At the dawn of the last century, before the advent of the NHS and the modern welfare state, the Leysian Misison was a welfare centre for the poor masses of the East End. As well as saving people’s souls, the Methodists who ran it believed in helping people in this life too. They thus offered health services, ‘poor man’s lawyer’, entertainment in the form of film screenings and lantern shows, as well as hosting affiliated organisations such as the Athletic Society, the Brass Band, the Penny Bank, the Working Mens Club and Moulton House Settlement for Young Men.

“The Leysian was one of around 100 Halls built by the Wesleyan methodists in the Industrial towns and cities of the UK,” according to Angela Connelly, who has written a thesis on the social history of the Central Halls, which “were all built to look as un-churchlike as possible in an attempt to woo the working classes away from the devils of drink and music halls.”

“The Leysian was (aside from Westminster) the most expensive - almost a colossal £130,000 (or just over £7 million today) which gives some indication as to how much pulling power that religious group had then.

It was a little unusual from some of the other halls because it was partially built to house the Leys school boys and Moulton settlements for middle class missionaries to the working class areas of the East End.”

Together with the nearby Alexandra Trust Dining Hall that provided affordable hot meals, the Leysian Mission was the East End’s beacon of hope for the destitute. The building’s Great Queen Victoria Hall, which seated nearly 2,000 people, boasted a magnificent organ as well as a stunning stained glass windows by W. J. Pearce of Manchester, heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement.

The combination of the Second World War, during which the building suffered extensive bombing damage, followed by the introduction of the welfare state and the changing social character of the area saw the Leysian Mission gradually lose its relevance as a welfare centre. In the 1980s it merged with the Wesleyan Church, with the building sold and converted into residential flats.

As the re-named Imperial Hall the building, remains as impressive today as it was when it first opened over a century ago. Some features, such as the great hall seating thousands are gone, but the magnificent exterior and the winding, labyrinth like interiors, continue to cast a spell on those who come here. Please explore the time-line setting out some of the notable dates and events in the history of the building and the area.