1 - Harold Allpress Thomas

Founder of Whittier Hall

Harold Allpress Thomas, b1891, was raised in a Quaker household in New Malden, Surrey. Prior to the Great War he worked for the Phoenix Ins. Co. in the city.  During WW1 he was a member of the Friends Ambulance Unit (under the authority of the British Red Cross) nursing war wounded both on the front and on trains and boats bringing them back to UK Cities.

Outside Whittier Hall. Harold Thomas is on the right

Shortly after the war in 1919 he married Maggie Stevens and they moved into her parents’ former bungalow ‘Old Jordans’ in Maurice Road (Vlodorp Ave.) Canvey Island.  By this time he had resumed his former occupation and commuted daily to the City (the hardest part of his journey must have been to and from Benfleet Station).

In 1928 he fulfilled a long term ambition having planned and instigated and presumably financed the building of Whittier Hall, named after the American Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892 (a man much admired by Harold).

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892

The hall was used as the Quaker (Society of Friends) Meeting House and as a place of regular Sunday inter-denominational worship. Its other primary function was to provide recreational facilities i.e. Table tennis, full sized snooker/billiards table, tennis etc for the young people over the age of 18yrs, within a ‘Christian atmosphere’. To keep them off the streets and away from the pubs! Meetings of the ‘Total Abstinence Society’, White Ribboners and Band of Hope were also held on the premises. There was also an annexe with short term accommodation for visitors and missionaries on furlough.

Inside Whittier Hall showing a picture of John Whittier hanging on the wall.

For a time in the 1930’s the building was also used as a school and after WWII a library was built adjacent to the main building to house Harold Thomas’ own collection of classics and religious books to be available to members of the Whittier Hall Institute.

The largest part of the upkeep of the Hall was maintained by Harold, his wife Maggie and her sister Blossom Stevens, who was the main Caretaker.

From its inception in the late 1920’s to the late 1960’s Whittier Hall played an important part in the social life of the local community with bazaars, sales of work, garden parties, socials, concerts and choral evenings.

Harold A Thomas taken in 1977

A quiet, unassuming, scholarly man, Harold Thomas was, like his hero, ‘John Greenleaf Whittier’ an accomplished poet.  He published several booklets of poems, some of whimsical humour and some of deep religious content,  amongst them ‘The story of Canvey Island!’  Which has been published on this website and can be read here. Also ‘Snow-White the Red Cow’ which can be read here.

After his wife passed away in 1965 Harold remained at ‘Old Jordans’ until shortly before he was called home in September 1978.

The pictures in the gallery below are different group photos taken at Whittier Hall over several years. If anyone can add dates or names to faces please make a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • One of my earliest memories of walking to Leigh Beck school in the 1960’s is passing the high bushes along the front of Whittier Hall. I remember occasionally cutting through to the back in Winterswyk Avenue where there were holes in the wire fence – I also remember getting told off!

    Finally I remember it being demolished in the late 1970’s – all that was left was one room in the middle. For the first time ever I went inside with my best friend Frank to find a full sized snooker table in a still furnished room! I guess it was saved, I wonder where it ended up.

    By David Bullock (02/12/2008)
  • For many years I have been trying to locate a dear childhood friend of mine. Her name was Geradine Saunders and from the late 1950’s she lived with her Italian Mum Rosa (I think) and her Dad at 36 Linden Way, Canvey Island. Geraldine had a brother, Leslie and some other siblings, whose names I do not recall. Geraldine married around 1969 and had two daughters who were small when I last saw her. I lost touch with Geraldine when I moved to Australia in 1982, and cannot remember her married name. If you know of Geraldine or her family, I would appreciate it if you would put them in touch with me. I can be contacted either on my email address or mobile 0410845587. Thank you. Sorry to use your site, but I don’t know how to find her. Kind regards, Christine Shirley (nee Pearce)

    By Christine Shirley (nee Pearce) (25/05/2009)
  • I have a copy of this photo, I am the little girl with the frizzy hair in the middle of the front row. My parents were Enid and Colin Hamilton, my brother Keith is sitting on my right. My family and I attended the meetings at Whittier Hall on Sundays. Mr and Mrs Thomas lived opposite us in Maurice Road. We were not Quakers, but my father said it was his duty to provide us with some form of religious education. I have such sweet memories of sitting in Whittier Hall in complete silence for an hour. I am sorry to say that I cannot remember any of the names of the other people in the photo apart from Timmy Searle who is on the end of the front row on the left. Of course I recognise Mr and Mrs Thomas and my father Colin is in the back row third from the right and my mother Enid is in the next row down also third from the right. Mrs Thomas sadly died way too early and I remember Mr Thomas as a very sad figure, still cycling into town when he was very old. They were such good human beings.

    By Rosemary Hooper (nee Hamilton) (06/02/2012)
  • I am in this photo sitting next to Keith and used to play in his garden on several occasions.  On the extreme right is Jack Rutter and next to him his brother Richard.  My mother Ivy Baldwin is about centre of the picture in a white blouse.  Timmy Searle’s mother is behind me.  The top of photo, from left to right is Mr Dingley, I think Mr Young, Mr Rutter, Mr Hamilton, don’t know the lady, then a Mr Ostler,

    By Michael Baldwin (25/06/2015)
  • What an interesting photograph! I’m new to this site and it’s fascinating being able to resurrect memories from over half a century ago. In this photo, it’s great to see my old next door neighbour, Michael Baldwin sitting second from the left in the bottom row. Also his mum in the centre of the picture. We lived in Marine Approach. Michael was a bit older than me and I remember we played occasionally together. There was one time he let me ride on his (Vespa?) scooter in his back garden. Another memory of him showing me inside his model of a circus tent complete with trapeze artists within. Hahaha, and then there was his wild dog, Chuffy!

    By Chris Willis (13/02/2016)
  • Mrs Thomas and her sister Blossom Stevens recruited my mother when a teenager to become a missionary in the late 40’s. Her own mother put a stop to the enterprise before she was transported to the African continent!

    By M George (31/08/2017)

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