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St Eanswythe’s Mission
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Exterior of St. Eanswythe's church St. Eanswythe's Chapel is a mission church, founded in 1890 by Mary Caroline Gorham, originally as a Bible class for women and girls.  The original 'Magic Lantern' used by Miss Gorham is still on display in the church.

When the railways came to Tonbridge, there was a great development of housing in the southern end of the town.  They were mainly small, cheaply built houses erected by the railway company to house their workers.  Mary Gorham saw the need for spiritual welfare among the residents of the area.  She began her weekly Bible class for women in a room beneath the former vicarage of St. Stephen's Church in Quarry Hill Road.  The Bible class soon outgrew this room and moved to the loft above Alfred Stone's Bake House in Vale Road.  Soon, these premises also proved to be too small for the ever-growing group.  After a successful appeal for funds in 1890, a corrugated iron mission hall was opened in Priory Road named after Eanswythe, granddaughter of King Ethelbert of Kent.  The mission hall had seating for 250 people.

St. Eanswythe's was a popular place for Christian worship and was the first church in the town to offer facilities such as a kitchen and toilets.  The congregation enjoyed outings, picnics, tea parties and lantern lecture services.  Overseas missionary work was and still is an important part of the outreach of St. Eanswythe's.  Apart from mission at home, the congregation supports the Church Missionary Society, Bible Lands and Church Army.  At home they support the Bridge Trust.  Between £1,500 and £2,000 is raised annually for mission overseas.

St. Eanswythe's still continues to enjoy the social activities which are very much part of the life of the Mission as it was in the days of Miss Gorham.  During this Millennium year, there are plans for a social evening in May, a coach trip to Winchester in July, a Garden Party in August and many other events.  Children also enjoy the occasional party in the small hall attached to the mission hall.  A Parents & Toddlers group meets on Wednesday mornings.  On Saturday mornings, the mission hall is open to allow anyone to enter for quiet prayer.

Interior of St. Eanswythe's church It would be very easy to walk past the church as it appears to be quite small from the front.  However when entering one is surprised by the size, for it has a good sized chapel.  In the early years it would have held more than 300 ladies for one of Miss Gorham's Bible classes.  The windows inside the mission hall are of special interest as some were painted by a person who had attended the mission as a child and had no specific art training.

The Mission's founder, Mary Caroline Gorham, died in 1932 aged 78 years.  She had devoted her life to the poor and needy of Tonbridge.  She was named for this work in the 1932 New Year's Honours list but was too ill to go to Buckingham Palace to receive her MBE from the King and died in February that year.

Today, the Mission has links with three schools in the area: Hayesbrook, Hillview and Weald of Kent.  The Missioner, David Smith, is Chaplain to the Air Training Corps.  In most churches there is always the problem of finding an organist or pianist for Sunday services.  St. Eanswythe's has solved this problem by using a Gulbransen Digital Hymnal, in which all the music for the Sunday Service is programmed.  The sound is so effective it leaves the newcomer's eyes searching the chapel for the organ and organist.

UPDATED!  In September 2004, the building was demolished.  The site is being redeveloped with housing, but a new church is also being completed in the same location.  In the meantime the congregation continues to meet, in the St John's Ambulance Brigade Hall.  If you have any further information about the church today, please email us.

Main content and research © 2000 L. M. Simms and TOUCH 2000 / Tonbridge United Churches
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