Some interesting facts about Tamworth Road Chapel and Sunday School

Above the left-hand door leading from the chapel to the schoolroom, there is a memorial tablet to a former Pastor, Mr Ebenezer Wilmshurst. Mr Wilmshurst, like our most recent Pastor Mr Wood, took a great interest in the young people and children. He was Pastor from 1892 to 1906. The writer's uncle, Harold Mills, was given the second name 'Wilmshurst', as he was born on the day that Mr Wilmshurst died. Harold's parents had both been baptised by Mr Wilmshurst, so they held him in high esteem.

In those days, the chapel did not have brick walls adjoining the porch at the front as they are now, nor the sliding iron gate across the entrance. Instead, there were iron railings, set at least one metre further out towards the roadway from where the boundary wall is today. At the centre of these railings was a pair of low iron gates opening inwards in front of the porch.

On either side of the porch, was a notice board which advertised the times of the services. These were each set on two high wooden 'legs'. There were even four small trees, one on each side of the two notice boards! Hanging from the front porch on an elaborate wrought iron bracket was a large, yet attractive gas lantern. I feel it is a shame that it was ever taken away, yet if it were there today, it would overhang the pavement, and sadly would probably be subject to vandalism!

A photograph that has just come into my possession, which is well over 100 years old, clearly shows everything that I have so far described. It is worth noting that there were then no lamp-posts obstructing the view of the chapel, nor were there yellow lines in the road.

Immediately to the right of the chapel (there was no chapel car park then) stood a row of cottages extending down to Reeves Corner. My great-grandfather Henry Lane once had a greengrocery shop in one of the cottages. In Pastor Wilmshurst's time he and his wife were teachers in the Sunday School, as was their son-in-law Mr Francis Mills, my grandfather. The schoolroom, which was a much smaller building then, was built across the back of the chapel rather than in line with it, as it is today, and the windows were at the back of the building, rather than at the side. During the period from 13th April to 6th July 1902, the original schoolroom was replaced by the present larger one as the number of pupils had increased to over 200 (including Bible Classes.) The cost was £526.10s.4d. or £526.52p in today's money. In those days the floor was just bare boards, not carpeted as it is now. The sole chapel-cleaner in the 1950s and 60s was my wife's grandmother Daisy Russell, who used to get down on her hands and knees and scrub the floorboards regularly. There were trap-doors in the floor where fuel for the two open fires was stored. There was also an open fireplace in the infants' room, no doubt with a fireguard in front of it. The door at the end of the schoolroom that now leads into the gentlemen's toilets originally led direct to the outside. It once had a window above it, but this was blocked up after some burglars gained access through it about 50 years ago. The window above what is now the door to the storeroom and disabled toilet has also been blocked in on the inside and has been bricked up on the outside as can clearly be seen above the storeroom roof. This became necessary when the storeroom was constructed. The large window to the left of the storeroom door was also partially bricked up at the very top at the same time.

Our friend Mrs Hilda Roper has told me that she had heard that there used to be metal rings attached to the back wall of the chapel yard (probably not the same wall as you see today as that is comparatively modern) so that the people who came to chapel on horseback could tie up their horses during the service.

I have remembered a notice being fixed to the outside of the left-hand chapel wall about halfway up, saying 'Ancient Lights'. It was put there to indicate that if a new building was to be built next to the chapel, it was to be no higher than the notice, so that daylight could still enter the windows. To my surprise it is still there, although it is only just possible to make out the words. There was also one on the outside of the end wall of the schoolroom. Although the notice has long since disappeared, the wooden frame on which it was mounted is still there.

Another photograph that I have (also over 100 years old) shows the inside of the chapel. The wood panelling and seating was then much darker in appearance. (Some of this dark wood remains today. Take a look at the woodwork near the floor under each seat.) The rails under the seats were not put there as footrests, although it is easy to imagine that, but rather were intended for the gentlemen of the congregation to use as a place to rest their hats during the service.

The elaborately-grained arch-shaped moulding behind the pulpit was originally painted in a plain colour to match the walls (probably cream or white, although it is impossible to tell from my picture which was taken before the days of colour photography). Above this was a similar circular moulding set into the wall, which was removed only comparatively recently.

