Centenary Address by Julian Brown


Address by Julian Brown to the Congregation of the Church of St Andrew, Hadlow near Tonbridge. Kent formerly known as the Fish Hall Mission on the occasion of the Hundredth Anniversary of its construction 1911-2011 (22 May 2011).

Good morning everyone and congratulations to Ruby Frazer Allen who is also celebrating her hundredth birthday, indeed like this church.

Now Christian worship began here however, some considerable time before the construction of this building, in fact nobody seems to remember exactly when and how the Fish Hall Mission, as it then was, originated.

According to an article in the Tonbridge Free Press in November 1939 its history goes back to the 1870s when services were held in the lodge of Fish Hall and in the summer in the grounds of the estate in the open air or in a tent, dependant on weather.

My grandfather Albert Edward Peter who built this little church a hundred years ago purchased Great Fish Hall on the 3rd October 1900. He immediately started to take a keen interest in the Mission and its work.

I would like to tell you something about him and how he came to build this church

He was born in Cornwall, the son of a yeoman farmer in 1863. By 1900 he had become a successful businessman, married with four children.

In June of that year he was staying with his wife and children at Yelverton on the edge of Dartmoor.

For some time past he had felt inwardly troubled with his soul and could not find peace, then one evening he knelt down and prayed to God for his mercy and guidance.

On the following day, the 16th June, he went to visit a friend, in Plymouth and talked to him.

His friend spoke of God as the Creator of the Universe and that He had given his only begotten Son and that whomsoever believed in Him should be saved.

His friend asked him, could he believe in the word of Jesus?

He told his friend “yes” he could believe what God had promised

And it was at that instant he felt as if a great load had lifted from him.

His friend told him to go home and kneel down and ask for God’s forgiveness. This he did and thenceforth he regarded this day, as his spiritual birthday. He wrote of this event in a religious diary that he then started writing.

The following day was a Sunday and as he walked alone on Dartmoor the Holy Spirit came to him and he has written that it was the greatest feeling that he had ever had and he praised Christ’s blessed name.

He wrote that he felt His presence then and that he prayed that he may ever feel his presence from time to time according to His will, whilst he was on this Earth.

He was soon to be put to the test.

A few months later in January 1901, one of his daughters, my aunt Gertrude, then aged four, was playing on the frozen lake adjacent to Fish Hall with her sister, my aunt May, when the ice broke and she went under.

May screamed for help and my grandfather rushed out of the house and dived into the lake fully clad and rescued Gertrude who was unconscious but who was revived and lived.

As an act of gratitude to God, he decided to set aside a plot of land on his estate where ultimately he intended to build a church. Although he continued to own the estate until 1916, he moved to live in Brighton as he thought the sea air would benefit my grandmother’s health.

However he often returned to Fish Hall and a hundred years ago the opportunity came. He discovered a disused hall in Brighton and decided to give his friends of the Fish Hall Mission a real building of their own. Accordingly he purchased the building, had it dismantled, transported to Fish Hall and reconstructed. It was this building, where we are today.

When he sold the estate after my grandmother’s early death, he retained the land on which the Mission Hall, later known as St Andrew’s Church, now stands.

Before the Second World War the Mission Hall used to take a paternal interest in a similar mission church in the Belgian Congo and once a year sent parcels of essentials out to this church in the tropical swamps of darkest Africa! The Missionary in Charge of the Congo Church, the Rev A Young would come to conduct services here whenever he was back on leave in England.

On his death in 1936 my grandfather left a modest sum to be applied towards the upkeep of the Mission Hall. Two of my aunts May Peter and Emily Peachey and later myself became the trustees. In 1947 the then trustees granted a 99 year lease of the Mission Hall to the Rochester Diocese for the benefit of the Parochial Church Council of Hadlow. In 1948 the parish boundaries were reorganised, so that St Andrews is now part of the Parish of Tonbridge.

There have been a number of people who over the years have shown their love and devotion for this little church, who have worked for it and served it.

George Manwaring, a great friend of my grandfather’s did much work for children and the Sunday School. His daughter was the organist.

From 1918 Mr M D Vinell was lay preacher up to the Second World War. He and his wife worked hard in difficult times to serve the Mission Hall. My aunt May, who lived in Brighton regularly visited the Mission Hall every few months and I remember as a boy, during the war years, accompanying her and visiting the Vinells.

In June 1944 the building was badly damaged by a V1 Flying Bomb – a Doodlebug – as they were called, and it had to be closed. It was happily repaired in 1946 and services were resumed after it was dedicated in April 1947 by the Bishop of Rochester the Rt. Rev. Dr C M Chavasse.

The then Vicar of Hadlow was the Rev. S. H. Moneypenny who took a keen interest in the Mission Hall and who I also met in those days just after the war.

In later years I met Canon Searle-Barnes, the then Vicar of Tonbridge. He agreed to the placing of memorial plaques to the memory of my aunts May and Emily on the wall here near to that of my grandfather.

I also met Robin and Frances Reiss on my visits as well as Peter and Dorothy Chaffin.

This is to name only a few of the many people who have loved and worked for St Andrews. There have been many more. I remain with my wife Ingrid and my daughter Fiona, trustees of my grandfather’s estate

It was JESUS who said that it was not enough simply to pray to God, however devoutly, but one should activate oneself in doing something in the service of God and the community as well. This was the point of his story of the Samaritan in St Luke’s Gospel Chapter 10.

I like to think that that is what my grandfather did, when he gave thanks to God for the deliverance of his daughter from a certain death.

He went on to erect this Church to the service of God. It would be nice to think that small as it may be, but with its romantic history, it can live on into the future, as a place of Christian worship and an inspiration and comfort to all who visit it.

AND TODAY, to mark this happy occasion, Ingrid and I are going to present a new Bible to St Andrews and the Congregation for use on the Lectern, which I understand from Terry Collins, is something that you would appreciate.

TERRY, May I present this Bible to you, accordingly,

And may God Bless you all