Christ Church

Christ Church,
Malling Road,
Snodland,
Kent ME6 5QR
United Kingdom
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Christ Church is situated on Malling Road opposite St Katherine’s Lane. It is open to visitors during the week every Tuesday and Saturday from 1pm to 2pm.

HISTORY OF CHRIST CHURCH, LOWER BIRLING

In his book on Snodland’s history (1928), Rev. Charles de Rocfort Wall tells us that ‘When houses began to be built on the Brook, Sunday School and occasional Services were held in an iron room in Oxford Street.’ During the day it was used as a private school and later by the Salvation Army. The land had been given for this purpose on 16 October 1873 by Rev. Canon Coulson (or Colson), M.A., of Guildford. (Canon Coulson came from Bramley, Yorkshire, and owned a great deal of land here. Bramley Road takes its name from this connection.) With the growth in population at Ham Hill and in Malling Road (both in Birling parish), it was decided to build a chapel of ease at St Catherine’s Bank. The £2000 needed to build the church was raised by voluntary subscriptions. ‘Operations were commenced on the 1st of March’ and the foundation stone was laid by Hon. Mrs. Ralph Nevill of Birling on 30 April 1892.

Christ Church is in Early English style and was built by the firm of Robert Langridge of Ham Hill to a design by Percy Monckton M.R.I.B.A. Materials are Kentish rag stone, with Bath stone dressings. The original design included a bell-tower at a further cost of £600, but this was never built: some say because of fears that the ground would be too unstable to support it, although Woolmer in his Historical Jottings of the Parish of Snodland (1894) says ‘A suitable tower will probably be added to the building as soon as the necessary funds are procured.’

The church and churchyard was consecrated by the Bishop of Dover at a service on 10 October 1893. To begin with clergy were supplied by the mother church of Birling, principally Rev. A. Cochrane (to September 1902), J. R. Burton (1902-1904) and A. P. Ronald (1904-1908). The first Vestry Meeting took place on 24 April 1895. A year later more land was acquired as a site for a church room and this was opened in April 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and naturally was called the ‘Victoria Room’. That same year the East Window was installed in the church: ‘To the Glory of God & in memory of the Rev. Jacob Marsham this window was erected by his niece Louisa [i.e. Mrs. Ralph] Nevill & other relations & friends, 1897’.    Following a petition, the churchyard was enlarged and was consecrated by the Bishop of Dover on 6 November 1899. The earliest burials date from 1894.

On 8 November 1908, Rev, A. Pollok Williams, a Scotsman, was made assistant priest with particular responsibility for Christ Church. At the end of 1910 there were moves to surrender the Patronage of the living to the Church Pastoral Aid Society and on 23 January 1911 the King’s Order in Council forming Christ Church into a separate Chapelry and Parish was signed. The CPAS immediately offered the living to Rev. A. P. Williams. His Institution and Induction by the Bishop of Rochester took place on 12 May 1911.

At the first Vestry Meeting (7 February 1911) the Church Council was elected:  Messrs Ashdown, Barnden, Butcher, Goringe, Hucks, Jefferys, Langridge, Mason, Sabine, Weire, Weaver and Champion. Mr. Brattle and Mr. Dabner were churchwardens. Miss Bishop was the organist and Mr. Dale the choirmaster. Later Mr. Gordon Russell became choirmaster for a time.

The church seems to have had a harmonium for the first few years, but a one manual organ by Forster and Andrews was installed in 1906. A gate and path were made from the Victoria Room to the Church. In 1915 additional seating for the choir was placed in the chancel as the gift of Mr. Walter Gates, churchwarden. A vicarage was sorely needed and the original plan was to site it behind the Victoria Room. There seem to have been difficulties in arranging this, however, and the present fine building was erected in 1916.

At the end of the First World War it was proposed to build a War Memorial and subscriptions were invited. Plans were made (a) for a cement moulded panel at the West end of the church, (b) for a pair of iron gates at the entrance and (c) for a Lych-gate. These schemes proved too ambitious, however, and the present brass on a marble surround was preferred. Those commemorated are Percy Abnett, Alfred Bailey, Harold Bounds, Arthur R. Burt, Albert Goble, Frederick Goble, Herbert Goodchild, Robert N.A. Langridge, Charles Maynard, Herbert Maynard, Percy Maytum, Herbert H. Roots, Percy J. Sweetser, Frank Terry, Frederick Wimsett.

