Saint Giles Christian Mission - City of London
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Sally Bevan, Senior Archivist

History

The Saint Giles Christian Mission was founded in 1860 by George Hatton, a member of the Bloomsbury Baptist Chapel. Originally called “The Young Men’s Society for the Relief of the Poor”, and funded with help from the Bloomsbury Baptists, its object was to evangelise the district known as Seven Dials.

In spite of the evangelical revival in London, it got off to a slow and difficult start, but the persistence of the young men paid off and the original premises quickly became too small for the growing congregation. They achieved great success in the neighbourhood, undertaking home visits, teaching on thrift and temperance, and assisting with gifts of bread, meat and coal bought with money raised from subscriptions.

By 1867 the Mission had become independent of the Bloomsbury Chapel and continued its work at the King Street Hall Chapel until 1874, when one of the Deacons of the Chapel informed Mr Hatton “that there was work to be done in Wild Street.” The chapel in Wild Street was in a bad way and the Deacon thought it would be a good idea for Mr Hatton to take over the chapel and carry on his good work there. The property was conveyed to the Mission and, after a successful fund raising campaign, enough money was found to put the chapel to good use.

During this time another young man, William Morter Wheatley, saw George Hatton preaching and was drawn to the work of the Mission after finding his own personal salvation at the meeting. He threw himself whole heartedly into his work and was instrumental in starting the probation work which the Mission came to be known for.

In 1877, what was known as Prison Gate work was started. The Mission set up huts outside Holloway, Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons where newly discharged prisoners were offered breakfast and assistance, often in the form of travel money to get home, clothing, and help with employment, as well as encouragement to take the temperance pledge. This work was highly commended by the press and helped spread the reputation of the Mission as well as boosting funds and subscriptions. Work among first time offenders continued with the opening of a series of hostels and homes between the 1880s and 1900. These catered for young offenders who were encouraged and supported to find work or enter the armed services. As well as homes for young men and boys, the Mission opened homes for homeless and destitute women, particularly around the Seven Dials, Drury Lane area of London.

By 1894, the Mission had branched out and was opening holiday and convalescent homes and orphanages: a seaside home for convalescents in Hastings; a children’s home in Southgate; and a large ten bedroomed house with land to expand in Maldon, opened in 1899. Known as The Retreat, the latter started out as a children’s holiday home and orphanage, and by 1909 included a convalescent home for children, an adults’ holiday home and a home for aged Christians. During the Second World War many of the properties were used by the Military or Civil Administration as air raid shelters or accommodation for army personnel so much of the work of the Mission was scaled back, although it continued to provide Christmas parcels, and to care for the homeless needing shelter. Over the next ten years the welfare side of the Mission gradually wound down as the  post war costs of refurbishment and lack of manpower took their toll. Much of its work was taken on by state-run social services and it was felt that the Mission should concentrate more on non-secular aspects.

The Mission’s other work revolved around the chapels in Wild Street and Arundel Square. The Wild Street Chapel opened in 1874 and was the heart of the Mission.  The Chapel continued until 1902 when it was acquired by the London County Council (LCC) for the Kingsway Improvement. A new chapel was built in 1905 and a boys’ home run by William Wheatley was erected on a piece of land at the side of the chapel leased from the LCC. The home and chapel remained there until 1928/9 when they transferred to Islington. The home reopened at 29 Pemberton Gardens approved by the Home Office as a Probation Hostel, and the chapel moved to Arundel Square, Barnsbury where it opened in 1935, along with the Arundel Institute. The Institute’s goal was to foster the social activities for people of all ages in the thickly populated area of Barnsbury. This included running a Sunday School, Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Young Men’s and Young Women’s gymnasium, and Grandfather’s Club and using the hall for lectures and concerts.

The Mission and Institute continued into the 1950’s providing a great programme of social clubs and events for the community, as well as more regular weekly services along with the Sunday worship. However, the Mission had started to reconsider its role and by the 1960s had begun to re-emphasise the evangelical nature of its work. It still retained the social aspects, but added Youth Fellowship and bible studies, and short services in the evenings during the social clubs, along with a friendly hour after the main evening service which included informal hymn singing. 

The Mission has continued to adapt and change to its community, and is still active today, maintaining an evangelical ministry in North London which continues to address social needs in the area. Activities and meals for older folk are provided, youth work is undertaken and counselling given for both young and old, as well as running holiday clubs and day trips.

Archives

The archive of St Giles Mission includes: minutes of the Committee and Council, General Committee and Finance Committee (1897-1987), registers of donations and subscriptions (1927-67), and other financial records (1897-1978). Membership registers (1928-2000), annual reports (1861, 1895-2009), and records relating to property owned or rented by the Mission (1863-1962). Committee papers (1929-83) include speeches given at annual meetings, and reports and reviews of the work of the Mission. There are also registers of baptisms, marriages and burials held at the Mission (1943-86). There are records for the individual Mission churches: Little Wild Street Chapel (1859-1962) and Arundel Square Chapel (1859-1948);  and for individual homes and hostels including Wheatley Homes and Pemberton Gardens (1922-47); 'The Retreat', Maldon (1928-63); Eastlea Court, Frimlea (1945-63); 'Fairlawn' Herne Bay (1939-52); and Chatfield House, Whetstone (1937-40). Printed material includes scrapbooks, cuttings and ephemera (1922-73); histories and articles (1877-2010) and drawings and art work (1899-1948).

The full collection can be viewed on our online catalogue under reference code LMA/4607.

Further reading

Rev David Page, “St Giles Christian Mission. The History 1860 – 1970 A Journey of Faith”, (St. Giles Christian Mission, 2010). A copy of the above publication can be found at LMA ref: LMA/4607/F/04/011.

Published:
04 July 2013
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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