Chapter 1: Early Years


Benjamin SLIGHT was born on 1 August 1800 at Nenthorn, Berwickshire, Scotland, and baptized in Nenthorn Kirk on 31 October 1803 with his elder brother John and younger sister Elizabeth.  He was the second son of James SLIGHT (1772-1852), gardener to Sir Alexander Don on his Newton Don estate.  The SLIGHTs had been gardeners there, off and on, for at least 60 years and had resided during that time in the parishes of Nenthorn, Makerstoun, Ednam and Stichill which lie adjacent to one other.  His mother was Hannah DOWNS (c. 1773-1842) and all that is definitely known of her birthplace is that she was born somewhere in England though the exact place could have been as far away as Devon (family tradition) or even as close as Northumberland, only 10 miles away. 


Some time before 12 May 1804, when Benjamin's infant twin brothers were buried, the family had moved to the neighbouring parish of Kelso where they remained until at least 15 October 1815 when Benjamin's youngest sister, Christina was baptized there.  Benjamin's grandfather, James SLIGHT (1739-?), had worked as gardener at Stodrigs (now part of the Floors Castle estate belonging to the Duke of Roxburghe) in the parish of Makerstoun before 7 June 1772.  He had subsequently moved his employment to Blackwater Hall, Ednam, Roxburghshire, not far away on the opposite, eastern side of Kelso, around 1775. Around 1785-6, he worked at Ednam House, the residence of Mrs. Dickson, on the western side of Kelso not too far from the town itself and finally settled down to become a farmer some time before 1797 and owning two horses in that year.  Towards the end of the following decade, he was described as an "egg dealer" and was living within the parish of Kelso.


We do not know what kind of education, if any, his grandson Benjamin enjoyed in Kelso during his boyhood; nor the reason why Benjamin and his family left Scotland; nor their whereabouts during the period 1815-1826 (apart from a reference to Benjamin's sister Elizabeth who is said to have married her husband George ROBSON in Jedburgh on 12 August 1819).  At the end of this period of mystery, he was, in a published discourse, to "plead the cause of the English Sabbath School System......[which]...has become endeared to my heart by a long acquaintanceship"; such remarks, if taken literally, suggesting that he had been in England, at least, if not in Newcastle on Tyne for quite a number of years.  It is not known whether he was in contact with his aunt, Ann SLIGHT (née BEAL), a native of Warkworth, Northumberland, who was living in Alnwick, Northumberland,  on 1 January 1811, with her infant son, James Beal SLIGHT, and who was the widow of his father's younger brother, Archibald (1780-1810),.


Chapter 2: His Apprenticeship in Newcastle


We know with certainty that, as a young man, Benjamin was a member of the United Secession Church, Carliol Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1826.   It is possible that he had earlier been an attendee at the Garth Heads Chapel there.  The congregation of Burghers, formed about 1760 who founded the church in Carliol Street, had their first meeting-house, The Garth Heads Chapel, near the Sallyport-gate before moving to Carliol Street.  The Rev. John Smith was minister from 1784.   The Rev. Smith  was assisted from about 1827 by Rev. Adam Dawson Gillon.  The United Secession Church had come into being in 1820 when the Burgher and Anti-Burgher factions reunited at a synod in Edinburgh after 75 years of schism caused when the Associate Presbytery of 1732 (a seceding group from the Church of Scotland) endured a further split in 1745. The church building in Carliol Street was erected in 1823, opened on 25 December that year, and seated about 800 persons.   Rev. George Bell was appointed minister in August 1834.


Benjamin's employment up to 1826 had been 'chiefly mercantile' so it is almost certain that he would have been capable of reading, writing and arithmetic (possibly including accounting) during his early manhood.


We know he was a member of the Sunday School Union of Newcastle upon Tyne, and Superintendant of the Carliol Street Sabbath School there until late 1826 when he delivered a farewell discourse in the Postern Chapel, Newcastle on Sunday 17 December that year.   In it, he spoke of his "...long acquaintance with the English Sabbath School system".  The discourse was published the following year, at the insistence of teachers at the Sabbath School, and bore a dedication to Rev. Ralph Davidson, pastor  of the Postern Chapel. 


The Rev. John Smith was to be instrumental in propelling Benjamin on his life's course by means of a letter of recommendation which he wrote to the Directors of the London Missionary Society who accepted Benjamin as a student at the Mission College, Hoxton, on 1 January 1827.   


Benjamin therefore left Newcastle upon Tyne but the rest of his family remained in the area.  His sister Elizabeth ROBSON was living with her family in Gateshead in April 1830 whilst his other sisters and parents resided in Newcastle upon Tyne (Picton Place, not far from Carliol Street) on 6 June 1841 at the time of the census.


