Golders Green Unitarians
- Original design
- Reginald Farrow, 1925
In Pevsner’s Buildings of England – London North the church is described as follows:
“Small pedimented building with plaster groin vault and apse with semi-dome, designed for a mural painting on canvas by Ivon Hitchens, an early work made in 1920-1. The subject is a symbolic forest scene: deer and other animals among trees, in the tradition of Morris & Co. Sturdy Arts and Crafts Pulpit, originally made by Belgian refugees for Cardinal Mercier.”
The church was awarded Grade II Listed status in July 2004.
“All Souls’ Unitarian Church”, now known as “Golders Green Unitarians”, was publicly dedicated for use on October 10th 1925. It was built to serve Unitarians who had seceded from Rosslyn Hill Chapel in Hampstead in 1903, and who had been meeting in temporary accommodation in Weech Road, West Hampstead. The land was donated by the Field sisters.
The architect was Reginald Farrow FRIBA, a member of the congregation, and the builders were Messrs Runham Brown. It cost £7500 to build and in its original form it could seat 150 people. The church and its accompanying hall were designed on simple Byzantine lines, using red brick, Portland stone and Italian tiles.
One of its special features is the circular apse which features a mural painted by Ivon Hitchens (see below). It was presented by Mr G Johnson in 1923, as a memorial to a lost son. To this work were later added murals on and above the church entrance painted by Margaret Warren, one of the earliest of the congregation’s chairpersons. The stained glass window over the entrance, ‘The New Jerusalem’, was created by Joan Fullerlove and was presented to the congregation by Ms Warren.
The Font was designed and made by Henry Herford and dedicated in September 1926 as the gift of Mr and Mrs Freckleton. The organ dates from 1939.
The Pulpit was originally made by Belgian Refugees during the 1914-18 war for the benefit of Cardinal Mercier. Somehow it came into the hands of the congregation’s early benefactors, the Field sisters, who presented it to the church. The pulpit and reading desk embroideries were made by a member, Alice Oldham, and feature the Unitarian Chalice and symbols of some of the world faiths. The congregational Banner was created by Doris Calvert and Doris Stubbs. One face has the Chalice and symbols of universal spirituality, while the other has a dove of Peace. The mat in the apse is a Muslim prayer mat.
On the interior entry wall there is a carved wood memorial to the Revd Joyce Daplyn BA who was not only the daughter of the first minister of the congregation but also served here in that capacity from 1926 to 1930. She was the first woman minister in London. At the time the Unitarians had 8 or 9 women ministers, the Congregationalists 2, the Baptists 1 and the Methodists none. Years later, during the ministry of Keith Gilley, the church hosted the first public Communion Service conducted in this country by an Anglican woman priest, Alison Palmer, on November 26, 1976.
Unitarianism has its historical roots in European Renaissance and Reformation thought. It initially questioned the origins of the Trinity and the ideas concerning the nature of the person of Jesus. In the 18th century, Enlightenment thought led it to particularly stress the importance of liberty of conscience and the place of reason in things religious. By the 19th and early 20th centuries, Unitarians had become both more universalistic and humanist in their understanding of faith and philosophy. This led to ever greater social activity in local and world politics as reformers and radicals.
Today Unitarianism is concerned with life values and meanings, and encourages individuals to discover and develop their potential as creative, self-conscious and responsible beings. To these ends Unitarians feel free to draw upon the universal insights of religions and philosophies, old and new, reserving always their right to examine them in the light of reason and liberty.
Golders Green Unitarians have a service every Sunday morning at 11.00. They also run periodic adult religious education programmes, and a Women’s Group. There are also monthly Circle Dances, Poetry and Prose Sharing, and a Book Group. All these activities are open to the public. We also provide rites of passage celebrations such as Child Naming and Thanksgiving, Weddings, Same-sex Unions, Funerals and Memorial Services.
The Church Hall and Fellowship Room are available for hire.
For further information, please contact the Minister, Revd Feargus O’Connor, on 020 7837 4472, email@example.com
Ivon Hitchens was born in March 1892 and died in April 1979. Most of his work is abstract, and so this mural is unusual in being naturalistic.
In 1920, Hitchens, whose parents lived in West Hampstead, was only recently out of Art School (the war and ill health delayed his training). His only known work was a mural, in tempera, at the parish church of St Luke, Maidstone. This was ‘A Forest Scene with Animals’ painted in 1919-20, of which the one in Golders Green is a second, larger version. The Golders Green mural was restored in 1993, following a public appeal.
How the artist came to be selected is not recorded. It is unlikely that anyone at that time appreciated that he would become the major mural artist, and some would say the finest English landscape painter of the 20th century, with his personal style of abstract figuration. He once said ‘My pictures are painted to be listened to.’
Hitchens’s paintings are in many public buildings, including Nuffield College, Oxford; and in all of the major art galleries. The Queen has one, ‘Gentle Spring’, in her private collection. With his friends Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, Hitchens exhibited all over the world, while preferring to spend his time in seclusion in a Sussex woodland, with a gipsy caravan as his base.
According to his biographer, Sir Alan Bowness, he was one of the very few artists to earn his living entirely by his painting, most of which was done within a few hundred yards of his house, in the woodland and beside the streams which he built. ‘Nature contains everything’, he said.
The river of the water of life, springing from the central pool overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, symbolised by the dove.
The stream, winding through forests of earthly life. Kingfishers flying along the stream: messengers of the Holy Spirit. Deer: old symbols of humility.
At the back of the pool, a bush with fruit: forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden.
‘A River went out to water the Garden’ (Revelation).
Trees (left to right)
Pomegranate, distant firwood, horse chestnut, willow, elm, Spanish chestnut, ash, horse chestnut, orange (white).
Wild rose, laurel, rhododendron, laurel, distant rhododendrons.
Plants in the foreground (left to right)
Iris, campion, white narcissus, wood anemone, campion, bluebells, celandine, narcissus, lilies of the valleys, wood sorrel, campion, narcissus, harts tongue fern, wood anemone, campion, narcissus, violet, bluebell.
‘the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace’: James 3.18, where he speaks of the benefits of wisdom from above. ‘And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.’
‘the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations’: Revelation 22.2. The last chapter of the last book in the Bible describes the Holy City. ‘In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’