The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Hildenborough, Kent

Some Historical Notes

The Ecclesiastical District of Hildenborough was, according to The London Gazette of 7th October 1844, created from parts of the Parishes of Leigh (Hollenden) and Tonbridge. It appears to have become a Parish about 1881. It is in the Diocese of Rochester but was once in Canterbury.

The Church was built in 1844 at a cost of £2,300 raised from private contributions, on land given by the Vicar of Leigh, the Rev.Thomas May. It was the first Church of many designed by Ewan Christian and shows how he has rethought the problem of the preaching church, creating a broad central space, which makes galleries no longer necessary. Hildenborough is at least as early as any of those by E.B. Lamb whose name is especially connected with this type of design.

It is built of Kentish rag walling, sandstone dressings with a tiled roof and a slightly tapering Tower with a shingled spire and lucarnes. The interior is of considerable artistry and the wide low nave, wide transepts, wide, shallow apsidal chancel with no arch, are all dominated by the great deeply moulded, curved ribs springing from the wall corbels to the pendant at the apex of the roof, greatly increasing the apparent height and size of the building.

The clock was installed in 1865 (costing £55.10.0) and the octave of tubular bells installed in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.The Clock was extensively repaired in 1948 and the bells were refurbished in memory of Miss I. Clark-Lawrence in 1982, and the Church bell recast in memory of Mr. P.H. Toy in 1993.

A complete restoration was planned in 1895 to repair the spire, build a Porch at the west end, overhaul the roof, reseat the Church in pine or oak, reform the south entrance, reglaze the windows and provide heating. Fund raising went so well that in addition the Vestry was enlarged, the Church refloored, the aisles paved and an additional bay added to the nave. Gas lighting was provided from a private gas works at Foxbush, and a new lamp added over the door. The Boiler Room was built and hot water heating installed. The architect was F.W. Hunt and the contractor Langridge & Son of Tonbridge. In March 1899 the weather cock was repaired and restored to it’s place following gale damage earlier in the year.The Vestry was later enlarged in 1965, when the bier house was converted.

An English Altar was installed in 1937.

The spire was reshingled in 1950 and the roof was retiled in 1985.

In 1948 the installation of electric lighting was completed when electric lights were installed in the nave as a gift from Mr. R.A.R. Stamper, while the Chancel was floodlit in 1949. The interior was relit in 1994. Following several temporary schemes the exterior was floodlit in 1993.

The stained glass is mostly gifts from local residents in memory of their families although by 1896 there were only four stained glass windows, the two large and two small windows in the transepts. The south Transept windows were given by the Lawson family of Bourne Place in memory of Ann, wife of William, who died 1863. The window seems to attempt to reproduce the style and colouring of some very early glass in Canterbury Cathedral, the roundels illustrate incidents in the Life of Christ. The triple lancet window in the North Transept commemorating one of the daughters of the first incumbent Frances Letitia Dummelow (1839-1863) depicting Faith, Hope and Charity was destroyed on 11th July 1944 by a Flying Bomb which fell on the Recreation Ground. After public subscription this was replaced in 1994 by a window commemorating 150 years of worship and depicting the evangelism of the Church which was designed and made by Keith and Judy Hill of Staplehurst. The four creatures (see Revelations Ch4 vv6-8) are the Lion, the Ox, the man and the Eagle. Each represents a characteristic of Christ; His sovereignty, His servanthood and sacrifice, His humanity, His eternal divinity, while the centre panel depicts the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove descending on the church at the bottom of the window. Of the two small single light Morris Glass windows in the transepts, the south is in memory of Rev. Vinall and the north his wife Letitia (died 1875). The North is of ‘Joy’ showing an angel with a scroll, possibly adapted from a Morris design for the ceiling of Jesus College, Cambridge(1876) while the South is of ‘St. John the Evangelist’ and shows a strong Burne-Jones influence although the entry in the Catalogue of Designs dated December, 1881 shows the glass painter as Pozzi. It is perhaps the best in the Church.

After 1896 the other windows followed quickly; they are in three groups: the sanctuary windows, those in the nave and the three in the west wall.

