(Compiled by E.E. Roper, “Gailes”, Coldharbour Lane, Hildenborough)



This small book is published with the authority of the Parochial Church Council, and as Vicar I want to commend it to everyone who is interested in the Church and village of Hildenborough.
Compared with the majority of English parish churches, St. John’s is of recent date and cannot claim the historical merits of those which are really ancient. At the same time, in its life of a hundred years there are points of interest and memories of service which are worthy of record, and this sketch sets out to note some of these though of necessity much has had to be omitted. It is good for us in these days, when we are so preoccupied with the present and the future, to remember what we owe to the hard work and devotion of those who have gone before us.
On another page you will find a note acknowledging our gratitude to all who have given a great deal of help in making this sketch possible. Our thanks are also due to the parishioner who has marshalled the facts into their present form.
The book has been written in war time. In these strenuous days, and in those to follow, may St. John’s Church be worthy of her past.

The Vicarage,
January 1944

THE CHURCH. JUDGED by the standard of most Kentish villages Hildenborough is of modern growth. Originally part of the parishes of Tonbridge and Leigh, it is only in comparatively recent times that it has attained a separate ecclesiastical and civil existence. The centenary of the building of the Parish Church falls this year, and it is the purpose of this booklet to commemorate that event by telling very shortly the story of the growth of the Church during its first hundred years, and to recall some of those whose life and work have been connected with it.

During the past twelve months several people have been engaged in making a search of records for information about the parish, and this booklet is the result. While the search has been in progress many interesting facts have come to light about the village generally and the institutions which have always formed an important part of its communal life. It is unfortunate that present conditions make it impossible to use all this information, but perhaps later on it may be possible to expand the booklet and tell the story of the village more fully. For the present then, we must be content with recording the history of the Church and those who have served it so faithfully during the first century of its life.

There are gaps in the story; this is accounted for in several ways. More than once we have changed our diocese: from 1844 to 1846 we were in the Diocese of Rochester, in 1846 we were transferred to Canterbury till1905 when we returned again to Rochester, where we have remained since that date. These changes make it difficult to trace early documents connected with the history of the Church, and though enquiries have been made at Canterbury and Rochester very little has come to light. We have therefore had to rely on such material as we have, which consists of papers deposited in the Church Chest, various papers and documents preserved in private hands, the owners of which have allowed us to consult them, and the memories of older residents, some of whom have lived here for very many years, and who remember hearing their parents and grandparents recall events in the early history of the Church. More than forty years ago the Vicar made an appeal in the Magazine to the parishioners to furnish him with some account of the history of the building and its consecration; so far as we can trace, this appeal met with no response and now, nearly forty-five years later, in search of the same facts, we have not found it easy to piece together the story of the first fifty years. The second fifty years is well documented in the pages of the Parish Magazine which was started in 1893 under the editorship of the Rev. Walter H. Brown; it has continued publication every month since without a break, and it is a most valuable record of parish activities. It has not confined itself to chronicling only Church matters, but has faith fully reported and described all parish interests the sports, pastimes and social activities of the village and those who live here find a place in its columns: royal jubilees and coronations, rummage sales and soup kitchens, the Cricket Club and the Foxbush Harriers, the Village Players and the Choral Society all pass across its pages, so that in the fullest sense of the term it has always been a parish magazine. We have been fortunate in having access to one of the few complete sets of bound volumes, and without it the production of this booklet would not have been possible. It is hoped that future editors will continue in the same tradition to record village news and so provide future historians of Hildenborough with valuable material.

One hundred years ago the village of Hildenborough as we know it hardly existed. From Hilden Manor to the Half Moon Inn was practically open country, most of the houses which now form the centre of the village had not been built; there was no Church, no School and no railway. Hildenborough was merely a name on a map indeed it was scarcely that, for most of the eighteenth century map-makers ignored it, and even on William Faden’s map of 1815 “Hillden” is only vaguely marked between Tonbridge and Sevenoaks and there is nothing to suggest that anyone ever thought of it as a village. Fourteen years later, when W. H. Ireland compiled piled his History of the County of Kent, he wrote: ” Hildenburgh is a large district . . . containing within its bounds the manors of Hilden, Dachurst, Martin Abbey, Lamport, Nizell, Hadloe, and the district of Hollenden, the small manor of Leigh, or Hilden in Leigh, and the manor of Penshurst Halymote.” It formed part of the Lowy of Tonbridge, a tract of country whose boundaries ran at approximately three miles round the town and dated from Norman times. During the Middle Ages, when many villages first had their Churches, our population was small and we were so near to Tonbridge that the necessity for a Church never arose; in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Church generally was at a low ebb and few new Churches were built, but with the coming of the nineteenth century a revival began and matters improved. Town and country districts which were without Churches began to feel the necessity for them and, encouraged by various Societies, the wave of nineteenth century church building began. It is to this period that our Church belongs. Its completion in 1844 and the subsequent creation of a parish were the nucleus around which a community began to form: our boundaries were defined and marked, and what had hitherto been a collection of scattered farms and a few houses straggling along the main road, gradually began to take shape as a village. The Church and the Resident Minister-he had not yet attained the status of a Vicar-immediately gave a focal point to life, and those who lived here began to realise that they had a village of their own with all the privileges and responsibilities that a separate existence implies. The Church also formed a focal point topographically, for other buildings began to grow up around it, the Vicarage and the School and later some cottages, and afterwards the Institute and Drill Hall. About 1826 a Wesleyan Chapel had been founded at Stocks Green and it was the first-place of organised worship in the district, and for some years the only one. Its position, off the main road, probably prevented a village from growing up around it, but later on the centre of the community showed signs of forming around the cross roads at Watts Cross; there was already a mill, a forge and one shop, so here obviously was the place for the Church. There is evidence to suggest that the site first selected was in the field immediately to the north of Zareba, and it is said that the building was actually pegged out on the ground. It is not now known what caused the site to be changed, but there is no doubt that when it was finally decided to build on the present site, it had a far-reaching effect upon the future of the village, which grew up around Riding Lane instead of around the Mill. In the twenty years which followed the building of the Church some of the larger houses began to appear. Their owners were not absentee landlords or week-end residents, but people who came here to make Hildenborough their home; they brought with them new ideas, a strong sense of leadership and an enthusiasm for country life. They gave their time to encouraging every form of local activity, and by their energy and resource they built up a healthy and vigorous village life which happily still survives. Any record of this place, however slight, must recognise their early work, and it is only necessary to talk to older residents or to go back through the files of the Magazine to see how great a debt we owe to them. Not only did they work unceasingly for the Church, but side by side with this, every form of sport and social activity received their assistance and support. Hildenborough was indeed fortunate in those early and formative years in having them here, and many of the activities which they started and nursed through their first and difficult days are now well established and flourishing village institutions, contributing their full share to the well-being and enjoyment of succeeding generations. About 1866 Mountains and Foxbush were built; two years later the railway arrived and “Hildenborough & Watts Cross”-for so the station was first named-appeared on the time-tables. These are the beginnings from which our village has sprung; they are some of the factors which have contributed to our growth, but of those which we have noted probably the building of the Church was the most important, because without that it is unlikely that the others would have followed. We may count ourselves fortunate that events happened when they did, because had they been much delayed, it is probable that instead of being allowed to develop along our own lines as an independent community within our own village, we might have found ourselves absorbed by one of our neighbours, Tonbridge or Sevenoaks.

