individuals in business. He himself ran two businesses: selling firewood and window cleaning. (Taylor and Binfield p153)



We can draw out from Taylor and Binfield’s work references to involvement in endowments, fund-raising and development of Mansfield, Westminster and Cheshunt theological colleges.

 Fairbairn, Dr Andrew Martin (1838-1912) Theologian and College Principal

........ was the right man to establish and lead the college, now renamed Mansfield. He arrived in 1886, was immediately thrust into a vigorous fund-raising programme and the new college building was opened in 1889. (Taylor and Binfield p63)

Marsh, John (1904-94) College Principal

In 1955 Mansfield became a Permanent Private Hall in Oxford open to non-theological students. In 1958 Marsh launched an appeal for additional accommodation, the resulting new building being opened by the Queen Mother in 1962.

(Taylor and Binfield p148)

Lewis, Agnes Smith (1843-1924) and Gibson, Margaret Dobson (1845-1920), Travellers, Biblical scholars, philanthropists

[The twin sisters] were also great benefactors of the Presbyterian Church of England. Margaret played a key political role in the debates of the PCE which led to the removal of the English Presbyterian College from London to Cambridge . Agnes gifted the ground on which Westminster College , as it became known, was built, and also provided a handsome sum towards the building costs.... Agnes, when laying the foundation stone of Westminster College said they were ‘Catholic Christians first and Presbyterians afterwards’. (Taylor and Binfield p131)

Morgan, Dr George Campbell (1863-1945) Evangelist

He became minister of Westminster Chapel in 1904, raising money to renovate the building. As President of Cheshunt College (1911-14) he raised money for new buildings. (Taylor and Binfield p159)

Simpson, Patrick Carnegie (1865-1947) Church leader, ecumenist

During his long period at Westminster College ((1914-38) as Professor of Church History, a kindness he showed to Lord Kirkley led to the latter giving the college its beautiful chapel in memory of his son. (Taylor and Binfield p204)

Manning, Bernard Lord (1892-1941) Layman, historian

He did not lack business sense. The extensive range of buildings which Morley Horder (qv) designed for Jesus [ Cambridge ] testifies to Manning’s bursarial vision and to the cross fertilisation of his links with Cheshunt , also designed by Horder. (Taylor and Binfield p145)



While it may be argued that the first duty of central church organisations is to support the local, nevertheless central offices are needed. In the notes below, we see Samuel Antliff developing insurance services for the local, and William Aitkin and Frederick Riceman making business and property expertise available in respect of central offices.

In the ecumenical dimension, Norman Pooler advises on legal and property matters in the formation of the URC and Philip Morgan takes local ecumenical church building experience with him to the General Secretary’s office at the then British Council of Churches.

Antliff, Samuel Robert (1881-1927) Founder of Congregational Insurance Company

It was at the first session of the Congregational Union’s May Meetings 1891, held at Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, that Antliff persuaded the denomination to support his scheme for ‘a Company to insure Congregational Trust Properties against loss by fire, and to devote the profits to Congregational purposes ’(Taylor and Binfield p5)

Aitkin, William Maxwell, first Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964) Newspaper proprietor, benefactor

When he heard of the bombing of Church House, the offices of the Presbyterian Church of England, and the loss of life, he gave £25 000 for the relief of the injured and the bereaved, any residue to be used for the reconstruction (Taylor and Binfield p3)

Riceman, Frederick Henry Alfred (1904-1995) Retailer and property trustee

It was due to the enterprise of Fred Riceman that Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street , where the offices of the CUEW were situated, was disposed of .... He carried negotiations through a maze of difficulties to a successful conclusion with the Sun Life of Canada whereby the freehold was leased to them on good terms and the Trust was provided with accommodation, Caroone House, in the new building. His particular interest was in the Trust providing housing for retired ministers. (Taylor and Binfield p188)

Pooler, Norman (1927-) Solicitor

Norman Pooler was at Hewitt, Woollacott and Chown where he was Senior Partner for ten years and legal adviser to the PCE. As a full member of the Joint Committee [for the URC] he concluded that the only way forward was if the two churches, consenting to die, formed a new Church and an Act of Parliament simultaneously closed existing structures and altered property trusts. (Taylor and Binfield p177)

Morgan, Dr Philip (1930-2005) Ecumenist

As General Secretary for the Churches of Christ he worked from Birmingham and was a member of the Balsall Heath Church Centre, a joint project with the Church of England. This gave him a hands-on experience of sharing a worship centre; its community outreach included managing flats for the disadvantaged, all characteristic of ecumenical developments in the 1970’s. He put this experience to good effect, first as Chairman of the Division of Ecumenical Affairs at the BCC from 1978-1980 and then as General Secretary. (Taylor and Binfield p160)



Taylor and Binfield’s succinct, straight forward reference to missionary Alan Macleod’s practical skills says in a nutshell what is said in greater detail and in an almost international set of geographical locations in the other entries below. While some of the building projects were small, others, particularly the hospital and college developments, were relatively large and complex. Perhaps the most poignant story is that of Aubrey Lewis’ involvement with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the laying of the post-apartheid re- foundation stone at the Tiger Kloof Institution.