The windows in the Sanctuary date from 1898. They were designed and made by James Powell and Sons and were given by Mr. & Mrs. Johnson of Mountains in memory of their eldest daughter, Frances Ann. The subjects of the main window are: centre light, Adoration of the Risen Christ; left hand light, New Testament Saints who include St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist; right hand light, Saints of the Early English Church, St. Alban the pro-martyr of Britain, St. Aidan Bishop of Iona and founder of the Northern Church, St. Augustine, King Ethelbert (his convert and the first Christian King of Kent), Queen Bertha, his wife, and St. Swithun, Bishop of Winchester. The four small windows depict, from left to right, the Angel of the Renunciation with a lily, The Angel of Nativity with a star, the Angel of the Passion and the Angel of Resurrection with the palm of victory.

A series of 8 windows in the nave concerning the Petitions of the Litany was designed by James Powell and Sons and added between 1903 and 1911. Those on the North side commemorate Charles Fitch Kemp (1907), William Norton Lawson and Frances his wife (1911), Rev. F.A. Stewart Savile (1907) and Sophia, his wife, (1904); those on the South Mary Ann Lawson (1906), Mary Louisa, wife of F.W. Hunt (1910), and one given by the women of the Parish in memory of Louisa Pidcock (1903). The remaining window on the North side of the nave (not one of the series) depicts The Good Shepherd and was inserted in 1900 by the parishioners in memory of Rev. Pidcock.

The large centre window in the west wall depicts the Patron Saints of England, Scotland and Ireland and was a gift of the friends of Charles Fitch Kemp, J.P. D.L., of Foxbush who died 1907. One of the single light windows (St. Gabriel) commemorates Mrs. Fitch Kemp and the other (St. Raphael) together with the bullseye window above (St. Michael) are in memory of Robert Wingate of Oakhurst (1906).

The first organist is mentioned in 1867, while the organ was described in 1884 just prior to enlargement as a weak, single manual instrument. In 1900 Gray & Davison were engaged to rebuild the organ as a memorial to the six years of service of the Rev. R.L.G. Pidcock. The instrument was divided, half being placed on the north side of the Chancel, the rest on the south. A new oak case was provided, as was a tubular pneumatic action, a new hydraulic blower and six new stops. All this cost some £850. The rebuilt organ was inaugurated and dedicated on 2nd February 1902. Mr. W.F. Kingdon, B.Mus., organist of St. Lawrence Jewry in the City, who acted as adviser to the rebuild, subsequently gave some recitals.

In May 1931 the existing blower was replaced with an electric blower.

By 1987 the two main bellows were leaking, the action had become noisy and slow, the soundboards were split and there were problems with tuning. The organ was rebuilt, largely to the specification of Mr. D. Smith, by Martin K. Cross of Essex. A new console was built, with new key and foot boards and a modern ‘capture action’ fitted to allow fast stop changes. A new micro processor controlled single cable transmission system was provided which allowed variable placing of the console. Tonally the instrument was altered to make a more exciting sound with new mixture stops added to both Great and Swell, and a new Swell Trumpet stop. The work was completed in June and subsequently the then current organist Keith Rusling gave an inaugural recital.

Gifts in the 1890s included the Oak Pulpit (Mrs. H. Hills), Bronze Cross and vases (Bertha Cuncliffe) and an alms dish (Mr. & Mrs. Kingscote). Other gifts include a Processional Cross given by the widow and family of Col. C.E. Warner, a Bible for the Lectern in memory of J.T. Fellowes Wilson given by his widow and two desks with kneelers for use in the sanctuary from Mrs. Coutanche in memory of her husband. The oak panelling in the Choir, installed in memory of Frances Johnson, was designed by Mr. Burke Downing, who also designed the oak Font cover dedicated to Miss Ellen Anne Lawson. In the 1990s a group of parishioners worked a complete set of kneelers for the Church.

