St. Stephen's Church, Tonbridge
with St. Eanswythe's Mission
Powered by the presence of God, shaped for the purposes of God

Our History

Building the church
Victorian Gothic
Early congregations
The graveyard
A witness to the community
 

Building the church

The railway came to Tonbridge in 1842.  The south end of the town developed rapidly as a result and the population quickly outgrew the existing parish church, St Peter and St Paul.  In 1848 the vicar, Sir Charles Hardinge, paid £200 to buy the site for St Stephen's.

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Victorian Gothic 

St Stephen's was designed by the popular Victorian architect, Ewan Christian.  He also designed St Saviour's, Tonbridge and St John's, Hildenborough and restored other Kent churches such as St Lawrence, Bidborough and St Nicholas', Sevenoaks.  

The church was built by a local firm called Punnett and completed in 1853.  Members of the Punnett family are buried in vaults beneath the church, which you can see outside by the south wall.  The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated the building in October 1851.  The spire was built shortly afterwards and the north aisle added in 1866.  The interior was originally plain, with no organ or stained glass.  Apart from the east window, the stained glass we see today was designed by Morris & Co between 1910 and 1913.


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Early congregations

Some early worshippers had to pay rent for their pews.  This was customary during the 19th century, but a plaque in the porch states that 400 of the 600 seats should be free for 'the poorer inhabitants'.

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The graveyard

In 1887, chestnuts, cedars and firs were planted in the graveyard in honour of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee.  

The last burial was two years later, after which the churchyard was closed.  It holds some 2,500 bodies, many of them young children who died of smallpox and other diseases common in the 19th century. 
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A witness to the community

Over the years, St Stephen's has reached out to the community of South Tonbridge through the lives and work of its members and with church plants such as St Stephen's mission hall, St Eanswythe's Mission and The Beacon.

Now over 150 years old, St Stephen's continues to bear witness to the good news of Jesus for all the people of Tonbridge.