A landmark building that has served the community for the best part of a century is up for sale. What does its future have in store?

In 2018 the Rank Hovis McDougal Flour Mill in Southampton’s Western Docks ceased being used for this purpose.

Efforts were made to find alternative uses for the building but without success.

Historic England decided not to list the building and the decision was taken to demolish it.

The Art Deco mill had been built for Joseph Rank in the 1930s, the first building on the newly reclaimed land, and had become a familiar landmark in the city.

Joseph Rank has associations with another landmark building in Southampton which currently also has an uncertain future as to how it may be used.

At the end of the First World War there was a move for better housing for working people which led to the 1919 Housing Act. Southampton Corporation responded to the need for housing locally by developing land in Swaythling.

In 1926 the first local authority houses on the Northern side of Burgess Road were built and shortly after local architect Herbert Collins began the development of houses in Stoneham Lane and Ethelburt Avenue as part of his Bassett Green Estate.

To meet the new and growing community’s need for religious worship the Church of England built the impressive church of St Albans in Tulip Road in 1933 to replace the old tin tabernacle church of St Agnes in Portswood Road.

A little earlier in 1928 William Collins, the father of Herbert, had offered the Methodist Church land in Burgess Road at Swaythling valued at £1,000 on which to build a church as well as educational and recreational facilities.

This land was opposite the site of Burgess Street Farm, where the Argentine General Juan Manuel de Rosas lived in the late 19th century following his exile, and on the site of the Langhorn Gate Boundary Stone.

In addition to the land Collins also offered to donate £10,000 towards the cost of the building. The land and the donation were accepted and Joseph Rank of Flour Mill fame promised a further £11,000 towards the building costs which were not expected to exceed £25,000.

Herbert Collins was appointed as the architect and in discussion with Rank it was decided that the building “should look as little like a church as possible”.

Collins used buff bricks with alternate red brick headers to construct an octagonal building with a copper clad domed roof with a copper clad cupola.

The building was in his favoured Neo-Georgian style and could accommodate 1,000 worshippers.

Joseph Rank’s son, J Arthur Rank, was making a name for himself in the cinema world at the time and he insisted that the hall be fitted with a projector and sound system so it could be used as a cinema as well as for worship.

Additional spacious buildings were constructed behind the church containing a number of meeting rooms and workshops that could hold about 1,000 people. Air raid shelters were also added.

The Mayoress of Southampton, Mrs. Wooley, opened the Hall on October 5, 1932 in the presence of the Mayor, Joseph Rank, Herbert Collins and several Methodist dignitaries.

In 1997 the church was grade II listed by Historic England.

Once open the Sunday School was very well supported by local children as was the Saturday afternoon film show with its programme of popular cowboy films and cliffhanger serials.

Local children called it the tuppenny rush, two pence was the entry cost and the eager children would rush forward the moment the doors opened. Films were also shown on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Within five years of opening the Second World War had begun and the buildings were used as a NAAFI canteen and in 1940 French troops evacuated from Dunkirk were housed there.

During bombing raids the roof provided an excellent viewing point for volunteer fire watchers.

Local children were amused by the verdigris roof of the hall as the copper had oxidized and it is said that it was easily recognised by enemy pilots during air raids.

Today this important building that has served the city and its local community so well is up for sale. Thankfully it will not suffer the same fate as the flour mill.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .