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A brief history of St Paul's Crofton

(Taken from the 1988 notebook of the late Bill Morton)

The late Bill Morton writes: “These are only notes of the church, not a full detailed picture, of all the many alterations and various curates and others who have helped to keep everything running smoothly. One person in particular, springs to my mind, that of Miss Eva Geary, who served the church as Verger for 60 years.”

In the year 1886 a meeting took place in Orpington, for the purpose of putting forward the project of erecting a Chapel of Ease at Crofton, to All Saints, the Orpington Parish Church.

A site was offered by Mr John Locke Lovibond, of Starts Hill Farm, this site was in Crofton Road. The price was very low and was accepted. Next came the organising of a working party to clear the site, which was of a woodland nature, of trees and undergrowth. There were no shortage of helpers from the farm workers and staff from the various larger houses in the area.

At another meeting, the plans of Mr George St Pierre Harris, an Orpington architect, were chosen, then the builder Messrs Hall of Croydon, who put in an estimate of £470, exclusive of the fittings, was chosen, and another party was formed to raise funds for the money.

At a later meeting it was said that £350 had been promised, but until a further £100 had been secured, the builder would not begin the construction of the chapel. This problem was soon overcome, and the building work got underway. The red brick walls soon took shape, then the wooden boarded roof, which was covered with tiles, a wooden bell turret upon the ridge towards the front of the church and finally the windows with their cathedral glass, leaving the building finished by December. The interior fittings were then installed, consisting of an altar with a prayer desk made of oak, a lectern in fine brass, chairs and kneelers for the congregation. All the arrangements for the opening ceremony were made for Wednesday 5th January 1888.

So officially the opening day for worship was on the 5th January 1888, seating 87 people. The clergy present at the opening were: Rev J Heale, vicar of All Saints, Orpington; Rev A R Jackman and Rev A E Stantial, curates of All Saints, Orpington; Rev Dr Stantial, vicar of St John’s, Bury St Edmunds; and the Rev R R Farrant (Chelsfield). The sermon was preached by Rev Dr Stantial and at the close a celebration of Holy Communion took place. The offertory, in aid of the fitting of the church, realised £3-10-1½. 

The sermon in the evening was preached by the Rector of Chislehurst, and the following Sunday afternoon, the Rev E Dyke, vicar of Maidstone, preached.

The congregation responded very quickly to the organising of the various sections of the church, wardens, servers, the Sunday school had two teachers and a caretaker was appointed, then followed a choir. All went well with a curate from All Saints attending most of the services, the seating for 78 was sufficient for the families of the few large houses and their staff, along with a few local farm workers who resided in the cottages scattered around Crofton. The start of 1900 saw a few more houses being built both in Crofton Road and Crofton Lane, also The Grange at the corner of Crofton Avenue, had opened as a boarding school for young ladies. 

The church soon got overcrowded at the services each Sunday. This situation was discussed through the early years of the 1900’s. The vicar of Orpington put the matter to the Bishops Commission. They in turn granted permission to start plans for an extension of the church. These plans were to seat a further 50 plus, with some extra standing space. The main area was the altar area which was to be extended back, also the three rear windows were to be altered, from stained glass to plain glass, the previous area of the altar was converted to choir stalls, the cost of this work was estimated at £600, so once again, working parties were set up to help raise this amount. All Saints congregation helped as did St Andrews Church.

By the time all was gathered in, it was 1913 before the work began. The services were transferred to All Saints, whilst the work was carried out, and the good people of Crofton, were pleased when their church was ready for services once more, thus now holding 150 at a squeeze. The church continued with curates from All Saints Church, attending the services. One who stood out among these curates, was the Rev Godson who rode a bicycle everywhere he went. That alone on the state of the roads around Orpington in the 1920’s warranted recognition in itself, but Rev Godson will always be remembered for founding the Crofton Oak Boy Scout troop. He encouraged boys from St Paul’s choir to enjoy the open air and fun of camping etc and with a name like Godson, he was destined to be a vicar. He left Crofton in the early 1930’s to take over a church at Cuxton, near Rochester. Soon after settling in he invited the St Paul’s lads to camp out at Cuxton, there was no lack of volunteers!

The Rev John Kennelly, who came to St Paul’s in 1936 as a curate of All Saints, Orpington held the title of Priest in Charge, he helped to lay the foundations of the parish and saw that the first phase of that come true in 1941 when Crofton was made a conventional district. He is still remembered by some of the congregation for his ready smile, and friendliness and although he had offers to move on to other parishes chose to stay at Crofton, saying “there are no people like Crofton people and no church like Crofton church”. 

He retired after 14 years at St Paul’s, moving with the well loved by all Mrs Kennelly to Cornwall. 

The Rev Francis Noble was the first vicar appointed to St Paul’s during 1951. He saw the second phase of Crofton becoming a separate parish. When it was declared a “Peel” or legal district, going on to serve the new parish, and saw the building of the new church of St Paul’s through from start to finish. He played a large part in raising funds and was a tower of strength to the many fund raising groups, who helped pay for the new church which was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Rochester, the Rev Christopher Chavasse, on Saturday 14th March 1959. Rev Noble will best be remembered for his views on the disarmament of nuclear weapons. He left Crofton to return to the county of his birth, Yorkshire at Easter 1967. 

Later that year the Rev John Tebboth took over in charge of St Paul’s. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr D Say stressed in part of the address the importance of accepting changes and not looking back. “With the institution and induction of Rev Tebboth, you have turned the page of St Paul’s history book. Please don’t turn it back and quote from the past. The new vicar may not do things as you are used to them, he may introduce a slight change in the routine of the church life. Do not fight against change, but try to accept the challenge and welcome the opportunity of building on the past and progressing as a church”. 

Rev John Tebboth soon settled in and was loved by all who love Crofton and St Paul’s. Alas, after a spell in hospital at the beginning of 1978, Rev Tebboth decided that the time had come for him to ease up a bit, so made plans to move to Groombridge, Kent a congregation of 2,000. A lot smaller parish than the 12,000 people of Crofton. 

So, once more the parish of Crofton was left in the hands of a curate, Rev Martin Selix until a new vicar could be appointed. That was Rev Christopher Reed, who came to St Paul’s in 1980 and left in 1998 to be succeeded by Rev Bimbi Abayomi-Cole in May 1998. 

Bill Morton, notebook.


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