THIS PAGE WAS PRINTED FROM THE TOUCH 2000 HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN TONBRIDGE WEBSITE
PLEASE VISIT http://history.touch2000.org.uk
Little is known about the early Catholics in Tonbridge, except that the Parish was founded in 1894 from St. Augustine's Church in Tunbridge Wells. On Wednesday 15th August 1894, the Feast of Assumption, a temporary Roman Catholic chapel was opened in the town. This was a corrugated iron structure at the west side of Waterloo Road. Prior to this, the Catholic people of Tonbridge had to travel to Tunbridge Wells to attend Mass. Now the priest came from Tunbridge Wells to say Mass in their new temporary church in Tonbridge. On the opening day at 11.00am, Low Mass was celebrated by Father Hayes of St. George's Cathedral, Southwark and the children of St. Augustine's School, Tunbridge Wells sang the children's Mass.
It was mainly due to the efforts of Canon Searle of St. Augustine's Church,
Tunbridge Wells that this new church, dedicated to Corpus Christi, was
built. A circular issued privately by Canon Searle for help with this work
Two months after the opening, the Rev. Dr. Butt, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Southwark, visited the church to preach and give Benediction. The Tonbridge Free Press, reporting on the visit, said, "Unusual interest centred on the event from the fact that this was the first time Benediction had been pronounced in Tonbridge since the Reformation and the little church was crowded to excess."
The church in Waterloo Road was never meant to be permanent so in 1903, a site was acquired in Lyons Crescent and work began on the new building. Mrs. Fenwick, of Tunbridge Wells, offered money to build the present church and presbytery, on condition that she received interest on the money during her lifetime. In 1904, the church and presbytery were built on the present site in Lyons Crescent. The old building was demolished (see below).
The first priest to take charge of the new church was Father Walsh. He served the parish faithfully, working very hard and earning the respect of the people of the town, regardless of their denomination. However, in 1923, his health broke down and he had to rest. On 4th May 1923, the Tonbridge Free Press reported that Father Walsh was back in Tonbridge and was looking better, but he was still weak and was going to live in Eastbourne. He later retired to Ireland, where he died in 1929. During Fr. Walsh's absence through illness, Father Moor looked after the parish until a new parish priest was appointed.
At first, the parish must have been very small in numbers and very poor, because it appears that the debt and interest on the new church could not be paid for the first year or so. However, by 1906, finances were healthier, allowing the Lady Chapel to be added to the main church.
In September 1992, Monsignor Michael Smith was inducted as the new Parish Priest of Corpus Christi. From 1982 to 1992, he was Private Secretary to Archbishop Michael Bowen of Southwark. He was ordained in 1977 and became Monsignor in 1988.
The first Catholic priest to be ordained in Tonbridge since the Reformation was the Rev. Darren Smith, a former pupil of Hugh Christie. More than forty priests took part in a special Mass at his ordination by Bishop John Jukes at Corpus Christi on Sunday 4th June 1995. Parish Priest Monsignor Michael Smith said, "The last person to be ordained in Tonbridge was probably a priest at the Priory which existed in the town before 1535."
Corpus Christi Church has many stained glass windows by the School of William Morris. It also has a fine example of a 'wagon roof' and has galleries on two sides.
Children are an integral part of the church with many groups meeting including Scouts and Beavers. These groups enjoy many social activities including outings and outdoor events, one of these being a visit to the Fire Station by 3rd Tonbridge Beavers (below, left).
The new Fisher Hall building (above, right) is well-used by the community, including the pre-school for the church's primary school, St. Margaret Clitherow School in Trench Road. The new hall replaced the old one which was burnt down in 1986. Fortunately, plans were already underway for a new building. At the time of the fire, Father Scanlan is reported to have said that, "Perhaps something positive can come out of this tragedy after all." Those using the new hall will confirm that it is a great asset to the church and the community.
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