Chapter 3: Study in London


On 29 September 1828, after a year and a half of study at Hoxton and after undergoing a medical examination, the Directors of the Mission College recommended that Benjamin give up his plans for missionary work abroad and a prospective post in the East because of his fragile health and his weak constitution being unsuitable for a tropical climate.  On 9 October 1828, Ebenezer Henderson (1784-1858) of the College, wrote a letter of recommendation to Thomas Wilson requesting that Benjamin be admitted to Highbury College to train for the home ministry.   He wrote:


"...It is, I can assure you, with extreme reluctance that I part with him. He was a student from which I expected considerable credit to the Mission College; and had already fixed up a station in the East, where I anticipated the employment of his talents in a way likely to be highly promotive of the interests of the Society. But the Lord had barred the door against him for the present, and it becomes us to submit to the arrangements of his Infinite Wisdom.


            Mr S. has made very respectable progress during the period he has been with us. He is a hardworking student, eager in the pursuit of knowledge, and evinces much docility of mind. His preaching talents with some further cultivation are likely to be very useful. I can most cordially recommend him to your Institution as a pious, devoted and promising young man; and I hope the Great Head of the Church will bless him and make him a blessing to many."


Henderson, the Icelandic missionary, had returned to England from missionary travels throughout Europe on 5 July 1825, when he took charge of the missionary students at Gosport and went with them to the newly-opened Mission College, Hoxton where he was resident and theological tutor from April 1826 (the College opened officially on 10 October 1826) until 1830 when the college closed.  Benjamin's own letter of application to the Committe of 10 October also survives together with that of Dr. Thomas H. Burden of 2, Brunswick Square, who examined him and wrote to Thomas Wilson on 11th:


"Mr Slight does not appear to me to labour under any permanent disease, but merely a strong tendency to disease, requiring a moderated application to Study and a regular use of exercise in the open air.  With these precautions, I think he may not only prevent an increase of his occasional disorder, but may also / Deo pisante / gradually overcome the tendency at present existing. I think you may safely receive him."



The front of Highbury College in 1825 from the south-east


Highbury College, a training establishment for dissenting ministers, was designed by John Davies in the classical Ionic style and built in 1825-26.   The College had been founded in November 1782 and had previously been known as Hoxton Academy when it occupied the buildings later taken over by Hoxton Mission College.  Biblical Greek and Hebrew formed part of the syllabus.  The grounds of about 5 acres extended north-west behind the college.  Within 30 years, it had become a college for schoolmasters and in 1866 became an Anglican theological college.   Part of its grounds were leased to Arsenal Football Club in 1913. The college buildings were damaged by fire in 1946 and demolished soon after.


Benjamin moved to Highbury College towards the end of 1828, becoming one of about 28 students there one of a trio of inseparable friends, the others being Alexander Reid and Patrick Thomson.   Other fellow students included Joshua Harrison and Dr. Stoughton.  The college provided free board and tuition, being funded by supporters’ subscriptions, donations, legacies and other fund-raising.


The front of Highbury College in 1825 from the south


The course normally lasted three years and the curriculum consisted of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee and Syriac languages, intellectual and moral philosophy church history, elementary mathematics, biblical criticism, composition of sermons  and theology.  We know for certain that he was taught to read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and, throughout his period of study, he was diligent and showed promise.  Apart from Ebenezer Henderson, who arrived in 1830 as senior linguist and philologist, the tutors at the College included Robert Halley (classics tutor from 1826), William Harris (senior classical tutor until 1829), Dr. Henry Foster Burder (from 1810 until 1830) and his successor, Henry Rogers (until 1839). 



The gardens at the rear of Highbury College in 1825, from the north west




Highbury College continued to have an independent existence until 1850 when it merged with Homerton and Coward Colleges to form New College in premises in St. John's Wood.  In turn, New College merged with Hackney College by Act of Parliament in 1924 and the present buildings were opened in 1938 by the Earl of Athlone, Chancellor of the University of London, of which the College now forms part, now being merged with the Royal Holloway College.  Benjamin remained at Highbury until 1830.


Chapter 4: His Ministry in Tunbridge Wells


Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, near the top and on the right hand side of the steep thoroughfare which enjoys the name of "Little Mount Sion", had been opened for the first time on 1 August 1720 as a Presbyterian meeting room.  Its most famous minister was Thomas Bayes, still remembered in statistical and mathematical circles for "Bayes' Theorem" relating to probability theory.  The chapel subsequently passed through the hands of various denominations and it may have been in that place that the venerable Isaac Watts may have preached his sermon, 'Meditations on the Rocks near Tunbridge Wells' which he subsequently published.  It is known that John Wesley preached in the chapel on 6 occasions.  Subsequently, the chapel closed in 1814.



Thomas Wilson of Highbury (1764-1843), manufacturer of ribbons, silks and gauzes, Non-Conformist benefactor, Treasurer of Highbury College and one of the leading spirits of the Congregational Home Missionary Society, had reopened Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, on 8 July 1830 and, a month later, on 8 August 1830, the Congregational Home Missionary Society sent Benjamin SLIGHT to Mount Sion to preach there for the first time. 


