The Twells Family by Joy Heywood

The church of St. Mary Magdalene was built as a memorial to Philip Twells and endowed through the generosity of his widow, Georgiana Twells. From the beginning of the project through to Georgiana's death, Philip's cousin, Henry Twells was closely involved and indeed is credited with proposing that the architect of the church should be William Butterfield. In the 19 century, the Twells were a well-known and well-respected family involved in banking, law, politics and the church.

Philip Twells was the younger son of John Twells, a banker of Gracechurch Street in the City of London. John had married Mary Line of Alum Rock in Warwickshire and there seem to be many family connections with this area of the country. Later, John acquired a country residence, Darby House in Sunbury, Middlesex, which was inherited on his death by his elder son and Philip's elder brother, John. John senior, like his son after him, became a banker in 1801, and much later in life, in his early eighties, gave evidence to the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Bank Charter Act of 1857. He was also the author of a work on the Gold Standard published in 1848 and several pamphlets on Currencies.

John Twells junior followed an interesting dual career as priest and banker! He was born in London in 1805, the year of the Battle of Trafalgar, and was educated in Birmingham, which may seem odd given the number of good schools in London at that time, but John Twells senior’s brother, Philip Twells, lived with his young family in Ashted, Birmingham and his sons were educated at King Edward's School in that city so it is reasonable to assume that their cousin John went there also.

Unusually for an eldest son in those days, John Twells junior went into the Church on graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1827, being ordained Deacon in 1829 and priest in 1830. His career in the Church took him from a curacy in Nottinghamshire to parishes in the Retford area and finally to the positions of Rural Dean of Retford and Honorary Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral.

Like his brother Philip, John Twells married late in life at the age of 64 in 1869 to Elizabeth Isabella Georgiana Grose, the widow of the Reverend Thomas Grose who had been the Rector of St. Peter’s, Cornhill in the City of London. John Twells had no children of his own but seems to have adopted his wife’s son from her first marriage. The boy entered Jesus College, Cambridge in 1876 under the name of Richard Lionel Twells and was ordained priest in Ely Cathedral in 1881, the start of a ministry, which took him to a parish in Antigua in the West Indies as well as many parishes in the Lincoln diocese.

John Twells died at his family home of Darby House in Sunbury on January 12th 1875.

Younger brother, Philip Twells, in whose memory our church was built, was also a man of many talents. He was born in 1808 and was educated at Charterhouse and then at Worcester College, Oxford, where he gained a second-class degree in Classics in 1831. Not for him a career in the Church but rather a calling to the Law! He was called to the Bar in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1834 and practised as a barrister for some years. In 1850, he was the co-author of a book entitled “Reports of Cases in the Court of Chancery during the Time of Lord Chancellor Cottenham”.

Then in 1863, his father’s banking firm of Spooner, Attwood & Co. was taken over by the banking firm of Barclay, Bevan, Tritton & Co. and Philip was offered a partnership, which he accepted, and the name of TweIls was added to the new firm. Barclay’s Bank, of course, lives on! (Robert Bevan, the other senior partner of the firm, was the owner of Trent Park and endowed Christchurch at Cockfosters. He was notoriously Low Church and was also known for the very strict upbringing of his children, especially his daughters: a true Victorian father!)

Philip Twells remained a partner in the firm until his death but in 1875 he informed his fellow partners that he would have to curtail his activities in the firm owing to a “change in his position”. This change was the fact that he had been elected to the House of Commons as the Member for the City of London the previous year. He had tried unsuccessfully for this same seat in 1868. He is listed in the Who’s Who of British Members of Parliament as “A Conservative, not in favour of further electoral reform.”

Philip had married Georgiana Hannah Corbett, daughter of John Corbett, a coal merchant of Birmingham, at Leamington Priors parish church on November 26th 1874, nine months after his election to Parliament. He was 66 and she was 54. The couple's main residence was Chase Side House in Enfield; Philip was also a local magistrate. They also had residences in Eastbourne and Grosvenor Place in London. The couple had six years together before Philip died at their house, Roseneath, in Eastbourne on May 8th 1880.

He had retired from the Bank and from Parliament about six months before this and the cause of death on his death certificate is given as “softening of brain - two years”. Philip was given a lavish funeral at St. Andrew's parish church in Enfield, where he had served as Churchwarden. It was attended by all the local dignitaries and was well reported in the local paper.

Philip Twells, in whose memory our church was built and endowed, came from a family of churchmen and bankers who were well-known in Victorian society both for the part they played in public service and for their philanthropy. Philip was probably named after his uncle Philip Mellor Twells, who lived with his family in Birmingham, first in Ashsted and later in llandsworth. Uncle Philip had two sons, Henry and Edward, and a daughter, Isabella and Henry was to play a significant part in the founding of and the early years of St. Mary Magdalene church.

Henry Twells was born in Ashted, Birmingham on March 13th 1823 and so was considerably younger than his London Twells cousins. He went to school at King Edward’s Grammar in the city of Birmingham and then went to Peterhouse in the University of Cambridge, from where he graduated B.A. in 1848 and M.A. in 1851 .He was ordained Deacon at Rochester Cathedral in 1851 and Priest the following year. For three years he served as curate in Berkhamsted and at Shakespeare's parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon then his career and ministry were diverted into education.

