In 1720 Captain John Gray, who had retired from the army, purchased a block of land close to the river in East Twickenham to build homes for ‘respectable citizens of Twickenham’. Montpellier Road, as he named it, was to have its own chapel and school, which would serve the householders and their families and staff. Gray obtained approval from the Bishop of London to build the chapel and to appoint his own chaplain. An engraved communion plate dated from 1720 commemorates the opening of the chapel and this plate is now held by St. Stephen’s Church.
In 1848 the rail service operated by the London and South Western railway was extended to Twickenham and in 1873 residents petitioned for a local station at St. Margaret’s. One of the key petitioners was Henry Little, a builder and developer, who owned Cambridge Park House and who had begun to develop the land around the house for housing for the bankers, lawyers and business owners who wanted to live in outer London. This became the present Cambridge Park and number 21 served as the vicarage until 2010.
With the coming of the railway the population expanded and Montpellier Chapel, which had been built to accommodate 250 was now too small. The Little family donated the triangle of land bounded by an ancient right of way (now St. Stephen’s Passage) and the Richmond Road. The triangular shape is why the church is not built to the usual East facing ecclesiastical layout but in fact faces North.
An appeal was launched for funds to raise the £7000 needed to build the church (£7m today) It was to be designed to seat 1000 people. The appeal was launched in April 1873 and by August the full amount was oversubscribed. The architects commissioned were Lockwood and Mawson, best known for their work on the model community of Saltaire in Yorkshire. A new parish was divided off from Twickenham, and The Duchess of Teck (the larger than life mother-in-law of the future George V) laid the foundation stone. By 1st December 1875 the foundations for the whole church were completed, but only the nave was ready for the consecration by Bishop Claughton, suffragan to the Bishop of London (It was not until 1907 that the consecration of the tower by the first Bishop of Kensington marked the completion of the external structure). The first Vicar was Rev Francis Moran, who had been the minister at Montpellier Chapel. Henry Little became the first People’s Churchwarden.
The church became operational in 1876 and the Montpellier chapel was then sold and used by various secular businesses. It finally collapsed in 1941 and was replaced with a modern house. Some stones from the chapel arched windows were brought to St. Stephen’s and in 2011 were used to make a bench outside the new extension. The school building is now a private house mistakenly called ‘The Old Chapel’.
In 1896 a chapel was built by St. Stephen’s on the northern edge of the parish to serve the residents of the workers’ cottages in the area now bounded by Winchester Road and the Chertsey Road. This building is now used by St. Stephen’s school, which was also built at the same time.
The Centenary Room was created from the West (South) door entry area in 1976 to mark the anniversary of the opening of the church. A new building for community and church use called the Crossway was opened in 1999 and an extension to the church called the Spring built alongside St. Stephen’s passage and opened in 2011 by the Bishop of Kensington, Paul Williams.
In 2013 the Ark Room (old choir vestry) was transformed into a chapel space called the Prayer Chapel.
The interior of the church has some fine Victorian stained glass. The tops of the stone columns are decorated with carvings of flowers based on the plants in Henry Little’s garden. The church’s Evangelical tradition is commemorated by stone carvings below the clerestory windows, of the heads of the key leaders of the Reformation. They are Wycliff, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Bradford and Hooper. The church also has one of the best preserved Willis organs in London.
By David Parish (PCC Member)
With acknowledgement to previous and current members of the church Raymond Luker and Alfred Pinnington, who did much of the research, and to the Twickenham Local History Society and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.