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11. UNCERTAIN FUTURE

The first years of the new century saw falling membership and diminishing subscriptions. 'The Church House is in respect of its annual expenditure, self-supporting', explained the 1904 Annual Report, 'but the much-needed new buildings can be erected only by means of donations for that purpose.' The debt incurred upon the building of the West Block was only finally paid off in 1910. Occasionally, assistance had been forthcoming from unlikely sources. Albert Pilgrim of the Walworth Palace of Varieties offered to arrange a benefit performance in aid of the Church House at his Music Hall, but 'the Secretary was instructed to civilly decline the same'. Instead, another general appeal was made at a cost of 75, and 420 was raised.

The Council tried to attract more members to the Corporation and to this end allowed members to borrow books from the Library. Although it was probably a wise decision to create a lending library, the change did little to recruit new membership and the Library was seldom visited. Five years later, on account of its being 'used so little', the Library Clerk's office was rented out as another office to the Mothers' Union, much to the annoyance of the Library Committee, who were not consulted in the matter.

The Council Room
The Council Room.

Thus the Corporation found itself in the paradoxical situation of having an ever- increasing demand for accommodation (at the time of the 1904 appeal 45 societies were renting offices) but a total lack of the funding to provide it. In 1913, the Church Benefit Society, one of the oldest tenants, left the House because it had outgrown its office space and there was no additional accommodation available.

The shortage of space also prevented the Council from providing suitable facilities for prayer and meditation. In 1907 it had been decided that a room in the basement of the Great Hall Block should be fitted with chairs and kneelers, and to have it reserved as a Prayer Room. The minutes of the meeting record that the Council felt that this room was quite unworthy of the high purpose for which it was intended but it was the only room available.

Shortage of funds meant that the Council was unable to proceed with any further stages of Blomfield's plans. In consequence, it had a much-reduced workload and from 1906 onwards the number of Council meetings each year was reduced from nine to three (in February, June and November).

The Prayer Room
The Prayer Room

The Great War only exacerbated the financial and spatial difficulties facing the Corporation. Wages, taxes and fuel prices increased, and the Great Hall and Little Hall underneath (used for the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury) were commandeered by the Australian Imperial Force for their Pay Department.

The Mothers' Union was still short of space and moved into 8 Dean's Yard, which had come into the hands of the Corporation at the end of 1916, and this became the temporary Mary Sumner House until their own headquarters in Tufton Street could be opened in 1925.

From the Book "The Church House 1888-1988 - A Moment in the Life of the Church"
Published by the Corporation of the Church House in their Centenary Year