Our Roots in East Oxford 

From small beginnings ...

Our story begins 190 years ago just as Oxford was beginning its urban sprawl beyond Magdalen Bridge, swallowing up hamlets and villages to the east of the city. Religious meetings were being held in cottages and in the open air in the newly developed area as early as 1854, for the purpose of learning from the Bible together and sharing their faith with the burgeoning community through witness and practical help. Cowley St John parish in 1876

It became evident within a couple of decades that they needed a permanent building from which to serve this new community. Under the leadership of Mr B. Comfort* they purchased a plot of land in Magdalen Road (the same site we use today) with the vision to build a workmen’s hall which would accommodate 100 people. The Oxford Times reported the official opening on Easter Saturday 1879,
…the workmen`s hall, in which it is proposed to hold religious services, a Sunday school, concerts, temperance, political, and other meetings calculated to promote the religious and social improvement of the neighbourhood. The committee hope to build coffee and reading rooms at some future time, which might be used as a public library for the district.
Ten years later the building was registered as a place of worship. Their first full-time pastor, Mr Trotman, served until his early death in 1890. He was known for his commitment to serving the poor and needy in the area around Magdalen Road which is said to have contributed towards his early demise. Henry Clifford took over the work and the following 43 years under his leadership proved to be a period of outstanding development in the work of Magdalen Road Mission Hall.   More to follow in Part 2 in a future update.
 * The Comfort Trust is a semi-independent initiative of Magdalen Road Church named after Mr.B.Comfort whose life exemplified Christian service to the poor and needy in the neighbourhood.  

Rise and fall ... and rise

Henry Clifford became Pastor of Magdalen Road Mission in 1890 and under his leadership the following 43 years proved to be a period of outstanding development in the work of the Mission. After just a few years the hall had become too small so plans were made for a larger brick-built building on the same site which was completed in 1901.
The following thirty years were a very fruitful time for the Mission as it served that area of East Oxford in both spiritual and practical ways: Sunday School Outing 1894

  • as many as 270 children came to Sunday School each week with the overflow sitting on window sills
  • an average of 250 adults attended the Sunday evening services
  • Pastor Clifford devoted much of his time to visiting and carrying out menial tasks for people in the area, setting a great example to his congregation
  • a Soup Kitchen provided soup to the poor at one penny per bowl and, particularly during the depression years, this was an essential service to the community
  • a regular offering was taken up ‘for the poor of the district’ so that gifts of coal, groceries and clothing could be distributed. 

After Henry Clifford’s death, the Mission went into gradual decline so that by 1948 just six people remained - one of whom is still a member of Magdalen Road Church today. Gerald Henagulph, a full-time engineer, was invited to lead the church and under his supervision the church slowly grew and developed. Much of what is happening in the life of the church today is due to the dedication and tenacity of a small group of people which has inspired and envisioned those that followed in their footsteps.

Growth and change

From the late 40’s through the next 25 years, the Mission Hall was led by a group of very committed ‘Deacons', and there were many big changes and challenges during this period:
  • The Government’s post-war Welfare State gradually removed the need for much of what Magdalen Road Mission had been doing to serve the community.
  • Attendance at services and meetings began to grow as new people moved into the area and made Magdalen Road Mission their ‘home’
  • Structural problems in the 60-year-old building required major refurbishments over a period of ten years.
  • During that time of reconstruction the Mission became affiliated to a nationwide fellowship of like-minded churches and changed its name to Magdalen Road Church.

Then in the mid 70’s Bill Carter was appointed as full-time Minister, and during his eight years of leadership the church continued to grow and develop activities for children, young people and ladies in this area of East Oxford.

As the neighbourhood became more ethnically diverse, it was a delight to be able to welcome young people and adults from so many different countries and cultures, bringing a rich diversity into the ‘family’ of Magdalen Road.

At the end of Bill Carter’s appointment the church started to search for a pastor – a process which took over ten years. A couple of experienced men in the congregation helped the Deacons during that period of transition to develop a strong leadership team which turned out to be essential preparation for guiding the church towards new challenges and opportunities.

During that time Edi Marquez, sent by his church in Peru to the UK, was appointed by the Church to help the Muslim community with simple things like form-filling and teaching basic English and to encourage others in the church to get involved. It is likely that his commitment and compassion that made the church more aware of the needs of ethnic minority groups in our area.

More to follow ...