Who built Wesley Hall?
Two stones inside the ‘porch’ provide the answer to that question. One indicates the architects Gordon and Gunton. Josiah Gunton designed a number of Wesleyan chapels and a rather grand building in Portsmouth which served as both the Wesleyan Sailors and Soldiers Home and a church built in 1908. He also designed the Royal Masonic Institution Boy’s School in Bushey, Hertfordshire in the same year and later the Royal Insurance Building, Lombard St.
Wesley Hall seems to have been designed by his son William who went on to become a partner in the practice 2 years later. There are similarities in the shape of the windows of some of Josiah’s buildings with that of Wesley Hall but little else. The builders, also commemorated in stone, were Thomas and Edge, well-known local builders who went on to build several shops in Powis Street, Woolwich and were still operating in the 1960s.
The building is simple in the extreme and designed to maximise its flexibility, being aimed primarily at the youth of this rapidly expanding suburb. There is little to indicate its use as a place of worship (the cross now adorning the front elevation was added in the late 1980s) although upon close inspection it is possible to see that the hall window mullions and transoms are over-engineered and in fact each form a crucifix.
The design consists of a large, simple hall with a high open apex roof with sturdy trusses. There is a ‘porch’ but it serves only to secure the building and minimise heat loss from the hall. The large windows are higher at the rear to accommodate a fixed pulpit and a number of rooms were provided to either side which could be divided by heavy wooden blinds of the type then commonly used by shops to secure the premises at night (an example is still in use today at “The first shop in the world” Nauticalia in Greenwich, on the corner of King William Walk). The current staging to be seen in the hall was built later (probably in the 1930s). The only other change of note is that regular services were moved to one of the side rooms, now our Chapel, when the size of the congregation and the cost of heating the hall made weekly use of this space uneconomic and the blinds were replaced by permanent walling, some being recycled as benches.
Simple it may be but the building has stood the test of time and stills serves as a centre for a range of youth and children’s activities to this day.
[Sourced and written by Christine Anthony]