History: St Philip
With a history spanning from 1955 to the present day, St Philip’s holds many stories. It has transformed into a Mission Church from an old school ‘hut’, growing within the community into a place of worship for many.
1956 and 1957 were golden years in the long history of Tonbridge Parish Council. For several months much prayer had been offered and much consideration given as how best to make spiritual provision for the expanding population of Tonbridge in the post-war years.
Prayers were answered in 1955 when devoted worshipper at the Parish Church, Miss Burt decided to close the private school, which in 86 years had served approximately 3,000 children, and freely donated the wood and asbestos hut to the Church Authorities to be used as a Church Hall.
Her kind offer was gratefully accepted by the Church and was almost immediately followed by an offer from the Ecumenical Work Camp of that year to dismantle the hut on it’s site in St Mary’s Road, transport it from one end of Tonbridge to the other and then re-build it on a site in the middle of the new estate at Cage Green.
In the summer of 1956, a group of 25 enthusiastic students, descended on the area to prepare foundations. The party led by Wolf Muller, a young German curate from the Parish Church, was made up of representatives from 14 countries – Germany, Ethiopia, America, Greece, Great Britain, Holland, France, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, Portugal and Australia.
Preparations were made to satisfy the needs of the workers, with Parishioners opening up their homes to welcome the visitors and provide a generous hospitality. Pots and pans, cutlery and other provisions were provided to help aide the young team on their stay. The young people of the Parish also joined in and prepared the way by cleaning the hall.
Work continued throughout bad weather of pouring rain, and the hut was brought to the site and erected. Rev George Clew, the then representative of the P.C.C remembers,
“I recall a particular day when the rain was pouring down, when professional builders on the nearby council houses had ceased work – seeing a young American girl sitting astride the apex of the hut roof some 20 feet above the ground placing tiles in position and singing Gospel Choruses in a cheerful voice as she undertook this labour of love.”
On the 15th of January 1957 the Church Hall was dedicated by Bishop John Mann (Asst. Bishop of Rochester). On the opening of Cage Green Russell White, Vicar of Tonbridge (1945-58) said,
“Cage Green Church Hall has now come into it’s own, the climax of our hopes and above all of our prayers. Through the years ahead, until the Lord comes, the saga will continue telling the story of men and women who find our blessed Lord, their Saviour and Friend, and in our Church Hall the place where they can meet with God.”
By 1963 Cage Green had prepared to build a large church and church hall, and had Diocesan approval for a scheme costing then some £50,000. However, after the Diocese suddenly clamped down on all new building, the Church had to wait until 1969 to raise the matter again. Meanwhile, the neighbouring Methodist Church had built a new Church at the centre of Higham Lane and with Methodist/Anglican relations pointing to Union between the two communions it was clearly wrong to open a ‘rival’ church. Therefore Cage Green applied to the Diocese to be allowed to erect a dual-purpose hall, this was approved and the Diocese financed half the total cost of £20,000.
The building work was begun in July 1969. It cost £20,000, half of which was provided by the Diocese of Rochester, and the remaining £10,000 to be found by the parish. £3,000 had already been collected. It was decided to trust God to inspire people to provide the rest. An appeal was made but the amount required was not announced. This was very much the project of Gordon Langrell, a New Zealander and a curate in training at Tonbridge. He had a notice erected which read, “We believe God will provide the funds we need.” On the day that the new church was dedicated he put another notice over the first proclaiming, “He Has !!”
The building was dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Doctor David Say, on Sunday 26th April 1970. Also present were the Bishop of Tonbridge, the Rt. Rev. H D Halsey, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. E E Maples Earle, the Vicar of Tonbridge Canon T F C Bewes, the MP for Tonbridge, Mr Richard Hornby, the Chairman of Tonbridge Urban Council, Mr Graham Bentall and a number of clergy from neighbouring parishes.
Among those taking part in the Service were the Rev. George Glew, former Superintendent of Cage Green Sunday School, and the Rev. John Pelley.
Cage Green Sunday School with over 200 children moved from Cage Green Junior and Infant Schools to the Cage Green Church and Hall in May 1970, and Six-Fifteen Club also moved into the new building at the same time.