The Origin of The Foreign Missions Club

The beautiful Victorian building which houses The Highbury Centre began life as housing for middle-class Victorian families, but these buildings weren’t the original setting of the Centre, which in fact started out as the Foreign Missions Club over 125 years ago.

The nineteenth century saw a huge number of missionaries heading off to the mission field in many different countries. When returning on furlough, they faced a problem. Where, in the dirty, bustling, undoubtedly sinful city of London could a blameless worker for the Lord find a comfortable place to lay their head?

A Place To Rest

A committee was formed to find a suitable building and establish such a place, led by the Reverend George Patterson. In December 1893, it opened as the Foreign Missions Club – a safe, comfortable and welcoming place for missionaries and their families to stay in the capital. Back then, it was located in Highbury New Park, occupying two large adjoining houses.

In 1898, Mrs Angus was invited to superintend the place. Mrs Angus, a warm-hearted woman with an outgoing personality, made the Club into a home, a place to which people returned again and again. Exhausted missionaries returning to London, often after journeys taking weeks, using the cheapest and most uncomfortable forms of travel and occasionally going through dangerous situations were delighted to find a Christian establishment where they could stay to restore their weary souls and bodies. There were regular services and prayer meetings and guests could visit friends and family in London safe in the knowledge that they would be returning to comfortable accommodation, rather than the dubious boarding houses on offer to guests in the city. In 1927, Miss Annie Angus took over her mother’s position and Miss Gladys Dawe joined her to manage the house.

A New Home

Over the years, the FMC expanded and blossomed, offering accommodation and a warm welcome to thousands of guests. Miraculously, it escaped serious damage during the Second World War. In 1954, due to a compulsory purchase order by the local authority, the FMC moved to its current home in Aberdeen Park, near Highbury Fields.

International Missionaries

With the increase of air travel after the war, many more missionaries came to the Club throughout the year but for shorter periods. For several years there were almost daily calls from societies working in Africa, booking in their American missionaries travelling to and from the USA. Tourists from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who were glad to find a Christian guest house where they could stay, added to the international flavour of the establishment.

In August 1974, The Foreign Missions Club came under the management of married couple, Mr & Mrs Cornell, who it can be said, came to the work simply because God called them to it. The change of times and ownership brought the transformation of the interior, with redecoration, providing a TV lounge and modernisation of the guesthouse. The life of the Club continued as before, with the same comings and goings and as in former years, into the office would come one and another to share with the Managers some personal sorrow or anxiety or perplexity. Now and then would come one seeking the way of salvation.

In early 1978, the Reverend and Mrs Joseph Hewitt were invited to become managers of the Foreign Missions Club. Under their leadership, the Club continued the tradition of warm and obliging hospitality to the Lord’s people. Missionaries, national and local church leaders and other friends came from all parts of the world. All appreciated the peace and quiet of the house, the walled garden and the international fellowship. This fellowship included the staff, who have come from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Uganda, France, Portugal, and Eastern European countries.

The Reverend and Mrs Hewitt left in 1988 and Mr and Mrs Littlehales were chosen to lead. In 2003 Mr and Mrs Littlehales took early retirement and their deputy, Sue Scalora, became the manager who has held the post since then.

In 2006, The Foreign Missions Club decided to buy the building. Until this time they rented the property from the Panaphur Charitable Trust. After selling the garden flat, taking a mortgage on another local property and with the help of generous donations the Foreign Missions Club were able to buy out the property from its owner.

The Beginnings of The Highbury Centre

The Foreign Missions Club decided to change its name to The Highbury Centre in 2008. Now open to all Christians, the guesthouse still has a high number of missionary and Christian worker guests, therefore retaining its original mission.

The Centre has made various refurbishments over the years and has extended the guest house offering to include well-equipped meeting spaces for Christian groups to hire.

125 years on from its first beginnings, The Highbury Centre continues to offer an oasis of calm and tranquillity to all those in need of rest.