West Kingsdown

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West Kingsdown Baptist Church

West Kingsdown Baptist Church - The Church in the Toolshed

1860s   Baptist Beginnings   1890s

Early 1900s   1950s   1960s   1970s   1980s   1990s

A New Century

In 1861 workmen carted a toolshed from the railway junction at Swanley junction up the steep Gorse Hill to West Kingsdown, then a village of around 400 people. John Crowhurst of Hever Farm, which was located close to what is the centre of the village today, paid for the shed to be moved. Crowhurst was a member of a large local farming family, had nine children and was, presumably, a non-conformist.

The new ‘church’ was erected on a site on Fawkham Road, close to the junction with the London-Dover Road (the A20), a few yards from the Portobello Inn and next door to the village Post office. It opened officially on Wednesday, 11 December 1861. The notice of the event indicates that 125 was spent on building the church with the declaration that ‘God has blessed the labours of his servants there among the young, and there was absolute need of a more commodious room for the School and Congregation, which has now been provided’.

Baptist Beginnings

This was not, however, the beginning of the Baptist church in West Kingsdown. A ‘Census of Religious Worship’ in 1851 notes that a Baptist service was held at Pells House with 76 people attending an evening service on Sunday 30 March. The minister at Eynsford, Henry Rogers, led the service. This congregation represents close to a fifth of the local population at the time.

The local parish church at this time had had a string of absentee ministers as far back as 1776 and perhaps this contributed to the popularity of the Baptist church. Given the number attending the service in 1851, it is reasonable to assume that the church had been building to that number over a period of time and that the Baptist congregation in West Kingsdown originated in the 1830s or 1840s as a result of a revival in North Kent at the beginning of the century.

1890s

In 1898 the church found itself forking out another 150 to secure the property ‘for the use of the people forever’. Due to an oversight the Trust Deeds had never been signed and the owner of the Post Office, William Bodiam, had claimed the property. In his retirement he was selling it to a Henry Clifford, grocer and draper. So, thrust into difficulties which overshadowed its activities for several years, the church bought the land twice over.  

1860s   Baptist Beginnings   1890s

Early 1900s   1950s   1960s   1970s   1980s   1990s

A New Century

Church in the Toolshed book cover
WKBC old church 1960s
WKBC old church

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West Kingsdown

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Early 1900s

The church continued to attract people from the village and local villages to the evening service, where, when the weather was cold, a large coke stove was lit in the centre of the church. For long periods there was no Sunday morning service. Small groups of the congregation walked three or four miles along the dark narrow lanes from places as far away as Stansted and Fairseat to the evening service. Families would link arms and sing choruses as they walked. The Sunday School thrived and organized outings to the seaside for the children. Total abstinence from alcohol was promoted and the church had a ‘Band of Hope’ with weekly meetings for teetotallers, arranging frequent outings, marches and lantern shows.

1950s

In the 1940s and 1950s the church went into decline, even though the population of the village was expanding rapidly as families moved out of London to a home in the countryside. It is recorded that Bert Wilkins would cycle from Stansted to open the church for just three people: the preacher, the organist, and himself! In 1956 the membership was 13 and the church had been ‘in low water for some time’. Derek Deavin was lay pastor of the church from 1957 to 1961. When he arrived the Sunday evening congregation was six to twelve in number. There was no morning service. A small Sunday School and a ‘Women’s Bright Hour’ met once a week. To aid the church it was merged with Eynsford Baptist Church, which had its own pastor and which could help to revive the church.

Under Derek Deavin’s care the church began to grow, particularly through a Caravan Mission held in 1958, when 26 children and one adult became Christians. But early in 1960 trouble erupted and church members and some of the leadership stepped down, leaving the church bereft of the personnel to run its activities. The Sunday School was closed. In August 1961 Derek Deavin completed his lay pastorship and was replaced on a part-time basis by Edward Brayshaw, living in Otford..

1960s

Under Edward Brayshaw’s care the church underwent both change and growth. By the time he left due to pressure of a full-time job in 1969 the church was in better health. A monthly family service had been added in the morning to supplement the regular evening services. The Sunday School was thriving again and there was a small group of young people.  The building itself had been improved.