At this distance of time it is not possible to rescue the name of the originator of the idea that we should have a parish church of our own, but there is in existence a circular letter, dated September 26th,1842, which seems to be the earliest printed document concerning the Church. This circular explained that the parish of Tonbridge was a very large one, some ten miles long and an average of two and a half miles wide, and that a large number of persons were out of reach of the mother Church of Tonbridge; it was for a portion of these that the Church in Hildenborough was to be built. It goes on, “. . . a site has been obtained near the London Road about two and a half miles from the Town [of Tonbridge] between Oak Hill and Watts Cross, in the midst of a poor and scattered agricultural population at present far distant from any Church and amongst whom a resident minister is greatly needed . . . it will be within reach of the hamlet of Hollanden in Leigh, which, on account of the distance from the Parish Church, is to be annexed to Hildenborough, so as to form an Ecclesiastical District.” There were to be 600 sittings in the Church, and at the time that the circular was issued about £2,700 had already been subscribed and a further £2,300 was required for the building and endowment; any surplus was to go towards a fund for building a parsonage house and School. The names of the Committee of Management are set out. They included the Vicar of Tonbridge, the Reverend Sir Charles Hardinge, Bart., of Bounds Park, John Deacon, Esq., of Mabledon, and Robert Alexander, Esq., of Somerhill; these were the Trustees in whom subscriptions were vested. There were nine other members of the Committee, of whom only two were immediately local-Frederick Hare of Oakhill, and Gentle Brown of Nizels; of the other seven, one was from West Malling, one from London, and the remainder from Tonbridge. The site finally selected appears from the Subscription List to have been the gift of the Vicar of Leigh, the Reverend Thomas May, who is named as the donor of “one acre of land and £50 towards the purchase of another acre of the estimated value of £100 for the site of the Church, Parsonage House and Schools, etc.”

The next thing to be done was to select an architect to design the Church. As the result of an architectural competition held in 1842, the choice fell upon Ewan Christian, then a young man and just entering upon a long professional career. Like many other architects he first became known by winning competitions, and Hildenborough Church was his first commission. In a manuscript list of his works compiled by himself and preserved in the Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he notes it as his first building, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the design exhibited in the Royal Academy. Christian was working at the same time as Gilbert Scott, A. W. Pugin and other leaders of the Gothic Revival, and although critics of his own day did not consider him to be in the first flight, modern taste prefers his work because he showed more originality in his adaptation of the Gothic style than some of his contemporaries. He built several Churches in Kent, including St. Stephen’s, Tonbridge. We may note in passing that when C. L. Eastlake wrote his ” History of the Gothic Revival in England” he included Hildenborough Church in his selected examples of Gothic buildings built between 1820 and 1870, which suggests that at that time it was considered a good example of current church architecture.

Whether a cruciform plan is suitable for a small Church is doubtful, though it certainly makes for a more interesting interior than the nave and-chancel plan. Small transepts sometimes make hearing difficult in the nave; but in this respect we are fortunate, for the acoustics of the building are good. Early nineteenth century Churches were often embellished with a wealth of detail and ornament copied from examples of the middle ages; architects on their travels filled sketch books with details of mouldings and carvings from the great continental cathedrals, and when they came home they reproduced them in English churches, too often with disastrous results. Buildings so treated are generally restless and fussy, and when the time for alteration or restoration arrives, very difficult to deal with. Was it lack of funds or artistic restraint that caused Ewan Christian to give us so simple a building in an ornate age? Whichever it was, we ought to be grateful because we have a simple, almost austere, building built in local materials Kentish rag walling, sandstone dressings, tiled roof and shingled spire, with a plain interior whose interest is centred on the great curved ribs spring ing from the wall-corbels to the apex of the roof, and so greatly increasing the apparent height and size of the building. The task of succeeding generations in re modelling the interior of the Church has been much helped by this restraint in design because it has left them free to develop their ideas in a way which would have been impossible in a more highly decorated building.

