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St Johnís & Stocks Green, Hildenborough

By the 1840s, the Parish of Tonbridge was approximately 10 miles long and 2Ĺ miles wide.  A circular letter dated 26th September 1842 explained that, "as the Parish was so large, a great many people were unable to attend the church."  It was proposed that, "a new church should be built for the people living in the Hildenborough district."

St. John's Church exterior Nearly two years later, on 27th January 1844, a notice was issued by the Church Committee informing all contributors to the church fund of the progress made towards the opening of the new church.  It stated, "The committee have the pleasure to inform contributors to the fund for the above church that it is expected to be completed, ready for consecration in June next."

The church building was designed by Ewan Christian and was his first commission.  He later designed St. Stephen's Church in Tonbridge and Hildenborough Primary School.

Dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the church was consecrated on July 9th, 1844.  The final cost of the church when it opened was £2,300.  Minor additions were made later that century when the clock was installed in 1865 and the octave of bells in 1887.  The first vicar of the church was Rev. Edward Vinall who remained vicar until he died in 1880.  During his time there, church attendances averaged 300, filling the church to capacity.

The first major improvements to the church were carried out in 1896.  The original, relatively modest plans for this had been made the previous year and included repairs to the spire, re-seating the church, reglazing the windows and installing heating.  However, parishioners' donations were very generous, allowing more extensive improvements to be made, including some extensions to the nave and vestry, installation of a new door and porch at the back of the church, replacing the church floor and installing gas lighting.  Numerous other gifts were also made, including the oak pulpit and oak eagle lectern.

St. John's Church interior

Improvements to the organ were not included in the restoration work of 1896; however, these were carried out in 1902.  The work included dividing the organ, installing half of the pipes on each side of the chancel at the front of the church.  Further major alterations were made to the organ in 1987 to enhance the sound quality, including the installation of microchip technology.  This allows the keyboard and console to be placed anywhere in the church and connected to the pipes by a single cable.  The organ at St. John's is now one of the finest in the area.

New stained glass window The stained-glass windows were mostly gifts from local residents during the early 20th Century, in memory of members of their families and most still remain to this day.  However, the window in the north transept was smashed when a bomb fell on the nearby recreation ground during World War II.  It fell on 11th July 1944, in the middle of a week of festivities to celebrate the Centenary of the church.  At the time, it was replaced with plain glass. 

In 1994, the plain window was replaced with stained-glass (see right) as part of the church's 150-year celebrations and dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester during a special service.  The new window was designed by Keith & Judy Hill, and you can view more detailed pictures of it on their web-site.

The Church Hall (below, left) was first planned before the Second World War and land adjoining the churchyard was bought for it in 1938.  However, the War intervened and the hall was not built until 1956.  The car park was added in 1957 and the hall was extended at the front in 1978.  The hall is used by many church and community groups for a wide variety of activities from jumble sales and children's activities to wedding receptions and discos.

By the early 1990s the congregation was outgrowing the church, so a church plant was formed at Stocks Green School, Leigh Road (below, right).  Initially, only the monthly family services were held there from 1992.  However, these were very successful and weekly services started there each Sunday morning in 1994, with Stocks Green becoming a daughter church of St. John's.

St. John's Church Hall    Stocks Green School

In February 2008, Stocks Green was merged back with St John's, with a second congregation meeting in the adjoining Church Hall in parallel with the service in the church.  Children and teenagers of both congregations meet together.

St John's has a large number of groups for children and young people, with some meeting mid-week as well as on Sundays.  The churches have had approximately yearly weekends away, and organise many social events and outings too.  Open-air services are held each summer.

(Additional material compiled by Keith Halstead.)

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