Bryant Street Methodist Church, Stratford, London E15
height nor depth, nor anything else
A brief history of the church
Picture taken in 1902, when Conference Hall was part of the YMCA
The history began in 1884 with a mission by Moody and Sankey, the American Evangelists. Moody was the preacher and Sankey wrote the hymns. You may have heard some of them. The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Will your anchor hold, Trust and Obey, Blessed Assurance, to name but a few. They were in Stratford for 10 months in 1884 and out of this came the Conference Hall above. As a result of their mission about 300 men 'reclaimed from a life of drunkenness' formed the Mizpah band, which in the same year joined with the Young Men's Christian Association to build a hall seating 1,600 on a site given by a Miss Eccles. The hall was administered by a council of Anglicans and nonconformists at the time. The exact year of building is not clear, so we are taking the original mission of Mr. D.L. Moody and Mr. I. Sankey as our starting point.
What was the area like then? Historically, Stratford and West Ham were country districts overwhelmed by the industrial expansion of London. Up to the 1850s it was deserted, marshland area with scattered hamlets. The coming of the railways, with the great marshalling yards at Stratford, industrial complexes along the Thames and bordering on the Lea with the creation of the heavily populated industrial area. (West Ham itself grew from 20,000 in 1851 to 300,000 in 1901) Since the 1880s inadequate housing, under or unemployment, poverty, political tensions and population shift have been features of life.
Preaching was valued and found in a drawer recently is a visiting preachers book starting in 1892 and finishing in 1944. And the first signatures were – Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey. See below:-
In the 20th Century the church went into decline as far as numbers were concerned, though the faithful, as always, kept the church going. There was a theological split in 1911, when some people went off and formed another church, which developed into what is now known as Highway Church, and situated on the Romford Road. We still have strong links with Highway, and the ill feelings of a hundred years ago are now gone. In fact we are working together, with other churches on the InSpire Project, providing a place of prayer and quiet in the new Stratford Shopping Centre. Also there is planning for the Olympics in 2012.
The Conference Hall was taken over in 1934 by the newly united Methodist Church. Sadly, though, in 1944 the Church, Conference Hall and Y.M.C.A were destroyed by fire from a bomb in the Blitz. The main site is now occupied by the Police Station. All that remained is what is now known as the Main Hall, with its plaque commemorating those who died in the first world war still in place. The Hall was built in 1909/10 so is 100 years old, the oldest part of the church still standing.
The Hall itself has its history, serving as a hospital in the First World War, as a church when the Conference Hall burned down, and hosting many an activity over the years. After the Second World war, the congregation were joined by folks from The Grove Methodist church, which closed during the war. The congregation worshipped in the hall, praying that one day the church would be rebuilt. In 1964 the foundation stone to a new church was laid and the new church with its ancillary building and hostel was completed.
At that time the church was part of the Bow Mission. However, hard times were still to come and by the 1970s the church, small and poor, often met in the small hall because it could not afford to heat the church. The situation in 1975/76 is well described by Alan Partridge who had joined the church in that year. He is quoted in Tony Holden's book, "Keeping Faith", talking about life in the 70s. Alan said, "In this area of multiple deprivation there was a great need for community facilities, but faced with a declining membership the church had apparently decided to curtail expenses and live within its means."
Even so, Bryant Street got involved heavily in community work. There was a
history of work with children and young people in Boys and Girls Brigades and
youth clubs. New initiatives were started.
Wesley House began in the winter of 1965/66:
It was originally set up as a student hostel and was aimed at overseas students who were studying in this country. They all had to be Christians in those days, whether studying academic subjects or enrolled at the London Bible College.
Now it is single person accommodation at affordable rents, with no criteria to be Christians, and provides accommodation to people of a variety of Religions or none. However, the broad range of nationalities of residents remains, as Stratford itself has become one of the most multi-cultural environments in Britain.
Bryant Street Centre
Alan Partridge had the idea for community work in E15 which became Project E15. It was first discussed at a Church Council in July 1977 and it was seen then as a joint venture between our church, Newtown (the other Methodist church in Stratford) and the Bow Mission. Bryant Street not only made extensive use of these premises for group activities, Over 60s Club, Mother and Toddler group, etc. but also was a pioneer in the Night Shelter movement, providing accommodation and meals for the homeless.
For information about what goes on today see our activities page
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