The Iron Church was a temporary building, with a life expectancy of twenty years. It was also uncomfortable to worship in; already in 1894 there were complaints about its poor ventilation and cramped seating. In November 1895 a new vicar of St Mary’s Kippington was inducted, the Rev. H. Percy Thompson, the fourth son of W. J. Thompson. He soon set about making changes.
At St Mary’s he introduced a robed choir and in 1896-7 saw to the building of a choir vestry. In 1897 he rearranged the seating in the Iron Church to accommodate a small choir. It was probably at his son’s prompting that W.J. Thompson, as announced at the Easter vestry meeting in 1897, gave a site for a new permanent church in Granville Road, immediately north of the Iron Church.
In 1898 a building fund was opened, and in that and the following years the Vicar noted with satisfaction the increasing numbers of communicants. In January 1901, however, the matter was given a new urgency when a storm during Sunday evensong had, as the Vicar later reported: ’caused the Iron Building to sway and creak to the great alarm of the Congregation’.
At the Easter vestry that year a motion to take immediate steps to build a permanent church, to seat not more than 500, was carried unanimously. It was agreed that it should be built of red brick and the names of four possible architects were mentioned, William Gilbee Scott (1 857-1 930), John Salmon Quilter (1841-1907) designer of the new choir vestry at St Mary’s, Maxwell Maberly Smith son of the rector of Penshurst who had set up in practice in 1896, and John Thomas Lee (c. 1845-1920). By what process Lee was selected from among these four is not clear, but by the end of April 1901 he had produced a sketch design. His background would certainly have given confidence. He had been articled to the prominent church architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, and worked in other leading practices before setting up on his own in 1873 with an office in central London. He had been elected RIBA in 1892, was the architect of three churches in London suburbs, and by 1901 had probably designed his major church, St. Margaret’s Eastney, Portsmouth (built 1903-7).
A perspective view of Lee’s design for the Granville Road site was published in the Kippington parish magazine for April 1902. The cost of building it was given as £5000. The site was not ideal, being deep and narrow and requiring a correctly oriented building to have its chancel end-on to the road. Lee responded to this by designing a church with a separately expressed chancel and by enriching the east gable with a bell-cote and finials. But by the time the design was made public another more suitable site had been identified. This was in Eardley Road, part of the extensive plot at the back of which the children’s Hip Hospital was being erected. The proprietors of the Hospital, Miss Marion Rose and Miss Emily Jackson, were prepared to sell the roadward part of their plot at a price well below market value, for the erection on it of a church and parsonage, but they would not allow a parish hall or school room to be built there. This explains why, after the demolition of the Iron Church in Granville Road, it was replaced by a corrugated iron hall (the Kippington Parish Room) and a caretaker’s house (now Pine Lodge, 15 South Park).
The Eardley Road site was secured in the late summer of 1902. For it the architect made the minimum of changes to his original design, even though the church would now lie across the width of the site, its south side towards the road. An elaborated east gable was, of course, no longer appropriate, and the ridge-line of chancel and nave was now made continuous, but the plan was little changed. Comparison with the plan of Lee’s church at Eastney (published in 1907) shows that for Sevenoaks he simplified and reduced in scale his Eastney scheme.
Funding the construction of the new church was, unlike at St Mary’s, to be the responsibility of members of the congregation. Once again, however, W.J. Thompson’s generosity was crucial. He underwrote the cost of purchasing the Eardley Road site, when the site he had given in Granville Road reverted to him and he sold it. He also contributed £600 to the building fund. By April 1902 a total of £1300 had been collected, and the following October the sum reported as in hand for the building had risen to £2000. This was enough to enable a contract to be placed for the first phase, consisting of the chancel with north aisle and south transept, and a temporary nave. The architect’s estimate was for £2180 but when the builders’ tenders came in they far exceeded this figure. Lee therefore suggested savings of £638, most of which were accepted, and finally, in May 1903, an estimate of £2705. 14s. 5d was accepted. To reach this figure a further round of fundraising was authorized in January 1904, and shares in the Sevenoaks Waterworks Company were sold, which raised £600. The successful tender came from Messrs. Cornish & Gaymer of North Walsham, with whom Lee had previously worked, although members of the building committee would have preferred the local firm of Messrs. Wiltshire.
