They founded a church and helped change the face of Southampton, yet their names have been largely forgotten.

It’s been 160 years since Edmund and Elizabeth Kell opened the original Unitarian church in Southampton.

The 500 capacity Church of the Saviour in London Road, built in the Pointed Early English style, was finished in March 1860 and cost £2,600 – just less than £311,000 in today’s money

Despite a lack of evidence of any professional qualifications, Kell employed his friend Philip Brannon as the architect.

At its opening ceremony it was said to have been a labour of love for Brannon and described as elegant and "the cheapest church in Great Britain".

The building was destroyed in 1940 – during the Second World War aerial bombardment of Southampton – and only the front door key survives today.

It was then replaced in 1956 by a new church built on the corner of London Road and Bellevue Road.

The present building in Bellevue Road was officially opened on June 2, 1990. The hall is hired by many local organisations.

Edmund Kell was born in 1799, Wareham, the son of the local Unitarian minister.

He took an MA in Glasgow and then studied divinity at York.

He followed his father in becoming a Unitarian minister, his first post taking him in 1823 to Newport on the Isle of Wight where he remained for 30 years.

He moved to Southampton in 1853 and purchased land which had formerly been part of the Bellevue House estate on which he built a new church.

Edmund was shocked at the town's drunkenness and disorder, and he concluded that the best way to tackle this was to build a drinking fountain so that not just alcoholic drinks would be available to people outside of their homes.

This was such a new concept that he had to explain what a drinking fountain was.

The first drinking fountain in Southampton in 1859 was a result of collaboration between Edmund Kell and Charles Melly, a philanthropist from Liverpool.

Originally at the bottom of East Street, today it is in Houndwell Park.

In addition to the temperance movement Kell was involved in many reforming projects in the mid 19th century, including in 1870 being on the local committee for women’s suffrage.

A member of the Society of Antiquarians, a keen archaeologist and historian he was involved in a dig at Netley Abbey in 1860. Much was discovered, unfortunately much was also destroyed.

In Victorian fashion, they demolished all parts of the site they thought were post mediaeval, meaning that today we know comparatively little about Netley's history as a Tudor and Stuart palace in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Edmund Kell also persuaded the executors of the will of Henry Hartley to build the Hartley Institution in the High Street which was the forerunner of Southampton University.

Kell’s wife Elizabeth, born 1803, co-founded the church in 1860.

She was also active in reform movements, notably in work with the town’s prostitutes. In particular she campaigned against the provisions of the Contagious Diseases Act 1864, under which women in naval and garrison towns suspected of being prostitutes were forced to undergo degrading examinations to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

Men were not subject to the same scrutiny. Elizabeth believed ”No one, however humble or despised their station in life, is beyond the pale of sympathy of God and man.”

After her death in 1872 Edmund built a school adjoining the church in her memory.

Unitarians describe themselves as a spiritually diverse faith community and were the first in Southampton to enable same sex marriages. Theirs is a creedless faith which says:

“We are a compassionate and inclusive community encompassing diverse spiritual paths. Our purpose is to help people meet their spiritual needs while promoting social justice.”

Today they have a friendship with the Quaker movement and sometimes hold Eucharist and healing services with the Liberal Catholic church.

After Edmund Kell's death in 1874, he and his wife Elizabeth were buried in Southampton Old Cemetery near the east side of the non-conformist chapel.

By Martin Brisland, tour guide with .