Mostly taken from Croydon Unitarian and Free Christian Church - The First Hundred Years, by Roger Thomas, published in 1970.
The congregation first met for worship on 9th October 1870 in a borrowed church on London Road. Within a matter of months, permanent premises in Wellesley Road had been purchased from a Baptist congregation, and the first service in "The Iron Church", as it was known (the building being made of iron), was held on December 11th, with James Martineau as guest preacher.
Martineau, then head of Manchester New College, London (now Harris
Manchester College, Oxford), played a significant role in setting up the
church. He introduced the congregation to Robert Suffield, the first
minister. He was also influential in persuading it to accept the name "Free
Christian Church", which had less doctrinal and sectarian overtones at this
point in history than "Unitarian" and so allowed greater weight to be placed
on reason and conscience.
Suffield had left Roman Catholicism earlier in the year after a long intellectual struggle with the concept of papal infallibility. Under his ministry, the church is said to have been "rather less staid" than many longer-established Unitarian churches, with a flourishing social calendar. But his health broke down in 1877, and he felt obliged to tender his resignation the following year. His successor, Edmund Geldart, a former Anglican, was a stimulating preacher under whose stewardship the congregation rapidly outgrew its premises.