Independent Chapel

Albert Betts' drawing shows the chapel which once stood at the corner of Sheen Lane and South Worple Way, opposite Mortlake Station.

Mortlake has a strong history of religious dissent or independence. When Francis Crane established the Mortlake Tapestry Works, he brought over Flemish tapestry workers who were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Surveyor-General recorded that a chapel was fitted out in the upper part of the tapestry works, which was built around 1619.

In 1662 David Clarkson, the vicar of Mortlake, was dismissed for refusing to subscribe to the orthodoxy required by the Church of England. He remained in Mortlake and continued writing and preaching, no doubt to the group of local dissenters known, depending on one's sympathies, as the "Grandees of East Sheen" or the "thirteen fanatics".

A letter in the State Papers from 1664 condemned East Sheen as a place where "conventicles were innumerable". Following Charles II's 1672 Declaration of Indulgence, which extended religious liberty to Protestant non-conformists, Clarkson obtained a licence to preach to a congregation of Presbyterians and Independents in Mortlake High Street.

During the wave of chapel and meeting-house building that followed the accession of George I, Reverend William Jacomb built, at his own expense, the Sheen Lane chapel in 1716. Usually such meeting houses were held in trust for the congregation, but the Mortlake Chapel was the private possession of the minister and became the property of the Reverend Samuel Highmore when he succeeded Jacomb.

When Highmore died in 1755, his son, who was not in sympathy with the dissenters and wanted to let the building for other purposes, literally turned the worshippers out onto the street. For several decades the independents or dissenters met in private houses, and later in a meeting place on the corner of St Leonard's Road and Sheen Lane. The congregation grew and by 1836 it was able to raise sufficient funds to return to the old chapel.

By the end of the century the Sheen Lane chapel had become inadequate for the congregation, though with some regret as it was described as "a quaint old building that lasted long enough to become the oldest Congregational Chapel in the London district. Plain and bare as it seems to us today, it was once spoken of as an elegant and substantial chapel". A replacement church was built in Vernon Road and opened in 1902. The old chapel was converted into shops and offices and finally demolished in 1992.