McNeal was writing in the days of the Forward Movement within Methodism, a movement initiated by the Rev Hugh Price Hughes, a Methodist preacher based in London. Hugh Price Hughes founded a weekly newspaper, The Methodist Times in the1880's. In one particular edition, he wrote, "The church should take seriously the need to treat the Working Classes as human beings and Gods children', 'We must either go back into the obscurity of a class religion, and the importance of moribund sect, or we must go forward into the blessed opportunities and far reaching beneficence of a national religion which preaches the Gospel to the poor.' It was this programme that sparked off an evangelical revival, which in Sheffield resulted in the establishing of the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission, in 1901, and with a few years the building of the Victoria Hall as the Mission Headquarters.
The Victoria Hall now stands on the site of the original Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, a church which had played a significant role in the founding of Methodism in Sheffield, and also the place where the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission was inaugurated.
It is the firm belief of the members of the Victoria Hall today that the mission programme of the Forward Movement, as stated by Hugh Price Hughes, remains as important today as it did in the first days of the Mission.
In 1742 John Wesley on one of his great preaching tours, arrived in Sheffield, and he called the congregations in Sheffield 'Sheep without a shepherd' so he gathered them together and founded the first Sheffield Methodist Society. The first meeting was held in a tiny meeting house on Cheney Row. Wesley's first meeting had been in Paradise square where he preached to his largest weekday congregation ever. The journey from Paradise Square to Victoria Hall was definitely not an easy one, nor was the path to be smooth and trouble free.
Charles followed John a year later, and writing about the troubles, he said "the rioters threatened much" but from 1746 until 1779 the Methodist met in a relative peace at the Mulberry Street Chapel. It was the custom for new chapels to be built wherever the societies could afford to subscribe them, and so in 1779, on Norfolk Street, a major new Methodist Church was erected. In 1780, John Wesley at the age of 77 and still a 'blistering preacher ' by all accounts, led the consecration service. On this occasion, he presented the new church with a set of Silver Communion Vessels, which are still proudly displayed at every service
Robert Wright, a Lay Pastoral Assistant was appointed to the Sheffield Circuit in 1892, and he noted 'the Forward Movement was growing in strength and there was a feeling that the majority of people outside all the churches might be gathered in a Hall, rather than a chapel, and in several city centres these large gatherings were meeting with great success.' The staff at the Norfolk Street Chapel hired the Albert Hall, in Barker's Pool, to promote the Wesleyan Mission in the area. In 1901, an organised circuit was set up in sheffield, based at Norfolk Street and the Albert Hall. It was at this point that Rev George McNeal was appointed to lead the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission, arriving in 1905.
McNeal saw much need for improvement regarding the structure and the mission of the chapel on Norfolk Street. With little real opposition, McNeal and his stewards took the courageous decision to pull down the chapel and build a new church, better suited to meet the needs of the city centre of Sheffield.
The Victoria Hall was conceived and designed to bring a whole new focus to the Wesleyan Mission. It was not to be a shrine to the past but a 'flagship for the future'. A building and mission which would set the precedent for the future commitment of Methodist Mission to the cities. Thomas Cole, a Sheffield Entrepreneur, donated an enlarged site area, and the old chapel was demolished. In a symbolic gesture of the spiritual life of the old society passing to the new fellowship, the key foundation stone of the new church was laid from the materials of the old.
And the rest, as they say, is history if you'll pardon the pun. This really is only just a potted history of where we evolved from. If you want to know more, or indeed if there is anything you know that you think we might not, why not drop us a line
To view some historical pictures of Victoria Hall please click here