A Brief History of Croydon Spiritualist Church

church insideWith Mr. John Stewart as a prominent founder member, Croydon Church held its first meeting at the New Gallery, Park Lane (no longer existing) on 14 March 1926, Estelle Stead being the principal speaker. It steadily progressed in membership and in 1930, the limitations of the tenancy at the New Gallery were held to have a retarding effect on the presentation of Spiritualism in its widest sense, and a move was made to Broad Green Hall, Handcroft Road, West Croydon. It soon however, became obvious that if real security of tenure was to be obtained, together with the advantage of central premises, greater efforts would have to be made to erect a building on the freehold site in Bedford Park, purchased in 1927.

Saturday, 9 June 1934 saw the realisation of those efforts, with the church on that site being opened by Ernest Oaten. It is of interest to note that the Souvenier Programme of the opening contained the following names which were still nationally famous at the opening of the present building (even after 22 years) – Harold Vigurs, Helen Hughes, Maurice Barbenell, Elsie Hardwick and John Arthur Findlay.

From the early days of struggle to meet the mortgage payments on a loan of £900; on through the war years, Croydon Church steadily progressed, and by soon after the end of hostilities it could claim a membership of nearly 200, was free of debt, had a credit balance in the bank; supported local charities, had the Mayor grace its platform at a Civic Hall Meeting and was unable to accommodate all the people who were desirous of attending the Sunday Service.

The future seemed more than secure. However, ominous cracks appeared in the walls and the building had a decided ‘lilt’. The combined effect of bombing and subsidence was taking its toll and, with the withdrawal of insurance cover, the Church in Bedford Park closed its doors to the public.

Thanks to the kindness of the Society of Friends and The Free Christian Church, Croydon was able to continue its existence in premises rented by these two august bodies. However, the need for its own building was an ever pressing one and, after much searching for a suitable central site, a General Meeting of members decided to buy the derelict Grove House in Chatsworth Road, together with its freehold site, for the sum of £1400.

It was indeed with regret that the beautiful old Grove House could not be restored and adapted to the needs of the Church, for its flight of Portland Stone steps to its west front, its paved entrance hall and noble staircase with carved mahogany balustrade, its sculptured marble chimney piece, its oak panelled walls and carved enrichments were things of real beauty, being reminiscent of craftsmanship fast dying and never to return. It had housed that local ‘character’, Mr. Chollett, who used to fire a pistol at 10 pm from the balcony to warn anyone lurking in the grounds that they would meet armed resistance.

Grove House 001

Regretfully Croydon Church learned from its Architect that restoration of the house was impossible with the funds that were available, and the site was cleared to make way for the present building.

This was erected by Adams Bros. (Contractors) Ltd., at a price of £8000. Practically the whole of this sum was loaned from the SNU Building Pool. The Building Fund Pool 20 year advance was repaid by 1972 (within 16 years) and from that date all monies received by the Church have been for its maintenance and upkeep. The Church now has brand new chairs and velvet curtains throughout. Structural alterations in 1976 provided much needed washing facilities, a larger kitchen and the room for Speakers was completely refurbished from the generous bequest from Mary Vigurs and is now called the Vigurs Room.

The Hardwick Room houses the library and is to the memory of the President of the Church who saw through all the planning and building of the church, Bert Hardwick. Unfortunately, he was only able to see the fruits of his labours for two years. At the beginning of 1981 his daughter Inez, at one time leader of a flourishing Lyceum, passed to Spirit and books were added to the library in her memory.

Harold Vigurs was President from 1957, E.S. Jeffries from 1970 until December 1973, when on his resignation, Wilfred Watts was elected President. On his resignation due to ill health in 1998, Mrs. Mollie McManus was elected President and served for 20 years, stepping down in March 2018. Under her stewardship there have been many improvements to the building including redecoration, replacement double glazed windows, central heating, new toilet including disabled facilities, cavity wall insulation, a new modern kitchen, carpets laid throughout the church and a book stall selling second hand books has been established.

In 2015 a hard standing at the rear of the church with ramp access to the gardens and the church were added, and all doors were replaced with uPVC doors.

Mollie was succeeded as President in March 2018 by her Vice President Mr. Alan Seymour.

The Church has endeavoured to maintain this high standard of Spiritualist Philosophy and Mediumship, started by its pioneers, and welcomes all those who wish to enquire about Spiritualism and to become associated with the Church.

Past Presidents of Croydon Spiritualist Brotherhood Church

1906 – 1908          Mr. William Harold Thornton

1908 – 1909          Mr. T. H. Thornton

1909 – 1912          Mr. W. R. Moores

1912 – 1923           Mr. Percy O. Scholey

1923 – 1925           Mr. Peter Galloway

Past Presidents of Croydon National Spiritualist Church

1926 – 1928          Mr. W. G. Burrell

1928 – 1930          Mrs. J. Wesley-Adams

1930 – 1939          Mr. John Stewart

1939 – 1940          Mrs. M. S. Hall

1940 – 1942          Mr. John Stewart

1942 – 1944          Mr. C. W. Cooper

1944 – 1948          Mr. H. B. Parry

1948 –                     Mr. John Stewart (Interim President)

1948 – 1957           Mr. Bert Hardwick

1957 – 1970           Mr. Harold Vigurs

1970 – 1973           Mr. E. S. Jeffries

1973 – 1998           Mr. Wilfred Watts

1998 – 2018           Mrs. Mollie McManus

2018 –                     Mr. Alan Seymour