The History of Christ Church
Right from 1847 “unashamedly Bible-centred” has been the watchword. It shows in the fascinating account in the biography of Edward Hoare, later Canon Hoare, the first incumbent. On pages quoting his own writings, the reader finds the words “satisfying the hearts of those who loved the Gospel”, and “precious souls brought into living union with the living Lord Jesus Himself’. A question he put to an enquirer to test her progress was “must you be holy first? or must you be forgiven first?” “Can I be forgiven first?” was her response and Mr Hoare’s that followed: “that is exactly what the Scripture teaches”.
Ramsgate people had always been either farmers or fishermen; sometimes one in the summer and the other in the winter. The original St Laurence country parish is centered a mile or so inland from what was, until the late eighteenth century, an indentation between chalk cliffs with a primitive wooden jetty. The masonry harbour was built with national government funds as a harbour of refuge after a series of disasters involving numbers of ships being wrecked on the Goodwin Sands in storms. It was completed in the 1770′s. It was used by the armies fighting the Napoleonic Wars. Military Road along the waterfront and Plains of Waterloo and other names of streets of houses of the period remind us of the expansion of the town that began after the war. The town earned the pleasure of King George IVth, who pronounced in 1824 that our harbour should be the Royal Harbour, Ramsgate. Trade with Baltic ports and shipbuilding brought a measure of prosperity to a few. Fishing the banks of the southern North Sea provided a living for many more. The town began to be popular as a resort also. St Laurence church built a chapel of ease, called St Mary’s, in the road called Chapel Place to this day, to serve the people nearer the harbour and the cliffs. A new parish was created, St George’s, calling itself the Parish Church of Ramsgate. (Opened 1827). The population increased rapidly (for example 4,200 in 1801 to 15,100 in 1861) Building in the area continued apace as knowledge of the resort spread, popularised as a favourite of the young Queen Victoria. Trinity Church was built on the Eastcliff edge of town; and opened in 1845. Houses were being built in the Westcliff area south of St Laurence and west of the town.
Christ Church Vale Square
It seems that little is known of a most remarkable man called Hutchinson on whose heart the Lord laid a burden to carve out a new parish on the Westcliff and build a church at its centre. The Royal Harbour lay within the new parish. He was Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and later Commander. Canon Hoare wrote later of his wonderful energy as he afterwards proved by “reducing Balaclava to good order…”, referring, one presumes, to service in the Crimean War. Lt. Hutchinson, we read, formed a small committee in which he was “the moving spirit and the one centre of power”. He took counsel of a Mr. John Pemberton Plumptre MP, who Canon Hoare calls a friend from before he accepted the Incumbency of the new church and who was one of the first Trustees of the new patronage. Hutchinson, Plumptre and a London lawyer worked through the intricacies of the separation from the parish and Vicar (of St Laurence or St George?)
Hutchinson set about the task of raising money for the building. One source writes of a public meeting. Canon Hoare tells us that Lt. Hutchinson wrote literally hundreds of letters to possible subscribers. He did not shy from writing a second or third letter if necessary. Before long Hutchinson signed the contract to build on his own responsibility. The familiar Gothic church to the design of the architect Gilbert Scott “was quickly reared as a monument to show what might be done by one man whose heart was in earnest who committed his works to the Lord”. Christ Church was consecrated and opened for worship on 4th August 1847.
The First Vicars
Edward Hoare was son of a London banker and his mother a member of the Fry family, Quakers, whose sister Elizabeth ministered to the unfortunate convicted women prisoners being transported to Australia as their ships sailed past Ramsgate. Mr Hoare had felt convinced in his call to Ramsgate by the advice of his father-in-law, who was an eminent London physician, whom he was persuaded to consult. He was troubled by an infection in the knee. The treatment advised included a change from the working conditions of the North London parish, St John’s Holloway, to the Coast.
Health does not seem to have diminished his energy, however. The “politically correct” sensitivities of our times 150 years or so later did not inhibit our first vicar in his adherence to the Scriptures and the “once for all” redemption of the believer in the death and resurrection of Christ. He did not hesitate in his jealousy to protect his flock from “the Romanists”, an energetic, missionary minority community in the Ramsgate of the mid-1800′s, “for whom Mr. Pugin had erected a chapel”. Neither did he hesitate before encouraging dissenters from the established parish congregations who were under the influence of clergy of the day who had strong ritualistic leanings as advocated by those to whom he refers to as the “Tractarians”, who we would call, broadly speaking, very “high-church”. His passion to reach the unchurched too shows in his preaching in the open air, using the fore deck of ships in the Harbour as his pulpit on occasions. Canon Hoare was moved by the hardship endured by the sailors he saw sailing from the Harbour and the bravery of those involved in shipwreck and rescue. During his time here the Seamen’s Infirmary was built and opened. (This was developed later into the Ramsgate Hospital, also in Westcliff Road). Christ Church Schools were opened too, also with the Vicar’s enthusiasm and money-raising energy behind them.
Canon Hoare moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1853, being succeeded by the Revd Thomas Hart Davies who had been Archdeacon of Melbourne. During his twenty years the Sailors’ Home and Harbour Mission was founded, although the building of the Sailors Church was not complete until 1878 (- nor of the Smack boys’ Home until 1881) during the time of the Revd J Brenan, who followed, serving for nearly another twenty years. He was known as “the builder-vicar”, the lower vestry being added to Christ Church, the Church Hall in Royal Road and mission rooms in Mays Road and Albert Street during his time. He was prominent in municipal improvement also as the construction of the roads parallel to the East Cliff and the West Cliff was planned and carried out, linking the two sides of town.
Space does not permit a fuller account of the life and work of vicars who have served the parish and town right up to the present, nor later changes to the building. Christ Church has continued its ministry, surviving vicissitudes, including two terrible World Wars and latterly threats of loss of identity through reorganisation of the Deanery and Diocese. Nor, it will be plain, have we written about the members of the church family, who, after all, are what “church” is all about.
Some of what appears above, which the present writer has used as a source, gratefully, appears in a booklet produced for the 150th Anniversary of the church in 1997. There are a few copies of the book still available. Tribute should be paid to the late Edgar Ralph, the most assiduous researcher and historian contributing to it. The name of Edgar, member of the church all his life, and at times, for years on end, Warden or Treasurer and Lay Reader is one that could figure among the notable, but so are the names of many, many others, mostly un-sung and probably preferring not to be mentioned, but simply praising God for what He has done for them through Christ Church.
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and for ever”
Thanks to Dr David Neden for compiling The History of Christ Church