Twentieth Century Trinity: 1901 – 1970
The Beginning of the End
Ah, just as it was going so well. As if it knew we’d one day present it as a play, history felt the need to inject some dramatic tension in the story of our hero, Trinity. After all, since its incarnation, Trinity had experienced almost no adversity whatsoever. Enter stage right: the Twentieth Century.
It must be said that Holy Trinity Church wasn’t the only thing that was about to experience a seismic upheaval as the world said goodbye to the 1800s. And right from the start, events didn’t bode well.
On a national level, the century started with a significant death: Queen Victoria died in January 1901. Her son succeeded her, continuing one of the few European monarchies that would last the next 70 years. But change was coming none the less.
On the home front, people were demanding change. Men wanted equality in voting, so that the ‘common’ man would have as much say as the gentry. And women, well….women were throwing themselves under horses and refusing to eat, just to that they could have any say at all. Suffragism and other union demands put pressure on the government and began to change the shape of society: how families looked and how people worked.
On the international stage power was shifting, too. Revolutions occurred. And then from 1914 everything changed forever. The First World War and its aftermath changed how everyone worked and lived. The roaring twenties were a brief respite before the Great Depression hit…and then not long after that, there was World War II.
As people rebuilt their lives, domestic life in the UK looked radically different to the way it had at the turn of the century. Women worked. People divorced. Technology boomed. As Henry Elwig’s slim but precious volume Holy Trinity Church: A Centenary History (which can be found in the library at The Amelia) puts it quite wonderfully:
‘These past one hundred years! A mere atom of time so far as count in history is concerned. Yet the period! More pregnant, more potent than a decade of past centuries! A period during which Crowns and Thrones have perished, Dynasties have changed, Continents have been explored, countries have been discovered and new Colonies founded. Great men of Science, Art, Literature and inventive genius have lived, moved, and had their being and passed on. Forces of Nature previously hidden from knowledge have been discovered and brought to light. And Steam, Electricity and other Generants have been harnessed and controlled to labour for the benefit of Man.’
And that was only 1929 (when, we should note, feminism and attitudes to Colonialism still had a long way to come). In 1929, Britain was only one World War down, and despite the inventions mentioned, not yet at the stage where every household would have a telephone, let alone a television or washing machine.
Likewise, whereas Church had previously held a position in the community that served a social function (as a parade of civility and moral uprightness) and as a way to carve some respite from daily life, by the 1930s people had so many music halls, theatres and cinemas to go to that they could find relief and distraction very easily elsewhere.
The strict Victorian morality had also shifted: no person who had lived through either war could fail to realise that life was short, and precious. As a result (and also, later, due to progress with contraception) people were more relaxed in their attitudes to former social traditions. That included listening to someone preaching on a Sunday.
We get the picture. What about Trinity?
Holy Trinity weathered the earliest shocks of the century fairly well. These changes were all counted over by the new clock, installed by Smiths of Derby in 1914.
As the official church of the town, Trinity still landed – at least for the first third of the century – the biggest ‘shows’. For example, it was always the destination church at the end of each Mayoral procession.
In this prestigious guise, it also held the Thanksgiving service for the end of WWI in 1918 (and another for the signing of The Treaty of Versailles in 1919).
As mentioned earlier, Holy Trinity’s graveyard had long since been filled, but the church carried on with services, marriages and christenings in the usual run of things.
There’s lots of evidence too that the church and its vicars and wardens moved with the times and engaged with their congregants. For example, the enterprising vicar in charge in 1921 decided to use technology to reach his congregation when he oversaw the installation of telephones in some of the pews – allowing the hard of hearing to participate in the services.
As the century progressed, huge crowds still occasionally came – such as at the service of remembrance for King George VI in February 1952, when the church was so full that the sermons and hymns (including the late King’s favourite, Abide with Me) had to be played out to those gathered outside on loudspeaker.
However, these moments were increasingly rare, and despite the best efforts of all involved, Trinity’s core congregation had dwindled.
As well as declining church attendance, Holy Trinity was also under threat from another source. In a cruel irony to the good works of Canon Hoare, and in sharp contrast to Trinity’s birth 150 years before, Tunbridge Wells now had more churches than it knew what to do with.
Canon Hoare (and others) had ensured that many more churches were built in Tunbridge Wells in the 19th century to enable everyone to come and worship. As well as St James, St. Peters and St. Johns mentioned above, there was also Christ Church on the High Street, and King Charles the Martyr had also became a parish in 1889.
But that was at a time when Tunbridge Wells, like the country around it, held church-going at the centre of its social life. Not only was life different now, but people had many different ways to ease their worries and lift their spirits.
Spiritual supply hugely outstripped demand.
The Threat of Demolition
In 1972, the church held its last religious service, and in 1973 The Diocese of Rochester declared that the ‘mother church’ was now considered pastorally redundant.
But if Trinity had then thought to itself that it had hit rock bottom, it would have been wrong. Worse was yet to come.
In 1975 a redundancy scheme was published, suggesting that Trinity was demolished and its parish combined with that of Christ Church.
Thunderclap. Fade to black. Curtain falls.
But… wait. Is that a car? Is it a plane? Is it….is it someone wearing flares?