West Ham Central Mission
The West Ham Central Mission was a vision of a minister called Robert Rowntree Clifford who led a small Baptist church in West Ham. His attention was focused on the terrible living conditions in East London where many families lived in slums and relied on docks for work. This led him to set up the West Ham Central Mission in 1904 which was initially housed in the Barking Road Tabernacle Church where he was minister. The mission provided shelter, food as well as work and helped to restore people’s dignity. The Tabernacle housed the congregation and its developing programmes.
The Mission’s work continued throughout World War I, and a hostel built on the Barking road and run by Miss Clifford, provided relief accommodation to people rendered homeless in East London as a result of a huge explosion at a munitions factory. In December 1918, HRH Queen Mary paid a surprise visit to the Mission, her first of three.
A new church was built further along Barking Road and was called West Ham Central Mission after the work which was being done in the area. It was opened in 1922 to help with the work of the mission and took over from the Barking Road Tabernacle which previously housed the mission. This new premise took 15 months to build and cost £60,000 and was dedicated to the men from the church and local community who were killed in World War I. The mission was a social as well as religious initiative, providing a wide range of social activities and services to the community. It was a major provider of social services including a soup kitchen, night shelter and medical services.
The mission provided vital services such as nursery schools and old people’s homes, and its work continued throughout World War II. During the blitz, relief work became its focus. Every night up to 500 people sheltered at the Mission and 1000 hot drinks were distributed. Over 3000 people were re-clothed and homes outside London were found for more than 1000 people. Many of the buildings were destroyed during the Blitz.
The work of the Mission has changed over the years in response to the needs of the population it served, and in 1978 a new trust deed which legally separated the local congregation from West Ham Central Mission changed the name of the church to Memorial Baptist Church Plaistow. The work of the Mission still continues in many areas today and has adapted to the communities it serves. Over 100 years on, West Ham Central Mission still provides support through counselling particularly for those who cannot afford these services elsewhere.
Image: York House, West Ham Central Mission, Courtesy of Newham Archives