It is interesting to imagine the Church as it was when it left the builders’ hands and was consecrated on July 9th, 1844; lithographs and engravings preserved in the vestry enable us to do this to some extent, and to describe the Church as it was originally built and as it remained for the first fifty years of its life. The exterior as seen from the main road has changed very little, except that one bay of the nave and the south-west porch were added in 1896, as will be mentioned later; the present vestry and the bier house were also later additions, but apart from these hardly any external alterations have been made. The setting in which the Church stands has matured and greatly improved with time. When first built it must have looked very bare on what is really a bleak site (perhaps that is why ivy was grown on the walls for many years, though it was removed some time ago); the chestnut trees, which are such a pleasant feature of the churchyard, had not been planted, the land on the east and north was quite open, and on the south side the Foxbush plantations had not grown up. Four yew trees were planted in the churchyard on the south side of the Church-two of them still survive-but they must have been very small and the great oak tree just inside the churchyard wall would still have been quite young. Like many new buildings it must have looked lonely and raw. Time and wise planting have given rest and dignity to its surroundings. The absence of tall trees on the north side of the churchyard allows a prospect across the valley to the Sevenoaks hills which is one of the best in the parish. The interior, too, must have looked rather bare; there was no stained glass, no organ and no panelling in the chancel-these were all later improvements. The seating was quite differently arranged: the congregation in the nave faced east as it does now, but according to the vestry plan the transept seating faced north and south; there was a gallery in the south transept with a vestry below, which was entered by the present tower door. Another door, which can now be seen in the tower entrance blocked up, gave entry to what is now the chancel but was then part of the body of the Church. The seating at the east end, together with the pulpit and reading desk, was quite different and was of such a kind that when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Church in September, 1895, he wrote in the Church Book: “. . . rearrangement of seats desirable.” It was left for the Restoration Committee in 1896 to remodel the interior as we know it to-day, and we will describe their admirable work in more detail later.

By 1844 the building was completed and ready for use, and it was consecrated on July 9th in that year by Dr. Murray, Bishop of Rochester, though unfortunately we have not been able to ascertain any details of the consecration ceremony. Three months later, the London Gazette contained the following announcement: ” At the Court at Windsor, 7th day of October,1844. Present the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council. Her Majesty’s Commissioners for Building New Churches beg leave humbly to represent to Your Majesty that having taken into consideration all the circumstances attending the parish of Tunbridge in the County of Kent and Diocese of Rochester and the Parish of Leigh in the same County and Diocese it appears to them to be expedient to unite and consolidate the contiguous parts of the said parishes of Tunbridge and Leigh into a separate and distinct district to be assigned to the consecrated Church or Chapel of St. John’s, Hildenborough, in the said parish of Tunbridge for all ecclesiastical purposes and to constitute such district a consolidated chapelry. . . Such district should be named The Consolidated Chapelry District of Hildenborough.” The boundaries of the new District are precisely described and reference is made to a map which is, no doubt, the map now hanging in the Vestry. It should be noted that it was not a new parish which was created by this Order in Council but a Chapelry District. We are not able to fix the exact date that the Church attained the dignity of a full Parish Church; indeed, from an examination of the Registers there seems to have been a good deal of doubt in the minds of the incumbents themselves as to their exact status; some times they signed as ” Curate in Charge,” and it was not till April, 1881, that the Reverend M. J. T. Boys signed as ” Vicar” and he was the first incumbent to do so. It is interesting to note that two incumbents covered the first fifty years between them while the second fifty years have seen seven Vicars. Of the first two there is not very much to record. The Reverend Edward Vinall, appointed in 1844, was about 41 years of age at the time and he held the living until his death 36 years later in 1880. His reign was longer than that of any other incumbent since, though nothing of any special note seems to have been done to the fabric in the way of alterations or additions except the installation of the clock. This was carried out by J. W. Benson and was completed in October, 1865, at a cost of £55 10s. Od.; the sum was raised by public subscription and the circular letter announcing the fact gives the names of the Churchwardens as J. C. Dear and D. Peck. The bell on which the clock strikes seems to have been put in when the Church was built, and the octave of tubular bells was added about 1880. To fill the vacancy caused by the death of Edward Vinall in November, 1880, the Reverend Markby Janeiro Thornton Boys was appointed, and he held the living till his retirement in 1894. It was during his time that the Parish Magazine was begun.

So the first half century was passed. During that time ideas changed very considerably upon the method of conducting the services of the Church, and it must be remembered that what is generally called the Oxford Movement falls within that period. It is unfortunate that it is not possible now to ascertain what effects that very remarkable event, or rather, series of events, had in this place. It would be interesting to know how people here reacted to the new influences which began to make themselves felt in almost every parish in England, for no place was so remote that it escaped entirely. Perhaps in Hildenborough they kept their heads and steered a middle course, taking advantage of the general revival which began to permeate the whole of the life and services of the Church, but at the same time avoiding the excesses of either of the extremes. However that may be, it is probable that when the Reverend M. J. T. Boys retired there were those who felt that changes needed to be made so much is to be discerned in the pages of the Magazine and the arrival of a new Vicar was the opportunity. The Reverend R. L. G. Pidcock was inducted by the Archdeacon of Maidstone in October, 1894; he came from a living in Gloucestershire and he is still remembered by many people in the parish as an active and energetic man.

