From Potato Shop to Premier League: The Remarkable Journey of Christ Church Rangers

2011 is a landmark in the history of Queen’s Park Rangers. Not only does it mark the club’s return to the Premier League to rejoin the very elite of English football, but it’s also the year Rangers celebrated their 125th anniversary. What better time, then, to look back to the early days to see where it all began.

QPR’s Roots in Mission Churches:

It’s well documented that QPR was born out of the merger of two church clubs, Christ Church Rangers FC and St Jude’s Institute FC. Both clubs were named after their respective mission church at which they were formed. Mission churches were established by the Church of England in areas of rapid population growth within a particular parish to take pressure off the mother church (the parish church).

In 1882 St John the Evangelist Church at the junction of Harrow Road and Kilburn Lane in Kensal Green started the Christ Church Mission in the heart of the rapidly growing College Park Estate. Two years later, St Jude’s Church in Lancefield Street, Kensal Green, opened a mission hall called St Jude’s in the heart of the Queen’s Park Estate. These two mission churches were the cradle of Queen’s Park Rangers FC.

I’ve already written extensively about St Jude’s Institute in my books, ‘Thank God for Football !’ and ‘Thank God for Football ! – The Illustrated Companion’, but information about the Christ Church Mission has been elusive. However, I’ve managed to locate some important missing pieces of the Christ Church jigsaw and this article will try and put them together.

The Start of the Christ Church Mission:

In May 1882, the Rev. Arthur Pemberton, vicar of St John the Evangelist, wrote to the Bishop of London. John Jackson, saying he wanted to start a mission church on the College Park Estate. He was unhappy that baptisms and weddings had to be held in a local school as there was no church building on the estate for its population of 8,000. The name College Park Estate is misleading. It has neither a college nor a park. It was named, in fact, after All Souls College, Oxford, who donated the land on which it was built. And the estate certainly had no academic pretensions. According to Pemberton, the inhabitants were predominantly ‘the labouring poor’ and there were great problems with drunkenness.

Most missions started by the Church of England in Victorian times were little more than a single room (or sometimes rooms) in someone’s house. This is how Christ Church Mission began. In a questionnaire in July 1883 in advance of Bishop Jackson’s inspection of the parish, Pemberton was asked: ‘Is there any other place in the Parish in which Divine Service according to the Rites of the Church of England is held ?’ He replied: ‘Yes, Mission Rooms, Ponsard Road, College Park, Kensal Green.’

It was almost certainly in Ponsard Road that the boys’ club was formed from which Christ Church Rangers emerged. And it was Arthur Pemberton who, as vicar of the parish, allowed the boys to use the name of the mission as part of the new football club’s title. Unfortunately there is no record of the mission’s address. I’ve walked the length and breadth of Ponsard Road many times, but have found nothing that helps identify the building. The only other mission in Ponsard Road was St Peter’s which was on the site of the present Mayhew animal centre. It was an iron building erected in 1892, later replaced by a permanent building in 1909. It became derelict in 1991 and was eventually demolished.

Move to a Potato Shop:

In 1883 the Rev. William Blandford was appointed a curate (assistant vicar) to Pemberton and given responsibility for the Christ Church Mission. He quickly saw that the rooms in Ponsard Road were inadequate to meet the needs of the estate and he looked for a base elsewhere, In a series of articles by Rev. W. J. Gomersall in the Willesden Chronicle (collated as a booklet in 1916 with the title ‘Old Kensal Green and its Parish Church) we learn that Blandford found an unlikely new home in a potato shop in the Harrow Road opposite Tavistock Villa. Although it’s not stated in the booklet, this was almost certainly Christ Church Rangers’ next and longest home and their base at the time they merged with St Jude’s Institute in 1886.

Re-location to Hazel Road:

By 1887 Christ Church Rangers FC no longer existed because the club had merged a year earlier with St Jude’s Institute to form Queen’s Park Rangers. However, the story of the Christ Church Mission is far from over. In 1887, in addition to the potato shop, a house was rented in 19 Hazel Road to serve College Park, but even these two buildings combined were woefully inadequate to meet the spiritual needs of the estate. The only solution was a brand new purpose-built hall capable of seating 300.

