In 1951 Elder Eugene Hilton and his wife Ruth came to the UK from California as a senior missionary couple. They were first assigned to Glasgow, to oversee the renovation and remodelling of a large five-storey building – 7 Claremont Terrace – which the church had recently purchased for a meetinghouse. Although Elder Hilton was an educator by profession, they had considerable relevant experience from building their own home and managing rented properties. In July 1952, as this assignment was nearing completion, they were transferred to Liverpool where 301 Edge Lane, a three-storey house, had served as a chapel for the Liverpool branch for many years. Elder Hilton’s first impressions were far from positive:
This building I consider a disgrace to the church. In its dilapidated condition it does not lift one’s spirit.
Still showing the effects of bomb damage from the war, the building had extensive dry rot, door and window frames were ‘ready to fall to pieces,’ and painting of the exterior was long overdue. Inside, the missionaries had painted some of the rooms, but overall the picture was ‘discouraging in the extreme.’ The Hiltons were not assigned to renovate the building, simply to help improve it where possible while engaging in proselyting work, but Elder Hilton was quietly encouraged to also look around for a better meeting place. He was quickly able to report success:
July 12. What a week! Eventful is a mild word to describe the far-reaching developments and plans ahead. On Monday morning I asked President Rockwood if he had any objections to me having a 'look-see' around to see if the present market offered anything in the way of an acceptable home for this branch. So off we went after making a list of leading realtors or 'estate agents' as they call them. The first one we called on was the H.H. and J. Robinson Co. It proved to be the right one. They consented to call several of the most likely concerns and report to us the next day. We called on eight or nine more without any hope being offered.
Next day, after an open air meeting at the pier side at noon we went to the Robinson Co. They had four prospects and the head man H. H. Robinson was very cordial. The first place was just in the process of being offered for sale. It was most wonderful! It was properly located for our center, for transportation and it was in a fine section of the city. It was a two acre estate with a well-built, two story house, with attic and basement. There were twenty rooms in excellent condition but dirty. The spacious lawns, vegetable gardens and flowers were as fine as any I have ever seen. The whole scene seemed unbelievable! There were three glassed-in green houses, work rooms for the gardener and a large two story brick barn - in addition to the house proper. The sight of it just left us breathless! No prospective purchaser had yet seen the place. They offered it for 4,000 pounds. It did not take long to see that by removing one wall from attic to basement the building can be made to provide almost ideal quarters when renovated. We looked at the other places but hurried back to phone President Richards. l said to him 'Eureka!' He was indeed happy to hear of the possibility of such a place for historic Liverpool and quickly asked, 'What’s wrong with it?' After listening to my answer he authorized me to purchase it offering 3,500 British pounds but going as high as 3,750 if necessary.
The next morning early I made an offer by phone and in one half hour had agreed to purchase it for 3750 pounds ($10,500.) We made it subject to contract so we were not forced to take it if we were refused permission to convert it to religious use. This was a problem indeed since housing was exceedingly scarce in bombed out Liverpool.
This most promising property was Summerfield.
We had alerted the Branch President James Hennessey, a local brother and his companion John Barton. President Graham of Wigan, a builder, was requested to be present also. He pronounced the building sound and considered - before he knew the purchase price - that it would be a bargain at 5,000 pounds. So everybody was happy.
Elder Hilton and the local priesthood leaders immediately began working on the housing authority application to use Summerfield for religious purposes. He was also asked to superintend the cleaning and painting of 301 Edge Lane so it could be put up for sale. Meanwhile he engaged with the other missionaries in proselyting work.
Sunday we held a baptismal service for Dorothy Eveson, who was baptised by Elder Osler and confirmed by President Rookwood. They baptised in the swimming pool. A good crowd was present and a fine spirit prevailed. I am to speak tonight - my first sermon in Lancashire, the home shire of my forebears.
19th of July. Another week of intense activity. It has had historic significance. Besides street meetings down at the wharf, where many office workers go between one and two P.M., there were cottage meetings, priesthood meeting, etc. One cottage meeting was with a young communist who asked for baptism. I pointed out to him how he must choose since the Saviour said, 'A man cannot serve two masters.” He is deliberating on his choice.