Six months after his arrival, the possibility of a complete restoration was first considered and it was expected that about £800 or £1,000 would be sufficient to cover the cost. By September, 1895, plans were in a sufficiently advanced state for them to be submitted to the Archbishop when he visited the Church, and by November they were complete and a Public Meeting was held in the School. It was then that the scheme was launched under the chairmanship of Mr. Fitch Kemp. The main proposals were to repair the spire which had lost much of its shingling, build a porch at the west end, overhaul the roof, reseat the Church in pine or oak, re-form the south entrance, reglaze the windows and put in a heating apparatus. Altogether it was quite an ambitious undertaking for a small village, and the fact that it was necessary to raise £1,400 to carry it out does not seem to have worried the promoters, who set about their task with such energy that within two months they had collected the money and were nearly ready to start. The story of this Restoration is fully told in the pages of the Magazines, and we propose to retell some of it here, because it was then that the Church was remodelled and transformed from a not very interesting early Victorian interior to the condition in which we know it to-day. The Committee appointed F. W. H. Hunt, F.R.I.B.A., as their architect; he was known locally because he had married one of the daughters of Edward Vinall, the first incumbent. The builders were Langridge & Sons, of Tonbridge. By June, 1896, work had begun, and so well did the money come in that the Committee was able to embark on additional work and to make the restoration more complete than had been at first thought possible. We may note in passing that only two members of the Committee now survive Mr. G. W. Johnson and Mr. Hendry. One improvement was the alteration to the west end of the nave. Up to this time the nave entrance was by a west door which opened direct into the Church with out the protection of a porch; the west wall was therefore pulled down and one additional bay was added to the nave, and the south-west porch was built, with the result that the Church was very much less draughty. The alterations in the Tower entrance can easily be seen now; opposite, upon entering, there is a blocked-up door opening, this originally led direct into the Church; the restorers decided to close it and to re-form the entrance by making a new door, giving access to the south transept. The effect of this was to improve the chancel and seating for the choir and to make possible the later alteration to the organ. The gallery, which the early plans of the Church show to have been in the south transept, had been removed some years before; the exact date of its removal is not now known. Other improvements were the enlargement of the vestry, reflooring the Church and paving the aisles, and altering the floor levels of the chancel; at the same time the Church was completely reseated in oak. Gas was used for lighting for the first time and it was supplied from the private gas works at Foxbush. Hot water heating was also installed and the present boiler room built. Some of the fittings and furnishings were the special gifts of people living in the village, many of them are still in use and we give a list of some of them and the names of the donors. Oak Pulpit, Mrs. Hills of Bourne Place; Oak Eagle Lectern, Mr. Harold Fitch Kemp; Brass Book-stand, Altar Vases, Service Books, Ewer and Font Cover were given by other members of the Fitch Kemp family; Altar Frontals, Mrs. Fitch Kemp, Mrs. F.W. Hunt and Miss Johnson; Brass Cross and Vases, Mrs. Roger Cunliffe; Choir Surplices, Mr. G. W. Johnson, AIms Dish, the Hon. Mrs. Kingscote; Hymn Books,Mr. G. W. Johnson, Mr. Thomas Kingscote and Mr. and Mrs. Bosanquet; Hymn Boards, Mrs. Hendry and Mr. Edric Kingscote; Clock and Candlesticks for the Vestry, the Misses Hone.

The whole scheme, which was originally intended to cost about £1,400, grew until in all £2,044 was spent; the whole of this sum was raised by subscriptions, most of which came from within the village, and varied from £150 to 6d; the subscription list contains more than 200 names. On Friday, October 30th, 1896, the Church was re-opened; the special service was to have been con ducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Frederick Temple) but he had died a few days before, and the Bishop of Dover took his place. The Service was attended by Clergy from the neighbouring parishes, and the Bishop’s sermon, from the text ” Send out Thy Light and Thy Truth,” was widely reported in the press.

At the time of this Restoration there were only four stained-glass windows in the Church, these were the two large and two small windows in the transepts; the remainder were plain glass. The large window in the north transept commemorates Frances Letitia, wife of John Roberts Dummelow (1839-63), who was one of the daughters of Edward Vinall, the first incumbent; the subject is ” Faith, Hope and Charity.” The correspond ing window in the south transept was the gift of the Lawson family of Bourne Place, in memory of Arin, wife of William Lawson, who died in 1863. This window is interesting in that it was an attempt to reproduce the style and colouring of some of the very early stained glass in Canterbury Cathedral, the roundels illustrate incidents in the Life of Christ. The two small single light windows in the transepts are in memory of (south) Edward Vinall, the first incumbent, who died in 1880, and (north) his wife Letitia, who died in 1875, the latter shows a strong Burne Jones influence and is perhaps one of the best windows in the Church. After 1896 the other windows followed more quickly; they are three distinct groups: the sanctuary windows, those in the nave, and the three windows in the west wall. The main three light window in the sanctuary dates from 1898 and was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Johnson, of Mountains, in memory of their eldest daughter, Frances Ann, who died in 1897; it was designed and made in the studios of James Powell and Sons and the subjects 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 proto-martyr of Britain, St. Aidan Bishop of Iona and founder of the Northern Church, St. Augustine, King Ethelbert (his convert and first Christian King of Kent), Queen Bertha, his wife, and St. Swithun, Bishop of Winchester. The four small windows in the sanctuary were also the gift of the Johnson family, they too are the work of James Powell & Sons, and from left to right the subjects are the Angel of the Annunciation with a lily, the Angel of the Nativity with a star, the Angel of the Passion and the Angel of the Resurrection with the palm of victory. At the time these windows were put in, other alterations were made in the sanctuary, the marble columns were added to the windows, and the mosaic frieze and alabaster dado were used to line the walls; these were designed by F. W. Hunt, who also raised the sill of the large windows and shortened the wood roof principals, which here spring from stone corbels supported on clusters of marble columns. The oak panelling and other improvements in the sanctuary were added later. About 1903 it was decided to have a scheme prepared for a series of eight stained-glass windows in the nave; James Powell & Sons made the designs, and the subjects selected were the Petitions of the Litany. The windows have been put in at various times between 1903 and 1911; they commemorate: (south side) Charles Fitch Kemp (1907), William Norton Lawson and Frances, his wife (1911), Sophia, wife of the Reverend F. A. Stewart Savile (1904), the Reverend F. A. Stewart Savile (1907); (north side) Mary Ann Lawson (1906) Mary Louisa, wife of F. W. Hunt (1910), Louisa Havard Pidcock (1903). The remaining window on the north side of the nave is not one of this series, it was inserted in 1900 by the parishioners in memory of the Reverend R. L. G. Pidcock; the subject is The Good Shepherd. It is not certain who designed the windows in the west wall; the large centre window in three lights, with the Patron Saints of England, Scotland and Ireland, St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick, was the gift of the many friends of Charles Fitch Kemp, J.P., D.L., of Foxbush (1908); one of the single-light windows (St. Gabriel) commemorates Mrs. Fitch Kemp (1921) and the other (St. Raphael and St. Michael in the bullseye above) is in memory of Robert Wingate of Oakhurst (1906).