An article in the Willesden Chronicle of 18th March 1887 highlights the plight of the mission with its severely restricted space and appeals for funding for a new building: ‘As the parish is poor it is much to be hoped that plentiful and generous assistance will be forthcoming, not only towards the building fund…but also to the working expenses of the mission.’ A picture of the proposed new building accompanied the article. A formal appeal for funding for a purpose-built hall was launched in 1888. It was headed: ‘An appeal on behalf of a poor and crowded district. Christ Church Mission, College Park, Kensal Green, W’.

It began with the following words:

‘Christ Church Mission, in the parish of St John, Kensal Green, contains a population of about 10,000 people. The only provision for Church of England worshippers is a small shop, capable of holding sixty people in great discomfort. A Mission Room is now being built to accommodate about 350 people.’

The necessary funding was raised and the building was completed and duly opened in 1888. Twelve years later we read in Bishop Creighton’s inspection report that the services were well attended and that there were several thriving parochial organisations including a Lads’ Guild. This was probably the successor to the Boys’ Club from which Christ Church Rangers sprang.

The Final Move and a Change of Name:

After a while, even the purpose-built Hazel Road hall became too small for the ever increasing population of College Park and the surrounding area. The Christ Church Mission was once again forced to look for new pastures, especially as the whole area had now been designated a parish in its own right, independent of St John’s Church. A site was found in Mortimer Road and the foundation stone for a new building was laid on 14th July 1899 by Princess Battenberg, a daughter of Queen Victoria. Just over a year later the building was completed and it was consecrated by the Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton, but it was no longer called Christ Church Mission. Why was the name dropped ?

In 1887, three years before the Mortimer Road building had been completed, a well-known and highly respected clergyman, Charles Vaughan, the Dean of LLandaff Cathedral and a former headmaster of Harrow School, had died. The Bishop of London suggested that the new Christ Church Mission building should be a memorial to him. It was decided to call it St Martin’s because Charles Vaughan’s father had been the vicar of St Martin’s Church in Leicester and Charles’s first position after ordination was as vicar of the same church. Just to complicate matters a little, the church also became known as the Dean Vaughan Memorial Church. It still stands in Mortimer Road. The Hazel Road building, its predecessor as the home of the Christ Church Mission, is now the local Community Centre.

(St Martin’s Church, Kensal Rise. The church is in Mortimer Street. It is the Dean Vaughan Memorial Church, dedicated in 1900. The inscription on the foundation stone says it was laid in memory of Charles John Vaughan on behalf of Queen Victoria by Princess Henry of Battenberg on July 14th 1899)

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for re-use under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Church’s Influence on the Christ Church Players:

We’ve discovered the locations where the Christ Church Mission had been based, but what of the influence of the mission on the Christ Church players ? The club’s title gives us a clue. The mere fact that the name Christ Church appeared in its title suggests that the clergy not only gave it their whole-hearted support, but were also adherents of a movement born in the latter half of the 19th century known as ‘muscular Christianity’. This movement emphasised the importance of the practical expression of the Christian faith in service to others as distinct from the development of personal piety. In other words, Christians should roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to help improve the living conditions and general quality of life of the poor and disadvantaged.

In addition to practical service, muscular Christians also placed great value on football as a vehicle for developing Christian character. They firmly believed that football could develop such qualities as courage, fair play, unselfishness and self-control. Of these, the most important was considered to be courage. It was believed that by learning how to stand his ground in the face of a tough challenge (football was a very physical game at the time), a player could also learn how to face the tough moral challenges of life. This was considered to be one of the defining characteristics of a ‘Christian gentleman’. There is little doubt that the ‘muscular Christian’ clergy at the Christ Church mission – and at St Jude’s Institute would have expected the footballers at their mission to play in such a way as reflected Christian attributes of character and the spirit of good sportsmanship. Interestingly, this was the period when terms such as ‘fair play’, ‘play the game’ and ‘that’s not cricket’ entered the English language.

The First Match:

It’s very likely that Christ Church Rangers played some games during the 1882-83 season, but the first reported match appeared in ‘The West London Observer’ of 20th October 1883. It was a practice game among themselves, although they obviously took it seriously enough to merit sending in a report to the newspaper:

‘CHRIST CHURCH RANGERS (ASSOCIATION). On Saturday this club opened the season in beautiful weather with a club match, Captain v Vice-captain, on their own ground (private) near Willesden Junction, when a good game ensued; some fine play was witnessed on both sides, resulting in favour of the former team by three goals to one.’