The Housing Authority quickly approved the application to convert Summerfield. Elder Hilton recorded: God has truly inspired and blessed us in this project.
July 24th We went to 'Summerfield' this A.M. and followed through with Mr. Robinson who advised us on building renovations. He says it is perfectly safe to remove wall, advised not to paint exterior but clean it…. Tonight I went to three meetings with Elder Osler. During the other days I have studied problems at 'Summerfield,' drew up plans and interviewed people, including Mr. Hughes, the gardener whom we employed to continue two days a week as he has done at one pound per day. I wrote letters regarding the details of closing the purchase of our new church home, etc.
It is now July 29. A time of planning and decision. We held a meeting at 'Summerfield' with Branch and District officers. All plans were approved. I talked with Mr. Hughes regarding using one of the hot houses for our baptismal dressing rooms. He says OK as the other one will do for his needs. All seems to be moving well and we are planning on fasting and praying tomorrow for city council to approve our petition regarding conversion, abatement of tax, etc. We feel that they will do so.
It is Fast Sunday August 3, 1952. I am spending the day quietly here at 301 Edge Lane. My wife writes that she is to be transferred back to Liverpool August 11. [Sister Ruth Hilton had been assigned to serve as temporary missionary companion to their daughter Patricia in Cardiff, as her companion was quite seriously ill.] My wife can greatly aid us to get into this new home here in Liverpool. We are still waiting to get the keys indicating ownership of 'Summerfield.' We still must await completion of contract signing before we begin our labors on the building. So we wait until the purchase price has arrived from London. I had the appraisers come to inspect the old house and help us set a price for its sale. As I feared, they found dry rot and stated that it was so bad that the expense of ridding the building of it was prohibitive and recommended auction sale 'as is.'
Wednesday, August 13. Many things continue to happen. We finally got the keys and began intensive work at once on Liverpool’s new branch home. The first of many necessary renovations included removing walls, shelves, etc. Sunday I went to Nelson, the most distant branch in the district, and spoke at their meeting. It rained all day and was cold. Had difficulty in finding their hall. There was no sign on the door and I got wet before I finally located it. Nelson is a poor little Branch but there were some fine faithful people present - mostly women. A good spirit prevailed but only fourteen of us were there. I passed near Burnley where my grandparents came from. How I do sincerely thank my Heavenly Father that they heard the truth here and obeyed it and came to America.
Monday was a busy day at 'Summerfield' and in the evening a bus was chartered and the faithful members of the branch, fifty strong, came out for their first glimpse of their new home to be. It was a thrill to note the radiant response and the many happy faces on seeing their lovely new church home!
In the meeting that followed general inspection I was called upon to say a few words. After my talk I left to meet the train and my wife who came back from Cardiff. She will now be my companion again from now until our missions are completed. It was good to see her dear face again.
As their daughter had completed her mission in Cardiff, the Hiltons were allowed to take time off for a trip to Europe. Two pairs of Elders took turns sleeping at Summerfield while they were away to reduce the possibility of theft of lead from the roof of the building – which had already happened with Church buildings in Bristol and Wigan. On their return, Elder Hilton’s journal shows his impatience to see Summerfield made ready for use:
On September 15th I went to 'Summerfield' and laid plans for the next steps ahead. I also went to the Fuel Board and ordered one ton of coke, talked with Mr. Hughes the gardener, etc. Was glad to see the beams in place to support the ceilings in the chapel and recreation hall but was disappointed to see so little done otherwise. Apparently most of what has been done was accomplished by President Rockwood and Elder Ostler with Mr Banner aiding and assisting. We plan to move to 'Summerfield' as soon as possible to advance the work there, to guard the premises and begin tracting in the neighborhood.
