Over a hundred years ago in a small room over a shop in Wimbledon Road, Summers Town, in the parish of Streatham, in the county of Surrey (so the Trust Deeds say) the pioneering work of Summerstown Mission was started. The first circular sent to interested friends stated the object: "to carry the Gospel to the poorer inhabitants of Summers Town, a hamlet situated between lower Tooting and Wandsworth Common, with a population belonging chiefly to the working classes". The daughter of the Rev. John Bigwood of Upper Tooting was the pioneer who found the room and started a sewing meeting for mothers. Before long a Sunday School and a Sunday evening service were established. After a year a local coach house was lent for the meetings and was also used as a coffee and reading room for winter evenings. Four years later, in 1887, the main hall was erected.
The oldest surviving annual report is from 1889 and it is impressive reading. There were 10 on the management committee, 2 secretaries, a mothers' meeting, a girls' sewing group, over 120 attending the Sunday School (with 9 teachers), over 100 members for the week-night 'Band of Hope' group, a team of seven ladies doing door-to-door work, Temperance Society meetings and even a 'Provident Bank'! The report modestly understates God's blessing on the work, but clearly this is impressive growth for a new church in under 10 years. Mention is made of the many supporters who gave their time, efforts and money to start and sustain the work.
A press report on the early work of the Mission described the people of the neighbourhood as being "of the poorest and most neglected". There were four public houses in close vicinity and Summers Town was just a rural lane of small cottages with a stream meandering at the bottom of the gardens. The bridge over the River Wandle was just wide enough for one vehicle to pass over. On both sides of the lane were cornfields where the children of Summerstown would glean corn and gather fruit including blackberries. Some of the members in the 1980s still remembered the watercress beds in Plough Lane, the leather mill in Copper Mill Lane and Prices Bakery off Garratt Lane. Back in those days the local people took their Sunday joints to be cooked in the bakery oven!
The work of Summerstown was truly a missionary enterprise and for a number of years members of at least four churches in the wealthier neighbourhoods of Wandsworth Common, Upper Tooting and Balham, subscribed to the work. Through the years and two world wars the Mission has endured, independent and undenominational.
In 1925 the Sunday School had 240 scholars, but today there are only a handful yet the work goes on. Up until the 1980s we had a Girls' Brigade Company, a Boys' Brigade Company, Women's meeting, Sunday School and Sunday evening services; today we have Junior Focus, Messy Church, Minis and Minders and COM club. The building has been completely flooded twice and more recently flash flooding has caused water to flood into the lower hall. Intruders have stripped lead from the roof on at least two occasions, stolen equipment and constantly smashed windows until we replaced them with unbreakable glass. Is it all worth while? The Mission has its own missionary, a former scholar converted in the Sunday School who is in Brazil and was working with the Evangelical Union of South America until He retired, other former members still in touch are in Australia and New Zealand. In 1949 an anonymous gift was received from an old gentleman in Toronto, Canada, converted at the Mission sixty years before, who urged: "Carry on the good work". In 1980 the team of workers and members was small and the building was dilapidated, but they praised God for a hundred years of service, and in faith renovated the premises. The expenses involved seemed enormous but the promises of God are being proved. God is faithful.
A reunion and thanksgiving day was held in March 1979, and they were led by two former student pastors, the Rev. David Sayer of Braintree and the Rev. S. Noles of Billericay. In the providence of God, the very next day the pastor, Mr. Philip Rose, was suddenly called into the presence of the Lord. "A man of God, of the Bible and of prayer," he became laypastor in 1964. The shock of losing such a friend and counsellor after almost sixteen years of dedicated ministry was felt not only by the fellowship, but by a wider circle of friends also. God's timing is always perfect. The joy of the centenary celebrations was in many ways a fitting and triumphant entry for him into the presence of God.