IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY

 

THE HISTORY OF THE

  

BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

 

  

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 O' COME ALL YE FAITHFULL


From the Industrial Revolution onwards the churches had generally failed to successfully evangelise the working classes, from 

whom the railways recruited most of its rapidly increasing work force, which was in the region of 350,000 at the time of the 

formation of the Railway Mission in 1881. There were however professing Christians among this work force including three, 

in particular, at Brighton station. These three, Messers Weller, Maple & Thynge (a ticket collector and two porters, 

respectively) met together on Sunday afternoons in the Porter's Room for 'a little Bible study and a sing'. The three 

railwaymen wanted to have a Gospel Service for the men on duty each Sunday and one of the porters invited a Miss Parkinson 

to lead this meeting. She agreed but then personal illness and the death of her brother intervened and she approached another 

lady, Mrs Elizabeth Gates, to substitute for her. Mrs Gates was already a well-known speaker at Christian meetings for 

women, who with her husband, George(a Brighton solicitor), and young family (there were eventually 11 children) had moved 

to Brighton from Steyning c.1861.

(It is interesting to note that the original invitation went to a woman, and had come from men. Was this a reflection of the 

unpopularity of local clergy, and did it reflect a different attitude of the working class males to middle class women, from 

middle class men?)

Mrs Gates considered and, it is understood, 'reluctantly' accepted the invitation. the first Sunday meeting, with a congregation 

of three, was on 19th March 1876 in the waiting Room at Brighton Central Railway terminus station, curtsey of Brighton 

Superintendent Mr Anscombe. However, the attendance soon began to increase and within six years the meeting had moved to 

a larger venue. This was found in the Reading Room/Library of the Brighton Locomotive Works which could accommodate up 

to four hundred people. This was thanks to Mr J P Knight, the then General Manager of the L.B. & S.C.R. The arrangement 

was to last for eleven years and Mrs Gates stated that the directors had treated them with every kindness and had placed the 

room at their disposal without charge.

In 1882 three meetings were held each week in the Reading Room/Library, on Sunday at 3.15pm for 'Men and Wives', on 

Wednesday at 8.0pm for men only and on alternate Thursdays at 3.30pm for wives. In addition conversational Bible Readings 

were held at the Coffee Palace, 67 Queens Road on the third and fourth Tuesdays at 8.00pm, with tea, for men, their wives 

and friends.

By 1893 the Reading Room/Library was required by the railway company for other purposes, and after a search for suitable 

premises, Mrs Gates apparently privately advanced some £2,500, whilst, in parallel, heading a public fund-raising effort, to 

secure the purchase and adaptation of the Primitive Methodist Church in Viaduct Road (opened on 16 September 1876) , 

which was being vacated for larger premises in London Road.

The equivalent of a stone laying ceremony was the first blow to take down an internal dividing wall between the Front (Main) 

and Back Halls, to enlarge the meeting area, on 15 May 1894. Present at this ceremony were Mrs J P Knight, widow of the 

former General Manager of the L.B. & S.C.R., Mr and Mrs Sykes, Dr Morgan and Mr George Gibbins, a Brighton architect 

who had donated his services. The official opening of the Brighton Railway Mission was held on 4 July 1894 with £2, 250 of 

the £2,500 purchase/adaptation cost being raised by public subscription by that date. The work continued to grow and in 

response to the need for a Sunday School work additional property was purchased behind the church in 1895; the new 

classrooms being opened on 16 February 1896. There were initially 15 children, but by 1901 the average Sunday attendance 

was 194 children and the West side passages from ?Viaduct Road and Stanley Road were pressed into service. The roof over 

the Back Hall was now removed and an Upper Hall with seating, library and offices, together with a connecting stairway to 

the ground floor, constructed and opened on 20 December 1902 at a cost of £1,100. The house next door to the church in 

Viaduct Road (No. 71) was purchased in June 1906 to accommodate the senior scholars. By 1909 the Sunday School work had 

grown to 50 workers looking after 364 children.

Mrs Gates worked hard among the railway workers and their families, and as the ticket collector, once commented "She had 

some hard nuts to crack, I can tell you. But she was the means of converting hundreds and hundreds of men and women too

Mr Weller was still alive well enough to attend the 64th anniversary meetings of the Mission in 1940, at the age of 93 Mrs 

Gates died on 23rd July 1911, and the local newspapers were full of her praise for her faithful ministry. Pastor Charles 

Spurgeon, son of the famous Charles Haddon Spurgeon (of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London), conducted the service.

 

 The National Railway Mission was founded in Brighton 

in 1881 (and in its early years had its headquarters in 

Brighton). In 1888 approximately 3,000 people attended 

each of the the two anniversary meeting at the Dome. By 

1900 the Brighton Mission was one among 270 groups of 

converted railwaymen and their families throughout the 

country registered with the Railway Mission, many with 

their own premises. the Brighton mission still exists as 

'Calvery Evangelical Church, but along with other former 

Mission Halls no longer formers part of the Railway 

Mission, which has gradually shed its properties 

concertrating on the provision of chaplains to the railway 

industry.


Extracted from an article

Written by Chris Fry

The Railway Mission is located at the bottom of viaduct road in Brighton. 

 

Left Klaus Marx Collection

 

 I am trying to finding out if there is any connections between the monthly meetings (3rd & 4th Tuesdays) of the 

Railway Mission at Brighton and the formation of the Brighton Branch of A.S.L.E.F., which held their meetings on 

the 4th Tuesday of each month?

 

 

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