Benjamin stayed in this fashionable town and, by 1 September 1830, had acquired lodgings (two rooms) at the house of Mr J Armstrong, Calverley Road at a rent of 12/- per week and was involved with the fledgling congregation at Mount Sion, supervising the sales of sittings (pew rents), the school, hymn books and tracts.  A church was formed four months later at a meeting presided over by Rev. Thomas Jones of Woolwich which was held in the vestry on 8 December.  A declaration as to the doctrine, duties and discipline was unanimously agreed and signed by eleven members of the church and by the Rev. Slight who took the minutes of the meeting.  Within a few years, four of these 11 members were to join the Baptists (whose chapel opened close by in 1834), one had left the town, two were dead and the rest had allowed their membership to lapse.  The following month, on 21 January 1831, Mr SLIGHT was unanimously offered the post of pastor.   



Mount Sion Chapel (now converted into offices) in September 1991 from the south.  The former chapel is the white building on the left, displaying the 'TW TS' logo


By 22 March, attendances at the chapel were good.  He had, by this time, moved to Myrtle Cottage, which was somewhere near the junction of the north side of Church Road and London Road. 


Benjamin was confirmed in his post when Dr. Henderson of Highbury College read a letter of acceptance in March and his public ordination took place on 10 May 1831 in Mount Sion Chapel at 10.30 a.m., the ordination prayer being read by Rev. J. Slatterie of Chatham in the presence of Rev. A. S. Dubourg of Marden, Rev. R. Halley of Highbury College, Rev. John Clayton M.A. and Rev. E. Jenkins of Maidstone. In the evening, the service was led by Rev. J. Stratten of Paddington.


Between the two devotions, a "plain dinner" took place at the prestigious Sussex Hotel (along the famous Pantiles, at no great distance from Little Mount Sion), those attending paying 3/- per head.  Two years before, the Duchess of Kent and her daughter Princess (later Queen) Victoria had lunched there and would stay the night there in 1834.


Services were held on Sundays at 11.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., prayer meetings on Mondays at 7.00 p.m. and lectures on Wednesdays at 7.00 p.m.  The school room was separated from the church by sliding shutters and could seat 50 persons, the church itself seating 400.  During the week, it was used by a girls' school (60 girls) belonging to the British and Foreign Schools Society.


A "violent cold" was sweeping through the congregation towards the end of June 1831 and having a marked effect on attendances at the Chapel.  Benjamin arranged to take time off at the beginning of August for relaxation including some time by the sea.


Benjamin ran Bible Classes from October 1831 which were both novel for their time and popular and also founded a library for the Sunday School early in 1833.  A school was founded on Friday 9 October for illiterate servants (presumably female) and other young women and began with a dozen pupils.  The syllabus included principles of simple accounting.



The Rev. SLIGHT was granted, at his own insistence, one month to six weeks holiday each year for 'recreation and visiting friends'.  Benjamin wrote to Thomas Wilson on 21 June 1831 concerning the possibility of an annual anniversary in July or August at which a collection could be taken for his benefit.  He said:


"It seems desirable that there should be something of the kind—as the expenses of a minister here, who must appear respectable in such a place, are much greater than in most others. And every Minister requires books."


However, some members of the church expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the church funds were being spent.  Benjamin explained, in his defence, that his salary was not fixed and his only income came from pew rents (280 from the chapel's capacity of 450 seatings), visitors donations and surplus money from collections. 


The church also paid a weekly sum of 2s 6d to any members who became unemployed, and, later in 1835, a Sick Fund was created to which each church member contributed one penny per week.  Benjamin wrote to Thomas Wilson on 21 June 1831:


"....Do you think we are acting properly in receiving a person into the church whose circumstances are such as to leave but little prospect of being able to support himself and family—probably he may very soon become chargeable to the Parish? —There appears to be little or no doubt as to his piety, and the correctness of his motives in wishing to join us. But for the present I have recommended him to put off his application— until I should have an opportunity of consulting with you on the case."


In May (? check this) 1832, Benjamin was one of the representatives of the Kent Congregational Union amongst the 82 ministers present at the inaugural meeting of the Congregational Union of England and Wales which took place at the new Congregational Library, Blomfield Street, Finsbury Circus.  Annual meetings of the Union took place every May from then on.


During this period, the minister in charge of the nearby Chapel-of-Ease, the church of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, only a few hundred yards from Mount Sion Chapel, was Rev. William Law Pope (who ministered there from 1829 to 1879) and the members of the two denominations were locally referred to as "Popites" and "Slightites".   In his letter to Thomas Wilson of 2 January 1833, Benjamin says "Mr Maddock recently come amongst us.....formerly a great admirer of Mr Pope at the Chapel of Ease, and not yet emancipated from church thraldom."   This period also coincided with the regular summer visits to Tunbridge Wells of Princess (later Queen) Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent.  She would often attend church whilst staying at Calverley (Mount Pleasant) House in 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1834 and at Boyne House on Mount Ephraim in 1835.  Hearing the Rev. Pope preach, she was of the opinion that the sermon preached on 24 August 1834 was not as good as some of his others. 


