Blackgang Mission was built in 1897 to bring salvation to the smugglers and wreckers of the area. It was run as an evangelical mission until 1991. In the 2010s it was converted into a holiday home, since then it has been the scene of many, many happy holidays - now under new ownership to host many, many more.

We are very fortunate to have the full history of The Mission which we are happy to share with anybody interested.

The story of the Blackgang Mission

by Helen Cunningham, previous owner

In 1873, Charles Reade, a civil servant based in Madras, India, decided to return to England with his wife and three daughters. They came to the village of Blackgang, Isle of Wight. Blackgang at that time having a somewhat dubious reputation as the past home of smugglers and wreckers.

One Sunday, not long after their arrival on the island, two of the Reade ladies were returning home from church and passed by a few worse-for-wear local men standing outside the public house at Niton. They were moved to approach the men, sang hymns and talked to them 'about all things concerning salvation'. At first, they were laughed at but after a while the men sobered and began listening to what the ladies were saying. Word spread and the Reades began hosting meetings at their home. Numbers grew so quickly that the first mission hall, built that same year just happened'. When this, the 'new' Mission was built, the old hall became the tearoom at Blackgang Chine - sadly it has since fallen into the sea. Blackgang Mission was unique in that the ministry was pretty much a family affair with five members of the family taking part, four of them women. It was, and always remained, a non-sectarian, non-political evangelical mission that aimed to reach out to the spiritual needs of the community.

In 1890 Miss Edith Reade married Christopher Smith, founder of the Young Mens' Christian Association, credited with naming the YMCA when it began in 1844. Edith and Christopher took over the main responsibility of running the Mission that same year. Sadly, Christopher Smith was ‘called home' in 1892 leaving his wife Edith to carry on the work of the Mission and she became known locally as ‘our village minister'. By the year 1905 she had built this Mission Hall, the two cottages next door and The Manse. She remained as pastor here until 1912 when she moved to the mainland (she did intend to return to India but never did). Accounts of her work tell that she was a very gentle, refined and deeply spiritual preacher.

A new pastor, Rev. Blanco took over and lived at The Manse with his wife until 1917. The Mission had for a while the title Christ’s Church.

Here is a lovely quote from Rev. Blanco contained in the Mission report for December 1912 "the Christmas tree was a new manifestation of the loving efforts of our sisters, who saw all their work crowned with a great success. About 40 people for tea first, and then a lovely tree, all illuminated and crowded with toys, which were distributed amongst all (I had a lovely little doll). This treat proved both charming and enjoyable".

Rev. Jarvis was appointed pastor in 1918 and began the Sunday school that same year. In 1923 Edith Smith returned to the Mission for the 50th year jubilee celebrations on 14th June. After a service at the Mission 80 people had a tea on the lawn (now the car park) followed by a service at 6.45pm at the meadow (now Blackgang Chine carpark). Edith spoke along with Rev. Jarvis and after closing the open-air service with singing they all came back to the Mission for another service!

The Mission continued with a steady, if not enormous membership until 1939 when detailed records stop (although we do have receipts for blackout cloth!), picking up again in 1953 when a Mrs Dorothy Winter moved to Blackgang and began collating records and indeed preaching at the Mission.

From reading Dorothy Winter’s highly personal and quite moving accounts of her life and times here with the Mission she was drawn to the deeply spiritual and evangelical traditions of the Mission... And it seems that the ladies were still to the fore! Dorothy, along with her friend and partner in prayer' Miss Ruth Morris ran many of the youth groups both at the Mission and surrounding village churches, making great use of Mrs Winter’s blue bus for the ‘warriors' and teens and twenties groups that they ran. These groups were very successful, and the ladies were very committed - 20 teenagers for tea surely wasn't a task to be taken lightly!

Membership of the Mission declined over the next 20 years or so, but it kept going despite nearly closing for good in the 1980s when planning permission was granted to demolish the Mission and build two houses! I was horrified when i first read about this.... However, the reasoning was that the main work of the Mission was youth outreach and that the needs of the community would be better served if a new hall could be built at Chale - Dorothy Winter herself was willing to provide the land and funds would be raised from the sale of the Mission site. Planning permission was in fact denied for the new hall and the Mission re-opened in 1990 with a new pastor, Mr Alfred Gledhill who had only recently moved to Chale. Dorothy writes at the time "because of the prayer that has gone into deciding the future of Blackgang Mission and the need for helpers to strengthen our hands in the work of the Lord, indeed this must be the perfect timing of the Lord and the Lord has some plan and purpose for the Mission".

I did not meet Dorothy as she sadly died before we bought the Mission. The last entry in her notes reads “just over 40 attended this first service and from July 1990 until the present time we have been holding regular afternoon services. At the close of this book our Easter service being next Sunday March 31st, 1991 - come celebrate - a warm welcome awaits you?

After the death of Mrs Winter, the remaining trustees of the Mission could not see it remaining open - not least because of the daunting amount of maintenance work that was urgently required. The planning permission granted in the 80s had lapsed and the current planning department made it clear that they would like the building preserved. It was now time to sell the Mission Hall. It did generate quite a bit of interest and we were delighted that our offer was accepted by the Trustees in October 2007. The proceeds of the sale, as stated in the deeds and trust of the Mission, were to go to an appropriate Christian charity and we hope would have continued the good work started by Edith Smith and continued by Dorothy Winter.