Under the pulpit is a small cupboard which now houses the amplifying equipment. Inside this cupboard is a trapdoor leading to the space behind the baptistry and under the floor of the chapel. Mr Albert Russell, one of the late deacons and my wife's grandfather, a solidly-built man, was known to squeeze down through the trapdoor to inspect the timbers, pipe work and baptistry walls. There are other trapdoors under the carpeting in the porch which allow access to the main spaces under the chapel floor.

On either side of the pulpit 'arch' was a gas lamp to help the minister see to read the Bible. Although these lamps were removed some years ago, their round wooden bases still remain. My photograph shows that there used to be a large gas heater standing at each of the front corners on the rostrum. If you look carefully, the gas pipes that supplied these can still be seen. A hundred years ago, the radiators and long central heating pipes on either side of the chapel, had not been installed.

Apart from the pulpit lights that I have already mentioned, the only lighting for the chapel was originally supplied by gas lamps suspended from the ceiling (much lower than our present-day electric lights) on long pipes immediately below each of the four circular gas-vents in the ceiling which can still be seen today. Each lamp was composed of a ring of ten upward-facing gas jets, which probably gave very little light. Later, these were replaced by another larger gas lamp in the centre of the chapel, suspended from a large decorated plaster ceiling rose. (The rose is still on the ceiling today.) This more powerful gas lamp had downward-facing incandescent mantles which glowed brilliant white when heated by the gas and therefore gave more light. (These were only invented in the late 1880's but were the forerunner of the electric light bulbs that we use today).The gas was turned on and off by operating a rocking 'arm' with a short chain at each end. At the end of each chain was a ring. A hook on the end of a long pole was manoeuvred into one or other of these rings, and then pulled to regulate the flow of gas. (The long pole is still in the chapel today, but lies hidden on top of the inner porch at the rear of the chapel.) The gas lighting was replaced by electric lighting in the early 1900's. On the outer wall of the chapel, above the porch, is the main circular gas-vent for the roof space. Inside the roof space, above the four internal gas vents, are wooden trolleys on wheels, which open or close the vents, operated by a pulley system by means of the ropes which hang from small openings in the chapel cornice, each rope being labelled 'O' or 'S' for 'Open' or 'Shut'.

In those bygone days, the chapel was so full of people that it was necessary to reserve a seat by paying a small sum of money known as 'seat-rent' or 'sittings' which also provided a source of income for the chapel. Each seat was therefore marked with a number painted on the side in gold and black lettering. The rent for the centre seats was originally double the amount charged for the side seats! Even as late as 1948, these seat-rents were still in operation and most seats were occupied. Sometimes the chapel was so full that extra seats had to be put in the aisles in order to accommodate everybody! On 13th January 2001, the chapel was once again full to capacity on the occasion which marked the 40th Anniversary of the Pastorate of our former Pastor, Mr Wood.

The pulpit Bible originally rested on a large cushion. This was later surrounded by a small 'curtain' of gold-coloured material complete with fringes and tassels. When there was a funeral taking place, the 'curtain' was replaced by one of black material. This can still be seen in one of the drawers of the deacons' desk on the rostrum. The rostrum table was covered by a thick red tablecloth.

Instead of our present maroon-coloured carpeting, there were long natural-coloured mats made of coconut fibre running down the aisles. These were weighted down by beaten lead at each end. A similar kind of matting was to be found on the floor between individual seat, also trimmed with lead at the ends. I don't know when the matting was removed from between the seats, but it certainly wasn't there in the 1950's. The matting in the aisle survived until comparatively recently, although it probably wasn't the original.

I don't know what colour the inside of the chapel and schoolroom were painted a hundred years ago, but going back to the 1950's they were both decorated in pale green. The roller-blinds at the windows, which kept out the sun on hot days, were originally of a heavy dark green material before being replaced by some of a lighter beige colour, which remained until our modern adjustable blinds were recently installed.

Inside the minister's vestry there is a small cupboard let into the wall of the chapel (which gives an idea how thick the walls of the chapel are). It contains a miniature hand basin for the minister's use (but only a cold water supply).

