Story of St Albans Church in Dagenham celebrating its 80th birthday

St Albans church

St Albans church - Credit: Archant

Singing will burst out from a historic church that existed before the borough of Barking and Dagenham today as the congregation celebrate the 80th anniversary of St Albans.

St Alban's Church, in Vincent Road, Dagenham, with (insert) Miss Wills and Rev Fred Smith.

St Alban's Church, in Vincent Road, Dagenham, with (insert) Miss Wills and Rev Fred Smith. - Credit: Archant

Worshippers will gather at the stone building in Vincent Road, Dagenham, to request their favourite hymns during a special service that will saw Area Bishop of Barking, the Rt Rev David Hawkins, deliver an energetic sermon.

Rev Penny Sayer inside St Albans church

Rev Penny Sayer inside St Albans church - Credit: Archant

After lunch, the children are set to hone their cupcake decorating skills while the adults admire flower displays and old photographs from yester year that adorn the walls.

Team Rector the Rev Penny Sayers even plans to dig out an episode of the BBC’s Songs of Praise set at St Albans in the 1970s.

Two dates could mark the beginning of the story of St Albans - the laying of the first foundation stone in July 1933 and the official consecration of the church in May 1934.

So, today, September 8, 2013, was picked for the anniversary event as it sat nicely between both.

St Albans Church began life from humble beginnings as a “wooden hut”, according to Rev Sayers, named St Martin’s Church as a temporary place of worship for the new residents moving into the rapidly expanding Becontree estate.

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But the Area Bishop at the time was desperate to build a more permanent, long-standing church for his parishioners and he wasted no time telling passing acquaintance Miss Wills about his wishes at a garden party.

Wealthy Miss Wills had been born into one of the first families in the UK to manufacture tobacco and she wanted to do something charitable with her riches so she gave the Bishop £14,000 to build a brand new church with the Rev Fred Smith at its helm.

Rev Sayers said: “She caught the vision from him that there was a need for a strong church for those people moving from the inner city.

“That Becontree estate was built after World War Two for the respectable working classes to move into what was meant to feel like a garden village, with their own kitchen and indoor bathroom.

“When they first moved in, they weren’t meant to paint their walls or their doors, and you had to wash your net curtains regularly.

“So St Albans does have the feel of a garden village church about it and that means it’s quite popular for weddings.”

Rev Sayers, who has six children and lives in the vicarage next door, said she officiates at roughly a dozen weddings a year - which is pretty impressive by today’s standards.

But St Albans used to be full to the rafters every Saturday during a time when fewer alternatives to a church wedding were available.

Rev Sayers joined St Albans three years ago from St Leonards-On-Sea where she worked as a curate.

She said: “I knew I wanted to work somewhere urban but not anywhere too daft. I love the whole multi-cultural feel to the area and the transitional community that exists here.

“Our congregation here is so mixed and I love all of the young families that are coming to the area. We must have at least 20 children here on Sundays.”

To accommodate such a growing brood, St Albans plans to start a Sunday school called Frogs (Friends of God’s) and the church has links with Dagenham Park School, James Campell School, and Thomas Arnold School.

Music has always been an attractive feature of St Albans – which still has its original James Compton organ that used to be a popular accompaniment to black and white films in cinemas during the 1930s.

In fact, the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square still has one.

She said: “It must be a very unusual organ because I do get letters from time to time asking whether someone can come and have a go on my John Compton!”