Croydon Circuit, London

An article published over two months in the Christian Messenger

Croydon: first Primitive Methodist preaching place
Christian Messenger 1901/116; 1901/149
Croydon Laud Street Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1901/116; 1901/149
Croydon Cherry Orchard Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1901/116; 1901/149
Thornton Heath Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1901/116; 1901/149

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Ernest T. Bagnall


CROYDON CIRCUIT has just celebrated its Jubilee, and has reviewed its work during the greatest fifty years in all human history. What a comparison between then and now! It is scarcely fifty years since the first Atlantic cable was laid; now the whole earth is compassed with a network of wires, and people of all nations greet us in our morning newspapers. The telegraph and telephone have revolutionised the transmission of thought, and over and beneath the earth, laid, deep in sea and ocean, and even without intermediate wires, we have facilities for communication. The watchman’s ‘cry in the night’ has gone, so has the old tinder-box, with the flint and steel. The discovery of the Röntgen rays and the application of anaesthetics have modified human suffering. The  sewing machine in the domestic circle, and the invention of machines in all departments have transformed the conditions of labour and facilitated production and transport; the penny post has worked immense benefit to the community; the penny papers (and halfpenny indeed) have become one of the great wonders of the Victorian era. From a single railway in 1850 we have now 21,000 miles of railway in the United Kingdom. Not less marked has been the advance in the social and intellectual condition of the people. A system of national education has brought the present perfection in our Board Schools from the schools of the olden days, under the tuition of the old soldier or the ‘historic dame.’ The revolution in literature has brought the best writers within reach of the masses, and established public free libraries in numerous towns. Child labour has been abolished, the repeal of the corn laws has given the people a cheap loaf, woman has now many of her ‘rights,’ many brutal blood sports have been abolished, wages have increased, improved dwellings for the poor erected, and sanitation has become a science. The humanitarian spirit has developed, and consideration of the poor, protection of the weak, the abolition of slavery are the result. A breath of freedom, as from Heaven itself, has been borne over the land, and free speech, free schools, free trade, and a free press are the watchwords of these fifty years. The development of altruism has awakened some of the finest chords in the human spirit, and the touch of true Christianity is upon all growing institutions for dealing with human ill.

What giant strides of advancement have been made in national life and in the growth of our Colonies.
‘Far as the breezes bear the billows’ foam,
Survey our Empire and behold our home—’

The Empire on which the sun never sets, and as Charles Dickens facetiously says, ‘in which the tax-gatherer never goes to bed.’

‘Forward’ has been the watchword also in religious enterprise and foreign missionary work. India, China, and Africa have afforded immense fields for operations, and these countries are being claimed for Jesus Christ. At home deep-rooted vices and national sins have been grappled with, and temperance reform has won its widening way. The Free Churches have formed a Federation, with promise of mighty blessing to the nation. Church Rates and University Tests have disappeared, the Burial Laws have been amended, and a general advance toward that goal which Scripture and reason commend – Religious Equality.

In this general advance Primitive Methodism, too, has gone from strength to strength. In 1850 the Connexion had 104,762 members, 519ministers, 8,524 local preachers, and 103,310 Sunday school scholars. In 1900 there are 196,408 members (an additional 3,167 having this year joined the United Methodist Church of Australia), 1,085 ministers, 16,459 local preachers, 439,137 Sunday school scholars, and chapel property valued at £3,938,623. What hath God wrought!

At the time Primitive Methodism first touched Croydon (1848) the whole of London formed one circuit, including Cooper’s Gardens, Sutton Street, Westminster, Marylebone, Poplar, Fetter Lane, Deptford, Greenwich, Kennington, Woolwich, Rotherhithe, Holloway, Peckham, and Croydon Old Town. The ministers were Revs. G. Austin, G. Wood (who resided at Croydon), and Joel Hodgson. Now London has 37 circuits with 44 ministers. The history of the Connexion in Croydon is one of noble self-sacrifice, of patient toil amid much persecution and hardship, a history of living faith in God, a history of soul-rescue and of missionary enterprise which should inspire its coming sons.

