A Temple for Great Britain
by Terry Warner
(from the September 1958 Millennial Star)
A building, like a person, has a "genealogy". Its "parentage" is comprised of the buildings of the past and of certain forces and events that made it possible. The London Temple is not an exception. That is, its story doesn’t begin in 1958 or even in 1952 when the Newchapel property was purchased, but far back in history. Indeed, the idea of the Temple and the purposes for which it was built were familiar to the first men on earth. While some of the events that laid the ground for a temple here are more significant than others, to cite even a few might tend to obscure the fact that they were dependent on other events. This implies a whole historical pattern leading up to and determining the circumstances that made possible this Temple. The settlement of Britain, the Norman conquest that contributed to its unification, the Reformation that rendered it religiously free - these prepared the way for the Gospel to be restored and for it to thrive in Great Britain by making men both free and able to accept the responsibilities and opportunities it offers. Events like these comprise the London Temple as much as its Portland stone facing; and our forebears who developed this free nation helped build the Temple as much as those whose tithing paid for its construction.
IINewchapel itself testifies to the Temple’s heritage. Scarcely can we do better than to quote from the writings of President [A. Hamer] Reiser, who viewed the site before it was purchased. "Newchapel is rich in allusions of time. The brook running through it is called Eden; the Romans built the road which is now the A22 to the Channel; on the north side of the property run another historic road, Pilgrims Way, made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The area around Newchapel was occupied by the Celts, and after the Romans by Saxons and Danes. "The oak trees, one in the garden and another in the field, are of such great size as to say they were growing in the days of the first Elizabeth and when Columbus discovered America." When President McKay, President Reiser, Elder Edward O. Anderson, President William F. Perschon and Elder James R. Cunningham visited the site one day, President McKay gave strict instructions that oak tree in front of the Temple, which an expert estimated to be 450 years old, was not to be uprooted. These brethren, joining hands around it, could just encircle it. Some say it should be called the David O. McKay Oak Tree. "The land on which the Temple stands is an old Elizabethan farm. With its 30 rooms and eight baths Newchapel House was an old baronial manor, and has been modernised by workmen for the occupancy of Temple President and Sister Selvoy J. Boyer and other officials. It too dates to Elizabethan times, and as various wings and additions have been built by subsequent owners, architectural features like the flagstone floors, hand-hewn oak beams and rafters an wrought-iron fixtures have been retained. "The most recent improvements are less than 40 years old. The land was acquired, when a farm, as a property by a British inventor who undertook to develop it into a country estate. An American man of means, a Mr. Rudd, purchased it from him and he, making the largest investment in the property, developed the house and gardens. His racing stable in an adjoining property on the west is now owned by Sir Winston Churchill, who is our nearest neighbour. The American sold the property to Mr. and Mrs. Pears, who owned the Pears Soap Company. "During World War II the British government had a barracks installed in the nearby woods, and part of the Newchapel Farm and other adjoining lands were commandeered by the military. Anti-aircraft emplacements were located around the property,and the house suffered some slight damage from enemy raiders. "Gertrude Jekyll, the eminent British landscape artist, designed the garden as a picture of nature, and five gardeners were once employed to maintain it. Pause at the south arch and absorb the vista, the balance and variety of shrubs and trees, the shapes and colours, the illusion of great depth. "Newchapel is beautiful in every season, from winters with stark skeletons of the trees and the dignity of the evergreens, to the lush and abundant carnival of colour when the rhododendrons bloom. In the early spring the snowdrops and the jonquils appear in great profusion. They are followed by daffodils, blooming everywhere, by the roses and rhododendrons. "The aromas of Newchapel hover like haloes among the flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees. The fragrances of violets, narcissi, roses, viburnum, spruce and cedar are everywhere. No wonder the butterflies and bees, the blackbirds, thrush, nut-hatch, pheasant and waterfowl adopt Newchapel as their special haven. "The past, the present of all creation are richly in evidence in Newchapel. Time has been liberally vested there: a lovely reminded of the ‘lost garden where the world began,’ it will henceforward also remind us of the eternal garden to be regained." IIIThe more recent events responsible for the Temple began when the First Presidency of the Church commissioned British Mission President Stayner Richards, who had been highly successful in real estate in the United States, to locate a prospective site. He found two or three specially interesting ones and President McKay approved the most attractive of these, on the fringe of the Wimbledon area. But while the negotiations for its purchase were in progress, an agent suggested the Church consider another site, the 32-acre Newchapel property in Surrey. When President McKay saw Newchapel he found it so desirable that he hoped that the Church might acquire it. From that point on, which was in June, 1952, Newchapel seemed destined to be the site for the Temple: even though enquiries about it disclosed that it was not for sale, negotiations for a temple lot were suspended. Mr. Pears had died, however, and his wife, then about 