Anyone who sets out to write a history of the old Hall that stands next to St. Stephen’s School on the Chertsey Road has their work cut out simply because the firm facts are difficult to find. For example…what is the place called? Is it “St. Stephen’s School Hall” as most people think or is it “St Stephen’s Church Hall” as the notice board outside suggests? Could it be “St Stephen’s Mission Hall” as one set of records describe it or is it “St Paul’s Mission Hall” as given in another? Perhaps it is even “St Paul’s Church”? Confusing…
To add to the muddle, the old Hall/Church/Mission/St Stephen’s/St Pauls etc. etc., was not the first Mission Hall in the vicinity. In or around 1881 Twickenham Baptist Church built a mission hall on the corner of St Margarets Road and Turks Lane, or Winchester Road as it is now and in 1905 a more permanent church next door to it. Fortunately for this researcher both of these buildings were demolished when the A316 was constructed in 1933, leaving our old Hall/Church/Mission/St Stephen’s/St Pauls etc. etc., as the only kid on the block. That’s a relief.
So ‘Important Question 1’…when was the Hall built? The only clue that I have found is a small plaque on an inside wall.
This tablet is erected by his nephews for the memory of
A.O. CROOKE Esq. Late of Glenthorne, in this parish, through whose munificent legacy of £1000 this hall was chiefly built. He died January 25th 1902
Arthur Ocran Crooke was a brewer and the son of a brewing family from Guildford. In 1861, for the sum of £140, he bought Hendon Brewery, a small and not altogether successful concern on the Welsh Harp in North London. Although he was only in his early twenties and relatively inexperienced Arthur Crooke was able to turn the brewery around. Soon he was distributing his beer throughout Hertfordshire and Middlesex. In 1895 following two devastating fires Crooke was obliged to sell his interest in the brewery for £83,000 and retire to Glenthorne, a house on the St. Margarets Road. He was a generous man and on his death in 1902 bequeathed £20,000 to the hospitals of London and Surrey including £2,000 to the Royal Surrey County Hospital at Guildford and £1000 for the construction of the Mission Hall.
Although it was originally intended as an annex to St Stephens Parish Church in East Twickenham, and consecrated for Services and Holy Communion, the Mission Hall was always considered part of St Stephen’s School and for the use of the wider community. During the First World War for example it served as a feeding centre selling bowls of soup with bread for 1 penny. By the mid 1930’s, the Hall had fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. In 1937 the incoming vicar, Revd. White wrote to his Archdeacon…
My Dear Archdeacon,
I am most anxious that the mission hall…which is licensed for services including the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism shall be reopened for the purpose at the earliest opportunity….Those who live in the area around the Hall do not come to the Parish Church which is situated at the other end of my parish. No services have been held in the Hall for years and the Hall has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.
One does want to give these people every opportunity of responding to the Recall to Religion by providing a fit place where services can be held and the Holy Sacraments administered.
The Archdeacon agreed with the Vicar and through the City Parochial Charities “provided £125 towards the repair and improvement of St. Stephen’s Mission Hall.” 8 years later, in 1945, Revd. White told the Parish Council that when he first came to the Parish in 1937 the Hall was in a terrible state - but within six months had been restored, cleaned and rededicated by the Bishop of Kensington. Services had been held in the Hall ever since. During the 2nd World War the Hall was used as a Rest Centre which brings us to the question of the chairs…
THREE CHAIRS FOR THE STANDING COMMITTEE!
- On 5th September 1945 the Parish Council asked the Middlesex County Council if it might buy the chairs installed by them in the Rest Centre. The M.C.C said “No”, so the Parish Council decided to buy their own chairs as a matter of urgency.
- By November 1945 chairs still hadn’t been purchased. When a concert was held in the Hall the Council had to rent chairs from the Church Lads Brigade for £3. The business of obtaining chairs was handed over to… (wait for it)… the Standing Committee!
- On the 19th June 1946 the Standing Committee decided to purchase 100 chairs.
- On December 18th 1946¸fifteen months after the question of seating had been originally discussed 76 chairs were finally delivered to the Hall. The following year a heating boiler was installed along with a loudspeaker system that according to the Parish Council minutes included “2 cabnit speakers and a mick”.
Obviously inspired by the return of regular Services along with 75 chairs, “2 cabnit speakers and a mick”, on 15th June 1949 the Parish Council decided to rename the Mission Hall “St Paul’s Mission Hall”. In March 1950 a Surveyors Report, now referring to the Hall as St Stephen’s Church Hall (n.b. not St Stephen’s Mission Hall” said that the building was in good order. Eight months later, in November 1950 another report prepared by the Parish Council, and referring to the Hall as “St Pauls”, said the roof is in a terrible state! Are they all talking about the same building?
Records are equally confused about the role of the Hall in the 50’s. One account suggests that services continued in “St. Paul’s Mission Hall” until 1958 - a notion supported by former Vicar Martin Peppiat. Mr Brooker, the Deputy Head at the School today, also confirms that a long serving caretaker would often go into the Hall to pray. However a report prepared by the Education Department says that “The assembly hall was a church until WWII when the ‘Mission Hall’ which is owned by the Parish, was incorporated in the school premises.”
Although the history of the Hall might be murky, there is a clear certainty about its future. After 100 years as a Mission Hall, consecrated church, soup kitchen, rest centre, meeting place for assorted youth groups like Brownies, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and primarily school canteen, theatre and gymnasium, plans are afoot once again to update St Stephen’s Hall to meet the changing requirements of the school and community it serves so well. Through a fundraising and development campaign entitled “Smarter St Stephens” it is hoped to refurbish the interior of the Hall, improving storage, acoustics and generally making the Hall more flexible and attractive for school and community use. At the same time the old rooms to the rear of the Hall are to be demolished and rebuilt as a new, brighter and more efficient extension.
So while the Hall looks to its future this researcher is still looking to its past and ‘Important Question 1’…. When was the thing built?! Any thoughts?
It you would like to find out more about the “Smarter St. Stephen’s Campaign” or make a donation towards the work ahead please go to: www.virginmoneygiving.com/charities/StStephen%27sSchoolTrust
– from Martyn Day