QVSR started life as the Seamen’s Mission of the Methodist Church in 1843. Known originally as the Wesleyan Seamen’s Mission, the aim was to minister to the spiritual needs and promote the social and morale welfare of seafarers and their families in the vicinity of the Port of London.
Over time a need arose for a meeting place of some kind in the new sailor town that had sprung up at Poplar. Right opposite the ‘seamen’s entrance’ of the local Board of Trade Office on the East India Dock Road in Jeremiah Street stood a small public house called The Magnet. In 1887, the license of The Magnet was withdrawn, providing the Mission an opportunity to rent the public house and it was transformed into a Seamen’s Rest.
The Rest consisted of a plainly furnished reading room and rest room with a third room available for daily Bible and Prayer meetings and three rooms reserved for the caretaker. An elementary nautical school ran three mornings a week and services were held on Monday and Friday evenings.
Gradually the sphere of the Mission’s operation extended from London Bridge to Tilbury and embraced the river, docks and wharfs, as well as the on-shore haunts of sailors and hospitals, so that by the end of the century it was evident that the old ‘Magnet’ premises were inadequate.
The freehold of No 1 Jeremiah Street and its adjoining properties was purchased in 1899; the whole site was cleared and a new Seamen’s Home and Institute built. The foundation stone was laid on the 17th December 1901 by the Lord Mayor of London, and King Edward VII gave his royal consent for the new Seamen’s Rest to bear his mother’s name, “Queen Victoria”.
Although a great deal of money had been donated or pledged to build the new Seamen’s Rest, a scheme had been devised to raise further income. Rooms could, for a price, be dedicated to the memory of the donor or his nominee, and the name plates remain to this day on the bedroom doors. The large Assembly Room was sponsored by John Cory of Cardiff for £750 and became the Cory Hall.
The Queen Victoria Seaman’s Rest was formally opened by HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, on 13th November 1902, and she readily consented to become the Patron of the Mission.
The Seamen’s Hospital Society ‘Dreadnought’ rented a portion of the building to use as a sailor’s dispensary clinic providing free medical treatment on the premises. In addition free banking was available and a lawyer held an advice surgery once a week. The Association with Seamen’s Homes Beyond the Seas had been inaugurated and men from the Mission were introduced to similar institutions in foreign ports.
As the work of the mission prospered a resolution was made to extend the building by another storey to increase the number of beds from 25 to 60. A Nelson Memorial Fund was started (the centenary of Trafalgar was approaching) and on 4th November 1905, HRH the Duke and Duchess of Connaught opened the Connaught Floor.
In order to function effectively, QVSR needed a separate hall for public worship and meetings. The cost of providing such a hall would have been prohibitive had it not been for the timely and generous gift from Miss E. J. Emery in memory of her father. The new hall, seating up to 400, bore her name and was built on freehold ground to the rear of QVSR in Augusta Street. The Emery Hall was opened on December 5th 1907 by the Patron, HRH Princess Louise.
In the First World War, 20,000 unarmed Merchant Seamen lost their lives and the Mission began an appeal to raise funds for a War Memorial Wing with room for another 100 beds, although it wasn’t until 1931 that enough money was raised. The General Strike of 1926 and the Depression had increased the burden on the Mission’s resources as the shipping industry was particularly badly affected with one in three unemployed. Thus, on 20th October 1932, Prince George (later Duke of Kent) performed the opening ceremony for the new extension which comprised of three stories of private cubicles, a lounge and the New Agar Hall. Each cubicle was plainly furnished with an iron bedstead, dressing table, wooden chair, rug and electric light.