The Centre started as a Boys Club in 1946 by Frank and Nancy Birkett who first met in Sunnyhill School; then Eardley School, then in St James Mission Hall, Eardley Road, till in 1961 the first part of the present Centre was built. When Frank and his wife left Streatham, the Club kept going for many years by Fred Crump and Laurie Hills two veterans of the first world war. While the Club was small by today’s standard, it had a lively group of young people keen on football, gymnastics, table tennis and other sports. Some were old members who became leaders and did great work in other places. Wall Crump, Ken Cooper, David White, Bill Marsh, John East, Brian Moughtin, Jim Williams, Clifford Lynn, David Robinson, Albert Robinson, Skipper Dalton, Don Attenborough, Mick Fuller, are names that old friends will remember.
The Chairman Bill Snowden and Secretary John Corfield came to help the Club in late 1959 following the serious illness of Chairman Fred Crump. At this time the Club was faced with the loss of its meeting place and lack of financial help. It was apparent that without premises and more support the work could not survive. Plans were enacted to build a Centre. As if by a miracle, and by dint of much hard work, the Club opened its own premises in 1961.
WELLFIELD CENTRE HISTORY
The Wellfield Centre was built in 1867, by Sir Arthur Blackwood. It was formerly known as the Streatham Mission Hall. Sir Arthur was born at Hampstead in 1832, educated at Eton and Cambridge, and 1852 he entered the Treasury as a civil servant. His family were related to Lord Nelson. In 1854 he volunteered for service in the Crimean War, in which he served with distinction as an officer in the Guards. After the war, he returned to England and in 1858 he married the Dowager Duchess of Manchester. The following year he moved to Streatham where he and his wife lived at Wood Lodge, a large house that stood on the corner of Tooting Bec Road facing Tooting Common. A devoutly Christian man, and an inspiring preacher, shortly after he arrived in Streatham he began holding religious meetings in his house. He became increasingly concerned about the well being of the poor people in the parish, as well as the large number of navvies who were then living in the area whilst constructing the railway, and who seemed to have been neglected by the established churches in the area.
He purchased a plot of land near the railway works, and on it, a tarred wooden building was erected, which became known as the Black Chapel. The services were given by him and he also arranged a programme of social events which took place at the hall, such as the showing of lantern slides. The old wooden hut was replaced by the Hall we see today which Mr Blackwood opened on 6th October 1867. The Mission became so successful that most of the time it was overcrowded, and people journeyed from miles around to attend the services, even on winter evenings despite the inadequate heating. In the summer months, meetings would be held out in the open, and large crowds would gather in the street, with local residents leaning out of their windows to join in the hymn singing.
In 1874 Sir Arthur founded the Trinity Presbyterian Church and the hall (Wellfield Centre) was handed over to them for their use as a Mission Hall. Sir Arthur became a Member of Parliament and had a distinguished parliamentary career and in 1880 was appointed Postmaster General. He was knighted in 1887 when he was awarded the KCB in Queen Victoria ‘s Jubilee honours. He remained a firm supporter of the work at the Mission Hall and on his desk in Whitehall he had a small card inscribed with the words “Pray for Streatham”. He died on 2nd October 1893. After his death, the Mission Hall was named the Blackwood Hall in his honour.
By the late 1970s, the hall had ceased to be used and was in a semi-derelict condition. The building was subsequently brought back into use and was converted into offices known as Grenville House. By 1992 the building was empty and in 1995 the Bright Sparks Theatre School, also known as Flames Academy, moved there. Several of its students appeared on the West End stage including Joe Cumi and Adam Mead, who both played the Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver, and Sammy Jay who played Cosette in Les Miserables. Other pupils appeared in numerous TV dramas such as The Bill, EastEnders and Casualty.
In 2003 the Streatham Youth and Community Trust purchased the hall as a second base for their operations in Streatham.
Our thanks to Brian Bloice of the Streatham Society for preparing this history.