The Restoration of 1896 had not included any work to the organ, and the Committee did not consider that their work was complete until this had been dealt with. The death of the Reverend R. L. G. Pidcock in 1900 made it necessary to consider how his six years in the Parish should be commemorated, and it was decided to rebuild the organ as a memorial to him. It appears that in its very early days the singing was led by a mixed Choir placed in the gallery in the south transept and the instrument used was a seraphine; at some later date a single manual organ was installed. The name of the first organist was Cockerell, but little is known about him beyond the fact that his name appears on a list of pew holders for 1865. At the Vestry meeting in 1867 there is recorded the appointment of an organist named Smith, at a salary of £10 per annum, but how long he held office is not known. In 1884 Richard Arthur Treadwell was appointed, and he continued till his retirement in 1902. It was recorded that at the time of his appointment ” there was no properly surpliced choir, and but a weak single manual organ. On Mr. Treadwell’s arrival fresh surplices were provided, proper choir stalls arranged and the organ considerably enlarged.” By the turn of the century it was clear that further improvements were necessary, and Mr. W.F. Kingdon, Mus.Bac., organist of St. Laurence Jewry in the City of London, was called in as consultant to advise on the work. His recommendations were that the organ should be divided, half being placed on the north side of the chancel and half on the south side, that the organ case should be built in oak to match the choir stalls, that tubular pneumatic action and a new blowing apparatus should be installed and that six new stops should be added. This rather formidable list of improvements cost more than £850 to complete, but the money was collected and by Christmas, 1901, the organ was again ready for use; it was inaugurated and dedicated on February 2nd, 1902, and Mr. Kingdon gave some recitals at the special services. A tablet on the organ case records that it was rebuilt in memory of the Reverend R. L. G. Pidcock by his parishioners, thus completing the restoration of the Church. Further improvements have been made since, including electric blowing by Discus blower: the action is tracker pneumatic. The specification of the organ as rebuilt by Gray & Davison was as follows:

GREAT ORGAN (Compass CC to A, 58 Notes).
1 Open Diapason Metal 8 feet 58 pipes
2 Gamba ,, 8 feet 58 pipes
3 Dulciana ,, 8 feet 58 pipes
4 Clarinet Flute Wood & Metal 8 feet 58 pipes
5 Principal Metal 4 feet 58 pipes
6 Flute Wood 4 feet 58 pipes
7 Fifteenth Metal 2 feet 58 pipes
8 Posaune ,, 8 feet 58 pipes

SWELL ORGAN (Compass CC to A, 58 Notes). 9 Double Diapason Wood & Metal 16 feet 58 pipes
10 Open Diapason Metal 8 feet 58 pipes
11 Salicional ,, 8 feet 58 pipes
12 Voix Celestes to C ,. 8 feet 46 pipes
13 Lieblich Gedacht Wood 8 feet 58 pipes
14 Principal Metal 4 feet 58 pipes
15 Mixture III Ranks ,, Various 174 pipes
16 Cornopean ,, 8 feet 58 pipes
17 Oboe ,, 8 feet 58 pipes

PEDAL ORGAN (Compass CCC to F, 30 Notes). 18 Open Diapason Wood 16 feet 30 pipes
19 Bourdon ,, 16 feet 30 pipes
20 Violoncello Metal 8 feet 30 pipes

Total number of pipes … 1,180

COUPLERS. 21 Swell to Great 23 Great to Pedals
22 Swell to Pedals 24 Swell Octave
3 Double acting composition pedals to Great Organ
3 Double acting composition pedals to Swell Organ
Since the rebuilding, two stops have been changed: 8 Clarinet has been substituted for Posaune, and 15 Muted Viol has been substituted for Mixture.

There is not sufficient information available to compile a complete list of organists; after Cockerell and Smith (whom we have mentioned before) there is a gap of some 17 years, during which nothing is known about the organ or organists. R. A. Treadwell was appointed in 1884, he was succeeded in 1902 by Mr. C. B. King, who retired two years later when Mr. E. F. Gower, A.R.C.O., L.R.A.M., came from Chiddingstone Causeway to take his place. Mr. S. L. Stonely, the present organist, was appointed in 1910. The Choir has had many successes in competitions, and in 1913 and 1914 it won five first prizes in the West Kent Musical Festival.

The Church Registers date from its foundation and are complete. They record 2,767 baptisms, 1,789 burials and 949 marriages. Even a short look through them is interesting, and if some industrious parishioner were to extract the names in alphabetical order they would form a remarkably complete record of those who have lived and died here during the past century. It would be a considerable task because there are more than five thousand separate entries. Some statistical problems would arise if they were analysed in dates. For instance, why, in the decade 1855-1864, were there over 400 baptisms when fairly consistently throughout the century the number of baptisms in a decade has been about 250? The percentage of persons unable to sign their names has been noticed elsewhere, but the actual rate at which illiteracy decreased is another interesting feature.

Some years ago Mr. Bampton undertook the difficult and laborious task of identifying the graves in the church yard; working mainly from the Burial Registers, he made a plan on which all graves were plotted and numbered and the majority were identified. The plan is kept up to date and now hangs in the Vestry for reference.


The Reverend EDWARD VINALL, M.A. (1844-1880).

Very little is known about the first incumbent except that he held the living for 36 years. When appointed he was about 41 years of age, and he died in 1880 at the age of 77; his grave is in the churchyard.

The Reverend MARKBY JANEIRO THORNTON BOYS,M.A (1881-1894).

He graduated at Wadham College, Oxford, B.A. in 1842 and proceeded to M.A. in1845. In 1843 he was ordained, and was curate of Holy Trinity, Maidstone, for two years; from therehe went to Somers Town Chapel where he spent a year, and in 1847 to St. Mary’s, Wimbledon. In 1848 he went out to India where the next sixteen years of his life were spent, first as Chaplain and later as Archdeacon of Bombay. He returned to England in 1865 and for twelve years was Vicar of All Saints, Clapham Park. He came to Hildenborough in 1879, apparently as Curate, and upon Edward Vinall’s death in November, 1880, he succeeded him as Vicar. Upon his retirement in May, 1894, he went to live at Brighton. There are still a few people living in the parish who remember him, and it is said that there is one member of the Parochial Church Council who vividly recalls being chased from the Vicarage orchard by the Archdeacon.

