History

During the 2nd World War Ramsgate lost some 300 homes due to enemy action, but when the end of the war brought an influx of returning servicemen and women and evacuees, it was clear that the population was about to grow. Like many other local authorities up and down the country, Ramsgate Borough Council was faced with a housing shortage.

To the north of the town was an area known as Newington – part of the large historic parish of St Laurence, where the Council decided to build an estate of fine, modern houses, the majority of the roads to be named after Commonwealth towns and cities. By 1949 many hundreds of houses had been built and the Newington Estate had become a community with its own particular needs and identity – almost no longer part of Ramsgate. One of the estate’s needs was recognised early on by the Vicar of St Laurence, the Rev. John Roundhill, who asked for an assistant priest to work there, for by 1949 the population for the parish of St Laurence had soared since he first arrived in 1942. In time, the Rev. Stanley Bounds was appointed assistant priest and he saw for himself the individual identity of the Newington community which, while belonging in a wider sense to St Laurence, Ramsgate, nevertheless retained a distinctiveness of its own. This recognition was important, for it was the Rev. Stanley Bounds, along with the vicar of St Laurence, who became one of the leading lights in the founding of a new church – a church for the people of Newington to call their own, where they could worship together as one community. This was a milestone in the history of the estate.

The next milestone came on 1st June 1950 when HRH Princess Margaret visited the town. It was indeed the glorious first of June, for in brilliant sunshine she visited the estate and named the principal thoroughfare after herself. She planted a tree in what was to become the estate’s expansive centre, and cut the first sod on the site of the thousandth post-war house.

By this time the need for the church was urgent, and led to the signing of a petition by 500 residents, representing 436 houses, asking for an Anglican church to be provided for the estate. The petition was sent to Archbishop Fisher who was instantly struck by the novelty of such a request coming from the people of the estate, rather than from church or parish authorities. He, in turn, recognised the obvious need and gave the request his support. It was then passed to the Secretary of the Canterbury Diocesan Board of Finance, Canon J.A.M. Clayton, and was granted. The Board were so impressed by the fact that the ordinary people of the estate had petitioned for a church that they gave a grant of £9000. The total required for the building was estimated at £14,000 which left a balance of £5000. In 1953 such a sum was very hard for one parish to find alone.

A number of ideas for the new church were put forward. One was to demolish stone by stone the church of St Paul in King Street, Ramsgate, which had been closed in 1940 (see ‘Bygone Kent’ Vol. 13, No 6). The proposal to rebuild St Paul’s on the Newington estate came from a parish in the north of Kent who had themselves purchased a redundant church in the London area and rebuilt it in their own parish. However, the cost of such a venture was far greater than that of building a new church, and so nothing came of the idea. It should be noted that those who wished to remove their much loved St Paul’s to Newington were doing so more for their own wish to preserve it than out of consideration for the best option for the people of Newington. A more realistic scheme was for a new church which could be both a church and church hall under one roof.

In 1953, with all these hopes and ideas still in the melting pot, Ramsgate elected a new Mayor, Councillor Edward Butcher, who was to take a leading role in the building of the new church. Councillor Butcher was a member of St Luke’s Church and a strong churchman. He was elected Mayor at a very special time, Coronation year, when the Mayor was to become a Baron of the Cinque Ports (Ramsgate being a corporate member of that body). With the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II over and work about to start on the new building, the Mayor hosted a luncheon attended by Archbishop Fisher at the San Clu Hotel when town and church joined forces to work together to raise the money for the new church. It was during this luncheon that it was announced that the new church would be dedicated to St Christopher.

The idea of building a church on the estate was not a sudden one. In the December 1952 issue of the St Laurence ‘Beacon’, the first ‘Newington News’ column appeared, written by the Rev Stanley Bounds. It was he, with Miss Dora Waters, who opened the Newington Sunday School on 16th November 1952 at Newington Infants School. The venture proved highly successful. On the first week 139 children attended and by April 1953 over 300 children attended every week. The dining hall and one wing of the school were taken over by this cheerful group each Sunday and, in January 1954, this area was extended to cover the whole building.