Macleod, Alan Gordon (1911-1984) Missionary, college Principal

Macleod could have earned a living in all manner of practical skills and affirmed that carpentry and plumbing were important aids to mission, as indeed to running a college. (Taylor and Binfield p143)

Sadd, Alfred (1909-1942) Missionary martyr

The Gilberts were a lonely outpost in the Pacific when Sadd went there and he found himself doing everything, not only teaching and translating, but building work and radio maintenance ... ‘There seemed to be nothing Alf’s fingers could not do’, was a friend’s comment. Moreover, he was a born leader and organiser. (Taylor and Binfield p197)

Gray, Ernest (1902-1996) Missionary

[In Nyasaland ] Practical work, especially building, and the planting of trees was a constant theme in all his reports. (Taylor and Binfield p81)

Brown, Dr Herbert Alfred (1905-1988) Missionary

The LMS sent him to Papua and he arrived at Moru early in 1939. There he began his life’s work extending and organising mission in the district .... and he rebuilt the hospital and school. (Taylor and Binfield p19)  

Hart, Dr Samuel Lavington (1858-1951) Missionary, educationist in China

It was as founder and Principal of the Tianjin Anglo-Chinese College that he made his outstanding contribution to education in China ......... Hart was a man of many gifts and great versatility. Scientist and mathematician, artist and architect: he designed every inch of the college buildings, recreating St John’s College , Cambridge on the main block. (Taylor and Binfield p97)

Coe (Ko), Shoki (1914-88) Ecumenist

From a Taiwanese Presbyterian background, Coe ultimately served the international ecumenical movement. While working in his own country as Principal of Tainan Theological College, a chapel, research centre, library and music/lecture hall were added to its buildings. (Taylor and Binfield p39)

James, Thomas William Douglas (1886-1945) Missionary

James began service in China in a time of hopeful uncertainty [giving rise to military and political problems]. In 1918 there was an earthquake which did considerable damage to the church, the hospital and other buildings in the mission compound and which was followed by a typhoon and tidal wave which caused more damage and also loss of life. (Taylor and Binfield p111)

Hamilton, Edward (1920-) Missionary, surgeon

Edward Paterson began his work at Nethersole Hospital by modernising its surgical practice and training interns and nurses..... As Medical Superintendent he became deeply involved in planning the United Christian Hospital and then a community health project. The United Christian Hospital , where he was Medical Superintendent for eleven years, had 600 beds and he spent a further five years planning its extension to 1400 beds by 1999.

(Taylor and Binfield p170)

Lewis, Aubrey David (1917-2002) Missionary, educationist

Only rarely does a person see life’s hardest struggles resolved after what looks like failure. Such was the privilege of Aubrey Lewis on ! October 1995, when, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he laid the rededication stone at Tiger Kloof Institution in South Africa . Fifty years before he had signed away the missionary connection with the school which had set a benchmark for African education, rather than let it be lowered to the levels of Apartheid called ‘Bantu Education’, (Taylor and Binfield p132)

Brown, Herbert Alfred (1905-88) Missionary, Papua

Brown rebuilt the mission hospital and school at Moru. (Taylor and Binfield p19)

Shrubsole, Alison Cheveley (1925-2002) College Principal

Alison Shrubsole’s vision, determination and courage became apparent when she went to Kenya to found a women’s Teacher Training College at Machakos. She started with a clearing in the bush; she had to raise a building, recruit staff and gather students from 17 tribes in the area. Life was primitive. To get a proper water supply for the college she felt compelled to corner the District Commissioner in his office which she only left when he capitulated and promised the connection by a mutually agreed date. (Taylor and Binfield p200)

Sibree, Dr James (1836-1929) Missionary, Madagascar

Sibree trained as a surveyor and, at the age of 23, was Assistant Surveyor to the Hull Board of Health. His bent was on architecture and in 1863 he was commissioned by the LMS to go to Tananarive for three years to build four churches to commemorate the Malagasy martyrs. His great buildings dominated the capital’s architecture. However, he found that he first had to train men to be masons. When he came back to England he was determined to return to Madagascar as an ordained missionary, [which he did] from 1870 until 1915. (Taylor and Binfield p202)

Clark, Percy (1879-1957) and Leonora (1880-1963) Missionaries, Burma and Siam

The Clark ’s work included establishing schools and building a small hospital. They sought funds for building a chapel with a baptistry. This was necessary since river water deep enough for immersion could not be guaranteed. (Taylor and Binfield p35)



This is a small but telling category. It reveals that buildings are meaningful and symbolic and not merely means of earning a living or meeting a need.

