The McBean name is probably wider known for its plant nurseries, and that world has a strong link with the formation of the Hall. Gillies McBean was considered a mighty warrior of his times, when wounds on a battlefield meant almost certain death from injury or infection. Fighting for the Bonnie Prince, Gillies survived the battle only to be surrounded by merciless Dragons of the Hanoverain King as he left the field.
Hopelessly outnumbered and tired from battle, McBean killed seven of his attackers before he was slain without pity. His hard-drinking descendent, James McBean, is said to walk from Scotland to Plawhatch at West Hoathly in the 1870’s, where he worked as a gardener before moving to Cooksbridge and started a renowned chrysanthemum nursery.
Converted to Christianity [he went to Brighton and listened to a Salvation Army Open Air Meeting and was wonderfully converted]. Later he founded the Mission Hall with a Mr Hewitt, a Barcombe gardener in 1885. Preachers travelled from as far as London and when James died in 1910 one of his sons, Albert, took over.
One of the early features of the church was the use of a magic lantern and slides to project the words of hymns, and at a recent exhibition modern-day member, Brenda Barnes, showed off the equipment.
It was not until 1938 that mains water was installed to supply the kitchen and until a new oil-fired boiler as installed in 1960, worshipers relied on a coke stove in the colder weather. The South Chailey Free Church has moved on since the days of the first pastor Mr Heaseman and now has a modern mission hall built in 1998 to meet the spiritual needs of the 21st-century.
The Original Chailey Mission Hall Built In 1885Taken From Mid Sussex Times 18th November 1976
(click on the image to enlarge it)
Taken from the Mid Sussex Times November 18, 1976
Spick and span in its fresh coat of green and silver paint, the Chailey Mission Hall of the Evangelical Free Church stands quietly by the side of the busy main road at South Chailey, as it has done since it was opened in 1885, with a little peaceful, grass-carpeted orchard at the back.
Humble though it is, built of corrugated iron lined with wood, the structure is simple but elegantly proportioned and, to the passing motorist, conveys an immediate impression of calmness and dignity. Its excellent state of preservation after so many years can only be accounted for by the constant care with which it has been looked after.
At the moment the church has no Pastor. Mr John Isaacs was appointed to the post in February, 1969 and stayed until November last year, but as yet there is no replacement.
Meanwhile the activities of the Mission continue unabated and were explained to me by Mr John Wood, of Newick, who has been chairman of the management committee of the trustees for 20 years.
A trust deed was drawn up in 1938 and the present trustees still act under it. A couple of years earlier a piece of adjoining land was bought with a view to possible future development and it provides an attractive setting for the Hall.
Mr. Wood was born in Chailey and his life has always been closely linked with the life of the community and the Mission. He told me it had been started by Cooksbridge nurseryman Mr. J. McBean with the help of a Mr. Hewett, a Barcombe gardener.
Mr. McBean had been converted by the preaching of Moody, of the famous “Moody and Sankey” partnership, and he and Mr. Hewett regularly attended the “Woodside” Mission in Barcombe, which was run by a Mr. Pope.
They soon realised a need for a Mission in South Chailey, where the nearest place of worship was the parish church at Chailey Green, two miles away, Mr. McBean bought a piece of land, the Hall was erected and soon became well attended.
Preachers came from Brighton and the surrounding area, and occasionally from London. A Sunday School was started in the early days and is still going strong with about 45 children attending each Sunday morning. There was also a Band of Hope meeting for children one day a week.
Mr. McBean died in 1910. But his son, Mr. A. A. McBean, the well-known orchid grower, had gradually been taking over his work, and after the first war Miss G. R. Heaseman – who became Mr. McBeans second wife in 1941 – was appointed secretary. Her duties included obtaining preachers and she carried out the work for 50 years, her husband died in 1942.
In 1943 the Mission became affiliated to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
Today the church has a full weekly programme of services and other meetings, the morning and evening services on Sundays being attended by up to 25 people. There is service each Tuesday evening for Bible Study and Prayer, and a monthly meeting, usually on a Friday, for special meetings conducted by missionaries or members of visiting churches.
A Fellowship is held on every third Sunday, after the evening service, and special occasions at this homely but active and well supported Mission include a carol service at Christmas. Last year the Hall was almost filled to capacity with about 90 attending and an equally successful occasion is expected this year, on December 12.