The Reverend ROBERT LEIGHTON GEORGE PIDCOCK, M.A. (1894-1900).

From Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1871, he went as Curate to Christ Church, Birmingham, moving from there to Halesowen two years later. In 1877 he returned to Birmingham to become Vicar of St. Mark’s, where he spent ten years; his next Vicarage was Horsley, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, and it was from there that he came to Hildenborough in 1901. The six years that he spent in the village were busy ones and much was done; the Church was com pletely restored, the School was enlarged, the Institute was bought for the Parish and a Mission Room started at Nizels. He died at the early age of 55, in December, 1900, and is buried in the churchyard.

The Reverend JAMES STONE (1901-1918).

He was ordained Deacon in 1873 from the London College of Divinity, and for three years was Curate of Halesowen, where he was a contemporary of R. L. G. Pidcock, who was a Curate there at the same time. In 1876 he went to India, where for the next twenty-four years he worked as a missionary with the Church Missionary Society. He returned to England in 1895, and in 190I became Vicar of Hildenborough; from 1912 till his death in 1918 he was Rural Dean of Tonbridge.

The Reverend HENRY JOHN WARDE (1918-1924)

He was one of the younger sons of the Reverend A. W. Warde, Rector of Little Horsted, Uckfield. Upon leaving Hurstpierpoint College he entered upon a business career in the City of London, and with this he continued till 1903 when he became General Secretary of the Navvy Mission Society. It was then that the great work of his life began. For the next fifteen years he laboured with untiring enthusiasm, travelling all over the country addressing large meetings of navvies, and using his business training and experience to build up the financial resources of the Mission. Until 1914 he carried on the work as a layman, but in that year, as a result of representations made to him by the Bishop of Rochester, he was ordained at the age of fifty-four; he continued his work with the Mission till its amalgamation with the Christian Social Union under the new title of the Industrial Christian Fellowship. In 1918 he became Vicar of Hildenborough, where he spent the last six years of his life. These were not years of retirement, for probably at no time in his life did he work harder than in those difficult days which followed the first War. His ability as a preacher and his genial and handsome presence will long be remembered in the village. He died in September 1924, eleven days after his wife, and is buried in the Churchyard.

The Reverend LAWRENCE GODFREY CHAMBERLEN, M.C., M.A., Hon.C.F. (1924-1934).

After ordination in 1914 he was appointed Curate of St. Peter’s, Tiverton, where he remained till 1920. During part of this time he served in France as a Territorial Chaplain to the Forces; he saw service on the Somme and was Senior Chaplain of the Tank Division serving on the Somme. He was awarded the Military Cross for his services. After the War he became Vicar of Buckland Monarchorum and left there for Hildenborough in 1924. He was with us for ten years and was the first young Vicar that Hildenborough ever had; when his daughter Pamela was born in 1926 she had the distinction of being the first child to be born in Hildenborough Vicarage, although it had then been built more than 60 years. He was a fine all-roun sportsman, he was Captain of the Boats at Brasenose College, Oxford, and he did much for the Hildenborough Cricket Club; his prowess as a billiards player is recorded in the annals of the Men’s Club. He left us in 1934 to become Vicar of East Bickleigh, Devon.

The Reverend EUSTACE HOLLAND WADE, M.A. (1934-1935).

Formerly Vicar of Horningsea and Chaplain of Downing College, Cambridge, he was with us for only a year. He was appointed Chaplain of the Oxford Pastorate and later Chaplain of the Embassy Church in Paris. Since 1943, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bournemouth.

The Reverend WILLIAM HENRY BASS, M.A., B.D. (1935-1939).

After taking degrees at Queen’s College, Oxford, and Victoria University, Manchester, he was ordained in 1912. Before coming to Hildenborough he was Vicar of Howe Bridge from 1919 to 1929, and Home Superintendent of the British and Foreign Bible Society from 1929 to 1934. It was while he was here that the land adjoining the Churchyard was bought, and he worked hard to raise money for this purpose. Another notable event was the first production of a Nativity Play in the Church. He left the parish in 1939 to become Vicar of Christ Church, Bexley Heath.


King’s College, London, and Westcott House, Cambridge. Ordained in 1928 to the Curacy of Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells. Senior Curate of the Priory Church, Great Malvern, 1932 to 1937.


1844 T. R. RUSSELL
There is a gap from 1844 to 1860 because documents which might give information are missing.
1860 J. SALES
1861 J. C. DEAR
1867 J. H. JOHNSON
1906 G. W. JOHNSON
1943 P. M. DUDDY

1844 G. HILDER
c. 1853 T. FRANCIS
There is a gap from 1844 to 1860 because documents which might give information are missing.
1861 R. WATTS
1865 D. PECK
1907 E. HENDRY


Hildenborough School was built in 1847. It was always the intention of those who built the Church that it should be followed in due course by a School to be run in conjunction with the Church. At that time the State was not interested in elementary education, and local schools, such as this, were entirely dependent upon voluntary enterprise, and so they remained till the first Education Act in 1870. It was therefore an opportunity for the Church to take a lead and it was not backward in doing so. To raise sufficient money for the buildings and for running the School was a considerable task for a small village with a population of scarcely one thousand people, but it was achieved here and, of course, in many other places. Looking back nearly a century, it may seem that those early efforts were insignificant; the methods of teaching were primitive and the curriculum restricted, if we judge them by modern standards. But upon the foundations laid by those early pioneers has been built the great structure of modern State elementary education. Hildenborough School ran for 23 years with out external assistance except for a grant of 10 per annum from the Ironmongers Company the ” Betton Gift”and it was not until 1870 that it received any form of State aid. Its early history is told in the Minute Book of the School Managers, and it is a story that is worth retelling because of the hard work and enterprise which were necessary to establish the School firmly on its feet.

