Holy Trinity Church History
The acquisition of a parcel of land, of ‘garden ground’, in 1852 marks the beginning of the history of Holy Trinity Church. This ‘garden ground’ still provides the only green open space in the whole of the main street running north-south through Bishop’s Stortford.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, the ancient parish of St. Michael covered the whole town but the Rev’d Francis W. Rhodes, the Vicar, recognised the need for a new place of worship, not only in Hockerill, but also in the rapidly growing southern part of the parish.
The first building on the site was a school for infants only, begun in the autumn of 1852. The very detailed description of the stone-laying ceremony appeared in the Hertfordshire Mercury of 20th November. The first pupils arrived almost a year later. The building still stands on the western part of the site and has been used, since the closure of the school in the 1920s, as Holy Trinity Parish Hall. It was built for the education of 150 children and was licensed for divine worship, and services were held there on Sunday afternoons until the church was ready.
The plans for the church, now in Lambeth Palace Library, were drawn up by Joseph Clarke who designed a number of buildings in Bishop’s Stortford and in north London.
Holy Trinity was built of brick with Kentish ragstone cladding. At first it consisted of a nave, chancel and sacristy, had a large east window and, on the west wall, two tall lancets with a quatrefoil above: these and all the other windows showed the simplicity of the Early English style. It was intended that the building would accommodate 300 people, most of whom were poor. This could only be possible by packing in benches for the children and pews for the adults.
‘The Church of Holy Trinity’ was consecrated on 27th April 1859 by the Bishop of Carlisle as the Diocesan, the Bishop of Rochester, was indisposed.
On 23rd January, in the following year, the District Chapelry of New Town by Order in Council became a parish. At some time between the 1861 census and that of 1871 a tiny, very basic cottage was built to house the schoolmistress: it still stands.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century it was clear that the church needed extending and, with Sir Arthur Blomfield as architect, it was lengthened. A narthex and choir vestry were also built at the west end.
The decision was made not to purchase chairs for the new seating but to provide pews, and five job lots of second hand pews, with ends of different shapes and sizes, some with solid backs, others open and some with very narrow seats were acquired. None was of artistic merit.
In 1901, the east window received the stained glass seen today. Various changes were made to the interior between 1901 and 1997 when a six-year major restoration programme began. Rising damp had damaged walls and the wooden platforms on which the pews stood. It was necessary to empty the nave and provide a new floor. The opportunity was taken to install under floor heating and a floor of beautiful Purbeck stone. The nave now has only moveable furniture, allowing people of all ages to have access to all parts of it. At the same time the choir stalls were removed and original terra cotta and black embossed tiles in the chancel were cleaned and reset where necessary.
The decision to purchase chairs means that they can be arranged to suit all kinds of services. The altar, free-standing from the north wall, the font and the lectern can be focal points with the congregation gathered around. This is perhaps best seen on a summer’s day through the door from the south porch which now has wrought iron gates and grilles made by the Much Hadham blacksmith. The chancel is now the natural place for most small services on weekdays, for private prayer and for personal ministry.
It was during the incumbency of Canon John Haynes that Holy Trinity was able to join in the bell-ringing to celebrate the Millennium. The original bell, dated 1858, was cast by Mears Foundry, now the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but had long been out of use: it weighs ¾ cwt (38 kg). A second bell, in regular use since its acquisition, was cast by J. Warner and Son in 1873 and weighs ½ cwt (25 kg): it came from St. James’ Church, Watford in 1976 and was apparently installed by a T.V. aerial firm!
Both were refurbished and rung together for the first time thanks to the generous support of businesses in the parish. Soon after the arrival of John Williams, the people of Holy Trinity were able to celebrate the completion of the major restoration programme and to accept the invitation of Don Vincenzo, the parish priest of the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family (Santa Famiglia) at Fano on the Adriatic, to establish a link with them.
The ecumenically-minded parish already had links with Lutherans in Denmark and Orthodox in Romania and all three Anglican town parishes are now involved. Gifts have been exchanged and visits made, one including a joint pilgrimage to Assisi where the group visited the church of San Damiano. The generous gift of a copy of the San Damiano crucifix for the refurbished church is a constant reminder of the link. Saint Francis of Assisi heard Christ on the cross speak to him and ask him to rebuild the church when he was praying in San Damiano.
It is encouraging to remember that the church is not the building, as Saint Francis at first thought, but the whole people of God, always in need of restoration and renewal.