The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust


The Congregational Library was founded in Bloomfield Street, London E.C.2 in 1831 and had in addition to the Library itself a number of rooms where Congregationalists and others could hold meetings. The Library was primarily for the use of Congregationalists and the bulk of the books now form a unique and irreplaceable collection of 17th and 18th century Nonconformist literature.

It was later in these premises that the Congregational Union of England and Wales was formed.

In 1872, after two intermediary moves, the site of the old Fleet Prison, where many Nonconformists including John Bunyan had been imprisoned, was purchased in Farringdon Street and the Memorial Hall erected to commemorate the bicentenary of the ejectment of some 2,000 ministers from their livings in the Established Church in 1662 for their religious convictions. The Trust was formed then and the first Chairman was John Remington Mills. The Secretary of the Committee to build the original Hall was the Rev. James Hall Wilson.

Many famous names were associated with the membership of the Trust during the past century—ministers, political, civic and industrial leaders. Among some of the well-known Founders were:—

John Remington Kills, Treasurer and Chairman;

The Revs. Henry Allon, R.W. Dale; Alexander Hannary; Alexander Raleigh; John Stoughton; David Thomas; Charles Wilson.

William Bloomfield; Samuel Morley; M.P.; John William Pye-Smith;

Titus Salt; William Gage Spicer; William Revell Spicer;

George Frederick White and William Henry Wills.

Other well-known Governors during the past hundred years included:—

Dr. Sidney M. Berry; Dr. A.M. Fairburn; Dr. J.D. Jones; Dr. S. Newth;

Alec E. Glassey; Graham Clegg; Clement C. Hickling; A.S. Pye-Smith;

Sir Albery Spicer and George Soundy Unwin.

The old Hall was an outstanding piece of Victorian architecture and during its hundred years of life lent distinction to Farringdon Street by its unique appearance and its many towers and turrets. Famous political figures met there, the Labour Party was formed in its rooms, the General Strike of 1927 was run from the Hall and the B.B.C. had for many years a popular studio in its Great Hall. In fact it had quite a radical flavour.

During the last war the Library premises, Board Room and Kitchen were taken over by the L.C.C. as a Meals Service Restaurant. Though highly successful as such, it reduced the premises to a deplorable condition. Some years after the war it became apparent that it would not be economical to continue maintaining the premises in the old form and the Trust had then little in the way of reserves. Mr. C.C. Hickling was the Chairman of the Trust at that time and a great debt is owed to him for the efforts he made to bring home to all concerned the sort of action that had to be undertaken. It was when eye-sight and health began to fail that Mr. Fred Riceman agreed to try and plan the basis for a suitable development, ably assisted by Mr. Bernard Honess (Governor and Secretary), Mr. K.M. Kirby, (Vice-Chairman), Mr. H.G. Riebold (Treasurer) and Mr. R.F. Williams (Architect).

The story of the redevelopment covering approximately ten years of planning, including numerous setbacks, can only be briefly referred to here. The first scheme which showed promise was with the co-operation of the late Sir Aynsley Bridgland. He was helping to formulate a scheme by which the Trust would participate in the equity, but his sudden death left the plan incomplete and there was no one succeeding him in his organisation willing to continue on the same terms. Then a friend of Mr. Riceman put him in touch with one of the heads of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, which resulted in a successful scheme through which the Trust will benefit in perpetuity.

Prior to plans being drawn up it was of course necessary to obtain planning permission and this could have well been a serious problem had it not been for the late Mr. Bernard Honess who played a special part in obtaining this for the Trust.

Reference should also be made to the late Mr. Ronald Francis Williams, F.R.I.B.A., who was not only a member of the Trust and Council, but was also the Architect who designed and carried through the construction of our present first class building of modern design on the Trust’s freehold site. His advice and personal contribution towards overcoming the many problems was invaluable. The building is a permanent memorial to his ability and devotion.

Two adjoining properties were acquired and finally the plans were passed for the present building, named Caroone House, which is now occupied by a branch of International Telephones of the Post Office with a section at the northern end retained as Trust premises on five floors under the name of The Memorial Hall. This covers approximately 10,000 sq. ft., housing the Library and Meeting rooms for letting purposes with catering facilities. The accommodation is beautifully appointed and furnished and the rooms have, with their paintings and stained glass windows, retained much of the quiet atmosphere of the old building. How many people working in the City know of this oasis in its heart which has its own place among the Livery Halls?

During the re-building Mr. Honess and his staff, thanks to the members of Cricklewood Church, were temporarily housed in Lown Hall, part of their premises, during which period, apart from the work of the Trust and redevelopment, they overhauled the Library and began preparation of the forthcoming volume of the Library catalogue representing the accessions of the past fifty years. In this work the Rev. C.E. Surman played a conspicuous part.

After the Trust had moved into the new premises the opening ceremony took place on the 5th September 1972, when Dr. John Huxtable took part and the Rev. Howard Stanley gave an address. The Dedication Service was open to all and there was a large attendance representing members of the Trust, the Churches, the Sun Life of Canada, the Contractors, and many who had participated in one way or another in planning and carrying through the rebuilding scheme.

At the commencement of the Dedication Service the new Foundation Stone at the main entrance of the Trust premises was unveiled and dedicated, the original stone having been placed under the new one. As a matter of interest for the future the following contents under the original stone were replaced together with new items:—

1872 items:

England Independent (containing The Patriot and British Standard) 10th May, 1872; The Times 10th May, 1872; The Nonconformist 2nd May 1872; The Daily News 10th May, 1372; The Builder 11th May 1372. A 4pp Leaflet: The Congregational Memorial Hall and Library dated 9th May, 1872. (Details of the events which gave rise to the raising of the Fund by the Library Committee for the building of the Hall). A 4pp Manuscript: Gives names of Officers and London and County Committee Members, Solicitors (Chas. Shepheard & Sons) and John Tarring & Son, Architects. Coins: Florin, Shilling, Sixpence, Threepenny piece (1866).

1972 Items:

British Weekly 25th August, 1972; Congregational Monthly September, 1972; The Times 25th August, 1972; Daily Telegraph 25th August, 1972. Coins: New Decimal Currency: 50p. 10p. 5p. 2p. 1p. ½p.

The Stained Glass Windows have been replaced in silhouette form, these being representations in illuminated panels of Richard Baxter, John Milton, John Bunyan and John Howe, also the figure of St. Peter and St. Paul from the large windows of the great Hall treated in similar style. The Trust also possesses a number of portraits of eminent Congregational worthies, including;

John Remington Mills,Samuel Morley,Thomas Wilson,

John Owen,John Howe,John Liefchild,

Oliver Cromwell,Charles Silvester Horne,Samuel Martin,

Sidney M. Berry,John Stafford,Isaac Watts,

James Spicer,Albert Spicer,William Jay,

John Angell James,Alexander Raleigh,and others.

There is also a portrait of King William III and Queen Mary II.

During the past three years the Trust has had legal problems but in the meantime a scheme has been drawn up, namely, a Housing Scheme for retiring Ministers and their wives. It is hoped that this will be implemented and of assistance to those about to retire. Men and women contemplating entering the Ministry as a vocation would also be heartened to know that after a life of service in the Church they would be adequately housed.

The efforts of the Members during the past ten years in re-developing the Trust have proved well worthwhile for never in its history have such assets and facilities been available for charitable service.


A Short History of
the Congregational Memorial Hall Trust