The original ‘Strangers’ Rest for Seamen’ was founded by Mr. Reginald Ratcliffe, a Christian solicitor, who was used by God during the 1859 Revival of Britain, and who took part during the campaign of D.L. Moody in East London in 1875. It was then that he became aware of the unhappy state of foreign sailors, particularly those from European countries, who without a knowledge of the language were at the mercy of undesirable men and women in the dock area: he had started a small ‘Rest’ for them in his home town of Liverpool and its success led him to repeat the experiment in other ports. Eventually, he rented a large house at 163 Ratcliff Highway and from this small beginning the work began to grow.
In those early days a Miss McPherson was in charge, assisted by a young Swedish missionary, Miss Agnes Hendestrom who gave herself unsparingly to the spiritual and general welfare of the large number of Swedish sailors who frequented the boarding-houses and saloons in the area.
When The Mission changed its name to ‘The Ratcliff Gospel Mission’ it was apparent that sailors no longer frequented The Highway in such large numbers; the days of sailing ships were almost over, and it was decided that the building should be opened for the general use of all in the vicinity. For a time the name was altered to ‘The Little Strangers’ Rest Mission’, until it assumed its present title.
The Mission passed through two major world wars. Despite the disruption suffered through the destruction of the building by fire bombs, the light of the glorious Gospel was never extinguished and continued to burn brightly. It was rebuilt after the war due to the generosity of Mrs Andre, a millionairess, who was converted under the ministry of Bob Hutchinson who was superintendent between 1935 and 1971.
Strangers Rest Mission’s new building was opened on 8 October 1966 – Opening Ceremony Programme.
In Ian Murray’s biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Mrs. Andre’s work in Westminster Chapel is discussed. She is described as welcoming sailors by inquiring whether they possessed New Testaments and inviting them to her mission home, ‘a home away from home’, in Park Lane. She had turned her comfortable flat to assist many servicemen and women. Mrs. Andre also made available her holiday home on the South Coast, a place enjoyed by missionaries until war-time restrictions on travel to the English Channel curtailed its use, to officer-cadets. She gave a dinner party for the benefit of visitors. There were games followed by a straight-forward, simple Gospel message by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the guest-speaker, much of whose address was his testimony – why he left medicine for the Ministry. One of the officer-cadets, a New Zealander, recorded: ‘Our chaps were definitely impressed…’
(from Iain H. Murray, The Life of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Vol. 2)
From the 1950s, there were meetings of refugees who escaped from Hungary after the rebellion in their country. Many were located in a disused local hospital. A Hungarian pastor led the services and hymn singing was done with great fervour. One family remained for several years. The council informed the Mission that it had to either demolish the temporary building and rebuild a new Mission within two years or find accommodation elsewhere. The entire district was under demolition and rebuilding with the result that the congregations were changing and fluctuation with young couples and their families moving to new towns. Only God alone enabled the Mission to stand and withstand the assaults and attacks of the evil One.
Pastor Richard Mayhew and his wife Gwen contributed ten years of labour to SRM from 1971. During their time, the East-End was undergoing great change with the widening of the main road next to the church, the influx of immigrant families, and the rise of crime. Away from the squalor of some local housing, the church has provided a temporary safe haven for many as the Gospel was shared with them. Evangelistic outreaches were undertaken, at times including external support from Christian colleges, leading to conversations with locals and passers-by about the Lord Jesus and his forgiveness. Pastor Mayhew’s accounts of the work at SRM in the Occasional Notes then are colourful, including stories of conversions, trouble among local teenagers, and joys. We are grateful for their ongoing support of the work at SRM.
Pastor Gerald Daley pastor was superintendent from 1981 and retired on 16th March 2013 at the age of 80. He returned to his native country, Wales, with his wonderful wife, Marion. They will be greatly missed.