"Your hand, O God, has guided
your flock from age to age;
the wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;
our forebears owned your goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
One Church, one faith, one Lord."
Edward Haynes Plumptre (1821-1891)
Carshalton Methodist Church at Ruskin Road was a church driven by the extraordinary population growth that turned Carshalton from a quiet country village into a thriving London suburb from the turn of the 20th century up until the Second World War. In this period our Church was directed by some particularly fine ministers and much of the money to sustain its expansion came from or through the philanthropic Mallinson family.
The Second World War and the death of the second Sir William Mallinson put an end to this pattern of development. Post war ministers made valiant efforts to repair war damage and reconstitute Church activities but from the 1960s attitudes to Church attendance changed rapidly in society. Local factors that had promoted pre War growth disappeared requiring Church members to review the Church's mission and future role.
The last forty years saw a search for a new formula which increasingly directed the Church towards community service. Significant parts of the Ruskin Road site were turned over to community use and opened outreach opportunities. Serving Christ in the Community was a term which coined well the new sense of direction that has been articulated and promoted over the past decade.
Arrival in Ruskin Road
Carshalton Methodist Church was already 50 years old when its foundation stones were laid in Ruskin Road in 1911. Since 1861 it had occupied a smaller building in North Street where the Holy Cross Catholic Church is now sited. Methodist ministers from Croydon and Mitcham supported the church during this time.
Carshalton's population grew from 2,538 in 1861 to 6,746 in 1901 and a new Methodist church was desperately needed by 1911. Ruskin Road was then a very desirable place to choose. It was a wide road that had been opened to carry the tramway linking Croydon and Sutton. The tramway ran till the early 1930s to be replaced by trolleybuses through to the 1950s.
The foundation stones were laid on 30 September 1911 and the building was ready for use the following Spring. A press report said the new church was a pretty building in red brick with white facing stones and a slate roof. It also mentioned a graceful spire on top of the octagonal tower.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
The task of setting up the new church fell to a young probationer, the Revd Frank Cooper, who arrived in the Autumn of 1911. His special interest was youth work and he took personal charge of the Sunday School. In 1920 it became a fully graded school in accordance with the latest ideas on Sunday School organisation.
Further evidence of Frank Cooper's youth work was the setting up of Junior Christian Endeavour in 1913; a Young People's Guild in 1919; Scouts in 1920 and Guides in 1922. A Young People's Guild of Service opened in 1923 was perhaps his crowning glory. Girls made garments; boys made toys; together they sent church parcels to poor children in inner London. In the summer many poor children were invited to the country for a day to enjoy good food and games as guests of the Guild of Service.
Frank Cooper was Carshalton's minister for 18 years, leaving in 1929. To everyone's surprise he transferred to the Church of England.
And then there were two!
The Ruskin Road Church could hold 300 people, but became too small for its growing congregation and Sunday School in just over 10 years. There was room for the church to be extended southwards, but in 1925 the Church Trustees accepted the offer of Major William Mallinson to build a completely new style of church alongside the old one.
The new Church was designed by Andrew Mather, a rising architect, in a simple and majestic style that departed from the Gothic style of the old Church building. Watching the new building rise, locals were reported to say that it looked more like a cinema than a church. Indeed, Mather went on to design 44 Odeon cinemas in the 1930s.
The stained glass windows were the most striking feature of the new building. The Chancel window depicted the rising sun with red and golden rays radiating out across a deep purple sky. At the opposite end, the window over the entrance showed the sun sinking in the west with bright red rays probing the deep blue of the night sky.
There was a raised pulpit with wooden pews able to seat 500 people. It was dedicated on 25 September 1926 with leather bound service books provided for the occasion.
The original Ruskin Road Church was adapted for use as a lecture hall with stage and kitchen. The spire was removed just 15 years after it had been built, probably to prevent what was now the Ruskin Hall from towering over the new 1926 church building.
The Church's first quarter century at Ruskin Road was dominated by two exceptional ministers. The first from 1911 to 1929 was the Revd Frank Cooper who laid firm foundations for the exceptional Sunday School and youth organisations. The second was the Revd J H James from 1930 to 1936, whose powerful pulpit performances attracted large congregations.
Frank Cooper introduced the Book of Congregational Worship offering a selection of orders of service for free churches that desired a more orderly form of worship than was usual for non conformist churches. James replaced this with a special book of offices distinctive to Ruskin Road and this "Black Book" remained in use for more than 30 years.
The distinctive liturgy appealed to Anglicans retreating from the very high church worship practised at All Saints Parish Church at the time.
William James Mallinson
The great benefactor of Carshalton Methodist Church was Major William James Mallinson. He came to live in Sutton shortly before the First World War and held the office of Church Treasurer for over 30 years.
Major Mallinson's father was a devout Methodist who had been Treasurer of the London Church Extension Fund and instrumental in helping to fund the first Ruskin Road Church. He and other members of his family had laid the foundation stones for the 1911 Church. Now Major Mallinson honoured his father during his lifetime by building and paying for the new 1926 Church, set alongside the 1911 Church.
