Toller United Reformed Church

The English Civil War of 1642–1651 gave the people of Kettering a platform for demonstrating again their historical capacity for ‘dissent’ – firmly supporting Parliament against King Charles. A further opportunity arose during the reign of William & Mary, whose Toleration Act permitted more freedom in worship for ‘Dissenters’. Around 1685, a converted barn in Allen’s Yard behind High Street was opened for services. Called “The Independent Meeting” and founded on “Congregational” principles of self-determination, the building could hold 400 people. The meetings flourished and congregations grew rapidly.

In 1723, a new church, The Great Meeting, was built on Bakehouse Hill, now Gold Street, marking a major step in the developing schism between the established Church of England and the increasing influence of the non-conformist movement – an event commemorated by the Kettering Civic Society blue plaque seen in Meeting Lane. Built at a cost of £543 out of Northamptonshire ironstone, it seated nearly 800, rivalling the capacity of the Parish Church of SS Peter & Paul.

The structure of the church was drastically altered in 1898, from a Puritan Meeting House to a Victorian Church. A red brick façade, with towers and dressings in Bath stone, was added to the main building. Further major work was undertaken in 1979, when the pews were removed to allow for more flexibility of use, but the structure of the 1723 building remains the core of the Church.

In its long history the church has had a great variety of names starting with the “Christian Church of Kettering”, “The Independent Meeting House” and “The Great Meeting”. That it is now known as Toller Church is to commemorate the pastorates of the Rev. Thomas Northcote Toller and the Rev. Thomas Toller, father and son who, between them, ministered for over a century (1775-1878). It is hard to overstate their influence over Kettering in these years, promoting such movements as Sunday Schools, Temperance and Liberal politics.

One concrete result of their work remains with the Toller Sunday School building (comprising assembly rooms, classrooms and kitchens) close to the Church in Meeting Lane. The foundation stone was laid by Rev. Thomas Toller in 1883 (2 years before his death), and the completed school, in red brick with red Mansfield dressings around the windows and with a façade that reflects that of the Church itself, opened on August Bank Holiday 1884 having cost £3,400.

In 1972 the amalgamation of the Congregational Church of England & Wales with the English Presbyterian Church brought into being the United Reformed Church. The Church is now known as Toller United Reformed Church. The present Church and Meeting Rooms are often used by various groups and organisations of the town for music, drama and exhibitions.

Research thanks to Kettering Civic Society

error: Content is protected