September 24. Yes, we finally got moved into our one room 'Apartment' in our new Church home 'Summerfield, at 4 Mill Bank, here in Liverpool. We are fairly well fixed up but still merely 'camping.'' Since we have worked out our alloted 200 pounds in labor we must now apply for a license [for the building to be used as a place of worship]. To expedite this, following several meetings with the local brethren and Mr. Banner, I went to Manchester last Monday. We expect to get approval to go ahead as they said 'in a matter of days.'
We went on Saturday to Preston for Missionary meeting and Union meeting. At night we went by bus to Burnley. We spent Sunday attending the Church of England where I suppose my people worshipped. We spoke in the evening in our LDS Branch to a small crowd. The work on the house in Liverpool has practically stopped awaiting the granting of a license and approval by the city officials. These however finally came through after a few days and we began the work again. In the meantime we did some missionary work. My wife tracted quite a bit while I was engaged on the house.
After several major developments which have occupied our attention we proceeded following a lapse of time. The work at 'Summerfield' moves too slow. The number of local workers is very limited. Still we daily get some essential tasks completed and hope for improvement tomorrow.
October 22, at auction, the old Edge Lane place was sold for 645 pounds! [But] we conclude that we have gotten the value out of it during the many years we have used it and now it is ours no more. Work moved ahead in our new Church Home with electricians, plasterers, a joiner and a plumber all here at work, except for the frequent 'tea breaks.' The Elders and I have stripped all paper from the walls and are ready in several places for the professional painters. Announcement was made tonight, October 26, at Branch Conference that we would meet in the new home November 19th! We will have to rush.
It is now November 15th and we have been working hard every day and the building looks each day a little nearer ready. The first meetings were held on Sunday, November 9, which was observed as a fast and thanksgiving day. The meetings were fine and there was much rejoicing!
November 29 we attended missionary and union meeting again in Preston. Sunday, today we speak here in Liverpool. There yet remains much to do here if the big place is to be in proper order before we leave. However, I am going to leave much of it and give more time and energy to a final run of missionary endeavor.
December 15. We spoke in Liverpool to what for us here was a large audience. There were about sixty people present. I spoke on the significance of the scripture we have had beautifully engraved on a large picture frame area which hangs in the lower hall stairway. The theme painted there is from Moses 1:39, where the Savior said: 'This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the Immortality and Eternal life of man.“
Another two weeks have passed and our work has not slackened and still there is much to be done. Much preparation has gone into the Relief Society Bazaar which came off very successfully and netted 35 pounds for the building fund! Most of the clothing sold was 'rescued' from the discarded stuff left behind by the Elders. The Relief Society sisters cleaned, reworked and generally made it saleable. This is a real boost and the first effort made to pay for the ten percent of the building or 375 pounds. They have never before been requested to bear their fair share of the financial load.
December 27. Christmas has come and gone.
We now have the linoleum laid and the carpet in the Relief Society room and on the stair. It all looks lovely and the saints are very happy about it. With the marvelous wood finishing of 'native pitch pine cross sawed' in the Main Hall it is a beautiful sight.
At Union Meeting for the District we held 'open house' and we had 115 present. All were delighted with the building. We have now received word that the city has passed our plans for the apartment upstairs and for the baptistry to be built in the conservatory. They also require other things which we expect to 'talk them out of' since they are unreasonable.
Well, here it is February 12. The day before our official release. The days have been full as usual but we had a wonderful time in Burnley where we went to speak for the last 'official time as missionaries.'
The work on the house nears completion. The last part that I can do and the finishing of the apartment and baptistry await a large tank that has to be made in Manchester. Also the fire escape must be built to obviate the necessity of much damaging reconstruction the city originally demanded. There are several final things I must do this afternoon and that will be the last of much labor on buildings in Briton!!! We have recently had very complimentary letters from President Reiser. It is good to know that our work is regarded by the Mission President as highly satisfactory.
Summerfield served the Liverpool branch for more than a decade, so the labours of the Hiltons were not only considered satisfactory by the Mission President, but also productive of much good, as Elder Hilton had hoped when they were first assigned to the area. Generations of Church members have reason to be grateful for those labours, as the branch grew in its splendid new home, paving the way for the current Liverpool stake centre now on the Summerfield site.
Journal excerpts used with permission.