The old London Road from Chelmsford to London ran through the village of Ilford. It was here in the 17th century that travellers and their horses stopped for rest and refreshment. Samuel Pepys paused for a meal at ‘The Angel’ on his way to Tilbury to inspect timber for the Navy. Industrialisation with the development of the railways and property development brought many changes to Ilford and in 1891 local people raised concerns regarding the spiritual needs of the residents of Ilford. In response the London Congregational Union appointed the Reverend E.T. Egg to provide pastoral oversight and in 1894 the congregation became a fully fledged congregational church with 86 members. After some time Reverend Egg moved on and was replaced by Reverend A.G. Spears who unfortunately became poorly and was replaced in 1896 by Reverend Charles Henry Vine who stayed for 34 years. The church was then renamed Vine Memorial Congregational Church after Charles Henry Vine.

At around the same time Reverend Alex Jeffery, a Presbyterian minister noted the growing population of Ilford and advocated that a Presbyterian congregation should be formed. A site was acquired, an ‘iron building’ erected and services commenced. By 1897 the church required a full time minister and Reverend Walter. A. Gait was inducted as the minister in March 1898 where he remained for 30 years.

Reverend Charles Henry Vine’s church grew phenomenally. He became involved in ‘planting’ other churches in local areas – Seven Kings, Goodmayes, Gants Hill and various others and embarked on a huge fundraising mission to create a building fit for the 20th century to house the enormous congregation and the various meetings that took place. It was to incorporate electric lights rather than gas, pews that people paid rent to reserve for Sunday’s and a pipe organ. By the late 1920’s the membership of the church was almost 1000.

Vine United Reformed Church was originally Vine Memorial Congregational church and was named after Charles Henry Vine

Figure 1 Vine Memorial Congregational Church

The Presbyterian flourished similarly reaching 360 members by 1929 securing various buildings and engaging with music literature and caring for the poor of the town.

Life in Ilford changed with the Second World War – men went off to fight, children were evacuated out of danger areas, blackouts were enforced so there were no evening outings and there was a loss of freedom. Church attendance declined and buildings were not well used or maintained. Eventually after the war the churches reviewed their new circumstances. After much debate Vine congregational church sold part of the original site and a new church building was opened in 1961.

The first church was situated with its main entrance on Ilford High Road – some of the beautiful stained glass window can still be seen at the side of the church in the 1961 building.

Figure 2 Original stained glass windows

The stone work of the ‘Last Supper’ that was situated at the front of the original church on the left of the painting and can now be seen in the Vine lounge

Figure 3 The 12 disciples and Jesus at 'The Last Supper'

At a similar time leaders of the National Congregational and Presbyterian churches were in discussion regarding possible unification and thus the United Reformed Church was formed in 1972 through a union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church of England and Wales. In 1981 it joined with the Association of the Churches of Christ and the union was completed in 2000 with the joining of the Congregational Union of the Churches of Scotland.