The Moving Church is just that - the church that moved. The story of how All Saints Church, North Peckham became St Mark's Church, Biggin Hill is a fascinating story of determination, endeavour, faith and, of course, answered prayers!
The story of 'The Moving Church' started in 1904 when Biggin Hill was just a small village of 200 inhabitants. In that year the tiny temporary church of St. Mark's, seating, at the utmost, about 70 people, was dedicated by the Bishop of Dover who said, "It is to be regarded only as a preliminary step in a scheme contemplated for supplying the spiritual needs of this district. The present church is a temporary iron structure and whenever the district has sufficiently developed, it is intended to erect a permanent brick and stone building". It was to be over half a century before that vision was finally realised.
By 1951 the population had risen to nearly 4,000 and Biggin Hill was known far and wide as the base of those valiant few of the Royal Air Force to whom all will forever owe so much. The little temporary corrugated iron church still nestled behind the trees on the corner of Pole Steeple Hill by the Post Office. Despite all the efforts of the regular worshippers, it seemed, with the post war difficulties and rapidly rising costs, that the building of a new church was as far off as ever. Then came a small dark Cornishman of bounding vitality and unquenchable faith, Vivian Symons. What he thought when he first set eyes on the rather dilapidated little iron church and what was to be his first Cure only he knows. What matters most is that he came, and straightway had visions of a church worthy of his God - our God.
The Diocese had no plans for building a new church in Biggin Hill in the foreseeable future. The St. Marks building fund stood at £2,600, raised after nearly fifty years' efforts, and there was little hope of obtaining the considerable sum needed from local sources. Nevertheless, a worthy church there had to be, and if the only way of obtaining one was to dismantle an old church and rebuild it then maybe it had to be that way. Few thought it possible, more thought it far too great an undertaking, but eventually permission was granted and all the formalities completed for taking down the old redundant church of All Saints' North Peckham, London, some 19 miles away.
August 12th, 1952, saw the Vicar, Rev Vivian Symons, (or to give him his then correct title, Perpetual Curate, for Biggin Hill could not become a Parish until it had a permanent church), driving down the Old Kent Road in an old Morris lorry, given by a London builder, on his way to start dismantling All Saints. From that day he spent every available hour, sometimes with a small band of voluntary and inexperienced helpers, but more often than not on his own. It was a full-time job, yet in addition there was the work of his district to attend to as well as being Chaplain to the R.A.F. Station. Day after day, lorry load after lorry load, the work went on, each time everyone becoming more proficient at a job at first new and strange to them. Begrimed with the disturbed dust of ages, in his "dog collar" and overalls, the Reverend Vivian Symons became a familiar figure in the Camberwell district
The complete dismantling of All Saints took three years and four months and all that was left was a clean level site. In Biggin Hill 125,000 bricks, all cleaned and stacked, mostly by the ladies of St. Mark's, 200 tons of stonework and all of the roof timbers, were safely stored on open land behind the Vicarage.
Originally the new building was to have been erected on this land belonging to the church at the back of the Vicarage facing Church Road. It would have been hidden from view from the main road, but at the Vicar's request the estate of the late Mr. F.H. Dougal very generously gave the freehold of the corner site on which the church now stands, proudly dominating the centre of the village as it should.
With this added incentive, work began afresh clearing and levelling the ground ready for the foundations. Thanks to the loan of a mechanical shovel and a small dump truck many back-aching hours and even months were saved. To have seen the Vicar manoeuvring with joyous abandon this mechanical aid, often by night in the light of its headlamps, was an experience not without its perils at close quarters particularly to the sundry drivers of the truck who, in the early days of learning, were as likely to have a load of earth released into their lap as into the truck.
By 1958 all was set to start the actual building. Plans had been prepared and passed, and the building fund had risen to £5,330, by the generosity of many people, at home and all over the world, who had heard of The Moving Church from the many reports in the Press and on Television. How long it would have taken to built the church by voluntary labour is a matter of conjecture, for Durtnells, Ltd., a local building firm of great repute offered to build it on a no-profit basis. Such generosity could only be accepted and it was obviously God's will that the Parish Church of Biggin Hill should not be delayed.
Whilst the building work was going on all the church organisations were busy helping to provide the furnishings and furniture. The ladies and young girls were busily sewing, embroidering and making the hassocks and pew covers, and the furniture was being made from £300 worth of English oak given by anonymous donors. The old stone was recarved. The Vicar also turned his hand to engraving the windows, using a dentist's drill, and to transforming gifts of old gold and silver into the magnificent Alter Cross, Chalice, Alms Dish and Paten. Every effort was fully geared to getting all finished in time for the Consecration on the most appropriate of all days, St. Mark's Day.
When the old corbel stones were re-set in the brickwork, the Vicar borrowed (free) a 50 ft. jib crane and lifted the roof trusses and purlins into position within three days. After replacing over 2 ½ miles of roof boarding, the roof was tiled and the fabric of the Church completed.
On Saturday, 25th April, 1959, the bells rang out for the first time for the Consecration of the church by the Lord Bishop of Rochester. For this great moment the team of young bellringers, male and female, had been training for many weeks at the Parish Church of Westerham. Inside the church, due to the inclement weather, as many people as could possibly be crowded in, but alas not all, witnessed the fulfilment of their hopes and prayers. As in the course of the Consecration Service the Bishop chiselled his mark on the stone from Rochester Cathedral set in the south column of the chancel arch, it was a most moving moment of realisation that at long last, very long last, Biggin Hill had a church worthy of God and became a Parish. In the eyes of the beholders that day it seemed the finest "village cathedral" ever built, and no doubt it is.