From 1854 to 1856 he was Master of St.Andrew’s House School in Mells in Somerset. Then in 1856 he became Headmaster of Godolphin School in Hammersmith, London where he remained for the next fourteen years. During this time he published a school textbook, Poetry For Repetition, which ran to seven editions in the following five years and was revised and reprinted in 1882. Henry Twells was very keen on poetry and wrote much verse himself and was also a great hymn-writer. Indeed his greatest claim to fame lies in the popularity of his hymn, “At Even ‘Ere The Sun Was Set”, which was first published in 1868 in the Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern and is still to be found in the New Standard edition used today.

In 1895, The Strand Magazine, a prestigious illustrated monthly magazine, which was also running some of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, printed an article about Some Notable Hymns and their writers, one of whom was Henry Twells. In the article, Henry explains that he was asked to write a new evening hymn especially for the Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern and of all his hymns it had proved to be most popular as he had been asked for permission to include it in 127 other hymnals. The writer of the article comments that “Many hymns, alas! owe their popularity to the tunes to which they are sung; this certainly cannot be said of At Even ‘Ere The Sun Was Set, for a more uninteresting melody than Johann Scheffler’s Angelus, to which it is allied, it would be difficult to find.” He goes on to say that the hymn “will ever remain one of the finest in the language”.

The hymn, like Henry Twells’ poems, which were collected into a little volume and published, both in his lifetime and again after his death, show him to be a compassionate man, sympathetic to human frailties and sure in his faith that Christianity provided the strength and assurances that people wanted. His poems show him to be observant of his fellow men and also full of wonder at the beauty of God's creation. He also has a keen sense of the continuity of the human race and the legacy which each generation leaves to the next.

Henry Twells returned to being a full-time parish priest in 1870 and was Rector of Baldock in Hertfordshire at about the time that his cousin Philip took up residence in Enfield. Then for the next nineteen years he was Rector of Waltham-on-the-Wolds in Lincolnshire and in 1884 was made an Honorary Canon of Peterborough Cathedral. In 1874, he had officiated at the wedding of his cousin Philip to Georgiana Hannah Corbett, whose father was a Birmingham coal-merchant. It is probable that the Corbetts were family friends of the Birmingham Twells and that that is how Philip was introduced to Georgiana, who was only three years older than Henry Twells.

Certainly, Henry seems to have become very close to his cousins and his new wife and after Philip's death was very involved in Georgiana’s plans to build a church in Philip’s memory. Henry is credited with the appointment of William Butterfield as the architect of St. Mary Magdalene’s. Henry Twells was sufficiently well-known for a biography to have been written after his death and it is in this that it is stated that Henry Twells was a friend of William Butterfield. It is possible that they became acquainted while Henry was studying at Peterhouse for at that time, Butterfield was working for the Cambridge Camden Society, which was the foremost promoter of Gothic Revival Architecture.

In 1890, Henry Twells semi-retired to Bournemouth. The following year he commissioned William Butterfield to build a church in one of the new suburbs of the town. It was to be Butterfield’s last church and was dedicated to St. Augustine of Hippo. The foundation stone of this little sister to St. Mary Magdalene’s was laid by Georgiana Twells. Henry became Priest-in Charge and remained in Bournemouth until his death on January 19 ~ 1900. His sister, Isabella, survived him and put up a flue memorial to him at the East end of his church, “To the Glory of God and in Dear Memory of Henry Twells, Priest this cross is dedicated by his sorrowing sister”. There is also a memorial window in Peterborough Cathedral.

Henry’s younger brother, Edward, was born in 1828 and like Henry, was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham and followed his brother to Peterhouse, where he graduated B.A. in 1851 and M.A. in 1854. He had been ordained Deacon at Ripon Cathedral in 1853 and Priest the following year. His first Curacy was at the parish church of All Saints, Wakefield (which later became Wakefield Cathedral), and then he spent two years as the Curate of St. Michael’s also in Wakefield. From 1857 to 1863, he was first Curate and then Priest-in Charge of St John’s in Hammersmith, where his brother had recently taken up his appointment as Headmaster of Godolphin School. In 1863, Edward became the most highly qualified and highly placed of his family when he gained a Doctorate in Divinity and that same year was appointed to the Bishopric of the Orange Free State.

He was consecrated as Bishop in Westminster Abbey and went out to his new diocese in South Africa in 1864. He remained there for six years when, “broken in health”, he was forced to retire back to England. During his time in the Orange Free State, the Bishop of the neighbouring diocese of Natal, John Colenso, published a very controversial book. It was titled Introduction to the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua and using mathematical calculation threw doubt in on many of the measurements and timings given in these first books of the Bible. Published only five years after Darwin’s Origin of Species, it fuelled the ongoing bitter and troubling debate about the literal truth of the Bible. Colenso’s book was a cause celebre and Edward Twells could not have been unaware of it.

On his retirement, Edward took a house in Clifton near Bristol and occasionally officiated at churches in the area when his health allowed. His main interest continued to be the Church of England’s missions, both at home and abroad and his obituary states that he was “a liberal supporter” of these. He died at the age of 70 at his house, Pembrokegate, on May 4th 1898.

All four Twells cousins rose to positions of eminence in society and were from a very privileged background but all seem to have been very aware of the responsibilities of their wealth and position. They were generous benefactors and had a sense of duty and public service which was undoubtedly underpinned by their Christian faith.

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