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Celebration marks a century of Armley’s Mission Room

By Andy Dalton

The ‘Mission Room’ is located at the end of Town Street/beginning of Mistress Lane in Armley. Many residents will have passed this building many times. It has an interesting history.

Over the weekend 14 and 15 September 1744 John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church) preached in Armley, then a small village near Leeds. There were conversion – and thus started a Methodist presence. 

Over the years the Methodist societies grew. By the late 1800s the various brands of Methodism were well represented in an area which had become part of the expanding city. 

In the mid 1880s some Wesleyan Methodists began new mission activities in Armley.  A series of mission premises were rented and outreach undertaken – especially amongst those of poorer backgrounds.

Punch Lump was a row of old cottages built on the site of the ‘Mission Room’ in Mistress Lane. In them lived a drunkard who when ‘under the influence’ would be the terror of the neighbourhood because of his great strength. 

Such was his liking for beer it was even said he boiled his potatoes in it! 

Some workers from the Methodist Mission Band began to reach out to this part of the village and he was given a leaflet. This arrested his attention and led to his dramatic conversion. 

For over 50 years, well into his eighties, he would be a regular attender both at the Mission Room and the main Methodist Chapel in Wesley Road. Along with his pals, John Stephenson and Jim Butler, a lively trio was formed. Their presence livened up the services and prayer meetings attended in the Mission Room.

In 1907 the Armley Wesleyan Methodists built a grand, gothic style new church building.  One unexpected consequence of this was to invigorate the work of the Methodist mission band. 

Some people did not like the grandness of the new building built in Wesley Road.  Others found it difficult to hear the preacher in such a large building. There was most probably underlying class issues with people from a working class background finding it increasingly difficult to relate to the growing middle class status of the Wesleyan Methodists.

When the premises, the Mission Band was using, received notice to quit by the landlord in early 1922 the decision was made to purchase land in Mistress Lane to build a permanent ‘Mission Room’.  

£750 secured the land and building commenced. Construction of this simple building was rapid and the opening service was held on 28 April 1923. 

The ‘Mission Room’ was Methodist in character but semi-independent in government. The Mission was led by lay people and only occasionally did a minister take a service.  A harmonium provided the music for the hymns.  There was no pulpit—only a reading desk.  For the next 30 years there were robust engaging worship services and other activities.

This Methodist Mission Hall only lasted for the next three decades. In 1953 it closed—an early victim of the national rationalisation programme of the denomination. 

The premises were sold to an unusual grouping—the Reorganised Church of Latter Day Saints—a splinter group of the Mormons. 

In the 1960s it was sold again to the Yorkshire Band of Hope Union (YBHU—an interdenominational temperance organisation). 

It was used by Armley Gospel Temperance Society who wanted to downsize from their huge premises around the corner in Wesley Road. This Temperance Mission lasted for a number of years before it folded. However it continued to be used as offices by the YBHU. They also rented out the meeting hall to a succession of small church groups, including Armley Christian Mission (Salvation Army origins) and two different black majority African congregations. 

The YBHU later transferred its offices to Huddersfield and by 2017 had decided to dispose of their Mistress Lane premises.

Leeds City Mission is the oldest interdenominational christian agency in Leeds. Since 1837 it has reached out to those at the margins of life – offenders, unemployed, addicts and the many who are just struggling with life. 

In 2017 Leeds City Mission was deliberating about its future and looking at ways it could open a new chapter in its long history. 

A set of premises which could provide office space, a meeting facility, a home for a pop-up charity shop and Christian Book & Card Booth plus the capacity to develop new aspects of work was very much in mind. 

Ideally located in a poor inner city area, near the prison, but with good transport connections across the city. 

The new Interim Coordinator who had connections with YBHU discovered the Mission Room was up for sale. The unexpected advent of a legacy provided the financial means to purchase the Mistress Lane Mission Room

YBHU were only too willing to sell to another organisation who would use the premises for christian purposes. After purchase the hall had to be completely renovated. 

A series of miracles provided both the money and people to completely transform it into a fully fledged compassion centre. This ‘Mission Room’ is the first permanent home of Leeds City Mission since 1837 and now stands equipped to serve the city in the years to come.

To celebrate the centenary of the ‘Mission Room’ building the City Mission is inviting the local community to a Centenary Open Afternoon on Saturday, 16 September.  From 2.30pm – 4pm ice creams, soft drinks, tea & other refreshments served and there will also be a bargain greetings card sale.

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