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Changing Times | Worshippers opened church 80 years ago

I THOUGHT we would look at more churches in our area. Our first church to look at is the Aldwick Baptist Church in Gossamer Lane, Aldwick, this church was originally the Aldwick Free Church (Baptist), slightly overshadowed – in building size – by the nearby St Richard’s Anglican Church.

 

As the town started to expand in the 1930s, the Free Church Federal Council of Bognor Regis discussed the building of a number of Free Churches in the district. It was ultimately decided that to avoid duplication the church divisions would be Aldwick – Baptist, Felpham – Methodist and North Bersted – Congregational.

 

At this time, apparently, the Bognor Regis Baptist Church did not feel able to undertake such an enormous task, but a member of their church Osborne Clayton Thomas considered the possibility of raising funds for a new church.

 

He was a very successful commercial traveller for MacFarlane Laing & Co, the biscuit manufacturer, and was also quite a driving force in the area. He met a retired Baptist Minister, namely the Rev George Elder Johnson who had retired due to ill health, but who with his wife was running a small boarding house in the area.

 

Finally, they approached Cyril Douglas Robbins, who had moved into the area and thus these three men became the driving force behind the new church.

 

It was suggested that the new church should be named the King George V Memorial Church, and appeals began both in the area and also via the network of Baptist churches to raise the much-needed funds, and of course a site had to be found.

 

A local farmer in the Nyetimber area, Mr Smart had decided to sell certain parts of his land and one such was next to Gossamer Lane.

 

He kindly gave the church first choice of a site plus an additional plot to enable there to be a rear entrance from Willowhale Avenue. The land cost £641, which was quite a large amount in the 1930s.

 

With the purchase of the land, the building of the church began in 1937, the local company of Messrs Fryer & Sons, Builders of Rose Green, being involved. They decided that the church should be sited to the rear of the land to enable larger premises to be built in the future. The original church consisted of seating for only 168 with a platform, small kitchen and a small room to be used as the vestry.

 

The foundation stone was laid during a ceremony on February 24, 1938, with a scroll being set under the stone. The grand opening took place on May 11, 1938, when Mrs Peter Derry unlocked the door to allow entry to their new premises. The guest preacher was the Rev Sutton, the Baptist area superintendent. Finally, on June 29, 1938, the first prayer meeting was held with 16 members. The Rev GE Johnston became the first minister, Mr OC Thomas, the secretary, and Mr Robbins, the treasurer.

 

The original pipe organ was purchased from a church in Battersea, but it had to be dismantled for transportation to Aldwick where it was re-assembled. Ralph Johnston, who was the younger son of the Rev Johnston, maintained the organ for much of its life.

 

Finally, in 1969, a new organ was installed at the church and Ralph had to dismantle the original organ, which he then removed to his vicarage, because Ralph had followed his father to become a vicar.

 

The church and congregation grew over the ensuing years necessitating, once again, fund raising on quite a large scale. This included the ability to ‘buy a brick’ costing a 1/- (5p) each for the new building, something we think of as a modern method of fund raising.

 

In 1953, there was another stone-laying ceremony when a hall and larger kitchen was built, and this was opened on September 2, 1953. Sadly, in 1954, the Rev G Johnston died at the age of 75 but his permanent memorial was the naming of the new church hall at a special service on February 2, 1955.

 

Next we should look across the road to St. Richard’s Church, also situated on Gossamer Lane, Aldwick. In 1931, the Rev Mosse was asked by the Bishop of Chichester to start a new parish in Aldwick as the parish which, at that time stretched from Bognor to Pagham with new buildings and people moving into the area, was considered to be too large. There was only a small chapel situated near the rear of Aldwick Grange which was inadequate so it was decided to use a larger hut in Rose Green. Rev Mosse was to be involved in the task of building the new church.

 

The design of the new structure was left to him, only to be finalised by the diocese. He engaged the services of his brother in law, the architect Francis Gordon Troup, who decided to move away from the trend of the day of using red bricks to local stone, with a Portland stone dressing. Some of the stones used were over 100 years old as they came from Chichester Cathedral.

 

Eventually, the Diocese bought the current plot of land for £525. Monies had to be raised and the fund started with a gift of £4,500 from the parents of Rev Mosse, then £4,000 came from the Sussex Church Builders and, finally, a further £5,000 was guaranteed so work was able to start.

 

The foundation stone was laid for St. Richard’s Church on April 3. 1933, by the Rt Rev Southwell, the Assistant Bishop of Chichester. Money continued to arrive via a ‘buy a brick campaign’ plus private individuals and supporters of the church. The church cost £12,300 to build with a further £1,150 being required for the organ. The church was finally consecrated on May 12, 1934, having taken 13 months to build. While sums raised helped to build the church other items such as the hassocks, choir stalls, chairs and clocks were gifts from private individuals.

 

When the church was consecrated the altar was bare with no crosses or candles which also had no covers. The visiting parties were received by the Rev Mosse and the Rev Knox, the vicar of Pagham. The church was blessed and, finally, the cross and candles were brought into the church and blessed separately.

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