William Robinson Clarke

‘Passenger who founded UK’s oldest Black Pentecostal church’

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When Mary McLachlan boarded the Empire Windrush with her family, she did not know that one day she would be at the helm of Britain’s oldest Black Pentecostal church.

A devout Christian, after finding she was not welcome in English places of worship, she started holding prayer meetings with friends in her home at 57 Navarino Road in Hackney, London.

By the 1950s, she had formally set up the Church of God in Christ and rented a hall in Sussex Road, south of the river in Brixton, to accommodate its growing congregation. In 1952, the church linked up with the Church of God in Christ International in the USA and became better known by its acronym, COGIC UK.

Mary Evadne McLachlan, née Tapper, was a dressmaker born on April 1, 1902 in Mount Moriah, St Ann, Jamaica. Her father was a planter and her great grandfather, Henry Crook Tapper, hailed from Hampshire.

When she boarded the Windrush, she was accompanied by four other members of her family. With her in first class was her 14-year- old daughter Marjorie. Travelling in C class were three of Mary’s sons: teenagers Edward and Godfrey, and Aston who, at eight, was the youngest passenger in C class.

Her husband of 25 years, Laurence McLachlan, a corporal in the Jamaican Constabulary, had stayed behind. He did not join them until 1953 when he’d reached his 60th birthday. After arriving, he and Mary established another branch of the church in Camden, north London.

As the church grew so did the influence of Mary and her husband, known as Bishop McLachlan. They travelled to conferences abroad and during one of their visits to the USA, the couple attended a Church of God in Christ International Convention. Here the relationship between Bishop McLachlan and the church in Britain was formalised, with Bishop McLachlan appointed overseer of the church in London.

However, conflict followed with another bishop, who claimed he was the rightful head. Nevertheless, in the 1950s and ‘60s many people arriving from the West Indies went to “Mother McLachlan’s Church” where they felt welcome and able to worship as they wished.

In 1964, Bishop McLachlan died in Kingston after returning home because of ill health. Mary and three of the four children Marjorie, Edward and Aston, who accompanied her on the Windrush, later moved to Los Angeles, where Mary died on May 13, 1986. Edward became a bishop and Marjorie graduated from Bible college and taught for 28 years before retiring. Aston became an elder in Edward’s church. Godfrey was the only one of the Windrush’s ‘McLachlan five’ to remain in England. As a young man, he joined the RAF. He died in Crawley, West Sussex, in 1992.

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