The records show that pioneer work really began in 1848. In that year Mr. David Hodgson (who had previously been a local preacher in one of our Lincolnshire Circuits) approached the March Quarterly Meeting of the London Circuit, held at Elim Chapel, Fetter Lane, and Croydon was immediately missioned.

Croydon Old Town appears on a plan still in possession of Rev. Joel Hodgson, who had the honour of taking the first class-book to Croydon, and at the following June Quarterly Meeting there were reported five full members and three on trial. The Rev. J. Ride was sent to reconnoitre, and he gave a deplorable account of the vice and Sabbath-breaking prevalent in Croydon. The Old Town was spoken of as ‘a hell upon earth,’ and it proved a very difficult mission. The Rev. George Wood was located in the town, but his stay was brief. From the first great opposition was given, and the meetings were broken up, sometimes twice during the hour. Men under the influence of drink often mobbed the missioners, tearing off their clothes and throwing all kinds of missiles. But these early Primitives were men of grit and not easily thwarted. Still they sang through the streets the familiar refrains:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,’
Turn to the Lord and seek salvation.’

On one occasion the clergyman sent a man to forbid a camp-meeting, and as the preachers appointed had not a preacher’s license, it was thought prudent not to proceed. All sorts of disturbances were made indoors. A ‘survivor’ remembers a donkey used to distract the meeting, birds were let loose, and songs sung, not exactly of a religious character. Yet the power of God was manifested, many conversions took place, and the whole little band grew. One man, anxious for the truth, though not daring to enter the building for fear of persecution from the family, climbed a ladder and listened at the window. It was to him a Jacob’s ladder, which brought the saving ministry of Heaven. As he testified afterwards, ‘blessed truths I used to hear on that ladder.’

It is evident persecution assumed a serious form, and was referred to the General Missionary Committee, who wrote as follows in 1849 – ‘The brethren at Croydon are desired to bear up patiently under persecution, and Brother Ride is specially requested to desire them to do so, as a prosecution might involve them in serious difficulties.’ That letter was signed by W. Garner as secretary.

In that year Croydon became a separate mission, under the direction of the General Missionary Committee. The population of the town was about 20,000. The accompanying illustration shows the first regular preaching-room, and still exists, though the front has been recently rebuilt. Mighty rivers have their humble sources; great harvests spring from smallest seeds; so from this first preaching-room have arisen church after church, and even whole circuits.

The first minister stationed to the Croydon Mission was the Rev. E. Powell, who is still living, and has lively recollections of the place where he laboured from 1849 to 1852. He says it was hard, anxious, uphill work, and he did not always receive the goodwill of the other Free Churches. He relates that at one anniversary the Congregational minister of one of the Croydon Churches engaged to preach for him. The bills were printed and posted, when the deacons forbade their minister identifying himself with our cause. That same church recently granted the use of their magnificent premises for our two days’ Jubilee services. Mr. Powell speaks of the greatest depravity among the people, and in house-to-house visitation he and others met with the most shameful abuse from men and women. Many of these characters, however, were transformed under the power of the Gospel. It was, indeed, ‘pulling them out of the fire; even hating the garment spotted by the flesh.’ A glance at the quarterly accounts of those early days is interesting. At June, 1848, there were five members approved and three on trial. The income amounted to eleven shillings and fourpence. A year later six places had been opened for worship, with 41 members, and an income of £5 8s. 9d., the grant from General Missionary Fund being £8 12s. 5d.

In those days it was necessary to have a ‘license to preach,’ and the following is a copy of the license issued to Mr. D. Hodgson. The original is in the keeping of Mrs. Hodgson, his respected widow, who still survives him.

I, Thomas Arthur Henmis, one of her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, ‘for the County of Surrey, do hereby certify that David Hodgson, of Croydon, in the County of Surrey, Protestant Minister, did this day appear before me and did make and take and subscribe the several oaths and declarations speci?ed in an Act of Parliament made in the reign of his Majesty, King George the Third, entitled, an Act to repeal certain Acts, and amend other Acts relating to religious worship and assemblies and persons teaching and preaching therein. Witness my hand this fourteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord 1848. – T.A. HENMIS.