The Major's generous support for Carshalton Methodist Church continued with providing a new organ, the Last Supper wood carving in the Chancel and the wages of a group of professional singers to lead the choir. In 1934 he personally met a third of the cost of the Park Halls extension.
Like his father, Major Mallinson was prominent in public life. He was a Justice of the Peace for Surrey and a Deputy Lieutenant in the County of London. In 1933 he was appointed High Sheriff of Surrey. His many connections with Methodism attracted prominent Methodists to preach and lecture at Ruskin Road.
Major Mallinson became Sir William James Mallinson, Baronet of Walthamstow, on the death of his father in 1936. He continued his generous support for Carshalton Methodist Church until his death in 1944. The Church's links with the Mallinson family ceased at that time.
The thriving thirties
Carshalton's population continued to grow after the First World war and the tempo speeded up even more in the 1930s, with many new homes being built in what was fast becoming an Outer London suburb. The Church exuded vitality at this time.
The Carshalton Women's Fellowship opened in 1931 and soon had a membership of 200. The Sunday School reached the record figure of 360 children in 1932. The Ruskin Circle held devotional and literary evenings and ran social activities. The Ruskin Road premises were extended yet again and in 1934 Major Mallinson opened the Park Halls.
From the beginning music played a big part in Church life. Major Mallinson paid for a new organ and the use of professional singers to enhance the choir to as near cathedral standards as Methodism might accept. Ruskin Road acquired a wide reputation for the excellence of its music.
War comes to the church
On Sunday 3 September 1939 the Revd Norman Landreth interrupted the morning service to report the Prime Minister's radio announcement that Great Britain was once again at war with Germany. During his sermon the first air raid siren sounded and worshippers dispersed. This day began a sad period in the life of Carshalton Methodist Church.
The Second World War disrupted the church far beyond anything experienced in the First World War. The evacuation of children crippled the work of the Sunday School. Younger adult members were called to the forces leaving many gaps in church roles. The Ruskin Hall was requisitioned as a food office and British restaurant supplying meals to schools. The blackout prevented use of the church on winter evenings. A number of church members died on active service, and are remembered on a memorial plaque sited in the chancel.
The church buildings survived the early air raids, but on 8 July 1944 flying bomb attacks blew out all the large windows and made the church unusable. This was a heart-breaking experience for church members, but services continued in the Park Halls.
It was Autumn 1948 before the boarded up church windows could be replaced using the best materials available during the austere early post war period. Pieces of coloured glass from the former chancel window were salvaged to reform the cross. These and the undamaged image of the Bible were set in the replacement window in almost their original positions.
An indefatigable minister
The Revd Norman Landreth had become our Minister in 1936. He used his business acumen to liquidate Church debts that had been outstanding since 1911. Tirelessly, he held the Church together throughout the war years, personally taking on many of the roles vacated by absent lay workers.
Norman Landreth maintained a copious correspondence with church members who were away in the forces. He was chairman of the local War Savings Committee as well as being an active air raid warden. The many duties sapped his strength and he was devastated when his younger son was killed on active service towards the end of the War. In 1945 Norman conducted the VE Day service in Carshalton Park but died soon afterwards.
Reconstruction of the church, the task of welcoming home men and women returning from the forces and the slow re-establishment of Church activities were to be continued well into the 1950s under the direction of the Revd J Passmore Braithwaite succeeded by the Revd Wilfrid J Doidge.
Stainer's 'The Crucifixion'
For nearly 20 years, from 1944, Stainer's The Crucifixion was performed regularly on Good Friday, latterly by combining with the Carshalton Beeches Baptist Church choir and eventually in alternate churches. This became a feature of the Surrey scene with people travelling some distance to attend.
Changes in society
Through the energetic efforts of the post War ministers, new ventures were initiated and the Church membership rose once more above 300. It was in 1961, during the ministry of the Revd Leslie Earnshaw, that the Church celebrated the centenary of is initial foundation in North Street in 1861.
However, changes in society were afoot. The First World War sounded the death knell of conventional British Christianity and the decline in regular church attendance continued after the Second World War. This pace of change was slower in the outer London suburbs with their essentially middle class ethos, but an ongoing decline was occurring.
For several years Ruskin Road had attracted Anglicans who were dissatisfied with the high church practices of All Saints and the Church of the Good Shepherd. The return of these churches to a more traditional Anglican style encouraged their former members to return to their roots.
For a long time Ruskin Road had also been the only free church in the whole of Carshalton. However, Baptist churches were growing, and increasing car ownership made it possible for people to travel further afield. All this explains how from the 1960s Carshalton Methodist Church's membership returned to smaller proportions, with premises much larger than the worship needs of its regular congregation.
The most noticeable change from the 1960s was the decline of the Sunday School which in the 1930s had been attended by 360 children. The almost universally observed practice of sending children to Sunday School died out and Junior Church came to consist of the sons and daughters of church members.
