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East End Mission Hall, Commercial Road, 1957

​East End Mission Hall, Stepney Central Hall, Commercial Road, 1957

In 1885 the Wesleyan Methodist Church established its first mission in Cable Street, Shadwell in recognition of a need for new ways of working in the East End of London, aiming to combat poverty and squalor with a combination of evangelism and social work. This developed into the East End Mission which used innovations such as hiring secular premises, like the Old Mahogany Bar at Wilton's Music Hall, as new-style mission halls. Joe Williams explores the history of the East End Mission through the records he has recently catalogued.


In 1885 the Wesleyan Methodist Church established its first mission at Saint George's Chapel, Cable Street, Shadwell, with the Reverend Peter Thompson as Superintendent. The founding of the mission recognised a need for new ways of working in the East End of London, with the Church aiming to combat poverty and squalor with a combination of evangelism and social work. This ‘Forward Movement’ of the 1880s was in part a response to Andrew Mearns' The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883), which focused attention on the desperate plight of the urban poor.

Prior to the arrival of the Reverend Peter Thompson, the neighbourhood around Saint George’s Chapel had received the attention of a lay agent employed by the Saint George’s Lay Mission Committee. From the 1870s district visiting had been undertaken, together with class meetings and open-air services. By 1885 it was no longer possible for the Saint George’s Society to support this venture financially.

The Reverend Peter Thompson was sent to the East End following the Methodist Conference of 1895. Raised in Lancashire he was, by 1881, the Minister at Wood Green. On taking charge of the almost defunct Saint George’s Chapel, Thompson’s work as a slum missionary was successful enough to warrant rapid expansion of the Mission.

An innovation of this time was the hiring of secular premises as new-style mission halls, such as the Old Mahogany Bar at Wilton's Music Hall. Alcohol was seen as the main cause of the area’s social ills, but the new mission hall continued under the same name as an alternative to the public house. In addition to religious services, the Old Mahogany Bar saw use for other activities including food distribution. During the 1889 London Dock Strike over one thousand meals per day were served to dockers’ families.

Many of the main mission centres were purchased, although hiring provided the greatest flexibility to serve areas of particular need. Other centres taken into the Mission included Gordon Hall, Mile End, Edinburgh Castle public house, and the Wesleyan Chapel at Approach Road, Bethnal Green. Stepney Temple was later rebuilt and a new Stepney Central Hall opened as headquarters of the Mission in 1907.

'Mission centres' brought onto the Mission plan received the attention of ministerial staff. Free meals were handed out during hard winters, medical care was provided and events were organised for children including trips to the seaside, penny films and Christmas treats. The Mission – by now operating as the ‘East End Mission’ - campaigned on political issues, particularly for temperance and the closure of Music Halls. Articles on such issues appeared in the monthly magazine of the Mission - the 'East End' and later the 'East End Star'.

Following the foundation of the welfare state after the Second World War, the Mission shifted the focus of its social work. Saint George's was converted into a day care centre and the Mission as a whole developed its support for immigrant communities, single parents, the disabled, the unemployed and those in inadequate housing. A care home for the elderly was established in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. A later project of the Mission, in 1992, was the setting up of a children’s Cable Street Club. The site was eventually sold for housing.

At the same time as the founding of the ‘Wesleyan Mission East’ and its development and expansion into the East End Mission, other denominations began to operate in the East End. The United Methodist Free Church, based at Saint George’s Cannon Street Road, occupied a similar area geographically and also ran chapels at Pigott Street, Limehouse and Jubilee Street. The Cannon Street Road Chapel had closed by the end of the nineteenth century, and in 1907 the United Methodist Free Church joined with the New Connexion and the Bible Christians to form the United Methodist Church (itself incorporated into the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932).


The collection includes a wide variety of material from the East End Mission Circuit (LMA/4249/A); United Methodist Free Church London Third Circuit (LMA/4249/B), and the Bethnal Green Circuit (LMA/4249/C). This includes the records of eight mission centres and chapels in these Circuits which were, at different times in their individual histories, part of the East End Mission.

The collection contains a large number of committee minute books, baptism and marriage registers, publications and project reports.

The collection is now available for public access and can be found on LMA’s online catalogue by searching reference LMA/4249.

13 August 2015
Last Modified:
27 September 2018