Today, we have an 'Induction Loop' for the hard of hearing, but originally a few seats had 'hearing aids' which consisted of a large round black earphone on a stick-like handle, which had to be held to the ear by the person needing it. I can remember my grandmother telling me that before those aids were installed, at least one lady in the congregation used an 'ear trumpet'. It was so named, because it resembled a musical trumpet, but instead of blowing through the equivalent of the mouthpiece, it was put to the ear to amplify the sound.

Until 1985 the singing in the chapel and Sunday School was never accompanied by a musical instrument. Mr Charles Farncombe our former deacon ably led the singing in the chapel for many years and Mr Raymond Jarman, another former deacon, did the same in the Sunday School. Mr Farncombe used a pitch-pipe to obtain the correct note on which to start, but Mr Jarman used a tuning fork, which he used to tap on his Companion Tune Book and then put to his ear, before working up or down the scale in his mind until he reached the right starting note. It was eventually agreed that on Saturday 7th September 1985 an organ could be played for the occasion of the marriage of Miss Gwen Beadle to Mr Gareth David, the writer of this account being the organist on that day. Following that service the Church agreed for an organ to be used to accompany the singing on a regular basis.

Today, the Sunday School is only held in the afternoons, but when I was a boy, and well before that, there was also a Sunday School held before the morning service, from 10 a.m. to 10.45 a.m.. In the early 1900's it became the responsibility of the deacons to take turns in closing the morning Sunday School. This gave them the opportunity to invite the pupils to attend the 11 a.m. service as well, as some of the children did not have parents attending the chapel. (The morning service in the chapel has been held at 10.30 a.m. for some years now.)

In the 1950's and 1960's the annual outing was not to Eastbourne or Godstone Farm as it has been of recent years, but to Bexhill. Coaches and cars were not used for the transport, but instead everyone had to meet at East Croydon Station in order to travel by train in specially reserved carriages. Tea was always provided at a hall in the town, so it was necessary to leave the beach quite early, in time for tea at 4 p.m. before the journey home. When the outing was changed from Bexhill to Eastbourne, not only did we travel by coach, but tea was at first provided at Wannock Tea Gardens, until in later years it was thought better to have all meals on the beach.

However, going back before that, during the Second World War, the outings, if they took place at all, were to Grange Park, Beddington or Earlswood Lakes. From the late 1920's up until the war started in 1939, the outings were by train to Worthing, Eastbourne and occasionally Bognor. Sometimes it was necessary to meet at East Croydon Station as early as 6.30. a.m.!! In the early 1920s the chosen destinations were Epsom Downs or Boxhill, travelling by train from West Croydon station. Before then, Riddlesdown was chosen, and the whole school went by tram from West Croydon to Purley. Even earlier than that it was customary to hire a field locally (there are not many local fields today!) and have organised games.

In the year 1900, there were 215 children and young people named on the Sunday School Registers (including those in the Bible Classes) and the number of attendances for 1899 was reported as being 11,632. This was a record year for attendances and was probably remains an unbroken record. The Annual Meetings were held in early January, rather than early March as they are today.

Until comparatively recently, a brass bell with central push-button was placed on the front desk before Sunday School was due to commence. The teacher whose turn it was to open Sunday School used to give a 'ding' on the bell to signal that it was time for the service to begin.

The clock in the schoolroom was made in 1729, and originally hung in Pump Pail Chapel, which was situated where the Croydon Flyover is now. This remarkable clock has been ticking away steadily ever since. A chapel historian writing in 1952 said that it seemed to say,

"I watch a scene of unending change. The congregations of yesterday, upon which I gazed through many a sermon, are gone: and the congregations of today will soon follow in their steps. You who sit there, to listen and learn, with hopes and fears, seeking to know that only eternal good (while I mark your little span, your fleeting hours) will soon be gone, and the seat you now occupy will be empty or filled by another, but I shall still stare, white-faced and unemotional, and swing my pendulum with that dull tick-tock for generations as yet unborn."

When the clock was first placed in the schoolroom, it hung on the wall just to the left of the 'Desk' as viewed from the seats. This meant that whoever was occupying the platform, would not have had the clock face in view, but the whole of the school or congregation would have no doubt been distracted by it during the whole of the service!

