Lindfield United Reformed Church


In 1810 a group of dissenters, who had formerly established links with the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel at Wivelsfield, together with the minister of the Union Street Independent chapel in Brighton applied for a licence to hold services in the Ballroom attached to the White Lion alehouse [now Bent Arms] in Lindfield.  The cause prospered and Stephen Wood, a successful Brighton builder and prominent member of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel in Brighton, built them a small chapel on the site of a former malthouse in the High Street in 1813.  He later retired to the village, living in the present Ryecroft and endowed the chapel.

In 1818 four members formed the Lindfield Congregational Church and 3 years later Stephen Wood’s daughter, Kitty Copeland, put the chapel into  a trust for “Congregational Calvanists.”  Its members were mainly drawn from the labourers and artisans of Lindfield and Ardingly.  The first attempts to bring education to the poor children of Lindfield originated from this chapel and an evening school for secular instruction pre-dated William Allen.

Perhaps it is worth noting that “Congregational” is an adjective which is often used quite loosely as an alternative to “independent”.  This refers to churches that like to organise themselves as a completely independent unit and pay their ministers themselves.  This is in contrast to the Presbyterians who were centrally organised and whose ministers were paid from central funds.   Theologically there is a difference in that the Presbyterians looked back to the 16th Century Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin in Geneva and the Congregationalists follow the independent thinking of an Englishman called Browne.  Oliver Cromwell was an independent/Congregationalist but many of the officers in his New Model Army were Presbyterians.  It all comes under the words “puritan ” and “dissent” and can get muddled.

The chapel flourished under the pastorship of Rev J E Judson [1843-1861].  it was rebuilt in ‘Early English design’ by W G & E Habershon.  the cost was about £1,200 and, largely due to Judson’s efforts, opened free of debt in May 1858.  Later it was Thomas Durrant, the Lindfield piano factory owner, together with Thomas Wells, the local headmaster, known as the “‘Father of Sussex Congregationalism” who provided strong leadership.

In 1879 the front of the church was remodelled together with other improvements to the building financed by James Proctor of Finches.  then in 1898 a school room was built on the back which, in turn, was replaced by the present large hall in 1960.

During WWI troops billeted in the village used the school room as a canteen and reading and writing room.  Electric lighting was installed in 1948 and major renovation work carried out to the interior in the early 1950’s.  In 1972 the Congregational Church of England and Wales united with the Presbyterian Church of England becoming the United Reformed Church.

A major extension in 1996 completed the present buildings.  In each case land was surrendered by Ryecroft next door which the church bought in 1888.  This was sold in 1952 and repurchased in 1984 and has been used as the Manse ever since.

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