New services for pre-school children
During the 1961 Centenary the Revd Leslie Earnshaw urged that the church should make responsible use of its premises. This began in 1968 when the church took over the declining private day nursery that was due to close. Church members recognised that it played a valuable role in the community and resolved to run it themselves.
The Carshalton Day Nursery was led by Mrs Valerie Maton. It ran for some forty years and closed only when the eligible entry age for early years education reduced to three, considerably reducing the market for day nursery services. It was a remarkable business achievement and one that demonstrated clearly how Carshalton Methodists could use their premises to serve the community.
The contribution the church makes to pre-school children remains in the form of the Ruskin Rascals parent, carer and toddler group, and Ruskin Road Pre-School providing early years learning to children from the age of two and a half years. Ruskin Rascals and Ruskin Road Pre-school provide the opportunity for the church to share its Christian beliefs with younger families in the community.
A caring and welcoming community
The 1980s were to see the church develop as a very caring community, with church members supporting each other in times of need or stress. In 1986 the Revd Glynn Lister noted a general warmth towards visitors on which the church still prides itself.
In 1981 church members held a residential weekend at Tunbridge Wells, and a year later followed it up with one at Ashburnham Place, near Battle in Sussex. Ashburnham became a regular feature of the calendar for some years. Around half a dozen home groups developed from the greater sense of fellowship.
The choir staged a comeback in the 1980s and few Sunday services passed without an anthem. On special occasions the church resounded to the glorious harmony of choir, orchestra and organ raising into a mighty crescendo of praise to God.
The Junior Church revived the church's musical tradition by performing A Grain of Mustard Seed and following this up with a series of other musicals. Probably their most ambitious was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. An active Young People's Fellowship also developed.
The Ruskin Players, who perform in the round, had developed their activities in the 1960s and 1970s. They created an opportunity for the church to reach out into the community and to engage with both adults and juniors.
During the 1990s the church developed its partner relationship with Grayes School of Dance [now Grayes Theatre Arts], with hundreds of local children entering our halls throughout the week.
Serving Christ in the Community
In 2001 the Revd Simon Leigh, brought in the Bible Society to take the church review further and a leadership team was elected to replace the traditional stewards. This triggered a surge in optimism affecting all aspects of church life.
Church members raised the money to employ a families worker for two years and then an outreach worker for three years. The church hosted Easter Experience, a passion play run by Sutton Schoolswork to bring local schools into the church. Christmas Tree Festivals engaged the residential and business communities, and activity-based Holiday Bible Clubs and Fun Days were run in the school holidays. In 2005 and 2009 Simon Leigh led two week-long pilgrimages to Northumbria and Scotland.
In 2005 the leadership team formed a steering group with Wallington Methodist Church members to examine a merger of the two churches. They were disappointed when the merger failed, but this setback spurred the church on to make further progress alone.
Ruskin Community Cinema was formed in 2006, providing a new and innovative form of outreach that captured the interests of the church's cinema enthusiasts. The community cinema has worked with our long-standing Ruskin Players to offer cinema and amateur dramatics to the community.
Our church halls are heavily used and offer outreach opportunities that could not otherwise be pursued. There is a focus on the church's prayer life and church premises are steadily being refurbished to make them more attractive to users, and to allow more flexible use.
A church of good report
Carshalton Methodist Church has espoused the importance of good communications. Our monthly magazine Here is the News is popular with church members and friends. Upgraded church notice boards, a website and a church page in the local Carshalton Beeches Directory were innovations of the noughties decade.
In 2010 Carshalton Methodist Church achieved national recognition when the BBC devoted a Songs of Praise programme to the Methodist philanthropist and British film mogul J Arthur Rank. Finding our community cinema on the website and establishing that it ran along lines promoted by Lord Rank, the BBC invited us to be a host church for Songs of Praise.
Filming and hymn practice took place in October 2010. TV presenter, Pam Rhodes, visited and spoke at the Ruskin Community Cinema, and the BBC filmed a number of sequences on location in Ruskin Road. Songs of Praise from Carshalton Methodist Church was televised on 21 November 2010 and the filmed material is still used in occasional compilations when the Rank connection is raised.
Towards the future
In 2009 Carshalton Methodists welcomed their first two female ministers, the Revds Julie Underwood and Suzanna Bates. In the centenary year we also welcomed our first black minister, the Revd John Amankwatia. Our new ministers have found a church that is no longer inclined to bemoan past glories, but one that is open to change, willing to study new ideas, and sincere about the words that comprise our strapline Serving Christ in the Community.
In celebrating 100 years on the Ruskin Road site in 2011, we looked back with admiration and pride at the work of our forebears and their great achievements. However, we also have our eyes on the future and a society that is changing faster than ever. We are making plans for the future as God would expect, but we also look to Him to shape our efforts according to His will and in His time.
Written by David Forty based on research by the late Christopher Pocock