When I was in the Sunday School, a framed set of Scholars' Rules used to hang on the wall between the infants' room and the kitchen. They had been there since they were written in 1925 and have only relatively recently been taken down:


  1. No child under 4 years of age can be admitted as a scholar, except at the discretion of the Superintendent.
  2. The time of School in the Morning is 10 o'clock until 10.45, scholars to remain to the Service, unless excused by the Superintendent; the time in the afternoon 2.45 until 4. Each scholar must make every effort to be in time.
  3. After the closing of the School the scholars are dismissed by classes; therefore no scholars to leave their class until they have a sign from the Teacher. Those scholars in charge of infants to stay in their classes until the infants are dismissed. No scholars to leave the School by way of the Chapel unless they have a seat there.
  4. Any scholars changing their address should at once inform their teacher.
  5. Every scholar is expected to learn the texts given them by the teacher; and also to learn or find any Scripture questions given them.
  6. Scholars using the Library must take good care of the books lent them, and must return them regularly and in good condition. Should any book be lost, scholar must pay one-third of the value.
  7. Any scholar wishing to join the Summer Outing at a reduced rate must attend the School twelve Sundays before, unless a satisfactory reason be given.
  8. Should any scholar continue to be disobedient, such a one to be reported to the Superintendent, and if necessary their parents or friends shall be written to or visited.
  9. Scholars to bring their Bibles and hymn books, and those wishing to leave them must put them in the place set apart for that purpose by the Superintendent.


Hymn Books and bibles can be obtained on application to the Superintendent

JULY, 1925 (revised)

There were even rules for the officers of the Sunday School, i.e. Superintendent, Secretary, Treasurer and Librarian. Here is an example, dated 1903:


  1. To superintend the opening and closing of the School by himself or a teacher: and to see that the time of fifteen minutes is not exceeded in the opening service. To dismiss the School, class by class.
  2. To arrange for half-hour addresses on the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Sundays in the month.
  3. To admit scholars (not under four), and place them in the class best suited for them.
  4. To visit the various classes during School hours, seeing that the proper order is maintained; to render the Teachers any help they may need, by reproving any unruly scholar, or in any way he sees fit.
  5. To ascertain, as far as possible, whether friends are suitable for Teachers during the "probation-time," so that his knowledge may be useful in proposing or otherwise.

In 1955 a set of conditions and rules was drawn up at a Church Meeting on 19th July governing the use of the Schoolroom for Wedding Receptions:

Conditions to be met and rules to be observed for the use of the Schoolroom for Wedding Receptions

  1. Permission to use the Schoolroom will only be given if one (or both) of the contracting parties has regularly attended the Sunday School or Chapel services up to the time of marriage. The Church may, at its discretion, waive this requirement if regular attendance has been interrupted by sickness, personal or relative, removal from the town, call up to Her / His Majesty's Forces, or any unavoidable cause.
  2. Only the Schoolroom may be used. After the marriage ceremony has been completed and bride, bridegroom, relatives and guests have left the Chapel, the doors communicating with the Schoolroom must be closed so that no part of the Chapel, either directly or indirectly, can be used for the reception.
  3. No charge will be made for the use of the Schoolroom but the caretaker is to be paid £1 for services rendered.
  4. No confetti or other material used for a similar purpose may be used anywhere on the Chapel premises.
  5. Smoking will be prohibited on the Chapel premises both indoor and outdoor.
  6. Alcoholic drinks must not be provided or consumed anywhere on the Chapel premises but this does not preclude wine in moderation for the wedding toasts.
  7. Catering must be undertaken only by relatives or friends of the contracting parties.
  8. Photography will be prohibited inside the Chapel or the Schoolroom but may be permitted outside of these buildings.
  9. No form of entertainment whatsoever will be permitted.
  10. A Deacon of the Church must be present at the reception to ensure that the rules are observed.
  11. If an applicant(s) expresses willingness to conform to the foregoing rules, a formal application must be made to the Church for permission to use the Schoolroom, giving as long a notice as possible.

I hope these few facts will be of interest.