Church Opened 1884 – Architect Norman Shaw
The Church was first opened for worship in 1884 and the Parish of ‘New’ Groombridge, as it is officially called, was created in 1886 as a result of the efforts of the Rector of Withyham, the Revd. Thomas Rudston Read. It was designed by the famous architect Norman Shaw who also designed New Scotland Yard and the Piccadilly Hotel in London, as well as several local houses.
Both parishes, Withyham and New Groombridge are in the County of East Sussex and the Diocese of Chichester.
When Mr. Read came as Rector to Withyham, the railway was being built from East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells. Houses were being built near the proposed station in Groombridge. The chapelry of the Parish of Speldhust, what is now St. John’s Church, “Old” Groombridge, was too small and of course in a different county – Kent, and a different diocese – Rochester.
The Goldsmith’s Company gave some land and it was decided to build a room, with a house attached, which might serve as a Mission Church and be used as an Elementary School.
This was opened by the Bishop of Chichester for public worship on June 8th 1872 and used for about twelve years.
In 1881, the people who attended the Mission Church in Groombridge signed a petition asking for more accommodation and more services. A morning service was started and a priest was provided to work in this part of what was still the parish of Withyham.
Eventually money was raised and the new Church was opened on October 17th 1884 and consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester on February 20th 1886. In August 1886 the area was constituted as a separate ecclesiastical parish and the Revd. James Parker was appointed as the first Vicar. Thus it separated from the ecclesiastical parish of Withyham, and became known as the Parish of St. Thomas the Apostle, New Groombridge which is still its listing in the Chichester Diocesan Handbook today.
From the records of those early days of the Mission Church, we can see that at the first service of holy communion, only ten people came and twelve were recorded for Easter Day 1885. This was of course while it was still under the jurisdiction of Withyham as a parish. Things changed when the Revd James Parker arrived and on Easter Day in 1886 there were 48 communicants.
Some interesting points to note.
- There was no organ at first, and a harmonium was used, but there was a choir.
- There was a Verger/Caretaker.
- The village policeman, a Mr. Berry, sat at the back to “keep the rude boys in order.”
- The social life of the church took place at the “Welcome Coffee Tavern” – now the Post Office – Reading Room, Sunday School, Night School and Bible class.
- In 1887 the Mission Church was converted into an Elementary School by adding an Infants’ room.
- By 1889 it was flourishing with about 120 pupils and had a Master, Assistant Mistress and a Pupil Teacher.
- The Church was responsible for the building and for paying the teachers – but schooling was not free to pupils.
- The congregation sat on chairs that had rush seats – no pews.
- No stained glass, no organ, no electricity – oil lamps were used.
- In 1904 over 100 hundred communicants were noted on Easter Day
St. Thomas, New Groombridge has, it seems always been in the forefront of ecclesiastical initiative.
As early as 1918, the Revd. A. S. Berey introduced an 11.00am Choral Eucharist. This would have replaced the old Morning Prayer on that one Sunday and later it was held at 11.15am on two Sundays per month. On15th August, the Feast of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated.
In 1919 the Revd F. Gomall came to be incumbent and was known as Fr. Gomall. Choral Eucharist was now every Sunday and Mattins ceased in 1925. In the Register of services from 1922, the Holy Communion is listed as Mass or Sung Mass and that tradition is still carried on today.
- Vestments were used.
- Servers were trained and carried lighted candles, the cross and the thurible with incense.
- The holy water stoop was added at the door.
The Anglo-Catholic tradition had arrived at St. Thomas’ and in one form or another has survived through the years. As a village, it is neither advisable nor needed to follow the more extreme practices, and compromise has been made. Incense is rarely swung, but a compromise has been reached and a bowl of incense is often kindled on the table behind the altar.
- In 1921-2 the present cross and six candlesticks were added to the altar
- In 1925 electricity came to the church.
- The first recorded Midnight Mass was in 1923.
Today the Church offers a wide range of services including Café Eucharists held in the School, informal “Brunch” Services for younger families and runs Youth Services for all Youth Groups in the Deanery. It continues to strenghthen its ties with the School by conducting School Eucharist services and other services involving both School staff and governors.
The Church has made good use of IT and in 2004 introduced a Computer projector which is used to display the words to the services and hymns. This has replaced the need for hymn books and the services have no need of the more traditional pew sheets.
How times have changed!