80, found the property difficult to maintain. Early in 1953, President Richards’ successor, President A. Hamer Reiser, enquired further, and found Mrs. Pears willing to sell. In June, 1953, vacant possession was secured. By August, President McKay was in Europe again, this time to dedicate the temple site in Switzerland. When he reached London, he desired to see Newchapel. If there were any doubts about the Temple’s location before, there were none now: Newchapel again evoked his enthusiasm, and that same month he dedicated the site. Edward O. Anderson, the Church architect, was at this time instructed to design the London Temple. En route to the South African mission, President McKay saw Newchapel another time. Elder Henry D. Moyle, President Perschon and his counsellor, Brother Wilhelm Zimmer, and Elder Anderson, all in London to confer with President McKay on the Swiss Temple, accompanied him and President Reiser. On all these visits he was growing fond of a special route to Newchapel - one that diverts from the main road at Godstone and passes through almost uninterrupted foliage. Among British Church members, the road is called McKay Lane. In the shade of an alcove of the formal Newchapel gardens, just east of where the Temple was to rise, 1,000 British saints, missionaries, members of the Tabernacle Choir and visiting authorities from Salt Lake, gathered on August 27, 1955, to witness the ground-breaking ceremony. Present on that occasion were President McKay, who presided, Sister McKay, Dr. and Sister Edward McKay, Sister Clare Middlemiss, President McKay’s secretary, Elder Richard L. Evans and Sister Evans, Elder Edward O. Anderson and Sister Anderson, President A. Hamer Reiser, and Sir Thomas Bennett and Mrs. Bennett. Sir Thomas Bennett remarked in his speech that this was a building "which we think will build a tradition in itself in the course of the years to come ... and it is the users who build the tradition, not the architects. It is the users who make it a building which is something fine in conception, something personal in its reaction in their minds, and in due course something personal in the minds of perhaps many generations." So also did President McKay emphasise the more enduring purpose for which the Temple was being built: "In the years to come, many of us may not be able to return and traverse the highway which you’re facing, but our children may; and as they pass the completed structure, dedicated to the Lord, they will say: ‘See, my parents, or my grandparents, were there on the occasion that the ground was broken on the south-east corner of that edifice.’" Then President McKay, amid the throng of joyful people, took the first shovelful of dirt from the corner. Elder Richard L. Evans lowered the cornerstone into place slightly over 20 months later, May 11, 1957. In a copper box sealed inside the cornerstone were placed the standard Church works, periodicals, clippings, photographs, documents and other things pertinent to the occasion. Again, Sir Thomas Bennett was present, as was President Clifton G. M. Kerr, who replaced President Reiser. One of the highlights of this event, which also was attended by about 1,000 people, was the presentation of souvenir trowels by Sir Thomas Bennett to Elder Evans and President Kerr. The success of the construction at that point prompted President Kerr to pay deserved tribute to those responsible. He said: "In the Sermon on the Mount, the Master taught His disciples the principle of going the second mile with those who would ask them to go one mile. This teaching has found expression many times as this Temple project has progressed. I want to especially recognise the personal interest shown by Sir Thomas Bennett, Mr. Winslade, Mr. Mennie and others of the architectural firm of T.P. Bennett and Son - an interest beyond the call of duty. Likewise, all those associated with the contracting firm of Kirk and Kirk have been equally co-operative and helpful." In the prayer of dedication, Elder Evans gave thanks for those in the past who prepared the way for the London Temple: for the first missionaries who "left family and friends and in poverty came here friendless, but aware of Thy Spirit going before them to give them a harvest of souls." He gave thanks for "this land with its long traditions for freedom ... and for all those who have, with Thy help, preserved the climate of freedom ... and that from this land have come tens of thousands of faithful men and women who, having heard the truth, accepted it ... for those who, over the centuries, have planted and cared for these grounds, and that Thou hast rewarded their work with the beauty that is here." Many of those associated with the London Temple have recognised the hand of the Lord in its planning and construction. President Reiser expressed this well: "It may seem nothing spectacular or unusual has occurred during the building, but I nevertheless acknowledge the hand of the Lord in every detail. He has worked out His will in very natural ways and brought to pass many, many favourable conditions and factors, that made this project possible." Possibly it was one of the workmen who contributed, unwittingly, the profoundest observation. Not knowing that Temple work will extend into the Millennium, he said, "Why, you’ve put such steel and stone in this building that it might well stand 2,000 years." One wonders what he might have said had he understood that sacred work which will be done in it, more durable even than steel or stone, will last eternally. In this great work the Temple will serve the Netherlands and the four Scandinavian missions, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, as well as the United Kingdom. Its dedication will consummate years of hope and striving for these countries, in which so much of modern Israel has its roots, and will begin an era when thousands of the Northern peoples, living and dead, will partake of the ordinances and covenants necessary for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God.