Benjamin was ill in May 1833, though how seriously is not known.


Benjamin had a lithograph portrait of himself drawn and printed which most probably dates from the 1830's.  A copy of it survived and was published on 14 August 1964 in the East Grinstead Courier when it was in the possession of Mrs Bertha P. Luxford of Eastbourne who died there on 15 September 1969.


On the evening of Sunday 4, October, 1835, Benjamin preached an uncompromising sermon on the subject of the influence of Roman Catholicism, its doctrine and practices and of similar traits in other denominations.  It also contained a plea for tolerance of all religious beliefs.  The sermon was published in November under the title The Prevalence of Popery.  


Rev. Benjamin Slight from an old print (in the possession of Mrs Bertha Luxford in the mid-1960s)


On 28 June 1836, Benjamin married, by licence, Charlotte TWISS, at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst.  The witnesses were Charlotte's brother Daniel and sister Caroline TWISS.  Her mother, Mary TWISS née SCOTT (1767-1836), had died earlier in the year (on 20 January) and her father, Robert TWISS on 19 November 1829.  The ceremony was performed by the Rector, the Rev. John James Saint, Nonconformist marriages only becoming legal with the introduction of  the 1836 Marriage Act which took effect after Benjamin's marriage.


Robert TWISS and Mary TWISS (née SCOTT), parents of Charlotte TWISS


Charlotte's uncle, Richard TWISS, had been author of Travels in Europe, botanist, musician and Fellow of the Royal Society though he was no businessman and lost most of his fortune trying to make paper out of straw.  Her grandfather, Francis Richard TWISS (1716-1777) had had to flee with his young wife from his home in Beccles, Suffolk, having voiced support for the Stuarts in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. He escaped to Rotterdam acting as an agent for the importing of Yarmouth bloaters and remained there for 25 years until his first wife's death.  He then returned to England with his four surviving children, re-establishing contact with his first cousin, Henry Latham, with whom he had maintained business links and with his father also. He returned a very wealthy man, owning warehouses in Rotterdam Harbour and chartering his own ships.  Robert's brother (Charlotte's uncle) Francis married Frances KEMBLE, proprietress of a high-society school for girls in Bath, Somerset, and whose sister, Sarah SIDDONS (née KEMBLE), was one of the most famous tragic theatrical actresses of 18th century England.  Charlotte's father, Robert TWISS (1760-1829), was born, lived and died in Rotterdam, a merchant  and company director of the family firm, Latham and Twiss.  

Coat of Arms of the TWISS family of Rotterdam


In 1835 (he appears in the Poll Book for that year), Charlotte's uncle, John SCOTT (c. 1771-?), was living at No.2 Somerset Place, Tunbridge Wells, one of the elegant properties on the northern side of Mount Ephraim overlooking the town and was still there on 6 June 1841.  This address was within the parish of Speldhurst and could have been Charlotte's home at the time of her marriage, explaining the location of the Slights' marriage.  Charlotte was a beneficiary of John's will and a marriage settlement was drawn up.


Around this time, Benjamin and his new wife moved to 3, Park View (now no. 46, Grove Hill Road), a plain, inelegant and very modest 3-storey house in a terrace of four, but nevetheless well situated with a fine view across Calverley Park.  In 1837, Benjamin is listed there in the Poll Book for Tunbridge Wells.  In 1841, the large household at this address was made up of the SLIGHTs, Charlotte Stapley (a woman of independent means) and her daugher and son-in-law, Charlotte and George Stephens (a solicitor) and the Stephens' 11 month old daughter, Edith.  It is not clear whether the SLIGHTs were the landlords or tenants (though the fact that Benjamin owned other properties in the Wells would indicate the former as being the most likely) nor whether the house was partitioned. The servants must have lived elsewhere as none are shown.  After the SLIGHTs had left the Wells, other members of the Stapley family were resident there in 1851.



Park View, Tunbridge Wells, home of the SLIGHTs in the 1830s and '40s, pictured in 1991.  No. 3, now No. 46 Grove Hill Road,  is the second from the left.


In 1837, another sermon of his, Christian Unity: or all believers one in Christ, was published.


Also, in that year, Joshua Wilson (1795-1874), son of Thomas Wilson, writer of tracts and historian of Congregationalism, married Mary Wood, only daughter of Thomas Bulley of Teignmouth.


The first marriage to take place at Mount Sion Chapel, following the passage of parliamentary legislation to legalise Nonconformist and other marriages, was conducted by Rev. SLIGHT on Wednesday, 2 October 1839, when a member of the church, Miss Mary Trice, married Rev. Samuel Martin of Cheltenham who later became pastor of Westminster Chapel, intimate friend of Dean Stanley and, in 1862, chairman of the Congregational Union.


