A history of our church
In 1776 a small group of Horsham Independents met together for the first time to worship God in a cottage close to the site of the present church building. As the group grew in those early years, there is evidence of division developing in the church. Nevertheless, this was overcome and the congregation grew under its first church leader, Pastor John Harm, who served from 1801-1840.
In 1813, finding that the cottage was uncomfortably small, the congregation purchased from the Duke of Norfolk, for £50, a leasehold over land off the Swan Meadow. The first building exclusively for a church was then built, entirely with voluntary contributions. The freehold, which the church still owns, was acquired in 1859 for £80.
The church went from strength to strength through the 19th century, notably under Rev George Frost its "esteemed pastor" from 1869-1902. Chapels were built and congregations served in four nearby villages. One of these four, in the village of Slinfold situated 4 miles from Horsham, still has regular evening services. Generous support was given to such causes as Indian famine relief, the abolition of slavery, the London Missionary Society, the temperance movement and opposition to the Opium War as well as there being a steady involvement in local affairs. By the 1870's the congregation was outgrowing the church building. It was decided to build a schoolroom in nearby Albion Road, together with a new church building on the same site as the existing one. The memorial stone was dedicated in September 1883 (and has been preserved in the present church building along with the original church building foundation stone). During the dedication every member of the church was urged to undertake mission by getting into personal contact with people. The money for the buildings was mainly raised by members, together with two small loans. Both buildings occupied prominent sites in the town.
The church building had pews for 400 people on the ground floor and 150 in the gallery and boasted stained glass windows and an elaborately carved pulpit. There are still a number of present church members who regularly worshipped in this church building and remember it with affection, and also some who attended or taught in the Sunday school in the Albion Road schoolroom. There is evidence of ecumenical activity in the late 19th century, including a united service as early as 1887 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee.
A close relationship with other local churches through Horsham Churches Together remains an important feature of our church today. Outreach continued with efforts in 1909 to arrange links with German churches to "decrease the ill-feeling between the two nations". On the coronation of George V in 1911, there was a combined meeting of all Horsham's churches in the Carfax. The church appeared to suffer periods of difficulty in the first half of the twentieth century, with a number of short term and temporary pastors and suggestions of uncertainty over at least two calls. Lack of attendance at evening services was bemoaned and a church magazine was launched, flourished, waned and failed - four times. There is of course also evidence of great devotion to the church.
Generous support was given to church building on the new housing estates built between the wars and then later in rebuilding bombed churches. One initiative in the 1930s has an echo today. Horsham, with its four village churches, and Billingshurst, with its two, were "grouped" for a time to pool resources. The village churches in the first half of the twentieth century were a particular strength (despite the church in Rudgwick being bombed in 1944). In 1971, there being no Presbyterian Church in Horsham, the Congregational Church became the Horsham United Reformed Church. In the early 1970's the local authority determined to redevelop the centre of Horsham to make way for increased shopping and business facilities. The Albion Road building, by then used not only by the Sunday School but also by various other church organisations, was in the middle of the proposed redevelopment. A compulsory purchase order left the church with no alternative but to lose the Albion Road building. This gave the church a big challenge to accommodate the various church groups. It was eventually decided to build a new church building, together with a hall and meeting rooms, on the site of the 1883 church building. The cost was partially met from compensation monies received from the local council, but principally from the construction of an office block, now known as Springfield House, on church land.
There followed many years of planning, debate, fund raising and disappointment when a scheme with planning approval fell through. Eventually a scheme was agreed and the present church building was constructed. During this time, when the old church building had been demolished and the new one not yet built, the church experienced goodwill and support from many Horsham churches and from Tanbridge School which was at that time on a town centre site and provided accommodation for Sunday worship. In January 1982 the foundation stone for the present church building was dedicated by Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk, thus linking the new building with the land originally sold to the church by the Duke of Norfolk all those years before. Since the opening of the new buildings the church has worked hard to continue to offer a vision of God’s Kingdom to the local community and the wider international community.
As numbers have reduced this has required husbanding of resources in order to enable us to focus on ecumenism and mission whilst taking care not to neglect the pastoral needs of the fellowship. We can be proud of our heritage of dedication, service, worship and involvement with the local community over 200 years. Today we pray we can build on the legacy of our forebears and pass on a strong, thriving church to future generations. As a town centre church we are keen to develop our relationship with those who work in and visit the town centre and are committed to serving the local community as we are able.
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