The Railway Arch Church
A railway arch is a very noisy place when trains are thundering overhead. So, to use an arch as a place of worship seems very unlikely. But just such a damp and chilly vault was home for some 30 years to possibly the only church ever situated under a railway arch.
Although Spa Road Station closed before the first world war, the graffiti-covered platforms can still be seen from the train. The station booking office now forms part of the Discovery Business Park behind the St.James's Tavern in St.James's Rd. It was just two arches to the left of the booking office that you would have once heard the sound of hymn singing.
But Bermondsey Gospel Hall is more than a building - or an arch. It's people. People with a conviction. A conviction that comes from reading and following the Word of God, the Bible.
Around 1925, around half a dozen christians had been happily meeting with an established denomination for a number of years. As they studied the Bible for themselves, they became aware that not all that was being practised where they worshipped was in accordance with scripture. They prayed earnestly about this and were led by the Holy Spirit to meet together in the home of one of the christians. So, the origin of Bermondsey Gospel Hall can be traced back to a group of praying believers gathered around a kitchen table at what was No. 103 Southwark Park Road (seen here at the corner of Yalding Road, now demolished).
Half an arch
There were other christians with the same conviction from the Bible who joined that little group of believers, and very soon premises were needed. The brick railway viaduct that runs from London Bridge to Greenwich is the longest in the world. So finding this vacant half arch at a peppercorn rent did not prove too difficult
Happy harmonious meetings were held almost every night of the week. The preacher would have to pause whenever a steam train thundered overhead, or shout to make himself heard above the rumblings. Flakes of white distemper would frequently be dislodged by the vibration of the trains, and a member of the congregation was sometimes to be seen leaving a meeting in a dark suit with chalky white spots on his shoulders!
The little assembly of believers continued to grow as more people heard about God's love and turned in repentance to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation. Special childrens' campaigns were conducted by leading evangelists such as the late Don Miller and Charles McEwan of Exeter. Children packed the arch to capacity and are seen here receiving prizes from the late Mr.Goddard. Sunday school superintendent, David Hamm, is at the table - known in the area for decades as 'Mr. Hamm the chemist', who was himself converted through Charles McEwan.
Gospel outreach has always been the hallmark of Bermondsey Gospel Hall (BGH) with hundreds of thousands of tracts and invitations delivered by hand to the neighbours. Open-air preaching is here being conducted in Macks Road in the 50's using the latest portable valve amplification unit powered by a motorcycle battery. (Today, tracting takes place outside Bermondsey tube station just a few minutes from the hall. And recordings of our conferences can be heard on this website!)
When the railway arch could no longer accommodate the growing congregation, this vacant bombsite less than 100m from the arch was acquired (No's. 95-101 St. James's Rd). The respected christian architect H.H. Clark produced an ingenious design for the new building incorporating a number of halls that could be combined by the removal of partitions to give total seating capacity of 150. The main hall would incorperate an underfloor baptistry.
In 1956, local builders J. Austin & Co. of Alscot St. commenced construction of the present day church building, which was opened in March 1957 to a capacity congregation. The building was designed with a completely flat roof to provide the opportunity for future development. This was realised some 12 years later with the addition of an apartment currently occupied by the caretaker. This addition was possible because the original hall was built on 4m deep foundations to withstand vibrations from the railway viaduct opposite.
Our Present Standing
The continuation of the witness at Bermondsey Gospel Hall has only been possible because it is built upon the Word of God, the Bible, and not a creed or human tradition. Trusting our lives upon the person and work of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sin, and His resurrection from the grave as victor over death means that we can have eternal life built upon the everlasting Rock, Christ Jesus.