How MCHW moved out and the UN moved in...
From ‘Doctor Sangster’ by Paul Sangster, p147-148
A Methodist furore was caused at the beginning of November when it was announced that the Government intended to requisition the Central Hall for the first Assembly of the United Nations Organisation. Violent protests were lodged from many quarters. So violent, in fact, was the protest against the largest congregation in the country being hurled out of its place of worship by a secular government, that the Government, who had first presumably employed minor and tactless officials, sent more skilful negotiators. Ernest Bevin was their leader. They pleaded the excellence of the cause, they promised to redecorate the Hall at their own expense (‘a palpable hit!’), and they further assured the trustees that, though they had the power to requisition the building, they would not use it. Rather, let it be given willingly. The trustees capitulated gracefully, and it was left to a few discontented spirits to lament.
My father then had to find alternative accommodation. A theatre was the only hope, but few London theatres could seat as many as 3,000 people. For three weeks services were held in the Victoria Palace Theatre. On week-nights you could see Lupino Lane in ‘Me and my Girl’, and on Sundays you could see W.E. Sangster on a variety of rather less worldly themes (the Daily Mail showed photographs of Saturday and Sunday evenings). Mr. Lane himself was exceedingly kind. He refused to take any payment for the loan of his theatre (the Government would have paid, of course, but the gesture was no less generous) and at the first service, both as host and as convinced Christian, he took the stage with my father. Unfortunately the seating capacity of the theatre – a mere 1,600 – was much too small for the Central Hall congregation and, reluctantly, my father was obliged to seek elsewhere.
Covent Garden, because of its great size, was his first choice, but as it was under scaffolding, the Coliseum was the second home of the of the exiles for their services and the ballroom of the Carlton Hotel (once beloved of Edgar Wallace, but now pulled down) was used for fellowship meetings. Appropriate cards were printed to help visitors who could only find decorators at the Central Hall. ‘In the famous Roman Coliseum the early Christians died for their faith. That same faith is being preached every Sunday in the London Coliseum, and you are most warmly invited to come and hear its proclamation.
‘This strange reversal of history is a consequence of the Conference of the United Nations. The congregation which normally worships in the Westminster Central Hall has made way for the Representatives of fifty-one nations that, in a place of much prayer, the peoples of the earth may find the way to peace.
‘No Church should lose by such sacrifices for the common good. Its members have become Displaced Persons in hope that no people may ever become Displaced Persons again.
‘Come and share their worship. While the nations are seeking peace in the World, seek peace for your own heart.’
The manager of the Coliseum, Sam Harbour, was at first bewildered by his new clients, but was always helpful to them, and showed his friendship when they left by offering a free box in the theatre whenever the minister should desire it.
The Central Hall was restored to its original use in March 1946, and the leaders were pleased to find its decoration so well done. My father now made a strenuous effort to get back all the portions of the Hall that has been requisitioned at the beginning of the war. The army was still occupying the ground floor, and several other rooms had not been freed. It is probably that the fight to get ‘the unfettered use of the premises’, as he expressed it, would have failed had he not been a close personal friend of George Tomlinson, M.P., then Minister of Works. Through this influence it was soon done.