Janet Nichols (nee Hogger) is a member at Wesley Hall; at one time she ran the Brownies and Beavers at Wesley Hall and she currently helps with the Cub Scout Pack. She has written about her memories and feelings about Wesley Hall:
Throughout my life Wesley Hall has almost been my second home. The furthest I have lived away from it was for 4 years when at Nottingham university and for the first 8 years of married life in Eltham.
My parents, Les and Dora Hogger, met at Wesley Hall through Guiding and Scouting and hence Wesley Hall was to play a very big part in my life. My first service, apparently, was Harvest Festival 1949 when a month old.
Both sides of my parent’s families, the Pollards and the Hoggers, supported Wesley Hall in many ways, either as Guide leaders, Brownie leaders and Sunday School teachers, so it was only natural that I joined these activities.
My first memories are of beginners Sunday School sitting on various coloured stools in the Rovers den, now the chapel, playing with tin trays filled with sand. If I remember rightly the pianist for us was Betty Hill. I then progressed to Primary Sunday School, which was held in the Hut, run by my mum and the pianist was Joyce Richards. Lastly, came Senior Sunday school in the main hall, run by my uncle Harry Hogger and Mrs Wright.
Church parades in my early days were big affairs and I can remember as a 3 to 5 year old standing proudly with my auntie, Dorothy Pollard, the Guide captain, on the other side of the church in the road at the beginning of the line of Guides and Brownies, waiting for the Scouts, Cubs, etc march past us from Erindale Road where they had congregated earlier on. On entering the church we were witness of a large congregation, so large that the shutters that divided the classrooms from the hall had to be rolled up in order to fit everyone in. On the stage were the church choir, who came down to join the rest of the congregation to listen to the sermon which was delivered from a high round pulpit to the right of the church. I often wondered what went on in the vestry before and after the service as we were never allowed in there at any time!
Many a happy time was had at Wesley Hall as I entered Brownies and then Guides, as well as attending Sunday School most weeks. Other big occasions that come to mind are the bazaars before Christmas, the numerous jumble sales to raise money for good causes and the annual Parents Evenings when the hall heaved with Guides, Brownies, Cubs, Scouts, Senior Scouts and Rovers. It was the youngsters’ opportunity to put on a show for their parents showing them skills and games that they had learnt at their section evenings.
Another one of my memories as a child was being given a book of Sunny Smiles, which were photos of children who lived in the then National Childrens Homes. Our job was to sell these photos to family and friends and bring the money back for this charity. Again if I remember correctly the total amount of money was handed in at a special service in Westminster Central Hall. A different child was selected to be the one to take it up on to the stage during the service, a real honour!
As I became too old for Guides I became a Brownie leader before going off to college. On returning, I was asked by the Akela of the cubs, Miss Daniels, affectionally known as Danny, to help with Cubs, which I did. This was where I got to know Paul, now my husband. He was also in a folk group which regularly held really good folk nights in the scout hut.
Wesley Hall has changed quite a lot since I was a small girl. The Rovers den became our chapel. The classrooms no longer have shutters that can be raised. The Scout den at the front has appeared. The main hall has had many improvements and modernisations. The allotments round the back of the chuch have disappeared. The entrance to the back of the church, in Garland Road, has long since gone and even the hut, which has threatened to collapse over the years, has been modernised with central heating and double glazing!
In April 1976, Paul and I were married at Wesley Hall by the Rev Michael Gilyead. At this time the main hall was looking a bit “tired” so the Thursday before our wedding on Saturday we were busy painting the walls as far up as we could reach, sweeping the floors and polishing the chairs, etc. My uncle, Charles Cradduck, a past member of the church, played the organ for us which we had to hire for the day! I still have to giggle at the thought of it as he didn’t know how to turn off the drum rhythm which wasn’t the usual accompaniment for Charles Wesley hymns! However, all this didn’t matter as we were proud that we were being married in the church we had both grown to love.
Our daughters were born in 1978 and 1981 and their first church services were harvest festivals and they both became to know Wesley Hall as their second home by joining Brownies, which by then I was running as well as still helping with cubs.
It was in 1984 that history began to repeat itself for me. Back in the 1950s my parents became involved in the Woolwich Gang Show as stage manager and wardrobe mistress. This show originated at Wesley Hall and involved many of the church’s members. As a young girl I can remember my mum sewing costumes in our kitchen whilst dad made props in the shed.
Paul decided he wanted to start another show, called Showtime, which eventually become the Woolwich Gang Show again. Rehearsals started every Sunday in the main hall and over the years singing from a cast of over 80 could be heard in neighbouring houses! These rehearsals continued annually , then biannually until the early 2000s when Paul decided he would give up his role of producer. Of course I wasn’t to be left out. So I decided to help with the costumes. I also became part of the cast for a number of years and finally took on the role of coordinating the costume section. I often wonder what my parents would have thought or said to Paul and myself becoming so involved in the show as they had done!
Then in 1992, our daughters became Scouts when rules changed in Scouting and girls were allowed in the Scout movement. Wesley Hall started to play a bigger part in their lives too as they became members of the Gang Show as they progressed through the Scout sections and eventually became Beaver leaders.
There have been many times when Wesley Hall has been close to closing because of dwindling congregations and large premises needing maintenance, but it has survived. On several occasions when things aren’t going right, when church services including church parades are poorly attended, when I have really found it hard to summon up enthusiasm to lead a Cub evening on cold winter nights, or when on a “work day” the amount of work to be done seems overwhelming, I have thought that life would be a lot easier if Wesley Hall were to close. Sometimes it has felt like a chain around the neck.
However, on a miserable wet Friday in late June 2011, as I was making my way round to another Cub evening, my feelings about the church changed dramatically and I was to realise how much it meant to me.
I was walking down Garland Road when I heard sirens and could smell smoke. I first thought it was another attempt of youths trying to set the common alight. Then to my dismay as I rounded the corner I could see three or four fire engines outside the church which was billowing smoke. The feeling inside me was one of horror. Firstly if it had happened two or three minutes later the church would have been full of children. Fortunately no one was physically hurt. Secondly it seemed to be so badly burning that it was not going to survive. Thirdly all my memories of past times, family and friends were being destroyed in front of me. It dawned on me how much Wesley Hall meant to me.
Fortunately the church refused to lie down and by November through a lot of work and enthusiasm the place was back to itself, better and brighter than it had been before. Members seemed to be given new life and determination from the dreadful act that had befell on that fateful night in June. What is more we were heartened by the amount of well wishers from within the community.
So in this centenary year I am proud to be part of Wesley Hall and hope and pray it continues to serve and support the youth and adults of its community.