The Church was first opened for worship in 1884 and the Parish of ‘New’ Groombridge, as it is officially called, was created in 1886 as a result of the efforts of the Rector of Withyham, the Revd. Thomas Rudston Read. It was designed by the famous architect Norman Shaw who also designed New Scotland Yard and the Piccadilly Hotel in London, as well as several local houses.
Both parishes, Withyham and New Groombridge are in the County of East Sussex and the Diocese of Chichester.
When Mr. Read came as Rector to Withyham, the railway was being built from East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells. Houses were being built near the proposed station in Groombridge. The chapelry of the Parish of Speldhust, what is now St. John’s Church, “Old” Groombridge, was too small and of course in a different county – Kent, and a different diocese – Rochester.
The Goldsmith’s Company gave some land and it was decided to build a room, with a house attached, which might serve as a Mission Church and be used as an Elementary School.
This was opened by the Bishop of Chichester for public worship on June 8th 1872 and used for about twelve years.
In 1881, the people who attended the Mission Church in Groombridge signed a petition asking for more accommodation and more services. A morning service was started and a priest was provided to work in this part of what was still the parish of Withyham.
Eventually money was raised and the new Church was opened on October 17th 1884 and consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester on February 20th 1886. In August 1886 the area was constituted as a separate ecclesiastical parish and the Revd. James Parker was appointed as the first Vicar. Thus it separated from the ecclesiastical parish of Withyham, and became known as the Parish of St. Thomas the Apostle, New Groombridge which is still its listing in the Chichester Diocesan Handbook today.
From the records of those early days of the Mission Church, we can see that at the first service of holy communion, only ten people came and twelve were recorded for Easter Day 1885. This was of course while it was still under the jurisdiction of Withyham as a parish. Things changed when the Revd James Parker arrived and on Easter Day in 1886 there were 48 communicants.
Some interesting points to note.
St. Thomas, New Groombridge has, it seems always been in the forefront of ecclesiastical initiative.
As early as 1918, the Revd. A. S. Berey introduced an 11.00am Choral Eucharist. This would have replaced the old Morning Prayer on that one Sunday and later it was held at 11.15am on two Sundays per month. On15th August, the Feast of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated.
In 1919 the Revd F. Gomall came to be incumbent and was known as Fr. Gomall. Choral Eucharist was now every Sunday and Mattins ceased in 1925. In the Register of services from 1922, the Holy Communion is listed as Mass or Sung Mass and that tradition is still carried on today.
The Anglo-Catholic tradition had arrived at St. Thomas’ and in one form or another has survived through the years. As a village, it is neither advisable nor needed to follow the more extreme practices, and compromise has been made. Incense is rarely swung, but a compromise has been reached and a bowl of incense is often kindled on the table behind the altar.
Today the Church offers a wide range of services including Café Eucharists held in the School, informal "Brunch" Services for younger families and runs Youth Services for all Youth Groups in the Deanery. It continues to strenghthen its ties with the School by conducting School Eucharist services and other services involving both School staff and governors.
The Church has made good use of IT and in 2004 introduced a Computer projector which is used to display the words to the services and hymns. This has replaced the need for hymn books and the services have no need of the more traditional pew sheets.
How times have changed!