Thorogood, Bernard George (1927-) Missionary, church administrator

The only person recorded in Taylor and Binfield whom I have already included in my Paper Building a Vocational Community is the ‘passer-by’, Bernard Thorogood. ‘As his leisure activity he lists sketching and his sketches reveal his sensitivity and appreciation of natural and architectural beauty’.

(Taylor and Binfield p228)

Stopford, John Sebastian Bach (1888-1961) Anatomist, University Vice Chancellor

An elder of his church and a science and medical professional, Stopford’s speciality was anatomy. He became Vice Chancellor of Manchester University, where he is commemorated by the Stopford Building , home of the Medical School built in the late 1960’s. (Taylor and Binfield p222)  



This paper has been rooted in the researches of Taylor and Binfield into people of the Reformed Churches of England and Wales in the 20th century. Their work covered almost exactly 200 people seen by them to have been significant in the story of the Reformed Churches.

The present work has shown that 52 (26%), of the 200 had an involvement with buildings or the built environment sufficiently significant to have been noted by the biographers.

In one way, that is no more than a verification of the obvious, that building activity of various kinds naturally figures prominently when we talk about the people of the church and their activities, whether as individuals or corporately.

More important is the nature of the overlap between a church-oriented view of, and involvement in, the world on one hand and, on the other, the basic human activity of building. This has been shown through the various groups into which the 52 have fallen. This situation can be summarised as follows:

1.      5 were Church Members or similar who earned their normal secular living in the built environment professions or various parts of the building industry.

2.      7, again Church Members or similar, who as business people, philanthropists and people giving public service, were involved with building projects

3.      13 were either Church Members or Ministers who as part of their corporate church life were concerned with building projects for their local community, their church or both.

4.      7 had an involvement with the building or further development of the churches’ own theological colleges.

5.      5 had a building-related involvement with the central operations of the churches in terms of either their support function in relation to local churches or the central operations themselves

6.      13 are recorded as having specific involvement with building activity, for either worship or community life, in a wide range of overseas mission fields.

7.      2 have special relationships with buildings as observers or having a building named after them.

It must be emphasised that the above data is qualitative and impressionistic and that the numbers cannot be regarded as meaningful statistics.

My personal gut feeling, and it can be no more than that, is that this study has provided a reasonably representative, and probably quite comprehensive, insight into groups 2-5 above. This rings true. It is what the United Reformed Church feels like to me. I am glad to be reassured that in the 20th century all this good work was going on. While some of the people mentioned are from among ‘the little people’ mainly there is a sense of the prominent and purposeful playing their parts well.

I have a quite different feeling or hunch concerning group 1, based on my own experience in the secular worlds of building and built environment. I know there are many people of the churches there, earning their livings, doing their jobs. The problem is that paper trails are hard to find between their professional and business lives and their church and faith lives. One can reflect on the possible causes of this:

·         they themselves do not make strong connections, preferring to keep their Sunday and Monday lives separate

·         connections do exist but they are inner, spiritual and hidden

·         many building organisations and projects are large and impersonal, with roles and tasks being of greater significance than the people performing them; apart from lead designers, it is often a world of the nameless

·         biographers and obituary writers don’t ask questions to tease out faith-profession connections

Nevertheless there is scope for more focussed research on this aspect.

I want also to single out group 6 for special comment. Whatever our post-colonial views may now be on the work done by 19th and early 20th century missions, these people combined great courage and spiritual energy with the practical determination either to build things with their own hands or to work closely with others who did. This is not to say that life in the UK for some in groups 1-5 was not incredibly hard but simply to emphasise that going to places that are distant, little known and quite different from one’s own culture seems to me to cast a special, and for us perhaps discomforting, light on what we mean by work, service, vocation and other such concepts.

Group 7 portrays a different angle. It is rather like the Sabbath of the Genesis story. Thorogood looks, draws and thinks, while Stopford is simply remembered.

It is perhaps not too fanciful to be glad at the way seven categories have emerged not entirely unlike the seven days of the Genesis creation myth. Building is about creation and creativity. For the 52 people identified here nothing was mythical; it was all very factual and real. Small facts, particularly when taken together, help authenticate large and deep myths.  


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