Southampton’s Central Hall has a rich history dating back to 1925. Working as a source of entertainment, aid and social care, it has always been the heart and soul of the local community. Find out more about the building's varied past and the role it has played in the local area:
1886 - The development of Central Halls across the whole of the UK began in 1886. They were predominantly planned and constructed by the Wesleyan Methodist Church, with the aim of creating iconic meeting places for social activities and church fellowship.
The buildings were generally adjacent to busy roads, intentionally designed not to look like a church, to promote a sense of belonging for everyone. Between 1886 and 1945 a total of 99 Central Halls were constructed in locations all over the country – from London Westminster, to Manchester, Bristol, Bradford and Grimsby.
1925 – With the aim of creating a ‘busy hive of positive ideals’, Southampton Central Hall was built in 1925. Designed by architect Arthur Brocklehurst from Manchester, the total construction cost £41,000.
The opening ceremony provided an important opportunity to communicate the purpose of the building. Southampton had grown from a small coastal town to the ‘port that linked the world’ in just 25 years, so growing with it was a large population of working class, port users and lonely travelers arriving in the UK.
Central Hall was to be a ‘great forward movement’ that would meet the needs of that changing population. Providing entertainment and social care for the local community, it was to be the heart for the inner city, creating a welcoming place for all.
1925-1965 – Central Hall quickly became a vital member of the community. From its opening days, it offered over 25 different clubs and societies for the community – including mother-craft classes, orchestra recitals and a children’s crèche.
The Hall also provided specialist services such as food and clothing banks in tough economic periods. During the dock strike in the winter of 1925, Central Hall supplied over 10,000 free meals to impoverished families.
Yet the cinema proved the Hall’s most popular attraction. Films were shown after church gatherings in the Main Hall, where the 800-seat auditorium created a comfortable space for families to gather and spend quality time together. On Tuesday evenings, silent films such as Felix the Cat and Chaplin were shown for an entrance fee of just 2d (pennies).
1939-1945 – Fortunately, Southampton Central Hall survived heavy shelling during WWII, with only repairable damage affecting the building. At one point, it was even used as a mortuary to provide a safe place for those who lost their lives, until families could arrange their burial.
1965 – Central Hall was sold to Hampshire County Council in 1956 as an annex to the City College. The building’s Main Hall and multiple rooms offered the perfect space for delivering lessons and educating the city’s young people.
1989 – Central Hall was bought by New Community in 1989. As a forward-thinking church movement, the organisation had the same passion to serve the local population as the Methodist Church and so turned their efforts to restoring the building’s purposes to its former focus on the community.
2014 – In 2014 New Community officially launched Central Hall as a community-centred events venue. While New Community had always provided community-based activities and hire-space for local charities, arts and education groups, Central Hall would now become an exclusive events facility, separated from New Community church functions.
Today – At Central Hall, we hope to maintain our building’s original purpose for providing a ‘busy hive of positive ideals’. With a continued focus on others, we want to offer premium events facilities for those who share our passion for serving the community and seeing good things for the city of Southampton.