1970s

On 5 July 1970 the Revd. Eric Eyre was inducted as part-time minister. He was paid 8 a week and found a part-time job in a local printing firm to supplement his income. His church wage was half the weekly collection. From 1970 to 1976 the church membership grew again, increasing to around 50. A weekly morning service brought families into the church. A young people’s organization, the Covenanters, was started and there was a weekly prayer meeting to pray for mission outreach in the community. Eventually the demands of the church due to the growth meant that the church invited Eric, then training at Spurgeon’s College to become an accredited minister, to move to full-time ministry. The demands also meant that the church building, for the first time in over 100 years, was no longer adequate. Land adjacent to and behind the plot was acquired. A new church was needed.

When Eric Eyre called on John Sansom, a local quantity surveyor, with the proposal to build both a new church hall and church, the church funds stood at around 2900, with 2000 set aside to buy the land needed. The work was estimated to cost around 18,000 and not only would they have to raise the money needed, the congregation would have to build the church themselves, working Saturday after Saturday. In the end the final cost was nearer to 30,000. Over three years - 93 days and 26 evenings filled with the effort of 27 men, 8 women and 4 children - first the church hall and then the toolshed church were dismantled and rebuilt. When the work was finished the church’s bank balance stood at 2117. Somehow, while the church had maintained its giving to missionary work, God had provided all the costs the church had incurred. The new church was opened on Saturday 4 July 1981.

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WKBC pre-2010
WKBC Building plans
Church in the Toolshed book cover

1860s   Baptist Beginnings   1890s

Early 1900s   1950s   1960s   1970s   1980s   1990s

A New Century

1980s

Eric Eyre had been replaced by Revd. John Brandham, during the construction of the new premises, in September 1980. Over the next decade the church continued to grow. A number of Christian families moved into the area and new members joined as a result of outreach activities for the local community. Once again, in anticipation of further growth, the church purchased more land at the rear of the church. When John Brandham left the church to go to a new pastorate in Sevenoaks, the church situation was possibly the strongest it had ever been.

1990s

There was a three year wait before a new minister was found. In the absence of a pastor the church was well served by its own members and visiting preachers. The church continued to thrive. In 1992 Revd. Brian Stevens was asked to become pastor and stayed with the church two and a half years. Despite the apparent healthy state of the church, pressures began to sap the life of the church and the size of the congregation diminished. Different attitudes to Sunday and the rise of leisure activities on Sundays brought changes in society. The church became more inward looking. There were questions over the style of worship, some preferring the styles of Charismatic churches. Some members, predominantly the younger ones, left to join other churches more to their liking. The new land purchased for new growth was not put to use. In 1994 Brian Stevens, feeling he did not have the full support of the church for an initiative to provide help for the West Kingsdown community, left and the church no longer had an employed minister. Rod Hills, a solicitor from Orpington, took up the invitation to become the church’s lay minister and fulfilled the role for six years.

A New Century

As the church embarked into the 21st century, the congregation was small and predominantly elderly. Nevertheless, the church took the bold step of approaching Spurgeon’s College to appoint and employ a student minister. In September 2004 Anne Clements was welcomed as student minister. In July 2006 to mark twenty-five years since the rebuilding of the church a weekend celebration was organized, at which five ministers and lay pastors of the church were present: Anne Clements, Revd. John Brandham, Revd. Eric Eyre, Rod Hills, and Derek Deavin. In October 2006 Anne was ordained and inducted as the church’s first female minister.

In April 2010 the refurbished front of the church was completed and dedicated in a service of thanksgiving.

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The story continues...

WKBC 1950s

Material taken from The Church in the Toolshed by Eric Eyre, published by West Kingsdown Baptist Church, 2006, and from West Kingsdown: The Story of Three Villages in Kent by Zena Bamping, published by West Kingsdown Parish Council, 1983.

Copies of The Church in the Toolshed are available from the church.

 

telephone: 01474 852054

West Kingsdown Baptist Church

Fawkham Road

West Kingsdown

TN15 6JP

email: wkbchurch@hotmail.com


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