In 1921 the Mothers Meeting presented a brass jug for the font and a brass altar book-rest is in memory of ‘Thomas Lingham, Sept 29th 1922’. At the beginning of 1925, following the resignation of Miss Bishop, Mr. C.F. Butcher became organist.  He also took over the duties of choirmaster, a post which had been vacant for a couple of years. Steps were soon put in hand to repair and enlarge the organ. In 1927 a new heating system was installed at a cost of £96. Rev. A. P. Williams resigned on 6 October and moved to All Hallows, Hoo. On 26 October the Opening and Dedication of the reconstructed and enlarged organ took place with a service conducted by Rev. C. H. Daniel, Vicar of Birling. It included a recital by Percy Whitlock, then assistant organist at Rochester Cathedral, and an address by the archdeacon of Tonbridge. The work on the organ cost £260, which was raised by voluntary subscriptions. (Further improvements were made to the instrument in 1937).  Rev. Harold James Howden, M.A. was Inducted on 27 November. He moved on after five years and the Rev, James Butler was Inducted in turn on 27 March 1933. Two memorials of different kinds commemorated church wardens: one is the stained glass window by William Aikman in memory of Harry and Sarah Ann Phyall, 1935; the other was a special service on 8 August 1937 to commemorate F. C. Butcher (also the church treasurer). The font cover is in memory of James Cramp, Christmas Day, 1935. (A ‘William Cramp’ was buried on 18 June 1934.)

Rev. Butler moved to Cobham and Rev. Charles Rascen Pridmore was Inducted on 25 February 1938. The service registers record a number of special services such as the Day of National Prayer in 1940 and a Thanksgiving for Victory in 1945. In spite of the war years, the Bishop of Rochester conducted a Confirmation Service in June 1943 and returned on 10 October that year for a Jubilee service celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first service held in the church. Mr Cecil F. Butcher (son of F.C.) resigned as organist/choirmaster in 1948 and was replaced by Mrs Smith.

Throughout the church’s life special services have marked the deaths and accessions of the English monarchs. To commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the parishioners of Ham Hill presented an Alms dish and this was dedicated on 18 December 1955. Andrew Ashbee became organist and choirmaster in January 1957.  Gas lighting was replaced by electric lighting in 1962. In 1968 it was decided to join the parishes of All Saints and Christ Church. Rev. Pridmore and his successors have since had the responsibility for both churches. Following Rev. Pridmore’s retirement, Rev. Paul Charles Delight was Inducted on 2 January 1975. War damage and the underfloor heating system had caused the chancel floor to be cracked and uneven for many years. In 1977 the whole of the chancel floor was removed and relaid, a major operation which cost £7000. Although it was sad to lose the Victorian tiles, the new floor (lacking fixed furniture) has proved to be an asset for presenting concerts, dance and dramatic presentations alongside traditional services.

Rev. Delight moved to the Channel Islands and Rev. James Edward Tipp was Inducted on 13 January 1982. In recent years parishioners have continued to play a major part in the upkeep and refurbishment of the church, church room and churchyard. A Garden of Remembrance was made in 1983. The whole church has been re-decorated and re-arranged. Beautiful red curtains now hang behind the altar; new books and kneelers have appeared; the font has been moved to the front of the nave; new lighting and heating has been installed; the bell has been cleaned; a book of remembrance (made by Valerie Hearn) is kept in a wooden display case (made by Owen Lambert). There are gifts from the church in Moyeuvre Grande, a twinning which has brought great joy to the Christian communities of both towns. Most striking of all is the Parish Room at the rear of the church (constructed by Mr. Bertie Taylor).

A special centenary service was held on Sunday, 26 April 1992, led by several clergy who had been associated with the church; the congregation included a party from Snodland’s twin church at Moyeuvre Grande. The new digital organ was also dedicated and first heard at this service. Other associated events included a Flower Festival (18-20 April) and a concert.

In 2011 a major reordering of the interior of Christ Church took place. This included the installation of a new gas fired heating system to replace the somewhat ineffective overhead electric bar heaters, new chairs in place of the pews, a repainting of the interior walls, and the moving of the sound system from the chancel to the back of the church. The total cost of the project was around £57,000 and the money was raised in its entirety by gifts, donations, special events and grants. The work was completed in November 2011 and dedicated by the Bishop of Tonbridge.

A new Paschal Candle stand was donated by Pauline Hunt in memory of her husband who used to do wood turning. It was dedicated on Easter Day 2011.