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St Peter & St Paul

St. Peter & St. Paul's Church from the High Street In the early 12th Century a small Norman church was built consisting of the present chancel.  The chancel probably remained much the same, apart perhaps for alterations to the windows and doors, until the 13th Century when it was decided to enlarge the church.  The west wall was demolished and the nave was extended and a squat tower built at the end of it.  An arcade was also built along the north wall during the 13th Century, the arches of which still stand.  Various remains of the original pillars can be seen in the Chapel of St. Nicholas to this day.

Another major building project took place during the 14th Century when the Chapel of St. Nicholas was constructed by building a north aisle.

During the 15th Century the church was also made significantly larger.  A south aisle was added and the upper part of the tower was built.  Where the organ now stands it is believed that there was a small chapel devoted to the Virgin Mary.

In 1536, the Commissioners were set up to enquire into the produce of the remaining monasteries.  They declared that there was no virtue in relics and images and that all such objects must be destroyed.  As a result, all the various statues and the water stoup in the church were smashed.

Little seems to have changed for more than a century, apart from the church silver being replaced with pewter during the time of the Commonwealth Government.  In 1663, a gallery was added over the north aisle to accommodate the boys from Tonbridge School during services.

Until the 19th Century, the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was the largest in Kent.  The 19th Century was also an era of great restoration in English churches.  In 1820 the church was enlarged.  The nave roof and the north gallery were altered and a new gallery was put in on the south side.  The most striking change was the installation of box pews.

St. Peter & St. Paul's Church from East Street    St. Peter & St. Paul's Church from Bordyke

There was a major overhaul and restoration between 1877 and 1879 which meant that for almost two years the congregation worshipped in the Public Hall.  The work included re-roofing and the removal of the galleries and the box pews.  The nave and south aisle were largely rebuilt and an additional south aisle added to accommodate boys from Tonbridge School.  A new Communion rail and hot water heating system were installed.  The cost of a new font had been raised by Mrs. E. Wellden and Mrs. J.R. Little.  The organ was resited from the gallery at the back of the church to the south side of the Chancel and a new organ chamber was added.  In total, the cost of restoring the church and rebuilding the organ was almost Ł15,000 at the time.

The rebuilding was undertaken as a result of the building of the Congregational Church in 1876.  At the time, the Church Review commented, "It is high time the Church showed some signs of activity as dissent is very powerful, and one of the most handsome Chapels in the County has recently been reared mainly through the support of Mr. Morley, MP."

The next major building project for the church was in 1983 (see pictures, below).  The arcade separating the south aisle from the main church was filled in, although the pillars are still visible.  The effect was to make the area of worship smaller.  However, the former aisle was divided into two floors to create a Church Centre, which allowed all the social and administrative activities to be brought under one roof.  In 1999, the garage block in the Vicarage grounds was rebuilt to house the church offices which freed rooms in the Church Centre.  The Centre is used to serve the town in many ways with courses, conferences and meetings of various groups.  Lunches are served and a warm welcome awaits anyone who calls in for a coffee and a chat or for quiet prayer.

Construction of the Parish Centre    Construction of the Parish Centre
Church Centre construction pictures © Courier Newspapers

Visitors to the church will find many historical items of interest.  In the south-east corner of the St. Nicholas Chapel, the piscina can be found.  It consists of basins in which the priest would wash his hands before celebrating Mass.  On the right hand side of the main door the remains of the 13th Century water stoup can be found.  It would have contained holy water, used by dipping the fingers in it and making the sign of the cross before entering the church.  Both the piscina and the water stoup were destroyed during the Reformation.

The East Window of the church was designed and fashioned by Leonard Walker, R.I. at his studio in King Henry's Road, London W1, and was exhibited in the City of London in July 1954.

The Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul has three other member churches at other locations in the north of Tonbridge.  St. Saviour's was the first of these to be established, opening in 1876 in Dry Hill Park Road.  St. Andrew's, otherwise known as "Fish Hall", in Hadlow Road became part of the Parish Church in 1940 when the parish boundaries were changed.  St. Philip's was opened in the Cage Green area of Tonbridge in 1957 as "Cage Green Church".

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