Our history

Mostly taken from Croydon Unitarian and Free Christian Church - The First Hundred Years, by Roger Thomas, published in 1970.

Beginnings

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.

A new building

In 1883 the Iron Church was moved (bodily) to the back of the site, where it became the church hall, to make way for a bigger building of grey-faced stone walls with large gothic windows and pinnacles. One of its more unusual features was a lofty and sizeable vestibule.The old church

It is ironic that George Coverdale Sharp should have been the longest-serving minister in the church's early history. Influenced by his experience as a Methodist, he insisted at the outset of his ministry that he would remain in the post no longer than five years and resigned on numerous occasions, only to be talked into staying on time after time by a devoted congregation.

Interior of the old church