In 1852 Redhill was joined to Croydon under the name of Croydon and Redhill Mission. A cause had been established at Redhill by Mr. Jonathan Holmes, who migrated from Long Sutton, in  Lincolnshire. Mr. Holmes now resides at Buxton. He was undoubtedly the pioneer of our Redhill work and all honour is due to him for the unstinted labour with which he maintained that work. No name is more respected among the older Primitive Methodists in that neighbourhood to-day.

In 1856 Forest Hill was missioned and put on the plan; both these are now independent circuits with two ministers each. The circuit was also extended to Malden, Kingston-on-Thames, Dorking, Reigate and Horley. They were true progressives in those days! At some places, however, these early Primitives were apostolic in shaking the dust off their feet, for when they were not received in one place they fled to another. There is a minute on record passed by June Quarterly meeting 1859; ‘That Shirley be given up after the strongest evidence of confirmed unbelief on the part of its inhabitants, and that our efforts be transferred to another place.‘ There are other curious and suggestive resolutions which give an insight into the church-life of those days, and strike us now as being somewhat crude. The following bears date 1853: ‘That Bro. Peara be planned once a quarter and that he be requested to preach short.’ Doubtless many congregations would be in sympathy with a similar resolution to-day. Another of the same year: ‘That Mr. Kent with Mr. Hunt prepare a note of censure expressing the feeling of this Quarterly Meeting relative to the constant complaining of the people at Redhill of want of good preaching.’ Diamonds in the rough though these men were, we gratefully record their self-sacrifice in the long journeys undertaken and their heroic perseverance amid much trial. Methodism everywhere owes its triumphs to such men.

After the opening of these new missions the Chapel Building Era began. It seems, however, that the building in the old town was after a time given up and services were he’d in a room fitted up by Mr. D. Hodgson over his trap-house off the Mitcham Road. Then Mr. Hodgson said that one night he had a dream that he was to go to ‘Bog Isle.’ The impression was so strong that he went the next afternoon and saw a plot of land to be sold. A few days later he and the minister viewed the land together. Mr. Hodgson purchased it for £120 and presented it for a chapel site. He used to say ‘that chapel was of God,’ a statement which its subsequent history has fully confirmed. Mr. Hodgson was a man full of faith, a true Christian at home as well as abroad, a faithful and devoted husband blessed with a wife who shared his joys and sorrows, and who trained his children to attend regularly the means of grace and sought to influence and encourage them in the Christian life. The first building erected on the site was of wood and served the society until they felt able to undertake the building of the present chapel in 1865.

The original cost of these premises was £1,476, and £400 has since been spent on improvements. It was a great undertaking in those days, but the zealous band, led by their enterprising minister, Rev. J. Stroud, accomplished their task, after much difficulty. Among other means to raise funds was the publishing of ‘Leek-seed Chapel,’ by Mr. Stroud, a booklet giving a stirring incident of early Methodism. Among those still living in the circuit, who were attending at the time of the opening, are Mr. John Rawlings (our oldest member and one whom the early ministers refer to as a sturdy champion of the cause – a man whose character is held in high esteem), Mr. H. Johnson, Mr. J. Shirley, Mr. and Mrs. J. Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. A. Shapcott, Mr. and Mrs. W. Noble, and Mrs. C. Elford. Some are residing in other circuits, such as Mr. J. Holmes, and Mr. and Mrs. S. Povey. One, Rev. G. Shapcott, is now in our ministry and doing excellent work in London. Laud Street became the head of Croydon Circuit and the centre from which missions were established in all directions. In 1868 a school chapel was built at Croydon Common in the Princess Road and a good work was done here. The Rev. W. Freear was superintendent at this time, but being in failing health the Rev. Joseph Odell (now President of Conference) was sent to help in circuit work Then, as now, Mr. Odell was fired by the Evangelistic Spirit and stirring revivals took place. At Croydon Common the new class formed became a, very ‘hot-bed of spiritual life.’

Sutton was also missioned and put on the plan early in 1869, the first services beong held in the house of Mr. E. Justice, who is still an excellent worker and local preacher there.

In January 1869, Rev J. Odell held the forst preaching service at Cross Road, Croydon, thus establishing a work which has resulted in the present Cherry Orchard Road Church. A devoted and godly woman, Mrs. Cornfield, opened her house for a class meeting which met on Sunday mornings at 9.30.

