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Downing Place
United Reformed Church
St Columba's Church, Downing Street, Cambridge - - 632925.jpg
Downing Place URC viewed from Downing Street, Cambridge
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Location Central Cambridge
Country United Kingdom
Denomination United Reformed Church
Former name(s) Emmanuel URC, Emmanuel Congregational Church, Emmanuel Congregational Chapel, Hog Hill Independent Church; St Columba's URC, St Columba's Presbyterian Church
Synod URC Eastern Synod

Downing Place United Reformed Church, Cambridge is a Protestant Christian church in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It was formed in 2018 in a merger between St Columba's United Reformed Church, Cambridge, and Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge. The church occupies the former St Columba's building in Downing Place, Cambridge, which is also close to a pre-1874 site once occupied by the Emmanuel's congregation. The church is part of the United Reformed Church. The current minister is The Revd Nigel Uden. As of August 2020 the church building is temporarily closed for major building works, with regular worship taking place in Westminster College, Cambridge until the building works are complete.

In the recent past prior to the merger of the two congregations, activities have included regular Sunday worship, a programme of music concerts, hosting an NHS group therapy centre and hosting a night-time drop in centre, and a night-time drop-in centre hosted by Cambridge Street Pastors. The refurbishment has been designed to facilitate similar activities are once the current refurbishment programme is complete.

The pre-merger congregations both existed prior to the foundation of the United Reformed Church: Emmanuel was originally known as Hog Hill Independent Church, later becoming Emmanuel Congregational Chapel and then Emmanuel Congregational Church; St Columba's was simply known as St Columba's Church.


Emmanuel United Reformed Church

Old Music School - - 831281
Site of the former Hog Hill chapel, Downing Place, Cambridge
Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge color corrected
The former Emmanuel United Reformed Church building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge
Emmanuel United Reformed Church interior, Cambridge
Stained glass windows in the former Emmanuel URC building. From left to right: Henry Barrow, John Greenwood, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, Francis Holcroft and Joseph Hussey

Historically a congregational church, Emmanuel voted to join the new United Reformed Church in 1972. Prior to the 2018 merger, Emmanuel United Reformed Church had been known by different names over the years, first as the 'Hog Hill Independent Church' and then the 'Emmanuel Congregational Chapel' or 'Emmanuel Congregational Church'.

The Emmanuel congregation was founded as the Cambridge 'Great Meeting' in 1687, at Hog Hill, the original building being there, on what is now the Old Music School in Downing Place. From 1691 the minister was Joseph Hussey; he was commemorated in the stained glass in the apse of the former Emmanuel United Reformed Church building alongside John Greenwood, Henry Barrow, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton and Francis Holcroft. Hussey's congregation split in 1696, with some going to the meeting in Green Street, Cambridge, and again after he had left for London, in 1721, with a group founding the precursor of St Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge. The church was rebuilt on the same site in the later 18th century, opening as Emmanuel Congregational Chapel in 1790. The move to the new church on Trumpington Street, called the Emmanuel Congregational Church, came in 1874. The old chapel was put to use from 1881 as the Balfour Biological Laboratory for Women, for female science students in the University of Cambridge. Prior to September 2020, Emmanuel United Reformed Church occupied a building on Trumpington Street, Cambridge. It was built to a design by the architect James Cubitt in 1875. The building was sold to Pembroke College to form part of the college's Mill Lane development project.

In the years leading up to the merger, Emmanuel organised regular Sunday worship and a programme of community activities in the recent past: a volunteer-staffed fairtrade cafe, a series of lunchtime music recitals and a share in Hope Cambridge's Churches Homeless Project.

St Columba's Church

St Columba's was historically a Presbyterian church. A Presbyterian congregation first registered in Cambridge 1689, at that time based in Green Street. The congregation of St Columba's was formally established in 1881, initially worshipping in Cambridge Guildhall. As of 1891, the present-day building on Downing Place had been built. As well as being a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of England and, from 1972, of the United Reformed Church, St Columba's was also the Chaplaincy for the Church of Scotland to the University of Cambridge; the minister's appointment as chaplain being with the concurrence of the Kirk's Presbytery of England. In the years leading up to the merger, St Columba's, the church's programme included regular Sunday worship, hosting a group therapy centre, and a night-time drop-in centre hosted by Cambridge Street Pastors.

Merger to form Downing Place United Reformed Church

On 9 June (St Columba's Day) 2018, St Columba's Church and Emmanuel Church united to form Downing Place United Reformed Church. The combined congregation occupies the former St Columba's building in Downing Place. (The former Emmanuel building was sold to Pembroke College, Cambridge across the road in Trumpington Street, who intended to retain it as a lecture and performance area as part of their Mill Lane redevelopment. The merged congregation retained the use of the church building for a short period. The final service in the Emmanuel building took place on Sunday 26 July 2020 and all activities at Trumpington Street have now ceased.


Former ministers of Emmanuel Church have included:

  • 1738–1754 John Conder
  • 1767–1788 Joseph Saunders
  • 1806–1817 William Harris
  • 1848–1854 George Burder Bubier
  • 1859–1865 Thomas Campbell Finlayson
  • 1871–1872 James Ward
  • 1894–1901 P. T. Forsyth
  • 1902–1909 William Boothby Selbie
  • 1910–1942 Henry Child Carter
  • 1974-1982 Anthony Coates
  • 1997-2003 Paul Quilter
  • Lance Stone
  • John Bradbury

Former ministers of St Columba's Church:

  • 1893-1901 Halliday Douglas
  • 1902-1909 G. A. Johnston Ross
  • 1910-1919 Robert Strachan
  • 1919-1925 Innes Logan
  • 1926-1937 George Barclay
  • 1938-1943 T. Ralph Morton
  • 1944-1960 Albert Cooper
  • 1961-1981 Ronald Speirs
  • 1982-1996 Ernest Marvin
  • 1997-2008 Keith Riglin

Among the other people who have been associated with the two churches over the years, Michael Ramsey, who later became Archbishop of York, worshipped at what was then Emmanuel Congregational church as a child, where his father was a deacon. Among those listed on the Roll of Honour of Missionaries valedicted from St Columba's Church are two notable ecumenists, William Paton to India in 1919 (first general secretary of what is now the National Council of Churches in India), and Lesslie Newbigin to India in 1936 (becoming one of the first bishops of the new Church of South India in 1947).

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