Benjamin's activities expanded as he became involved himself in the plan to form a Sunday school at Hawkenbury (then known as "Tutties' Village") to be connected with Mount Sion Chapel.   Plans for a schoolroom followed and Rev. SLIGHT wrote to the local rector to see if anything could be done.  Nothing came of this approach and the plan evolved into one to build a combined chapel and schoolroom.  Bethel Chapel came into being in 1839 and was opened on 1 December by Rev. SLIGHT who preached at the dedication.  Services were initially conducted by lay preachers from Mount Sion who read sermons by approved authors.


On census day, 6 June 1841, the SLIGHTs were away from home.


Benjamin's mother died as a result of asthma on 15 November 1842 at Picton Place, Newcastle on Tyne, the home of Benjamin's parents and sisters Marianne and Christina.  It is not known whether he attended her funeral but travel in those days would have been difficult until 19 September 1845 when the railway arrived in Tunbridge Wells and the Central Station was opened there.


Thomas Wilson died at Highbury Place on 17 June 1843 and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery where a monument was erected to his memory. Benjamin had kept up a regular correspondence with him since 1830 and was to continue corresponding with his son, Joshua, until the latter's death in 1874.  Joshua wrote a biography of his father in 1846 entitled A memoir of the life and character of Thomas Wilson, Esq., Treasurer of Highbury College


Chapter 5: The Erection of the New Church in Tunbridge Wells


At Mount Sion, consideration was being given in 1841 to the building of a new church in more salubrious surroundings (mentioned in a letter of 29 July of that year from Benjamin SLIGHT to Joshua Wilson).  This had been precipitated by the conversion of Wilmot Lodge, the house immediately below Mount Sion chapel, to a 'beer shop or common public house' and a deterioration in the condition of the surrounding property and the respectability of the neighbourhood generally.  Moreover, the chapel's situation at the top of a steep bank away from the main thoroughfares was inconvenient.  A meeting was held in June of that year where it was agreed that "the erection of a new place of worship in a more eligible situation is a desirable object."    Some difficulties caused the plan to be delayed until October 1843 when a private meeting and, on 23rd, a meeting of the congregation met to discuss "a renewed effort for obtaining a New Chapel".  The site chosen, in Mount Pleasant, a fashionable area adjoining the development of the Calverley Estate, was close to the newly built District Church (now Holy Trinity) and was donated by the Rev. SLIGHT, having cost him £348.  


Handbills and subscription agreement forms were sent out on 1 November 1843.  The foundation stone was laid on 21 May 1846 (or 1845?) by Charles Hindley M.P., prayers being offered by Rev. Dr. Borner and an address by Rev. John Clayton M.A.  The opening of the elegant, classical new chapel which cost £3,800, took place on 20 January 1848 (the impressive Doric portico was not added until 1866).  There were services in the morning and evening that day and a mid-day dinner at the Sussex Hotel on the Pantiles for visiting ministers and friends.  Rev. W. Pawling of Lenham, Rev. E. Jinkings (Jenkins?) of Maidstone and Rev. J. Hedgcock of Marden participated in the services.  Rev. John Harris D.D., President of Cheshunt College preached the morning sermon and in the evening, Rev. John Leifchild D.D. of London.  Dedicatory services throughout the following week were disrupted by cold weather and the lack of heating.  However, Rev. H. J. Bevis of Ramsgate preached on Sunday 23rd and, a few days later, on 27th, Rev. Samuel Martin preached to the young people at the final dedicatory service.

Congregational Church, Mount Pleasant, Tunbridge Wells soon after completion




On 23 June 1849, the Queen and Prince Albert paid a surprise visit to her aunt, Queen Adelaide, at the Calverley Hotel (formerly Calverley or Mount Pleasant House), not far from Mount Pleasant Church and on the opposite diagonal corner of Calverley Park from the SLIGHTs' house in Park View.


Benjamin SLIGHT continued his ministry for the next two years at the new chapel, being assisted by Rev. Ebenezer Whiting Finch of Wollaston near Wellingborough, Northants, in 1849.   The exertions of the years up to this point had, however, taken their toll on his health and, in October, the Rev. SLIGHT took the advice of his medical attendant, Mr Rix, and resigned on grounds of ill-health 119 members of the church signed and gifted to him a memorial and expressed their hope that he would remain in their midst.  A collection for a parting gift raised £40.  He was succeeded in 1850 by the Rev. W. P. Lyon.



Congregational Church (now 'Habitat'), Mount Pleasant, Tunbridge Wells from the south in September 1991.  The protico at the front was added several years after the original building was erected.


Benjamin had other plans, however.  He had been advised by his doctors and, in particular, Dr George Moore, retired physician of Tunbridge Wells, "to seek for rest in some quiet country town or village, and to refrain from study, preaching or any exciting labour for at least two years."  The SLIGHTs moved to the neighbouring village of Pembury, a few miles East NE of the Wells.



Mount Pleasant, Tunbridge Wells, showing the Congregational Church (now 'Habitat') on the left (September 1991).


