Did you know that the first branch office of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society began operating in London over a century ago? Take a virtual tour through Google Earth to discover the history of the Britain Branch as it has grown, adapted and moved over the last 120-plus years.
View the full interactive Google Earth tour here or scan the QR code above to view it on another device.
131 Gipsy Lane – 1900-1903
Now a jewellers, this unassuming little shop in Forest Gate, East London was once the very first branch office of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. In 1900, E C Henninges, a close associate of C T Russell, arrived at the port of Liverpool and traveled to London in search of premises to use as a literature depot. He secured the property at 131 Gipsy Lane by 23 April of that year. The street has since been renamed Green Street, but the original street name can be seen on this period map georeferenced to the same location.
24 Eversholt Street – 1903-1911
In April 1903, C T Russell visited England to engage in a convention tour addressing a number of meetings held around the country with a growing audience. On this trip, Brother Russell made arrangements for the branch to move to larger premises and so, in the autumn of 1903, the branch office moved to 24 Eversholt Street, between Camden and Euston. These new, larger premises were necessary because the Bethel family had grown to the grand number of six by this time.
The building was renumbered (with the rest of the street) in the 1940s and is now 214 Eversholt Street.
34 Craven Terrace and London Tabernacle – 1911-1959
In March 1911, a move to larger branch facilities had become necessary and the Bethel moved to 36 Craven Terrace, near Lancaster Gate north of Hyde Park. This property was formerly known as the Craven Hill Congressional Chapel and included a meeting hall with gallery seating that could hold 1,200 in total. It became known as London Tabernacle. By 1914, as the Bethel family grew, the Society took over the neighbouring 34 Craven Terrace which can still be seen today, although the site of the London Tabernacle is now the location of Lancaster Hall Hotel.
Watch Tower House, The Ridgeway – 1959-2019
By 1955, it had been determined that much larger, purpose-built facilities were needed and the search for an appropriate property began. Bittacy House in Mill Hill, North London, was due for demolition and the site was the subject of much interest by property speculators. The local council preferred plans for a single building with landscaped gardens than the whole site being built over with rows of housing and so the site was offered to the Society. Work began in 1957 on Watch Tower House, a facility to house 120 persons, and including a lounge, a library, an office and a factory. The property was first dedicated on April 26, 1959 and continued to be used as part of Bethel right up until the move to Chelmsford in 2020.
By the late 1970s, the work being done at Watch Tower House had outgrown the capacity of the factory building. In 1980, the printing work moved to a factory facility in Wembley, some 8 miles away, while plans were made to increase the accommodation facilities at Watch Tower House with a new wing containing 41 additional rooms for the Bethel family. In 1983, the annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania was held in Britain - the first time it had been held outside North America - and on the same weekend the new Bethel facilities were dedicated.
IBSA House, The Ridgeway – 1993-2019
Having the printery in Wembley, a distance of 8 miles from Watch Tower House, was not an ideal situation and other solutions were sought. Years earlier, N H Knorr had noted the nearby optical factory and observed that it would be an ideal location for the printery. In 1986, the property became available and was purchased for the construction of a new factory and office building. In 1993, the new building, IBSA House, was opened and dedicated during a visit by Albert D Schroeder, a member of the Governing Body.
Over the coming years, the work would continue to expand and additional accommodation was needed. Various houses and small apartment blocks were purchased over a period of years and Bethel accommodation became scattered over much of North London. In an attempt to consolidate accommodation, four large new apartment blocks were purchased together in the Friern Barnet area, opening in 2001 to house the majority of Bethelites at the time. A fleet of minibuses would shuttle the Bethel family between the accommodation blocks, the Bethel home at Watch Tower House and the offices and factory at IBSA House.
Expansion did not stop! With increasing oversight of the newly established LDC construction groups, an enlarged shipping department and more audio-visual work additional sites were needed. Factory and office buildings in Borehamwood were purchased and additional accommodation blocks in Mill Hill. Once again, the situation was not ideal as facilities were becoming scattered with increased travel times between locations. A new solution was needed.
Chelmsford – 2020-
After more than a decade of planning, preparing and searching for a suitable location, work began in 2015 on the construction of a new branch with all facilities consolidated into a single site on the outskirts of Chelmsford in Essex. In the meantime, global changes had seen printing work consolidated to just a few key locations, with all printing work from Britain being moved to the Central Europe branch. Britain branch would be more involved in video production with an increased need for studio space. With these changes to the work, the plans for the new branch had to be adapted, but once ground was broken in 2015 work continued at a pace, completing on time for the Bethel family to move in on January 1, 2020.
How to Visit Bethel
Tours of Bethel include a number of exhibits highlighting the spiritual heritage of the work in Britain, and the translation of the Bible into English. Tours are free of charge and can be booked online for groups up to 20. For larger groups, use the contact details available at the same link to get in touch with Bethel and request a tour.
If you are visiting as a large group, and maybe from a long distance, you may want to make a full weekend of it. Please keep us in mind for help with your coach and hotel bookings as well as offering a variety of extra activities to supplement your weekend. Find out more about our London trips.