Next April the first District Meeting held in Croydon was opened, representing the whole of the London Districts and the Missions. The visitation made a great impression on the town and the work made good progress.

Rev. J. Odell’s notable evangelistic zeal, his visitation, his spirited and persistent open-air work are still remembered, and he found valuable help in Mr. John Rawlings and others. Odell’s ‘heavy artillery,’ as it was termed, stirred many a neighbourhood with their songs and invitations. Mr. Odell relates that on one occasion in Church Street a group of young fellows stood at the corner waiting for anything that would give them fun. When they caught sight of him (it was a fair game to mock the open-air preacher), they started one of the hymns familiar by use in the open-air. As they shouted the chorus at him, to their surprise the preacher walked up and joined them in singing, looking at them to urge them to go on. They did not bargain for this and soon stopped their mocking praise. Mr. Odell then raised his hat, closed his eyes and began to pray very earnestly. How they ran in all directions – the shop-keepers having the laugh of them all down the street. It was a prompt cure for mockery. Incidents are given of a Sunday tradesman closing his shop on the Sabbath and joining the church, of a policeman on the beat standing in the passage of the preaching house to hear the words ‘time no longer’ and to be led to serious thoughts of life and destiny. This man became a local preacher and supported well the Penge Society. Mr. Odell has the following entry in his journal, written in red ink, when he was leaving Croydon for London First Circuit:— ‘Throughout my life I shall remember with grateful joy my stay on the Croydon Station; going there when physically weak, also mentally depressed by the loss of a beloved sister, yet the Lord remembered me and helped me marvellously. Faith again prevailed, the clouds cleared, God appeared to me in the glory of His saving and sanctifying grace. I felt I got strung up to a blessed key in the soul-saving work. During my stay on the station l saw many converted, formed three flourishing classes and also was Divinely helped to open the way for a third preaching-place in the town, which promises to be a good and growing centre. To God be all the Glory!’

The following ministers laboured on the Croydon Mission from 1850 to 1868:— Revs. E. Powell, D. Kent, W. Hayman, K. Riseley, W. Mottram, T. Wilkinson, J. Ford, W. Kingdon, J. Starr, A. Beckerlegge, J. Nixon, J. Hunt, C. Emerson, J. Stanwell, J. Stroud, R. Ayers, T. Hancock, R. Trenwith, W. Freear and P. Crawley.


(To be continued.)


Present (1901)

MODERN Croydon Circuit dates from the time when it was divided in 1868, Kingston-on-Thames becoming a separate station. In the following year the Rev. Jesse Ashworth was appointed to Croydon on the understanding that the station should be made independent of the General Missionary Committee, and this was accomplished at the following September quarterly meeting and officially confirmed by the Conference of 1870. Mr. Ashworth remained four years and speaks of his term as the ‘Iron Age.’ When he came we had only cottages to preach in at Penge, Sutton, New Wimbledon and Cross Road, Croydon; but with characteristic zeal, wisdom and foresight he secured sites and succeeded in erecting iron churches at all these places. Bromley and other places were also missioned. It was a noble record of faithful and indefatigable toil. Mr. Ashworth’s colleagues were successively Revs. J. Dobson, J.T. Brown, A. Ives, J. Ford and R. Andrews. He was favoured also with the valued help of Mr. D. Hodgson and family, the family of Prices, Mr. H. Johnson and Mr. Charles Elford. Mr. Elford had served a few years in the ministry, but, by reason of failing health, he resigned. Being an eloquent and powerful speaker he was in much demand, and for about 15 years he proved of invaluable service. He died aged 62 after having served the Connexion 47 years. His son, Mr. Robert Elford, still resides at Sutton and has proved an equally loyal supporter of the cause. Mr. Theodore Jones, too, rendered valuable service at Sutton in many ways.

In 1873 Mr. Ashworth was succeeded by the Rev. Dennis Kendall, who did excellent work in the circuit. During his ministry several stirring revivals were experienced and the churches made steady advance. His geniality and high Christian character left their mark upon the circuit life and his ministry is remembered to-day. In 1877 a valuable site was secured at Bromley and a school-chapel erected, the whole premises costing £990. Rev. E. Jackson undertook this work and was superintendent from 1876-8. His mantle of energy and connexional loyalty has fallen upon his son, Mr. A. Jackson, now at Cherry Orchard Road. Here also, Mrs. Jackson, widow of Rev. E. Jackson, is in membership still.