On 23 April 1850, according to an Indenture of Conveyance, Benjamin sold Nos. 13, 15 and 17 Little Mount Sion to John Colbran, publisher of the Guide to Tunbridge Wells of 1840 and later of the Tunbridge Wells Gazette.  Colbran himself sold them on in 1890 to John Goulden (whose solicitors were Thompson, Snell and Passmore who were later taken over by Silks).  This small terrace was demolished in the 1960s and is now a car park.


Chapter 6: Retirement to East Grinstead


After visiting relatives in Holland, the SLIGHTs came to reside in East Grinstead on 1 October 1850.  Their home, Sackville Cottage, was the last house at the eastern end of the High Street, its southern side parallel with the road and its northern side separated by a narrow footpath from the rear of Sackville College, a Jacobean almshouse of exquisite architectural beauty, founded in 1608 by Robert Sackville, second Earl of Dorset, for the shelter and maintenance of thirty poor and aged householders, under charge of a warden, not necessarily in holy orders, and two sub-wardens.  The house had been built on a wedge of land released by the realignment of the road to Lewes i.e. on the site of the old road’s continuance.  The rear gate of the College was between the front of the SLIGHTs' cottage and the next house in the High Street.  Owned by a Richard Edwards at some time during its life, the cottage was therefore situated where the broad High Street narrowed and became Lewes Road and its front porch, on the western side of the house, faced back along the length of the High Street in line with the pavement on its north side.  Immediately opposite, on the south side of the street, was the toll house and between was the turnpike Toll Gate, established about 1717 and removed in 1882.  Still shown on the 1931 Ordnance Survey Map, Sackville Cottage, by then known as “Kennedy’s”, was acquired by the local authority in the 1950s or ‘60s and demolished to make way for road widening and a grassy verge, opening up the southern façade of the College to public view.  The SLIGHTs rented this house and bought it outright in 1852.



View looking west along the High Street, East Grinstead from the site of the front door of Sackville Cottage, home of the Slights


Before Benjamin's arrival in the town and after, for the rest of the decade, the neighbouring Sackville College was embroiled in factional disputes and scandal.  The Warden of the College was the Rev. John Mason Neale (1818-1866).  He was a scholar and hymnologist, very much in tune with the ideas of the Oxford Movement and one of the founders of the high-church Cambridge Camden Society (later, on moving to London, the Ecclesiological Society),.  He was author of many hymns including "Good King Wenceslas", "O happy band of pilgrims", "Come, ye faithful, raise the anthem" and was translator of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "Of the Father's love begotten", "A great and mighty wonder", "The royal banners forward go", "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle", "O sons and daughters let us sing", "The day of resurrection", "Come, ye faithful, raise the strain", "Jerusalem the golden", "Therefore we before him bending", "Blessed city, heavenly Salem" and "All Glory, Laud and Honour".  All in all, he was responsible for a large proportion of the hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern. 


Neale was appointed by warrant on 26 May 1846 (though resident at the College a month before).  The Anglo-Catholic movement which Neale espoused and which originated during this period provoked intense hostility both within and outside of the Church of England.   Neale renovated the College and its chapel but altered the ornamentation of the chapel in line with his theology.  On 8 May 1847, Dr. Gilbert, the Bishop of Chichester, after a confirmation service in the parish church, visited the College and, describing Neale's ornaments as 'frippery' and 'spiritual haberdashery', placed Rev. Neale under an inhibition from celebrating Divine worship or undertaking other clerical duties throughout the diocese.  On the basis that the College Chapel was outside of the Bishop's jurisdiction, Rev. Neale continued to hold services there, the Bishop took legal action and a private enquiry ensued on 4 April 1848 at St. Swithun's Church followed, on 3 June, by the trial before the Court of Arches which found against Dr. Neale.  The same year, malicious damage occurred at the college in mysterious circumstances and anonymous letters were received. Rev. Neale suspected Mrs Furmiger, a resident of the College. 


Sackville College, East Grinstead on 24 August 1991.  The path leading to this rear entrance on the south side of the College met the High Street close to  the front door of Sackville Cottage where the Slights were living.


On 25 February 1851, having lived in the town for only a few weeks, the SLIGHTs endured a baptism of fire when a mob marched on Sackville College and tried to burn it down "in consequence of some objections made by the relatives and others in the form of burial service it was proposed to observe at the funeral of a female inmate named Alchin."


Benjamin became an attendee on Sundays at Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel in West Street, East Grinstead.   This had been opened on 23 April 1811 by Rev. Rowland Hill, funds having been donated by the Countess of Huntingdon's Trust.  Theologically both Calvinist and Methodist, the Chapel was, somewhat incongruously, using the Book of Common Prayer in the 1850s.  Another Congregational Church existed in East Grinstead from 1847; this was the Rocks Chapel in Old Road (on the corner of Old Road not far from the East Court estate and from Sackville Cottage) opened on Good Friday 1850.  Their minister from 1855, the Rev. James Turnbull M.A., was a friend of John Mason Neale and, despite the obvious theological differences, supported him on one occasion.   Rev. Neale ministered to him on his deathbed in June 1858.


