Clifton Hall was built in 1897 but the assembly began several years before this. Details are sketchy but it is known that the Christians met in a place called the "Iron Hall" on Holmesdale Road near the railway station. This was probably a "tin tabernacle" which were common in those days.
It is possible that they were originally associated with Christians who began a work amongst children near Norwood Junction railway station. This work grew and an assembly was formed. They first met in South Norwood High Street above a coffee shop. Numbers increased and eventually Denmark hall was built in Denmark Road, South Norwood to accommodate the new church.
The assembly was founded by a wealthy believer named Mr Kingsbury who purchased a joinery and the adjacent house and built Clifton Hall in 1897. Some thirty years later in 1929 the assembly formed a trust and bought the two properties from Mr Kingsbury. The adjacent house was used for Sunday school work and numbers were so great in the early part of the 20th century that several class rooms were hired in Whitehorse Manor School nearby, to meet the need.
Numbers in fellowship was around 220 plus in the 1920s but decreased after World War 2 to nearer 120. A magazine, Clifton News, was launched in 1948 with a group of seven believers responsible for the production to inform the assembly of all the activities going on and stimulate interest and prayer.
Young people's work flourished with Pioneers in the 1950s and Jucos and Covenanter groups in the 1960s & 70s. There were annual tournaments where sports and matches were played against other Juco and Covenanter groups from around the country.
From the British Newspaper archives, we have dug up some stories from the past.
On Friday July 7th, 1916 this was report was in the Norwood News
SOUTH NORWOOD PLYMOUTH BRETHREN OBJECTORS
Two conscientious objectors attending the Plymouth Brethren meetings in South Norwood came before Croydon Military Tribunal on Thursday night. The first applicant, a stockbroker's clerk, refused to take part in the war, either as combatant or non-combatant. Mr. Kingsbury. the missioner of Clifton Hall. who supported the claim, said that he was the founder of the meeting at South Norwood and could vouch for the applicant's genuine convictions. The other applicant, young insurance agent had attended the meetings at Clifton for several years. He was not prepared to take any part in the war. A Brethren leader, who accompanied him, said that warfare had often been discussed before the war by applicant and other brothers, and it had always been understood that the Brethren should take no part in any military activity. Both applicants were offered and accepted work of national importance.
Cynthia Cooper who was in Clifton Hall sent us the following information for which we are very thankful.
I can recall some memories and have some photographs and Baptismal certificates and some hand written notes my father in law recorded of the Clifton Hall Bible School held in 1946 and 1947 and 1948. My husband was awarded a New Testament by the Scripture Gift Mission for answering questions on each of the chapters of the New Testament in 1951,Phew ! I still have it. A little about me, I grew up in Carshalton and attended West Street Hall Sunday school with my brother and sister, at age 11ish I heard about Jesus coming again ,I was perplexed and had a dream about this and the following Sunday I asked my teacher, Miss Moss about it, I recall her praying with me. In early 50’s my family moved to New Addington. I believe the Elders contacted a Mr Kent from Sanderstead and we were invited to attend a Sunday school which was being held in Fairchilds School New Addington. This would appear to be joint effort from other Brethren assemblies as by this time my Father in law and family also moved to Addington and Mr Cooper became my Bible class leader. I seem to have attended other youth gatherings at Addiscombe Hall and Clifton Hall, I was baptized in Clifton Hall on 8th July 1956.By this time I had started a cadet nurse training at Sydenham Children’s Hospital. My husband was baptised by Mr C.J Atkins at Clifton Hall on 28th April 1957, his mother, Mrs Ethel Emily Cooper was baptised on the 19th June 1935 by Mr W.E.Rose. I have certificates for Francis and Ethel but can’t find mine at this point in time but a devotional book, "God Calling" from my parents records the date I recently learned it is still printed ! I have fond memories of youth meetings at Clifton Hall ,Tony and Kathleen Horne showed us generous love and fun, their home was packed with young people and always an abundance of food ! I have a photograph of the choir, 26 of us including Tony Horne. Faces look familiar but wish I could remember names.!!! If My husband was still with us he would have been good at remembering some of them, his sister Valerie is in the group but has poor memory loss now so cannot ask her. It was good to see the wedding of the Mackays on your web site we kept in touch with them for many years. My mother in law still had sisters living in Dagnall Park and they attended Clifton Hall, their names were, Hilda Phyllis and Nellie Fletcher. My sister in law Valerie was married at Clifton Hall to Sydney Walker about 1957,however Francis I were married at Addiscombe Hall on 16th January 1960. I also remember seeing at Clifton hall ‘Through Gates of Splender’ the story of Bill and Elisabeth Elliott and pioneer work to the Alka Indians . I recall the open air meetings too. It’s not only how you start the race but how you finish and I have been blessed with good Bible teaching over many years and many blessings of friends with me on the journey, Christian Union at school, Nurses Christian Fellowship, Rochester Brethren Assembly, Wantage Baptist Church and since 1998 visits many times to Ukraine, initially soon after Ukraine got their independence to help on youth and children’s camps, anniversary celebrations ,weddings and some just personal visits to life long friends. That’s all another story too long to recall here but they have enriched my life but if you would like to know more I can fill you in another time. My three boys and four grandsons are blessing my life and I am thankful for them. Blessings to all the faithful ones at Clifton Hall, sincerely yours, Cynthia Cooper.
Michael Peach who was at Clifton March 1965 to about November 1966 has kindly written his reminiscences from this time.
