The History of East Cliff Church
Christian worship and fellowship have taken place on the site of East Cliff Church since 1868; and even before that local Christian witness began with a Sunday School in the front room of nearby premises which later became 79 Holdenhurst Road, courtesy of three men of great foresight Messrs Dumper, Nicholas James and Joseph Poole.
The membership of Richmond Hill Congregational Church felt that the rapidly growing district around Holdenhurst Road called for some vigorous Christian action and established a Mission Hall seating 250 people at the rear of the present East Cliff Church site in 1868 (at a building cost of £400!) Worshippers approached the Mission Hall through a wicket gate on Holdenhurst Road and across an enclosed space. A Mr Samuel Flemington was appointed Evangelist in charge of the Mission. The work and congregations increased as the neighbourhood grew and in March 1870 when the railway came to Bournemouth the Mission Hall found itself at the very hub of the town’s main communication link
In 1875 Reverend George Burgess, Assistant Minister at Richmond Hill, succeeded Mr Flemington. The work of the Mission continued to prosper and the time came when the Minister and congregation felt that the Mission should be constituted an independent church (although there were some thoughts expressed that something akin to a modern team ministry should be operated from Richmond Hill at “outlying preaching stations.”). Thus in 1877 thirty two members of Richmond Hill Congregational Church were sent to form East Cliff Congregational Church.
The church family rapidly outgrew the Mission Hall and in 1878 a building committee was formed to build a new church on the ground in front of the Mission Hall. A lease of the site was granted by Sir George Gervis Meyrick Bt for 1000 years at a peppercorn rent for the purpose of a church on the site. The new sanctuary was opened on 17 December 1879 and there were 56 names on the Church Roll.
The advent of the railway was a particularly significant event for East Cliff Church as with the opening of the East Railway Station a number of railway workers came to live nearby. The first recorded infant baptism was that of Edith Kate Whiffen, daughter of a railway porter; similarly the first marriage register entry records the wedding of Matilda Thomas to Jesse Burrough, railway porter.
In November 1888 the East Cliff clock, so familiar to railway travellers, was set in motion and in the same year the Mission Hall was demolished to make way for new building extensions.
An interesting feature of the church’s life at this time was the opening of a Public Reading Room and Library (originally limited to males over 15 years of age but later extended to include ladies!) East Cliff Church was thus a pioneer of library provision in Bournemouth. The church Sunday School grew in strength and in 1890 had 407 members! A gymnasium and “mutual improvement society” were also part of church life!
Various alterations and extensions have been made to the church building over the years, the main ones being the construction of the Lawson Entrance on St Swithun’s Road in 1937 (in memory of George J Lawson J.P. who gave 59 years service to the church, mainly as Secretary and Treasurer) and the creation of the church lounge in the rear of the Sanctuary and a new church entrance in 1974 in memory of Mr & Mrs H E Harding in 1974 – Mr Harding had been Church Treasurer for many years and Mrs Harding a Church Elder of longstanding.
In 2005 a new entrance with a ramp was made to serve the Church Hall in the basement - this is now the entrance to East Cliff Pre-School, and in 2013 a new kitchen was installed in the basement to serve users of the Church Hall.