In the Beginning
Around 1925, half a dozen Christians began praying and studying the Bible in order to decide whether to plant a new church in the Bermondsey area. Led by the Holy Spirit, they began meeting together in a home around a kitchen table. Therefore, the origin of Bermondsey Gospel Hall can be traced back to a group of Christians gathering together at 103 Southwark Park Road, which as seen here is now demolished.
As more Christians began to gather at 103 Southwark Park Road, the group soon outgrew the kitchen table and new premises were needed. The solution was not an orthodox one, as the group started to meet underneath the nearby brick railway viaduct, which, running from London Bridge to Greenwich, is the longest in the world.
A Strange Place to Meet
Although Spa Road Station closed before the first world war, the graffiti-covered platforms can still be seen from the train. The station booking office now forms part of the Discovery Business Park behind the St.James's Tavern in St.James's Rd. It was just two arches to the left of the booking office that you would have once heard the sound of hymn singing.
While a railway arch is a cold, damp and nosiy venue, it was provided at a peppercorn rent and was home to the church for some 30 years. Many happy, harmonious meetings were held over the years, with the preacher either pausing whenever a steam train thundered overhead or shouting to make himself heard above the rumblings. Flakes of white distemper would frequently be dislodged by the vibration of the trains, and those gathered were often seen leaving a meeting with chalky white spots on their shoulders!
The church at Bermondsey continued to grow as more people heard about God's love and turned in repentance to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation. Special childrens' campaigns were conducted by leading evangelists such as the late Don Miller and Charles McEwan of Exeter. Children packed the arch to capacity and are seen here receiving prizes from the late Mr.Goddard. Sunday school superintendent, David Hamm, is at the table - known in the area for decades as 'Mr. Hamm the chemist', who was himself converted through Charles McEwan.
Bermondsey Reaches Out
Gospel outreach has always been a driving focus of Bermondsey Gospel Hall, with hundreds of thousands of tracts and invitations delivered by hand to the local community throughout the years. Open-air preaching is here being conducted in Macks Road during the 50's using the latest portable valve amplification unit powered by a motorcycle battery. Today, we still seek to go out on the streets and share the message of salvation with those around us, whether by distributing hundreds of Christian calendars every year or by giving out tracts as we have done for decades.
A New Home
When the railway arch could no longer accommodate the growing congregation, this vacant bombsite less than 100m from the arch was acquired (No's. 95-101 St. James's Rd). H.H. Clark, a respected Christian architect, produced an ingenious design for the new building incorporating a number of halls that could be combined by the removal of partitions, giving a total seating capacity of 150 and an under floor baptistery. These design features are still the great strength of the building today, with the church being able to use it for a variety of meetings and purposes with ease.
In 1956, local builders J. Austin & Co. of Alscot St. commenced construction of the present building, which opened in March 1957 to a capacity congregation. The building was designed with a completely flat roof to provide the opportunity for future development, realised some 12 years later with the addition of an apartment for use of the church. This addition was possible because the original hall was built on 4m deep foundations in order to withstand vibrations from the railway viaduct opposite.
The Present Day
Around 90 years since those first members met across a kitchen table, we still encourage each other and take the gospel message to the surrounding area. We also continue to benefit from the wise decisions and investments made in the past. Recently, we have been refurbishing parts of the building in need of renewal - including planning for the addition of a ramp and creating a crèche. However, the central reason for our meeting together, our resolution to reach out and many of our beliefs have remained constant. By God's grace, in His goodness and according to His plan, we pray that Bermondsey Gospel Hall will continue to serve God and proclaim the gospel for many years to come.