Thompson, Peter
1847-1909; e.m. 1871

Born at Esprick, Lancs on 21 April 1847, he trained for the WM ministry at Didsbury College. In 1885 he was appointed to St George's church, Cable Street, Stepney, to launch the first WM urban mission in response to the challenge of The Bitter Cry of Outcast London. In response to the needs of the slum-dwellers increasingly in evidence in what had been an affluent middle-class area, he introduced soup kitchens, second-hand clothing stores and popular entertainments to rival the attractions of the gin palaces. He bought the 'Old Mahogany Bar', a notorious gin palace, and Wilton's Music Hall and converted them into mission premises. When the dockers were driven to strike by their low wages in 1889, he gave them his support. As a Poor Law Guardian and a promoter of the Anti-sweating League, he worked to improve living standards.He was also responsible for building Stepney Central Hall, opened in 1907.

In 1891 he was one of the Wesleyan representatives at the second Ecumenical Methodist Conference in Washington DC and in 1892 was elected to the 'Legal Hundred'. He died in London on 17 October 1909.


'Big-framed, a giant in physique and in energy, as wide in vision as he was hearty in laughter, he waged a war in Stepney that will never be forgotten. His burly, bearded figure daily strode its streets, and the people ran to him for help and guidance in all their troubles. Generous and kind-hearted, no genuine case of distress ever failed to arouse his practical sympathy; yet it was never easy to impose upon him: his shrewdness equalled his liberality…

'On entering the ministry he had requested he should not be sent to the south of England, and above all not to London. He dreaded the East End for himself and for his wife. He loved the open air - the fields, the trees, the song of the birds and the fragrance of the wild flowers… The thought of filthy streets and crude humanity filled him with horror and repulsion.

'But that mood swiftly vanished. If God called, dreams of a pleasurable country life must be swept aside. There remained only the objections his young wife might justifiably offer. Her answer was simple: "Anywhere with you." …

'To this day many remember his dynamic personality: the strong, melodious voice, the twinkling eyes, the warm hand-grip, the fervour of his convictions. When he died in [1909] the people of East London lost a fearless champion and a tender-hearted friend. At his funeral rich and poor jostled one another and vast crowds assembled to do him honour… His life's work had placed the East End Mission in the forefront of Christian pioneering.'

R.G. Burnett, Christ Down East (n.d.) pp.20-23

  • Methodist Recorder, 21 & 28 Oct. 1909
  • G.A. Leask, Peter Thompson: the Romance of the East End Mission (1909)
  • Rosalie B. Thompson, Peter Thompson (1910)
  • R.G. Burnett, These My Brethren: the story of the London East End Mission (1946) pp.46-60
  • R.C. Gibbins, Methodist East Enders (Peterborough, 1995)
  • Brian Frost, with Stuart Jordan, Pioneers of Social Passion (Peterborough, 2006)

Entry written by: JDB
Category: Person
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