Memories of Clifton Hall, Whitehorse Lane, Thornton Heath in the 1960’s – Michael Peach I arrived in London on a cold week in March 1965. There was snow on the ground all that first week. I recall it turning steadily black on the railway embankments on the line into London Bridge. A depressing image from a lonely time. I was lodging in Broughton Road, Thornton Heath with Mrs. Moore, a friend of a friend of my Mother’s. Mrs. Moore was like a Mother to me, so the shock of the noisy, dirty, bustling City after the calm and pure air of my seaside youth in Weymouth was softened for me. God in His mercy had saved me as a boy of 9, on 3rd December 1950, on my knees, at home after a Gospel service at Ebenezer Hall, Weymouth. From our being ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ my brothers and I attended the Sunday School and mid-week children’s meeting at Ebenezer. This arose because my Dad had met believers from a brethren assembly at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands during his time as a soldier in the Second World War They had been kind to him and his fellow Christian servicemen, and he was impressed by them. When he returned home in 1946 he sought out and joined the assembly at Ebenezer. It was a wrench for me to leave all my friends in that assembly when I accepted the offer of a job in the City, working at first in a dingy little office high up near Liverpool Street Station. From the beginning of my time in Thornton Heath I was welcomed at Clifton Hall. I would get a bus up from the Pond each Sunday and walk from the Station. It is a long time since I was last in the Hall – 55 years. Some memories remain vivid and I can picture in my mind some of the faces at Clifton Hall in those days, but I cannot remember many of their names! I particularly ‘see’ now in my head the man who appeared to be the leader among the elders – a solidly built, dark-suited, genial, elderly man with a lovely smile and ruddy face but I cannot recall his name – just the impression of Christian gentleman always ready to talk kindly with me and welcome me. Mr. Bond was another of the elders then. There was a lively feel about Clifton Hall – with a group – perhaps numbering 20, of young people in their late teens and twenties. Not having my own means of transport restricted me in joining all their activities. However, after the Sunday evening Gospel service I was regularly given a lift to the home of a gracious lady - Mrs. Bailey, a widow, in Norwood Hill. She had a large house and I enjoyed happy times spent there in the company of the Clifton Hall young people. Her son, Graham, was not always there on those evenings because he was a Policeman. Many years later I would meet up with him again at an ‘Echoes’ Missons Day somewhere in Surrey.
I recall some of the young folks going away together some week-ends to a place called Snodland!. This name always intrigued me and I barely believed that there was such a place. It reminded me of the children’s book character ‘Noddy’ and his little red car! I never got to Snodland myself, but recall that those trips were led by a large youngish man with a reddish coloured beard. The Atkins family are some whom I recall from my Clifton Hall days. I was invited by Mr. & Mrs. Atkins to their home for tea one Sunday. I remember it as a happy time, sitting with their large family around the tea-table. Subsequently, late in 1966, when I left Thornton Heath to work in Brighton, their son Steve, kindly spent a day helping me look for a place to lodge in Hove. Later, in 1967, after Alison and I were married, he kindly, and voluntarily, came one Saturday morning to our first house in Portslade. Using his horticultural skills, he soon tidied-up and planted our overgrown front garden. An example of fellowship – one of the privileges of believers in the Lord Jesus! In my days at Clifton Hall there was a fair-haired, besbectacled man aged, probably, in his thirties who came from one of the assemblies in the Croydon area. His first name was Hubert. He was gifted musically and organised a little singing group which went around Old peoples’ Homes with the Gospel. Mr. Wourtersz, an Indian Christian in fellowship at Clifton Hall, invited me to join this singing group which went out most Sunday afternoons. I have fond memories of singing with this group. I recall Mr. & Mrs. Wourtersz with warm affection. I was invited into their home too, which I seem to remember was off Brigstock Road. I suppose that they have long since gone home to be with the Lord. While at Clifton Hall I joined the Choir for the 1966 Billy Graham Earls Court crusade. That Graham mission lasted for about a month. Not so long as when he came to Harringay Arena in 1954 and preached there for 3 months night after night. We went up to London then, as a family, for a week, staying with my future landlady in Broughton Road. We travelled by bus to and from the Arena, getting back late at night. I believe Covenanters and Jucos were run at the Hall for children and I seem to remember a lively young business man, usually nattily dressed in a blue suit and tie – at least on Sundays - being involved in that outreach in some way. He courted a girl who was living over here. After their marriage they went out to her homeland – New Zealand. One of the young ladies in the Assembly was, I think, Valerie Turner whose sister, Carol Turner, may also have come to the hall sometimes, I believe she was in fellowship at Denmark Hall, South Norwood. Later, this same Carol went as a missionary mid-wife, to Morocco and served there for many years. Alison, my wife, knew her from earlier Christian camps in Hampshire and they remain in touch with each other at Christmas. The assembly ran a mid-week prayer and Bible study and I recall a teaching series on the Book of James by an elderly speaker who was a good teacher, but whose name eludes me now. I have only happy memories of Clifton Hall in the mid-1960’s and am delighted that the assembly continues to flourish and reach out with the Gospel in their part of London. Dated: 15th January 2021
If you have had any links with Clifton Hall in the past and can help us with insights into its past history particularly before the 1970s, we will be pleased to hear from you.
Open air meeting in Zion Road in the 1950s
A children's outreach was conducted at Pollards Hill, Norbury.