Breakaway church marks 350th year

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One of the first non-conformist churches in the county celebrated its 350th birthday last weekend.

The Toller United Reformed Church, which has been a mainstay in Kettering’s Gold Street for almost three centuries, has put on a string of special events to mark the milestone this year.

Toller began life in the wake of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, which banned all non-conformists to the Church of England. This led a group of non-conformist Christian believers to worship and preach in secret.

They were led by the Rev John Maidwell, who was forced to resign his living and leave Kettering Parish Church because of the Act, and they met regularly at a cottage in Hazlewood Lane in the town.

Towards the turn of the 17th century as rules over non-conformist worship became more relaxed, the congregation moved into a converted barn behind High Street.

The church’s following included Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and after growing over the years, they moved into Gold Street in the town in 1723, which has been their home ever since.

The church seated 800 people and cost £512 to build.

Fifty years later, the Rev Thomas Northcote Toller started his ministry at the church, and was succeeded in 1821 by his son, Thomas Toller.

The pair’s 100 years of ministerial reign at the congregation gave the name ‘Toller’ to the church – which has stuck.

The church’s current reverend, Helen Carr, said: “The events we’ve held in 2012 are a celebration of Christianity.

“We’ve had a lot of events at the church, culminating in a special service last weekend.

“Even after 350 years, the church still has a major presence in the town.

“Even though we broke away from the Church of England, and there are various different churches in the town, we still do a lot of work all together.

“Even though there was splintering of Christianity in the town, it feels like we have gone full circle as we do a lot of things together, like the street pastors service.”

In the early 19th century, the church opened the town’s first Sunday school.

One of its notable pupils was William Knibb.

She said: “The church was not afraid to take risks – the congregation has done some radical things in the past like starting a Sunday school and changing the architecture.

“In the 1970s it took out the pews and it is those things that have shown that the church has changed with the times.”

This year has seen various former ministers return to visit the church and lead worship.

Janet Thompson, an elder at the church, said: “I think the church has succeeded because it is warm, friendly and very welcoming.”

And she added: “We still get a lot of people through our doors.”