The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex
Congregational Church  Moat Road    East Grinstead  Consecrated 1868

Books and other documents
PublishedTitle, author and references
1906The History of East Grinstead by Wallace Henry Hillsp. 90

Historical records

1868Historynew Congregational churchBenjamin Slight

Apparently, spiritual and religious life was at a low ebb in the late 1860s in East Grinstead. High Anglicanism was surviving in the form of the Sisters of Mercy at St. Margaret's, founded by the Rev. Neale. There had been some unpleasantness at Zion Chapel. The Rev. David Davies (b.c. 1820), a Welshman from Cay in Carmarthenshire, had been appointed on 27 March 1859 without the church members being consulted and the church had been without a pastor for a considerable period after his departure in or after 1866. Its congregation had dwindled. The Book of Common Prayer was still in use there. The Rocks Chapel still existed, "little more than a cottage adapted for public worship" though it was now in the hands of the Primitive Methodists who supplied occasional preachers from long distances but most often there was no preacher. Owing to inadequate lighting, evensong at St. Swithun's parish church was held at 3.00 p.m. in the winter and Benjamin estimated that 100 worshippers in the entire town on a Sunday evening at that time of year would be a liberal estimate.

This declining state of affairs was presumably the trigger which caused the idea to form in Benjamin's mind of the creation of a Congregational church in East Grinstead, something he had not previously considered, hence his concentraton on the spiritual life of Ashurst Wood.

So, at the end of the 1860s, in this attempt to revitalise the religious life of the town, Benjamin decided that East Grinstead needed what Ashurst Wood had been given 10 years earlier: a new Congregational church. He sought and found a suitable site on the right hand site of Moat Road on the corner with London Road. Edward Steer, who owned it and had developed houses on the other side of Moat Road, was anxious that the respectability of the area should not be diminished by the building of a public house on this site and happily fell in with Benjamin's plan. The two plots making up the site were bought in 1868 for £192 and £115 respectively. Money was raised from his friends in Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere and a contract of £1000 to build the new church was agreed.

Meanwhile, at Zion Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, the Rev. Eustace E. Long (d. 1915), a student from Cheshunt College, became pastor there on 15 August 1869 and remained in this post until 28 January 1877. He was eagerly welcomed by Mr SLIGHT, despite the latter's independent plans for Moat, and the two men became friends.

5th Apr 1870HistoryMoat churchBenjamin Slight

Whilst Moat church was being built, a congregation was formed at the "Temperance Hall", a small iron room near the Railway Inn by an evangelist though prayer meetings were intermittent and sometimes poorly attended.

The church, designed and built by Mr Steer, was opened on 5 April 1870, the Rev. Joshua Harrison and Rev. Dr. Stoughton, two fellow students of Mr SLIGHT's conducting the services. Services took place on the Wednesday afternoon and evening (6 April), the other on the following Sunday (10 April). There was no permanent pastor at Moat throughout 1870 when various preachers were invited to preach. In August, a young man, Joseph Townsend Maxwell, was asked to step into the breach and found Mr Steer's attitude towards his youthfulness rather off-putting. However, a note from Mr SLIGHT ensured that he was invited back the following week.

Benjamin acted as Treasurer in charge of the building fund, receiving and disbursing contributions and expenses, in collaboration with Joshua Wilson who held to his promise to make up any shortfall in Mr. Maxwell's salary of £100 per annum for two years which Mr Wilson had promised as an incentive to engaging him at Moat. There was no other organisation of any kind so the responsibility lay squarely on Benjamin's shoulders.

Samuel Morley (1809-1886), Liberal politician and statesman, was a life-long friend of Benjamin and frequently helped him in his work. He was one of the chief subscribers to the building and, several years later, when funds were low, made a further contribution towards its upkeep.

On the snowy morning of Sunday 1 January 1871, Reverend Joseph Townsend Maxwell became first pastor of Moat Congregational Church, having received a letter from Joshua Wilson urging him to take up the post and guaranteeing him the income referred to earlier. The following morning, Rev. Maxwell met Mr SLIGHT for the first time. On Tuesday, 31 January, as the church grew in numbers, a meeting was held of volunteers who had put their names forward to participate in a more formal organisation of the church. A "Committee of Management" was set up and a Sub-Treasurer and Secretary appointed. The Sub-Treasurer was to manage the day-to-day finances of the church, handing over to Mr. SLIGHT any surplus at the end of the month, so as to relieve Mr SLIGHT of some of his burden as Treasurer.

c 1899East Grinstead (West), Sussex - c 1899Part of the 6 inch to 1 mile map of Sussex produced in 1899 by Ordnance SurveyCongregational Church

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