Interestingly, Christ Church Rangers played another church club that season that was also to achieve fame. It was St Andrew’s FC, later to become Fulham FC. The report of the match appeared in the ‘West London Observer’ of 1st December 1883:

‘ST. ANDREW’S v CHRIST CHURCH RANGERS: Played at Willesden, and after a fast game resulted in a win for St Andrews by one goal (J. Howland) to nil. Hobson and Smith at back and W. Johns at half-back were in fine form for the winners.’

Hopefully the game was played in the Christian spirit that the clergymen at their respective churches would have expected !

I’ve walked miles trying to find the site of Christ Church Rangers’ home ground near Willesden Junction. I’m convinced that it was somewhere between Scrubs Lane (the western perimeter of College Park) and Willesden Junction as early maps show there was plenty of green belt in that area. However, it’s now too built up to identify any pitches.

The Christ Church Players:

Unfortunately very little is known about the youths who played for Christ Church Rangers, but one name does stand out, that of George James Wodehouse. It was George, of course, who proposed the merger between Christ Church Rangers and St Jude’s Institute after a match between the two sides in spring 1886. Unfortunately the merger was not initially a happy one because many of the Christ Church players claimed they had been victims of a take-over when the newly combined team played under the name of St Jude’s Institute and used the Institute as its HQ. In protest, they set up a rival club called Paddington FC. However, harmony between the remaining Christ Church players and the St Jude’s players was achieved when the name Queen’s Park Rangers was adopted and when Rev. Charles Young helped steer the course of the fledging club. These events have been well documented, but little has been written about George Wodehouse himself, the initiator of the merger. It’s time to fill in some important gaps about him.

George James Wodehouse (his name sometimes appears in official documents as ‘Woodhouse’) was born 21st April 1868 to James and Rosaline Wodehouse at 35 Woodchester Street, Paddington. His father was a joiner, later to become a builder’s foreman. George was the eldest of six children and the only boy. At the age of 23, when he married Mary Hunter at St Jude’s Church, Kensal Green, he was living at 53 Kilravock Street on the Queen’s Park Estate and working as a plumber. He eventually became a sanitary engineer. George and Mary had four daughters and a son.

George was only 14 when he became a founder member of Christ Church Rangers and he was 18 when he initiated the merger between the club and St Jude’s Institute. His association with the emergent QPR remained close for the rest of his life. Starting as a player, he became one of the original shareholders in 1898 and a Director in 1924. He took a particular interest in the development of young players and tended to watch the reserve side much more than the first team. Even though he left the Queen’s Park area to live in Harrow, he remained very closely involved with Rangers right up to his death in 1947 at the age of 79. However, the Wodehouse link with the club remained a very long one as George’s son, also called George, followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for Rangers and then becoming a Director. They would both have been delighted that the club they loved would eventually become one of the foremost in the country.

The Journey’s End:

It’s remarkable that a journey that began in a small mission room in Ponsard Road and a potato shop in the Harrow Road should end at the very threshold of the top flight of English football – the Premier League. But what better time than QPR’s 125th anniversary to remember the energy, vision and sporting spirit of the youthful Christ Church enthusiasts who helped lay the foundations that made it possible for QPR to get this far.

Peter Lupson

8 thoughts on “From Potato Shop to Premier League: The Remarkable Journey of Christ Church Rangers

  1. Peter
    I had a look down Ponsard Road in Google maps Streetview and there are buildings at both ends of the north-east side which look as if they could have been missions. Unfortunately you would have to shell out for the Land Registry information to get previous owners etc ….

    Nice piece.

  2. Thank you Peter.Extremely interesting.My father first saw them play c1905 and I, my son and grandson continue the tradition.Born in Harlesden I always assumed,wrongly,that there had been a connection to the Queens Park area.Living in Norfolk now I don’t see them that often in the flesh,but modern technology keeps me firmly in touch.Thanks again for an excellent article.

  3. Thanks to Peter Lupson for letting us post up the research on here.

    There is no doubt about it without those Victorian Clergy Football in the UK may never have taken off!

  4. A great read, well done. I admire your passion and commitment to compile this and always enjoy finding out more about our beloved r’s. Keep up the good work.

  5. Great read! But did the club a few months ago put up a plaque for where QPR started? anyway great history for all¬

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