With acknowledgements to Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ and to ‘The Stained Glass of William Morris and his Circle’ by A. Charles Sewter (Yale University Press, 1974).
The Church published a History in 1944 to coincide with the Centenary, and the Church occupies a Chapter of ‘Hildenborough an A-Z’ which was published by the Parish Council in 1994.


E. Vinall M.A. 1844-1880
M.J.T. Boys M.A. 1881-1894
R.L.G. Pidcock M.A. 1894-1900
J. Stone 1901-1917
H. Wardle 1918-1924
L.G. Chamberlain M.C., M.A. 1924-1934
E.H. Wade M.A. 1934-1935
W.H. Bass M.A., B.D. 1935-1939
E.W.E. Fraser A.K.C. 1939-1951
A.R. Fountain 1951-1959 1906
P. Tadman 1960-1962
P. S. Plunket M.A.,T.C.D. 1962-1968
G.A.R. Swannell 1968-1980
D.R. Corfe 1980-1990
R. Bawtree 1990-2004
J. Chandler 2006

Churchwardens – Vicars

1844 T.R. Russell
1860 J.Sales
1861 J.C. Dear
1867 J.H. Johnson
1898 R. Cunliffe
1899 R. Bosanquet
1906 G.W. Johnson
1943 P.M. Duddy
1950 J.K.F. Coutanche
1951 J.E. Crick
1957 H.B. Elliot
1958 T. Cleaton-Davies
1964 A.R. Jones
1969 A. Cocks
1973 H.M. Phillips
1982 P.K. Badger
1986 Mrs. J. Cleator
1996 K. Shacklock
2002 Mrs E. Myers

Churchwardens People’s

1844 G. Hilder
1853 T. Francis
1844 to 1860 are missing
1860 W. Bassett
1861 R. Watts
1865 D. Peck
1869 C. Fitch Kemp
1907 E. Hendry
1952 R.H. Proctor
1958 L.P. Wright
1964 R. Cooke
1968 W.Watts
1969 R.Cooke
1972 N. Hawkins
1977 P.G. Duddy
1984 R.H. Cates
1988 J. Pegley
1989 D. Payne
1995 P.Thomas
1999 S. Ravenscroft
2003 N. Harrowing


The pipe organ is based upon the original instrument built for the church about 1870 by Gray and Davison, with about 1,000 pipes distributed between the two Chancel cases and the console close to the altar rail on the south side. The outline may still be seen cut out of the wall panelling.

In 1987, the organ was fully dismantled and rebuilt by Martin K Cross, Church Organ Builders of Grays, Essex. It remains a two manual instrument but has a modern electro-pneumatic key action, played from a new detached console placed on a moveable plinth. The transmission from the console is through a time-division multiplexing system, requiring only a small co-axial cable for connection to the pipe chambers. The console can easily be brought out to the centre of the Nave for organ recitals and concerts. A dual-channel piston capture action is available for convenient stop changes. The wind is supplied by a large centrifugal fan blower, which feeds the main bellows in the roof above the north-side vestry and thence through trunks to each half of the organ.

New facade pipes were provided, some tonal changes made and the entire instrument tonally re-balanced, leaving the stop-list as follows:

Manuals CC-a, 58 notes, Pedals CCC-f, 30 notes

Open Diapason 8ft
Clarinet Flute 8ft
Dulciana 8ft
Principal 4ft
Flute 4ft
Fifteenth 2ft
Mixture 19.22 II
Clarinet 8ft
i Swell to Great
ii Octave

Open Diapason 16ft
Bourdon 16ft
Violincello 8ft
Bass Flute
Fifteenth 4ft
Great to Pedal
iii Great to Pedal
iv Swell to Pedal
v Great & Pedal combination coupler switch

Double Diapason 16ft
Lieblich Gedackt 8ft
Salicional 8ft
Voix Celeste 8ft
Principal 4ft
Rauschquint 12.15 II
Trumpet 8ft
Oboe 8ft
Tremulant –

6 general thumb pistons
6 thumb pistoss to Swell
6 thumb pistons to Great
6 toe pistons to Great & Pedal
1 reversible thumb piston

General Cancel
Set piston
Channel A/B lockable key