We have seen that services were first held at Sutton in 1869, at the house of Mr. Justice, and that subsequently an iron building was erected. In 1879, however, this was replaced by the present substantial church at a cost of £1,200, during the superintendency of Rev. W.M. Barratt. Mr. Barratt was superintendent from 1878 to 1880 with Rev. R. Fletcher as colleague. In the earlier days of this Sutton society great service was rendered by Mrs. Price, the mother of Mr. George Price, of Sutton, and Mr. James Price, of Penge. The fruit of her consecrated labour will ever remain. Her sons also have proved themselves right loyal to the Connexion, and the Society at Sutton has been much strengthened by the faithful serxices of Mr. G. Price. He has been on the plan for about 30 years, and has been Circuit Steward for 20 years. He has found true help and inspiration in his devoted wife, who is a daughter of Rev. J. Crompton.

Sutton society has also been enriched and ennobled by the services of Rev. W. Williams, who for twenty years has resided there. His mature experience, lofty character and kindly counsel have been a rock of strength to that cause and, indeed, to the whole circuit.

Another forward step was taken in 1882 by the erection of a commodious church and school at Penge, costing £2,404 on a prominent site in the Beckenharn Road. This was undertaken during the Rev. W.E. Crombie’s ministry. An interesting incident occurred in connection with the stone-laying. A poor working man, a gardener named Standing, very much desired to lay a stone, and consent being given he placed £50 upon it in thanksgiving for the goodness of God since the day of his conversion. It was the saving of a lifetime and God honoured the gift, for Mr. Standing never lacked to the end of his days. The Price family alone gave £400 that day.

In 1885 our work was transferred from the Iron Room in Cross Road to the excellent premises erected in Cherry Orchard Road, at a cost of £1,726. This brought the cause to one of the main roads of Croydon. A good society has been formed here of noble and loyal men and women who, amid the changing circumstances of the years, remain faithful to God and true to the Connexion. The largest Sunday School in the circuit assembles here and is conducted with earnestness and efficiency. Internally this chapel is one of the prettiest and best apportioned we have in South East London. From 1880 to 1890 the Rev. W.E. Crombie was circuit superintendent. The monuments of his energy and wisdom remain in the premises at Penge, Cherry Orchard Road and a small place opened in 1888 at Crofton Road, near Farnborough. A mission was also established at Norbury by the opening of a cottage-meeting.

A worthier monument than these, however, remains in the influence of his devoted ministry and high Christian example upon the various societies. Mr. Crombie’s colleagues were Revs. J.N. Wheeler, C.H. Lightfoot, E Millichamp and T.E. Currah. In 1891 the circuit spread out its wings once more, this time to South Norwood, where a school-chapel was built in an excellent position in Portland Road. The cost, including site was £998. A good school has been established and the work generally has been blessed to many in that neighbourhood. We anticipate that when more commodious premises can be erected there will be a strong and flourishing society.

The Rev. G.B. Gleghorn was the superintendent who took this work in hand, and who presided in the circuit from 1890 to 1893. Mr. Gleghorn’s ministry was accompanied with much blessing and his personal character and kindly influence did much to promote goodwill among the societies and to ennoble the circuit life. In his ministry there were ‘gifts, grace, and fruit.’ His colleague was the Rev. G.T. Gooderidge, who resided at Penge and rendered hearty service to the whole circuit.

In 1893 there was a complete ‘change of government,’ and the new ministers appointed were the Revs. F. Pickett, W. Lee, B.A., and A. Fawcett. The growing needs of a circuit covering so wide an area made it imperative that an additional minister should be appointed. Events fully justi?ed the course taken, and the society at Bromley, under the special care of Mr. Fawcett, made good progress. The main work done during Mr. Pickett’s superintendency was that of consolidation and financial arrangement. Our work was also transferred from a room at South Streatham to a larger one more central. Mr. Pickett rendered excellent service to the circuit by his good judgment, pulpit efficiency, and business capacity.