Although the "two years" Benjamin had been advised to take as rest were not yet exhausted, the idea of re-entering the ministry came to him in or before January 1852 when, in a letter to Joshua Wilson, he mentions a proposal to officiate at a service in Highgate and the possibility of taking on a small charge.


On 21 April 1852, the SLIGHTs were staying at 5, Cannon Place, Brighton whilst building alterations were taking place at Sackville Cottage.  His wife's illness of the previous winter improved in Brighton and it was planned that she should proceed from there to Pembury to stay their with friends.  Benjamin returned to East Grinstead alone on 21st.


Only a few days later, on 26 April 1852, Benjamin's elderly father, James, died in Union Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne at the age of 70.


Ward's directory of 1852, under 'Gentry', listed Benjamin erroneously as the Rev. Samuel SLIGHT, subsequently corrected by 1855.


At this time, Benjamin assisted the minister at Zion Chapel, Rev. S. T. Gibbs and also preached in the neighbouring villages of Outwood in Surrey, Four Elms in Kent, Forest Row, West Hoathly and Turner's Hill in Sussex amongst others.


Benjamin wrote in October 1854 of his occasional preaching and of his decision to sell the freehold of his remaining property in Tunbridge Wells.  Joshua Wilson's will (of 13 June 1874) attests to the fact that he bought properties in Tunbridge Wells from Benjamin.



Zion Chapel, East Grinstead from the west. in September 1991


In or around November 1854, Rev SLIGHT gave a lecture on Mohammedanism, a topical subject in the days of the Crimean War involving Turkey.  He had given a similar lecture in 1840 or 1841 to the Mechanics' Institute in Tunbridge Wells, an institution which later merged with the Useful Knowledge Society.


Benjamin was suffering on 19 May 1855 of "face ache", a perennial complaint for him, brought on by exposure to cold weather.  This particular bout occurred after a visit to friends, the Stranges, on Wednesday 16th and a drive on the following day.  Charlotte had recently left for Rotterdam (a passage of 18 hours) to visit her family following a series of bereavements (8 in 18 months) and Benjamin planned to join her after attending the Kent Union Society meetings.


The Rev. Neale had suspected one of the residents at Sackville College, Mrs Furmiger, of being behind the unexplained incidents there.  However, after she died before the winter of 1854, the strange happenings recurred.  In the winter of 1854-55, the Rev. Neale accused a blind female inmate of adultery with another inmate and told them that they must both leave the College.  An enquiry was held at the College in 1855.


At the nearby village of Ashurst Wood, a "preaching station" existed, known as "the Room" built in 1831 by friends of Zion Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, East Grinstead, on a piece of Common or waste land belonging to the Manor of Wall Hill (which, according to one account, later became the site of the village infants' school and, to another by 1889, the site of the residence of Mr. Henry Finch).  Later on, in payment of a debt, it became the property of Mr. William Charlwood, but was rented annually for £2 by the friends of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel in East Grinstead for use a Sunday School and preaching place for a rent of £2.   It was through his connection with Zion that Benjamin began preached there from time to time but, the worshippers being unable to keep up rental payments, Mr Charlwood decided to put the Room up for sale and it closed its doors in May or June 1855.  Benjamin had come into contact with Mr Charlwood through a mutual friend, Rev. James Cattell (later to become an executor of his will), subsequently of Marsh Green, Edenbridge, and later of Stone Villa, Chipstead, Kent and Park Lodge, Bessels Green near Sevenoaks. Benjamin bought the Room for £50 and, within a few weeks, on 10 September 1855, after some renovation, it was re-opened for Sunday morning and afternoon services and Sunday School following the morning service.  A Sunday morning service was introduced and Mr. William Chapman of East Grinstead, who was the Superintendant of the Sunday School, conducted this and the afternoon service whilst Mrs Butcher of Hammerwood worked alongside Mr. Chapman in the Sunday School, both being retained from the previous regime.  The opening service was conducted by Rev. SLIGHT who preached from Acts xiv.7 ("And there they preached the gospel.").  The Rev. J. Simpson, temporarily filling the vacancy at the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel in East Grinstead, preached in the afternoon and Rev. James Cattell, residing for a short time in the town, preached in the evening.  It was enlarged and Rev. SLIGHT continued to preach there on occasions.


On 23 December 1855, he was engaged in the writing of Uncle Daniel, the Pious Farmer, a memorial to his friend, Daniel Dickinson of Pembury, who had died earlier in the year on Monday, 28 May, being buried on Friday 2 June).  This was published in March the following year and dedicated to Rev. George Jones, minister of the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel in Tunbridge Wells and to the congregation there.


Benjamin states his opinion, in a letter of 3 September 1856, that the word 'chapel' should be abandoned in favour of 'church', 'meeting house' or 'place of worship' as it had too many connections with popery.