The original School Managers were “the Reverend Edward Vinall; John Warden, Royal Navy; Richard Puckle, Gentleman; Edmund Samuel Poynder, Proctor; Augustus Langdon, Barrister.” They held their first meeting in January 1847, and from then till the end of March their meetings were almost weekly. They bought the land on which the School stands from the Reverend Thomas May for £34, and by the middle of January they had appointed Ewan Christian as their architect, with instructions to prepare plans for a School to accommodate 60 boys and 60 girls and a master’s house. They took the precaution of warning him ” to take care that the master’s house be exempt from window tax.” The end of January saw them advertising for tenders, and eventually Chalklin & Weller’s tender was accepted and building began. At first it seems to have been uncertain whether the funds would run to the building of the master’s house, but sufficient money was forthcoming, and so by early summer the buildings were finished at a total cost of just under £500. The Canterbury Diocesan Board of Education made them a grant of £126, and by June the Managers were able to announce that the master’s house would be ready in about six weeks and that the School was already complete. Armed with a pamphlet by the Reverend Mr. Dawes, entitled ” Hints on an Improved and Self-paying System of Education,” the Managers were ready to begin work.

At that time the education that they provided was not free; labourers paid 2d. per week for the first child and 1d. per week for each additional child of the same family, and for children of those above the station of labourer the fee was 6/- a quarter if they lived in the district, and 10/- a quarter if they lived outside. Various alterations were made from time to time in ” the children’s pence,” as the payment was called, but it remained substantially the same until it was finally abolished in 1891. When the School opened for the summer term of 1847 the master appointed was Charles Wellard, but his appointment was only temporary and he left at the end of the term.

A gap in the Minutes makes it impossible to trace any details till 1865, but the balance sheet for that year shows that the annual cost of maintaining the School was about £70, of this sum the children’s pence provided about £19 and the remainder came from subscriptions and donations; the master was paid £60 per annum for the services of himself and his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were then the master and mistress, but there is no note of when they were appointed; the Managers accepted their resignation in 1873. It was during Smith’s time that the Infant School was added (1868) though we are without any note of the number of children attending the School, and indeed very few details are to be gleaned from the Minutes. Little is known about Smith or his methods; perhaps he was a little heavy-handed, because in February, 1872, we read: “That while the Managers approvingly acknowledge the devotion of the Master to the interests of the School and the advancement of the scholars, they must seriously advert to a fresh instance of unguarded and excessive punishment, and admonish the Master of its inevitable tendency to bring discredit on him self and disrepute to the School.” The children only had to endure Smith’s onslaughts for another year, because in February 1873 he resigned and his place was taken by Robert Blake with his wife as mistress. Blake’s standard of scholarship did not commend itself to the Managers, and although he was given the opportunity of improving his Third Class Certificate he failed to do so, and after fifteen months he departed. In May 1874 H. J. Sparkes was appointed as his successor; he remained here for 23 years and for most of that time he had an assistant master and one or two pupil teachers to help him. The staffing of the School seems to have been a family affair, as Sparkes’s children grew up, so places on the staff were found for them, and when he resigned in 1897, no less than six of his family were, or had been, on the staff. Sparkes’s reign was not very eventful, but there was the case of the boy in gaiters. In 1889 the Managers received a letter from a prominent resident complaining that his gardener’s son had been sent home because he wore gaiters during school hours. The Managers called a special meeting and ” Mr. Sparkes attended and explained the reason why the regulation prohibiting gaiters being worn during school hours had been made.” The Managers relented and ” instructed the schoolmaster to permit the boy to wear his present dress, but they trust that when the boy has occasion for new clothes, the regulation of the school may be borne in mind.” Unfortunately we shall never know Mr. Sparkes’s reason for objecting to gaiters, because the writer of the minute omitted to note it

In October 1874 a night school was opened on three nights a week at 7 o’clock, each scholar paying 2d. per week; as this subject is not mentioned again probably the experiment was short-lived. There were a good many staff changes during the ’80’s; a constant succession of assistants, pupil teachers and monitors pass across the pages of the minute book, and how to replace them seems to have been one of the main preoccupations of the Managers. There is no doubt that during the first fifty years of its existence the School did much useful work, in spite of the fact that the education provided was of the most elementary kind; little more than the three R’s came within the curriculum and the methods of teaching were crude; religious instruction, however, always had a prominent place. When the School started in 1847, a high proportion of the labouring population was illiterate not only here, but everywhere and the early Marriage Registers show that in Hildenborough one-third of the brides and bridegrooms who were married in the Church during the 40 s were unable to sign their names. The rate of illiteracy decreased as the School got to work, but it did not finally disappear until education was made compulsory.

The second fifty years opened auspiciously with the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Morris in 1897; the School took a new lease of life, and what proved to be its golden age began. Mr. Morris has been good enough to accede to our request to write a short account of his time here, and we give it below.

” On April 5th, 1897, a newly married couple arrived at Hildenborough School, the man as schoolmaster and the woman as infants-mistress. They entered broken gates, crossed an undulating track of builder’s rubbish, and took possession of the School House which had been re-decorated to greet them. On the following Monday morning they commenced work. The outlines of the building were much as they are now in 1944. Two of the schoolrooms were dimly lighted and imperfectly ventilated,the seating accommodation consisted of built-in galleries and clumsy antique desks. The third room, which had been built a year before at a cost of £600 raised by voluntary effort was, and is by modern standards, a comfortable and sufficient teaching space for a class.

The staff on that memorable Monday morning consisted of the master. the infants-mistress, an uncertificated assistant mistress and two pupil teachers aged 15 and 16. They faced about 200 children, covering an age range of from 3 to 13 years, and, after 46 years’ experience of all kinds of schools in all parts of the country, the old time master and mistress still remember this group of children and their parents with deep affection and admiration. The children were well nurtured, though their clothing was below modern standards. Their spirits, their frankness and their freshness were such as rejoice the heart of any teacher. Generally speaking they were truly representative of their homes. The sturdy independence of the cricket-ball makers, the refinement of the estate employees, the stolid, matter-of-fact outlook of the agricultural workers, plus the varied interests of a sprinkling of artisans made a happy blend, and resulted in a community of children who very sensitive, receptive and critical. A group of them combined in the declared intention to ‘ teach the new master a thing or two.” They did, and the new master has lived to be grateful to them.

