The London City Mission was started in 1835 to go to the people of London with the Gospel. Initially, the main way of doing this was to go to the people where they lived. So the missionaries were each given a geographical district, and went from door to door and from room to room. By this regular visiting, the missionary gradually overcame hostility and indifference and became a familiar, welcome and influential landmark in many communities.
In January 1844 a new dimension was added to the Mission's work, with the appointment of John Adams as 'Missionary to Cabmen.' A former cab-driver, Adams had a burning zeal to reach his old colleagues with the Gospel that had changed his own life. Cabbies worked long hours, sitting waiting for passengers or grooming the horses. Adams went to them where they were. Soon, other 'special classes' - including the Metropolitan and City Police and Railway workers - had their own missionaries.
Within two years of the founding of LCM, a letter in the Mission's magazine had called for evangelistic ministry to the 'vast numbers' of labourers working to build the Grand Junction Railway into London. Such ministry was necessary because of the 'wretchedly immoral and depraved condition of these men.' By 1849 the Railway Record could state that 'there is not one terminus in London, erected or contemplated, which does not now enjoy some advantage from the ceaseless care and activity of the London City Mission. In many cases their influence extends miles beyond the terminus itself.'
By the start of the 20th century there were over 50 workplace missionaries, each with their own specific group of men (and - especially in the factories - women) to reach. There were missionaries to Bakers and Canal Boatmen, to Dockers and Factory-workers, to Drovers and Stablemen, to Coalheavers and Firemen, to Sailors and Navvies, to Gasworks and Hotel Servants, to Bus and Tram drivers, to Dustmen and Soldiers, to Theatre-workers, Millers and Pottery-workers.
Working weeks of 80 or 90 hours were not uncommon in those days, so many working-men could seldom be found at home. Their workplaces (and perhaps the pubs, which were also regularly visited by a special group of city missionaries) were the only places where they could be met and spoken to. Of course, the missionaries depended on the goodwill of employers for access, and they were sensitive in the way they went about their ministry. Often the missionary would shovel coal for a couple of hours, or groom a couple of horses, in order to earn the right to a few minutes in which he could speak to the men. Many missionaries used music, playing a small accordion to draw a group together. Others preached in the open air during factory lunch-times, for example, outside the gates of the Woolwich Arsenal, and drew large crowds. In those days, as now, the vast majority of ordinary, intelligent working people did not attend church on Sundays, and would never go looking for the Gospel. Others, because of the demands of their work, could not get to church on a Sunday even if they wanted to. For them, the missionary's visit was a kind of substitute church.
Workplace visiting also involved the missionaries in recognising social problems and helping to meet practical needs. Scandalous practices, such as the sale of alcohol inside docks and factories to men who had just been given their week's wages, were outlawed after agitation and protest by missionaries. In war and peace, the missionary provided a shoulder to cry on, a word of sound advice, a challenge where one was needed, or an introduction to a source of practical help in a crisis. As the missionary to one of the cattle markets said in 1913, "I am known by all the 4,000 men whom it is my privilege to visit, and not one of this number can truthfully say, 'I have never heard of Jesus. '"
Over the years of LCM's existence the nature of London's industry and commerce has changed drastically. The docks and gasworks have come and gone, few food factories are now found in the inner city, and shiny office blocks have replaced the old manufactories of the City. LCM's workplace ministries have evolved and developed, trying to keep pace with the changes. Some of the oldest workplace ministries are still flourishing, while some new ones have been added.