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Full school service marks 25th anniversary of Consecration of Chapel

Boys and staff at Tonbridge gathered on Thursday (7 October) for a service of dedication marking the 25th anniversary of the Consecration of the Chapel.

The whole school came together for hymns, prayers, readings and performances by the choir. The original consecration of Tonbridge’s then newly restored Chapel took place in October 1995: due to the pandemic, this anniversary service was delayed by nearly a year.

The original Chapel, built at the start of the previous century, burnt down on 17 September 1988. As the Times newspaper reported, the blaze took place “before an assembly of appalled and fascinated boys and local people who gathered on the cricket ground to watch”. The scene was one of massive destruction: nothing remained of the stained glass, organ, panelling, pews and high altar, and the walls and floor were badly damaged.

A project was started almost at once to rebuild and restore the Chapel: a temporary building, The Quad Chapel, was used at the School for more than six years. 

When the Chapel was consecrated on 20 October 1995, by the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, the project had cost in the region of £7 million, much of which had been given by various groups of benefactors or collected in individual donations.

The modern Chapel of St Augustine seats more than 800 people, compared with 450 in the former building. Features include the stone High Altar, pulpits on both the north and south sides and the School War Memorial. The 1995 Marcussen organ is widely regarded as one of the finest instruments in the country.

Present at the ceremony were former Tonbridge Headmasters Christopher Everett and Martin Hammond, who were in post, respectively, at the time of the fire in 1988 and the Chapel’s reconsecration in 1995, as well as guests from the Skinners’ Company.

A St Christopher stained glass panel, generously donated to the School by Timothy Hands and Judith and Peter Geldard, will be the Chapel’s latest feature once installed. It is the work of the artist Rachel de Montmorency, whose father, former Headmaster The Rev Charles Tancock, oversaw the building of the original Chapel.

James Priory, current Headmaster, said: “It was wonderful to be able to come together as a whole community and to celebrate this extraordinary building and its significance in the life and story of Tonbridge School.”

Pictured above: The School Choir performs.

Below, from top: 

The St Christopher stained glass panel, donated to the School;

The whole school service;

The view from the Organ Loft;

A reading by Jonas, Head of School;

Former Headmasters Martin Hammond (left) and Christopher Everett (right), with James Priory;

The Rev David Peters, who led the service, exits with The Rev Alice Goodman, who gave a sermon;

Exterior shot of the Chapel as it is today.