Methodist Central Hall

Opened in 1924, Methodist Central Hall was the most architecturally impressive addition to Old Market’s landscape. The 19th and early 20th century was a high point for Methodism in Britain. To accommodate huge crowds, Methodists and mainly Wesleyan Methodists, built major centres of worship - ‘Church Halls’ - between 1886 and 1945, in most major British towns and cities.

Central Hall opens

A remembrance of the Central Hall's grand opening, through the eyes of a young girl (at the time).

A Lucky Escape

During the second world war with the bombing of Colston Hall and the Prince's theatre the Central Hall was highly demanded as a venue for entertainment. Seeing it as a chance to raise spirits against the constant bombings the Trustees allowed the use ‘provided it generally be known that we are a Church and expect to be treated as such.

The Churches End

The Methodist Central Hall was converted to flats in the early 1990s. The auditorium was demolished, though the building’s façade and distinctive tower were retained.

Dwindling Congregation

Reverend Phillip O.Dell’s evangelical campaigns in the 1960s could not stop the decline in numbers at the Methodist Central Hall. Typically, the congregation were unable to support the cost of maintaining the vast building. From as early as 1963, the Hall’s trustees were looking to dispose of the building whilst maintaining a worship presence of some kind. But potential buyers came and went unable to agree a price.

Worship's end

The congregation ceased to meet on the site in 1982. It was occupied for a time by Bristol Cyrenians and was used as a shelter for the destitute. Negotiations between the Trustees and various groups continued. Among the diverse plans for the use of building, one was put forward by the Central Hall Trust Committee. Formed between 1984-85, its members included the actresses Jill Truman and Liz Phalae, local businessman Phil Morris and John Winston - the son of Bristol’s most famous photographer, Reece Winston.138 They proposed to transform the Hall into a ‘theatre in the round’, a restaurant and shops. Had this been successful, Old Market would have retained a flagship venue that reconnected the area to the local arts economy. However, the Trust were out-bid by a property developer. In 1988 plans were approved for its conversion into 42 flats at a cost of £1.2m.

Central Hall Construction

Astute evangelists, they moved away from the hierarchical ambience of traditional church to create buildings that recalled open air preaching, if not the music hall! Unable to afford a city centre location, the Methodist Conference took the decision to build a Central Hall in 1908, on the site of the under used Old Market Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The decision was also based on the recognition Astute evangelists, they moved away from the hierarchical ambience of traditional church to create buildings that recalled open air preaching, if not the music hall! Unable to afford a city centre location, the Methodist Conference took the decision to build a Central Hall in 1908, on the site of the under used Old Market Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The decision was also based on the recognition Astute evangelists, they moved away from the hierarchical ambience of traditional church to create buildings that recalled open air preaching, if not the music hall! Unable to afford a city centre location, the Methodist Conference took the decision to build a Central Hall in 1908, on the site of the under used Old Market Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The decision was also based on the recognition that Old Market was a focal point for work among the inner city poor.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Methodist Central Hall was a popular venue of classical music concerts delivered by musicians ranging from local pupils to the Royal Philharmonic.

Central Hall served as a shelter during the Blitz

Antony Peplar recounted his grandmother’s experience of: ‘Being at Church [Central Hall] when the 1940 air raids happened and sheltering in the crush until they got the all-clear and having to pick her way back through the rubble to get home to her parents house in Totterdown.'83 Frightening as this may seem V.A Hole remembers that: 'To a large extent, strange as it might seem, the war was a kind of entertainment for children. The next morning after an air raid you’d go out shrapnel hunting which was the residue of shells, bombs...as children you played in the street..so the war to a lot of children was a kind of entertainment because you weren’t aware of the implications of it...

'Hunger March' accomodations

To show support to the Hunger March movement 500 Welshmen marching to London were billeted in a number of places across the city including Kingsley Hall and the Central Methodist Hall. However not all frequenters of Kingsley Hall embraced the 'Hunger Marchers' The Bristol Unemployed Association, based in Kingsley Hall, announced in the Western Daily Press that it was in no way connected with other associations that were bringing unemployed marchers into the city.

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