Huguenot Rock of Ages Newton

Orange Street Congregational Church

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Orange Street Congregational Church is in the heart of London, between Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. Since 1905 Orange Street has extended from Haymarket to Charing Cross Road. From 1670, the part nearest to the Haymarket was called James Street. The part between Whitcomb Street and St. Martins Street was called Blue Cross Street. The area was built in the 1670s, probably by Colonel Thomas Panton, the speculator responsible for nearby Panton Street. The rest of Orange Street was not built until the 1690s, part of it upon the stables of the Duke of Monmouth, beheaded after the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. These stables seem to have been called the 'Orange Mews', referring to the colour of Monmouth's coat-of-arms, and to distinguish them from the nearby 'Green Mews' and 'Blue Mews'.

East of St. Martin's Street the Orange Street Congregational Church stands upon the site of a Huguenot chapel, established in 1693. This Huguenot-founded church was opened and dedicated on Easter Eve 1693 by its first minister Daniel Chamier. It was then known as the Temple Of Leicester Fields as in those days the Leicester Square district was indeed a "district of fields."

It was there, and at Spitalfields, that a large number of Huguenots settled after fleeing the terrible persecutions of Protestants in France. From the reign of Francis I to that of the opulent Louis XIV, these French Christians had endured tortures of every conceivable kind. Many escaped, as best they could, to such places as England, Holland, Prussia, Switzerland and the bright new world-America.

France thus lost a host of fine men and women of "piety", industry and ability, and England gained many. The refugee communities were composed of nobles, clergy, physicians, soldiers, manufacturers and artisans, the latter of whom taught their English brothers the arts and crafts they had learned in their forsaken France.

Seventeen Tongues

The records say that Jean Pierre Stehelin, minister of the Orange Street Church from 1736 to 1753, "made himself a perfect master of the seventeen languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, French, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, Arabic, Chaldean Gothic, Old Tudesco or Druid, Anglo-Saxon, besides Spanish, Portuguese and Welsh."

Charles de la Guiffardierre, an able minister, was a great favourite at court, and read French to the Princesses and to Queen Charlotte.

Apparently Jacques Saurin, of whom Dean Abbadie asked, "Is it a man speaking or an angel?", preached in the church many times. "To tell the truth", said Weiss, "no preacher among the Catholics or the Protestants could be compared to this sublime genius, whose inspiration is equalled only by that of the ancient prophets, and of the most illustrious among the Fathers of the Church."

Sir Isaac Newton, whose house was adjacent to and possessed by, the church, attended the services and heard Saurin regularly. So did Newton's niece, Catherine Barton, a close acquaintance of Dean Swift. It has been said of the preacher, who was young and singularly handsome, that as he warmed to his subject the silence of the intent congregation was "almost painful."

"Rock of Ages"

At the time of the revival under the Wesleys, the Orange Street Church passed from French to English Protestantism, when the friends of the Rev. Augustus Toplady secured the chapel for the evening services. The building was licensed by Dr. Terrick, Bishop of London, and a new era began.

After preaching at various London churches, Toplady became minister at Orange Street. About this time, he published many hymns, the best known of which is Rock of Ages, first sung in Orange Street.

In 1787, being badly in need of repair, Orange Street Church was closed and the congregation migrated elsewhere. Later the same year it passed from the Church of England into the hands of the Nonconformists, becoming a Congregational Church, with the Rev. John Townsend as its pastor.

This enduring Huguenot foundation has had many well-loved ministers, including Samuel Luke, whose wife, Jemima, wrote that delightful children's hymn, I think when I read that sweet story of old. So at least two of our best-known hymns are associated with the church.

A New Beginning

Gradually, however, people began to leave the district. The neighbourhood changed, and adverse conditions caused a decline in attendance. With the appointment of Rev. Hartill as minister, everything seemed set for a period of growth, for Mr. Harthill had trained at Hackney College and had a dozen years of ministerial experience. He was an academic, a Fellow of the Royal Historic Society, and a founder of the Philosophical Society. Many years later, he was to serve as its Chairman and then its President. He was a scholar of the works of Sir Isaac Newton and wrote many papers on Newton House, the site of the house of which it has been said that Sir Isaac built himself and in which he died. This building is owned by the church, having been purchased in the 1850s. Hartill's book Recollections of Newton House is once more available and may be obtained from the church.

Alas the quiet period was not to be, for shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Westminister Council served a demolition order on the church claiming it was unsafe. For a short time the Newton Institute was used until that too was similarly demolished. For some 14 years, the church led a somewhat nomadic life, being for a time the guests of the Soho Baptist Church, until that church had to move also. Mercifully, when Orange Street Congregational Church was demolished, the top front panels of the splendid mahogany pulpit, the Communion table and the Victorian Minister's Chair were spared and stored away safely. But there is no record of what happened to the very handsome and valuable organ with its gilded pipes. Pictures, internal and external, of the church that was, are still to be seen in the vestry.

In 1925, Westminister City Council took out a lease on part of the site for 999 years, for their new library. On the rest of the site the present temporary chapel was erected. On Sunday 16th June 1929, the re-opening service was conducted and from then until the following year, Rev. Hartill continued as Minister until he resigned to accept the pastorate of St. Spicers at St Albans.

Up to this time, Mrs. Hartill had been the organist, but at this time Mr. Robbins, a faithful member, became the organist, a post which he held until illness forced him to retire in January 1991. Mr. Robbins was also the church Treasurer. We now have a sharing of organ playing, while Mr. Roger Edmonds, the Secretary, has been faithfully serving as Treasurer as well. But the church still has the valuable helpful advice of Mr. Robbins, who with his late wife, are the valued links with the church and the Newton House of the past and the present buildings.

Since Rev. Hartill's resignation in 1930, the church has been administered by the Deacons and the pulpit filled by speakers chosen for their loyal adherence to basic Christian doctrines and their acceptance of the validity of the complete Bible, Old and New Testaments. The list of those taking part is too long for inclusion but includes such names as Wm. Pascoe Goard, Rev. R.C. Thomas, Rev. L.B. Phillips, Rev.C.S. Mackelvey as well as prominent laymen.

It was during the Secretaryship of Mr. A.G.L. Webber, 1956 until his death in 1973, that the decision was taken by the Deacons not to join the United Reformed Church, and to keep their identity as Congregationalists, which they first became in 1789.

The church has become a member of the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and on two occasions was host to the Congregational Study Day Conference. This membership continues. In August 1987, the Deacons appointed Harold E. Stough, FRSR, to be its pastor. Mr. Stough had been a member since 1934, a Deacon since 1973 and, after Mr. Robbins, the longest serving member of the church. Sadly, he died in January 2004. The Pastorship was taken over by the Revd. A Martlew, LTh. The tradition of sharing the pulpit with other friends and members of the church continues. Since 1986, a midweek Bible study group has been conducted by guest speakers, which is attended by regulars and a great number of visitors passing through London, who have heard of the church, many of them from overseas.

Although not located in a dormitory area, the membership continues to grow, albeit slowly, and we are grateful for the continued and growing support the members give.

Orange Street Congregational Church