The task of raising the £5000 was entered into enthusiastically by the parishioners: Jumble Sales, Bring & Buys, Coffee Mornings and Sales of Work began to happen all over the town. Over one thousand pounds was raised in the first month of the appeal and the successful ‘buy a brick’ campaign (cost 6d {2.5p} per week) and the Sunday School Farthing Collection were signs that the long journey to the target £5000 was well under way. There are still many folk around the estate who ‘own’ a brick. In February 1954, the Archbishop of Canterbury launched his own appeal fund for the church and in May 1954 the Mayor of Ramsgate launched the Ramsgate Appeal for Newington Church. The latter appeal is of more interest and significance than is sometimes realised. It was the first really important occasion on which the Ramsgate Council set out to benefit the mother parish of St Laurence. Ramsgate had been responsible for building the Newington Estate within the parish of St Laurence and now it was recognising its own responsibility for the spiritual welfare of its residents.

Much fundraising continued, the greatest single event for raising money being a Mammoth Fete, held in Ellington Park on 1st September 1955.  By this time Alderman Butcher, as he now was, was no longer Mayor. However, he and Alderman Ward of Margate, also a Baron of the Cinque Ports, were the guests of honour. The event was organised by the Committee of the combined Anglican Churches of Ramsgate and was a great success. What a day it was, with the Barons in their Coronation robes accompanied by the Rev. George Bennett, Vicar of Ramsgate, being heralded by ten Royal Marine trumpeters. So many people helped with the fete that the final profit was over a thousand pounds. This was the last event attended by the Rev. Stanley Bounds who as Curate of St Laurence had been responsible for the people of Newington. By this time the Church of St Christopher was all but built, and Stanley Bounds was due to leave for Christ Church, South Ashford. All that remained was for the church to be dedicated.

The great day arrived; 26th September 1955. Children lined the road outside as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, arrived to dedicate the new Anglican Church of St Christopher to serve the people of the Newington Estate. The crowded congregation included the Deputy Mayor of Ramsgate, Alderman L.F. Davey, with members and officials of Ramsgate Borough Council. Loudspeakers relayed the service outside, but most of the people who had been queuing for admittance for a good hour before were able to find standing room at the back of the church, and along the side aisles.

The service began at 7.00pm when the Archbishop was received outside the church by the Vicar of St Laurence, the Rev. J.H. Roundhill, and the churchwardens. The Archbishop knocked three times with his pastoral staff on the closed door, which opened by the Rev, Stanley Bounds, the former Curate. The Archbishop and clergy passed in to dedicate the church in the name of St Christopher. They walked in procession to dedicate the font, lectern, pulpit and altar. Then, with these ceremonies completed, the Archbishop consecrated the building with the: ‘in the faith of Jesus Christ we dedicate this church in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’. St Christopher’s thus became a daughter church of St Laurence, a responsibility of St Laurence Extra with (as stated at the time) the strong possibility of one day becoming a parish of its own. Archbishop Fisher then preached a sermon during which he described the dedication of the new church as the greatest thing that had happened in the estate of Newington. Following the service the Archbishop met parishioners at St Laurence Parish Hall. The first celebration of Holy Communion was held at 7.00am the following day.

Most notable of the many gifts given to St Christopher’s were the bell and very fine choir stalls from St Paul’s Church, Ramsgate. This was pleasing to the many who had wished that church to be rebuilt at Newington.

Today St Christopher’s continues to be part of what is now referred to as the St Laurence Team Ministry. The Parish of St Laurence includes the churches of St Laurence-in-Thanet, St Christopher’s, St Mary’s Cliffsend, and St Catherine’s Manston. led by the Team Rector, the Rev Sharran Ireland. The priest at St Christopher’s, the Rev. Brian Griffiths, is Team Vicar of St Christopher’s and St Catherine’s Manston.

St Christopher’s continues to be the community church for Newington and is used by community groups every day of the week. Amongst the users are Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, a Lunch Club, an Over 50s Club, the Blind Association, a Drop-In Group run by the Newington Community Support Group, and several classes run by Thanet College Adult Education Centre.