Lee’s specification of April 1903 survives, from which the building materials can be identified. Bricks were to be the best red stocks, to be laid in Old English bond, the stone outside and in was to be a high quality Bath stone known as Harpham Park, and the roof was to be covered in local red clay tiles from Dunton Green. The brick and stone have generally worn well, though in 1948 there was considerable stone replacement, including the simplification of the finials on the gables. The original tiles were replaced with pantiles in the 1950s. As to the interior finish, the architect persuaded the building committee to have plastered walls rather than exposed brickwork on the grounds that ‘the brick surface is now generally condemned as unpleasant and unclean’. The chancel roof was to be of oak, the roofs of aisles and transept stained deal. The foundation stone, in the east wall, was laid by the Bishop of Dover on 22 July 1903. In a glass bottle behind it were placed a copy of that day’s Daily Telegraph, and of that month’s Parish Magazine, together with a half-crown and florin issued at the Accession of Edward VII. In the following January it was decided that the dedication of the new church should be to St Luke, since its situation next to the Children’s Hospital ‘made the name of St Luke peculiarly suitable’.
On 15 June 1904 the Bishop of Dover returned to consecrate the completed first phase of the church. Accommodation in the church at that point amounted to about 190, out of a projected 424 in the completed building. This included 30 in the chancel, about 45 in the south transept, about 35 in the north aisle and 80 in the temporary nave. The architect had at first allocated the north chancel aisle to vestries, but from an early date children from the Hospital found a place there and there was congregational seating there too. The east end of the south aisle he had earmarked for the organ.
When in February 1904 Lee requested instructions on the provision of fittings: pulpit, prayer desk, choir stalls, lectern, altar table and altar rails, he was told that such items would all be transferred from the Iron Church with the exception only of the altar table and its rails (see below). In May of the following year the parish purchased Lee’s plans for the rest of the church, thus freeing themselves from the need to employ him any further. To make this possible, theVicar’s mother, WJ. Thompson’s widow, donated £100, for there still remained £330 outstanding on the building account.
The completion of the first part of St Luke’s church must have strengthened its congregation’s sense of identity. At the Easter Vestry meeting in 1907 the Vicar acknowledged this by stating that the time had now arrived when ‘they might have a certain measure of devolution – the two Churches would remain a loving mother and daughter and there would be no separation between them, being in the same parish, but … ‘each might go on its own line’, and he proposed that the two churches should keep separate accounts. He had already inaugurated a system of pew rents at St Luke’s, ostensibly to build up a fund whereby a second curate could be employed, devoted to working at the daughter church. Incidentally, this was in direct contravention of the rules of the Incorporated Church Building Society, which had contributed £100 to the building fund in 1903, on the specific understanding that all seats would be free. Nor was a second curate ever appointed. Pew rents in the church were finally discontinued in 1940.
By 1908 the Vicar felt ready to embark on Phase II, the building of the first part of the nave. At first he envisaged constructing just one bay; but the unexpected acquisition of an organ forced him to change plans. The death of Mr Henry Spain, for many years honorary choir master at St Mary’s, led to his executors offering to the Vicar for the benefit of St Luke’s the house organ from his residence, Rostrevor (now Scotsgrove), South Park. The organ, valued at £1200, was being offered at £450, plus a further £25 for the engine, an essential item at first omitted from the offer. The Vicar, feeling under pressure to move fast, bought the complete instrument with his own money, not appreciating until too late how large it was. As he ruefully wrote to Mrs Spain on 22 May 1908, ‘Owing also to the organ being so much larger than any of us imagined, though it has been worked on, it will take up the whole transept as well as the organ chamber and this will compel us to at once undertake the enlargement of the Church to supply the seating accommodation which has to be removed.’
In fact the decision to go ahead with Phase II had already been taken. The local firm of architects, Potter & Harvey, had already on 8 May supplied an estimate for building one bay of the nave to J.T. Lee’s design. But as that would provide only 44 new sittings, as against the loss of the 80 in the temporary nave, they provided on 12 May a second estimate, for building two bays of the nave and aisles, to give 176 sittings in all. Messrs. Wiltshire’s tender price of £1649, reduced to £1530, mainly by substituting pitch pine for oak in the roof, was accepted and work went ahead with such speed that the Bishop of Rochester could dedicate the new nave bays in December of that year. (Consecration was not necessary as the original design had been faithfully followed.) In 1912-3, at a cost of £160, the north wall of the third bay of the nave north aisle was built and a temporary aisle constructed against it, to provide space for six children from the Hospital, lying in their ‘carriages’. After a few years, when the children were no longer brought to church, this aisle came to be used as the choir vestry.