The work at Penge also developed substantially under the resident care of Rev. W. Lee. The membership was considerably increased, the debt reduced, and the whole tone of the work raised. In 1896 Mr. Lee was succeeded by the Rev. J. T. Smith, who, by his genial presence and faithful toil, won the favour of the people. Much good was accomplished. In 1897 Mr. Fawcett was succeeded by the Rev. H.J.  Butt, who for two years resided at Bromley and served the circuit as probationer. In 1897 the Rev. E.J.T. Bagnall succeeded Mr. Pickett as superintendent, and still remains on the circuit. For some time it had been felt that the rapidly-developing neighbourhoods around many of our churches needed more concentrated work, and in 1899 the division of the circuit was harmoniously and successfully accomplished. The new circuit comprises Penge, Bromley, and Crofton Road, the first minister being the Rev. T. Saunders, with Mr. James Price as Circuit Steward. Mr. and Mrs. Price for many years have served the cause at Penge, and Mr. Price has been on the Croydon plan for 27 years.

The Croydon Circuit now comprises Laud Street (Croydon), Cherry Orchard Road (Croydon), Sutton, Streatham, South Norwood, and Thornton Heath. The Rev. E.J.T. Bagnall continued as super, and Rev. J.N. Graham was appointed second minister.

More than fifty years have gone since the seeds of the circuit were sown, and, thank God, not sown in vain. Not only chapels, but whole circuits have sprung from that small beginning. The following figures give some idea of the progress made up to the time of dividing the circuit in 1899. These are exclusive of Redhill, Kingston, Forest Hill, and Wimbledon, all of which were first missioned from Croydon:—
In 1850 number of members         50
“   1899 “                       “           470
“   1850 Quarterly Meeting income £6 5s. 2d.
“   1899      “              “                “        £100
“   1850 Missionary income         £2 12s. 8d.
“   1899        “               “           £30 0s. 2d.

Croydon, too, during these years has developed from a small country town to a great suburban one, and it is still growing at a rapid rate. The town is said to be the healthiest in the kingdom, and during the past sixteen years it has stood at the head of the Registrar-General’s list of large towns as the most healthy. Its municipal motto is ‘Sanitate Crescamus.’ Situate 10½ miles from the Royal Exchange, and on the Brighton Road, it has always been a place of some importance. There are 12 railway stations in the Croydon County Borough, and ’bus communication with the city. It is governed by 12 Aldermen and 36 Councillors, and is at present represented in Parliament by the Right Hon. C.T. Ritchie, Home Secretary. Its Municipal Buildings, a magnificent pile, were opened in 1896 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Its history dates far back to pre-Roman days, and implements have been discovered belonging to the Neolithic Age. In the Domesday Book it is referred to under the name of ‘Croindene.’ The town has had an intimate connection with the See of Canterbury for long generations, and Croydon Palace has been the residence of a long succession of Archbishops. Numerous streets and institutions are named after these dignitaries of the olden time. From elevated spots in the Borough, such as the Addington Hills and Croham Hurst, one gets a magnificent view of surrounding Surrey. With such a situation, with such ready means of communication with the Metropolis, and with such a record of health, no wonder the population has grown during the last fifty years from 20,000 to now about 130,000.

To meet the increasing demand of the population, a forward movement is now being undertaken by the Croydon Circuit in the North of the Borough, at Thornton Heath. A mission was established here in a hired room in Bensham Manor Road in January, 1898. In 1899 the Polytechnic Hall was taken in addition, and a site secured in the Woodville Road. Upon this site a Church and Lecture Hall are now being erected in commemoration of the Circuit Jubilee. There is every prospect of a strong society being established in this growing neighbourhood, and evidences have already been given of the Divine benediction upon this work. A site has also been secured at Streatham, one of the most important suburbs of the great city. A good cause has developed from the small cottage-meeting already mentioned, though Mr. and Mrs. Noble and Mr. and Mrs. Ratcliffe are the only members remaining of those who met in that cottage. They have stood nobly by the work. We hope to see a substantial building erected here before long. We need the old fire and spirit in all our changing methods, and with this equipment we shall rise above the dead issues of the past and do the needful work of to-day


Christian Messenger 1901/116; 1901/149

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