Leysian Mission
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'The Leysian Mission 1886-1986. A Century of Caring', printed by Social Service Supplies, Stepfield, Witham, Essex © 1986. ISBN No. 9511294 0 6, is the official history of the Mission. The line drawing of the Mission is taken from the same source.
The Rev. Tom Fenton (minister of three years standing) tells the story of his introduction to the Mission and the people who influenced his future life. He also recalls fellow members of Miss Heel's class of whom Frank Salmon was one: "Frank Salmon. This was one of the rough diamonds. His father worked for the cleansing department (Finsbury) and was a heavy drinker. His mother too was an alcoholic. Frank found a haven in the Mission and especially Miss Heel's class. He never took part in the prayers, reading etc., but every now and then he would give his testimony. He stayed on at the Mission and became one of the officers in the Society."
The Rev. Fenton relates further about the time that "Frank called for one of his pals to urge him to come to class. Jimmy, his pal, didn't want to come. 'Got no boots' he cried up from the area. Frank thought for a moment. 'You take the same size as me, don't you?' 'That's right', Jimmy replied. 'Well, if I throw mine down the airey will you come?' 'OK' said Jimmy, and that's how they turned up. Jimmy Price wearing Frank's boots and Frank in his stocking feet."
The Rev. W. W. Simpson (minister from 1929-32) records among his memories the following paragraph: ''There are names that crop up time and time again as we have shared the recollections of some who have had reason to thank God for The Leysian Mission. How I would have liked to have known Miss Heel! Several have mentioned Frank Salmon, greatly loved by all in the Mission when I joined the staff in 1967. I remember the sense of loss felt when he died, but what a joy to have his wife Alice still with us. As was mentioned, she was one of the Kay family - a very remarkable Mission family. Her father had been converted at Errol Street and from a class led by Sister Edith, he came to take more and more part in Mission activities. He became a speaker and a soloist and a member of the brass band. When he married his weekly wage was 21/- a week - yet his first rise of 1/- a week was given to the Mission as a thank offering. Of the twelve surviving children, most became active in the work of the Church, and we are always delighted when Mr. Albert Kay calls in at the Mission to see his sister. They both have wonderful stories to tell.''




Leysian Mission 1904 (line drawing)

Further information on the Leysian Mission is below. this has been compiled by Alan Kay:

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEYSIAN MISSION - CITY ROAD - LONDON
William Kay was converted at Errol Street, while in a class led by Sister Edith, and married Ann Caroline Louise Kay in the Leysian Hall in 1896; and we, as their descendants have, in one way or another been influenced by the Leysian Mission - Sounds far-fetched?
Then how many, even the youngest among us, would have been alive had our parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents not met at the Leysian Mission, City Road?
The Mission played such a large part in the family life of William and Ann that even their children, most of whom their met partners at the Mission and probably married there, subsequently sent their children to Sunday School at the Mission.
Inevitably, some families moved away and settled farther afield, but there were many opportunities for reunion when returning to celebrate family gatherings and Mission events, until the final closure and merger with the Wesleyan Chapel in 1989.

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'The Leysian Mission 1886-1986 - A Century of Caring', published to celebrate the centenary of the Mission, tells how it was founded by the Old Boys of The Leys School, Cambridge, and where at a General Meeting of Old Leysians held at the Mission House, Bishopsgate Street, on October 7th 1885, a resolution in favour of establishing a Leysian Mission was passed. In February 1886, they were offered by the Wesleyan London Mission, rent free, premises in Whitecross Street. The offer was accepted on March 30th 1886 and a month later No. 199 Whitecross Street became the Headquarters of the Mission. The premises were old and in need of constant repair. "They were situated in a back street with open air stalls on either side, abounding in bad smells and noisy with the babble of raucous voices. The entrance was along a dark and narrow passage and up a flight of slippery stone stairs. The Hall, which could seat 200 was entirely without ventilation, and the rooms where subsequently the resident workers lived, must have been appalling."
The Mission's first Annual Report dated December 1886 gives some idea of the area. "On Sunday morning Whitecross Street presents a very lively appearance, this being a crowded market in the street till eleven - about this time the police and the carbolic acid cart do their best to clear the street. On many Sundays the chaffering has a few minutes lull as the crowd rushes off to cover the Salvation Army, as it passes, with dirty refuse and dirtier language. Sometimes you find a couple of our workers in this strange, ill-clad mass, canvassing for the Bible Class. The average attendance so far is sixteen - men from 18 to 56 years of age."
In 1887 the 5th London Company of the Boys' Brigade came into being, in addition to the Girls' Parlour and the Boys' Club. A Service for children was introduced on Sunday mornings and Open Air meetings were held. Over the next two years the work continued to expand and in the summer of 1889 there were nearly 500 scholars on the Sunday School roll and the Sunday evening congregation filled the small Hall to overflowing.

