So many of our member churches have an interesting background, we thought it would be a fine idea to create a historical series that can be shared among the Connexion community and beyond. Below is an account of how South Street Free Church in Eastbourne evolved from its 19th century roots in Grove Hall, under the watchful eye of a series of ministers, to the church that exists today, led by David Batchelor.
South Street Free Church
At the turn of the 19th century, there was a growing congregation of Christians meeting in Grove Hall, Eastbourne, who wanted a permanent place to worship. Their Pastor at that time was Rev George Thompson.
The congregation had previously moved from Pevensey Road Congregational Church in 1897 to Grove Hall, formerly St Peters Church, which they hired from the Council. Whilst in occupation, they designed and built the present church building, which is home to South Street Free Church.
Eastbourne was expanding rapidly at the turn of the century, as did this new Congregational Church. From a nucleus of 5000 Eastbourne grew to a town of 50,000, and before long church membership approached 200. Rev George Thompson, obviously a man of drive and enthusiasm, led his increased congregation into the new building in 1904. He retired in 1907, and in 1914 the Trustees of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion took on responsibility for the building with Rev J. Westbury Jones appointed as the new Minister.
During WW1, 42 church members joined the forces, and seven of these men were killed in action. Following the end of the war in 1918, Rev Frederick Hastings began his period of ministry, which continued until 1937.
Following the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, the church was closed for five years. When it re-opened Rev Samuel Gardiner was appointed to re-organise the church and attend to the fabric of the building.
Prior to the appointment of Rev W. A. Sinden in 1957, Pastor John Lewis ministered for a short period, but sadly he died unexpectedly after an evening visit to one of his congregation members. Rev Sinden continued to lead the church until his death in 1970, after which Roger Davies, then Manager of the Eastbourne Christian Bookshop, took over as Pastor, and the church began to grow in numbers again. Roger left the church in order to attend Bible College and he went on to become Pastor of the Countess Free Church in Ely, another of The Connexion churches. Rev Michael Cox was appointed from Victoria Baptist Church to replace him, but his ministry was unfortunately restricted due to ill health.
In 1983 Rev K. P. Morey became the Minister (he had been a missionary in Japan for many years), and under his leadership the church continued to thrive. He left at the end of July 1993 to undertake missionary work in Romania.
After a four-year interregnum, Ewart Helyar, who had recently retired from Lindfield Free Church, took on the role for three years as Pastor. He remained with the church on a part-time basis from April 2000 and continued in office until his final retirement in August 2005.
Philip Laver was inducted as Pastor in September 2005. Philip had previously been Pastor of the Javea International Baptist Church in Spain before taking up the appointment. The current Minister of South Street Free Church is David Batchelor, who was inducted as Assistant Pastor in September 2009, and became Pastor on Philip's departure in October 2010.
The image shows an early print of the South Street church building. For more information about South Street Free Church, visit their website http://www.southstreetfreechurch.org
Supporting The Connexion
The support we give to our UK Connexion churches is to enable them to flourish and continue The Countess of Huntingdon’s mission. The Connexion’s funds help to preserve the church buildings, many of which have historic value, provide sponsorship for theological education, financial and legal assistance for our chapels, and resources and pastoral support for our ministers. With limited funds, we rely on donations, both large and small, to fulfil our purpose.
If you are able to help by making a gift or regular donation, please click on the Connexion Mission in Donations. We are extremely thankful to all of our donors, both past and present, who help us to continue the Countess of Huntingdon’s legacy.