In those days there was no K.E.C. and no rate aid for schools. A considerable proportion of the cost of running the school was met locally. But then, as now, there were Hildenborough residents who were tireless in well-doing, generous with their money and wise in their counsels. The names of many of them may be read in the Church or in the Churchyard, but their influence is still vital. Such names as Fitch Kemp, Johnson, Hills (Mrs. H.G.), Hendry, Lawson, Cunliffe, Wingate, Kingscote, Bosanquet, Turnbull, Stewart, Scott, Stewart Savile, Hitchcock, Crowhurst and Twiner recall many memories.

Amongst the improvements they effected in the closing years of the last century were a fine playground, new windows in place of leaded lights, improved ventilation, new sanitary arrange ments, a bathroom in the School House, a glazed partition in the main room, the removal of awkward galleries, and new storage accommodation. The cost of all this was met by voluntary subscriptions.

The leadership and the good honest work of the two Vicars during the period 1897 to 1913 had a value beyond estimate. First the Rev. R. L. G. Pidcock and then the Rev. J. Stone gave religious instruction regularly. Both accepted responsibility for definite sections of the syllabus, and their teaching always stood the test of the Diocesan Examination. It is probable that many readers of these notes can testify to the more permanent, and therefore more valuable, i.e. the spiritual, effect of their fine work.

The Kent Education Committee was created by the Education Act of 1902; and the cost of maintaining the staff, the equipment and, to a large extent, the interior of the premises became the responsibility of this new Authority. Local subscriptions were then devoted to the upkeep of the fabric and the playgrounds. During the next few years the K.E.C. refurnished the school, strengthened the staff, enriched the equipment, and encouraged a broadening of the curriculum by making practical instruction possible.

In the circumstances, and with the quality of living material described above. it is not surprising that His Majesty’s Inspectors were almost always able to report favourably on the secular instruction and that Diocesan Inspectors were equally satisfied with the religious instruction. Several S.P.C.K. and diocesan prizes came to Hildenborough children.

Old scholars will probably have vivid memories of Musical Festivities in which the school competed-often successfully, and of the Prize Days which were affairs for the whole village and at which the speeches were noteworthy.School Concerts were red letter days, when Hildenborough children shone more brightly than any teacher hoped or expected. The School and the Band of Hope were closely connected, and many times the Canterbury and Rochester banner found a home in the School.

Several teachers of those times survive: Mrs. Twiner (Miss Crook) is in Canada. Mrs. Taylor (Miss Oaten) still lives at Tunbridge Wells, Mrs. Hitchcock (Miss Adams) lives at Watford, Mrs. Dann (Miss White) lives at Camberley, John Ireland is a Government Inspector, Harry Wakeford is in Berkshire, and Fred Bampton still tills the old ground. The writer of these notes and his wife, who left Hildenborough together in 1913, now live at Sutton Valence, Kent.

Figures are interesting-sometimes. In 1897, the total of the teachers’ salaries was not more than £260, assistance from public funds was limited to £1.Os.6d. per head of average attendance. Voluntary subscriptions provided the rest of the necessary income.” M.C.M.

When Mr. Morris left in 1913 to take up the appointment of Assistant Inspector of Schools, the good work which he had begun was continued by Mr. R. F. Hodder. He held the headmastership for 17 years and retired in 1931; during his time further improvements were carried out and the new playground was constructed. Mr. Hodder took an active part in the life of the village; many of the Hildenborough men now serving their country passed through the School during his time; their fine record of distinguished and devoted service owes much to his influence and training.

The present Headmaster, Mr. L. R. A. Fitz, was appointed in 1931 and has continued the good work of his predecessors. Whatever the future may hold for the ~school, it can look back upon nearly a century of fine work; many distinctions have been won by its pupils in the field of scholarship, and at various times the School has carried off prizes in competitions for gardening, singing, needlecraft, and folk dancing.

* * *

This, then, is the story of our Church during the first hundred years of its life. A century is not long in the history of a community, but it is sufficient time in which to lay a foundation and establish a tradition. The end of a century, too, is a convenient time for taking stock, and it has afforded an opportunity to compile this book let with the purpose of showing how the people of Hildenborough have used the time in establishing their Church, so forming a nucleus around which the village has grown. But the marking up of the first century is only a milestone on the way: there is no finality about it. There may be a pause, but there must be no halt, because a sense of continuity and stability is as necessary to a community as it is to an individual. The second century, upon which we are now entering, will be a time of change and readjustment: it will call for quite as much resolute hard work as the century that has passed. Discrimination will be necessary to discern in the crop of new ideas that is bound to spring up, those which are plants to be grown on to maturity and those which are to be discarded as weeds.

We have tried to show earlier in this booklet how fortunate the village has been in those men and women who have guided it so wisely through its growing years: perhaps this may serve as an inspiration to those whose task it will be to carry on in the next lap.



In 1851 the population of Hildenborough was 1,033 and the number of inhabited houses was 187. The figures for 1881 and after are given below:
1881 (Ecclesiastical Parish) 1,239
1891 ,, ,, 1,325
1901 (Civil Parish) 1,407 (Ecclesiastical Parish) I,240
1911 ,, ,, 1,607 ,, ,, 1,314
1921 ,, ,, 1,727
1931 ,. ,, 2,078


One hundred years ago the Surveyor of Highways was Thomas Francis (1791 – 1879). He was the grandfather of Mr. Edwin Francis, of the Poplars, and some of the books which he kept are still in the possession of his family. In his Account Book for the year 1846-47 he noted that the extent or the highways for which he was responsible was just over 7 miles: the main road through the village was not included, but the bye-roads all came under his supervision: Stocks Green Lane, Ban