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Larger premises had to be found and it was decided to buy a plot of land in Errol Street for £2,650, together with an adjacent plot valued at about £1,500 and to build a Hall. Plans were prepared and a tender of £4,677 was accepted. The foundation stones were laid on 29th October 1889 and can still be seen today (1986) on the frontage of the building now occupied by the Arts Educational School. (Are they still visible in 2006?)
In the Whitecross Street reports of 1890 were the first references to "daily gifts of broken food". These gifts were given by the City Liberal Company and Cook Son & Co. and how eagerly they must have been received by the desperately poor families around.
Appeals for clothing were made and parcels of such plus old linen started arriving; together with hampers of drugs, medicines etc. for the Medical Mission. When it was discovered that children could not come to Sunday School because they "Got no boots or clothes fit to come in" a Dorcas Society was formed to provide clothes - though often the children would change into these at the Mission and leave them behind when they left. To have taken them home would run the risk of the garments being pawned before the next Sunday meeting!
The Sunday prior to the opening of the Errol Street premises saw 200 Sunday School children march to the new Hall and so opened the first Leysian Hall worthy of the name, on April 23rd 1890.
The programme of activities begun at Whitecross Street was continued and greatly expanded. Emphasis was placed on Temperance and on Prayer. The first was necessary because of the prevalence of drunkenness in this particular area of London, bringing misery and distress to many families - a situation which was vividly described by some older members of the family, notably William himself!
In those early days, music was in the hands of C. A. Farmer and under his leadership the choir and orchestra contributed to the worship. A plaque once commemorated his work. Does it still exist somewhere?
It was at Errol Street that the Brass Band came into being, which, following a gift of new intruments, became known as the Silver Band.
Every activity reported increased numbers; in 1902 the Sunday School had nearly 700 children on the books, with an average attendance of 480. Things had reached saturation point once again! And this in an area of London, St Luke's, which was one of the most densely populated of the overcrowded districts of the metropolis having more than 100 per cent more persons to the acre than could healthily live there and where East Finsbury, which embraces St Luke's, has the highest death-rate in London. And, where the ratio of deaths from alcoholic excess over the past 20 years had increased among men by 43 per cent and amongst women by 104 per cent!
The last virulent epidemic of smallpox broke out in Finsbury and Shoreditch around 1899-1900. The special hospitals were soon over-flowing and hulks were provided on the Thames. Hundreds of cases were moved from the neighbourhood.
Although the Old Leysians were comparatively young with children, none neglected their duty in tending the sick and the poor. However, it soon became evident that the Errol Street premises were hopelessly insufficient.

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The question of finding larger premises re-surfaced once again. Eventually a site recommended for slum clearance by the LCC became available - but it was in City Road! Would the Old Leysians be allowed to build a Mission so near City Road Chapel? Overcoming some opposition from that quarter was only part of the problem - the value of the land had soared to £76,800 per acre! By selling off a surplus half-acre the cost of the site was reduced to £40,000. In June 1902 the tender for £51,477 was accepted, to provide a large hall to seat 2,000, a small hall, club rooms for men and women, boys and girls, a gymnasium, classrooms and vestries with natural light and ventilation. Building commenced in August and on April 22nd 1903 the foundation stones were laid.

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The Queen Victoria Hall was opened by their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary) on July 11th 1904, but it would be three months before the buildings were completed and the grand move from Errol Street could take place.

For the next 85 years the Mission ministered to the needs of the community; surviving two world wars, including bombing and the destruction of the large hall by fire through enemy action during WWII. Every conceivable activity was catered for . . . from the children's Sunday evening Lantern Service (where every week queues formed outside before the doors opened), to the Monster Men's Meeting. There were all types of clubs . . . boys' and girls' clubs; cricket, football and swimming clubs; a literary society, Bible reading and prayer meetings where a thousand to twelve-hundred would attend weekly. There was a Coffee Bar and a Summer Holiday Bureau - on Whit Monday, 1905, a party of 1,600 left St Luke's in three GNR trains filled to capacity. The Brass Band, choir and orchestra were very active, as was the 5th London Company, 1887-1986, the Boys' Brigade, plus many more.
The story of the Leysian Mission records life in one of the most deprived areas of London throughout a period covering more than one hundred years of social history.

Visit the Wesleys Chapel website for more information on the Leysian Mission at: http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk

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