Meanwhile, next door, on 5 July 1856, John Henry Rogers, assistant warden of Sackville College was assaulted by Edward Martin, one of the brothers, between 7 and 8 o'clock in the evening.  A few months later, on Monday 6 Oct 1856, an inmate, George Taylor, who had accused Henry Rogers of "poking him in the chest and bothering him", died at around 3 in the afternoon.  Rogers was subsequently exonerated.


Mrs. Butcher, the Sunday School teacher at Ashurst Wood, died in January 1857 and funeral sermons preached on Sunday 8 February: Mr. SLIGHT took as his text "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are they that die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.".  Mr Chapman preached in the afternoon from 2 Corinths.iv.17 "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;".


On Wednesday, 18 Nov 1857, the Rev. Neale of Sackville College officiated at the funeral and burial of a member of the Sisters of Mercy, the daughter of Rev. J. Scobell at Lewes, Sussex.   A melée occurred when the procession was returning to the church from the burial vault during which the Rev. Neale was unrobed and his surplice torn.  He was then forced to take refuge in the King's Head Inn, Southorn.  The Rev Neale returned to Lewes the following day in an attempt to complete funeral rites in private.  Another mob gathered and drove him to seek shelter in another public house.


Towards the end of 1857, Rev. William Hill came to East Grinstead to conduct Sunday services at St. Swithun's parish church on behalf of the vicar who was in poor health, there being no curate, and impressed Benjamin with his preaching skills.  In turn, the Rev. Hill attended the evening service at Zion Chapel on his first Sunday and heard the Rev. SLIGHT preaching and visited him at Sackville Cottage the following day to introduce himself.  The two discussed the present state of the ministry of the gospel in the town and the Rev. Hill, having being invited to stay with Mr H. Kennedy Esq., the current lessee of Saint Hill, for the rest of his stay, persuaded that gentleman of the need to support Mr. SLIGHT's efforts at Ashurst Wood.  Mr. Kennedy therefore agreed to fund a "Scripture Reader" who would be under the supervision of Rev. SLIGHT, providing a suitable person could be found.  The Rev. Hill obtained the services of Mr. J. H. Smye who came to Ashurst Wood with his family on 10 April 1858 on the recommendation of the Country Towns Mission and this gentleman started a weekday service, what he called a "Cottage-Lecture"  on a Wednesday evening in the Room.  At the close of this, Mr Smye ran a circulating library in which 30-40 books were borrowed.  He built up the congregation to 90-100 worshippers on Sundays and 60-70 during the week.  It was even necessary to turn worshippers away for lack of space.


On 13 April 1858, Benjamin refers to the controversy raging in East Grinstead in relation to Rev. John Mason Neale, Warden of Sackville College.  His friend, William Pearless, the solicitor had given the Sisters of Mercy notice until Midsummer 1858 to quit the buildings in Church Street occupied by St Margaret's Convent.  The sisters had first moved to this address in June 1856.  Their eviction was not done out of malice but more of religious principle.  Benjamin speculated on acquiring these premises as the headquarters of a 'Protestant Brothers Association' to 'counteract the insidious aspirations of the friends of Popery here and elsewhere.....', though, so far as is known, nothing came of this idea.


On 1 June 1858, Benjamin was ill with an inflammation and in great pain for about 40 hours.  He was bled by the physician, losing about 3 cupfuls of blood, and the pain was subdued.  He recovered sufficiently to accompany his wife to Eastbourne on the 1.50 p.m. train the following day (scheduled to arrive at 4.35). where they remained until after 24th.  They stayed at the same appartments as on their previous stay (on that occasion they met with Joshua and Mrs Wilson) and attended the parish church on Sundays, Benjamin expressing the opinion that the Vicar's preaching skills were far inferior to those of the minister who deputised during his absence.


Benjamin wrote to Joshua Wilson on 2 December 1858 espousing the cause of  the chapel at St James's, Newcastle upon Tyne, some of the leading men being personal friends of his.


Next door, at Sackville College, on 30 Jan 1859, Rev. Neale's wife, (Sarah Norman née WEBSTER) was attacked by an inmate, Mary Ann Preston.  Mrs Neale took out a civil action and the court found in her favour awarding damages of one farthing.


Across the road from the Room at Ashurst Wood, a piece of ground forming part of Ashurst Wood Common, belonging to the recently deceased Mr. Bowrah, was put up for sale in March, 1859.  A lime-kiln stood at its North-West end.  Benjamin arranged for his solicitor, William Pearless Esquire, solicitor, of East Grinstead to buy it on his behalf for £7 10s (with legal expenses of £4  11s 4d).


On 14 Apr 1859,  the Rev. Neale, Warden of Sackville College, was himself accused of arson by the Brighton Gazette, the act having allegedly taken place in 1851, possibly when a fire occurred in the Earl's Room.


In May, 1859, Benjamin had an irritation and hoarseness in the throat.  Joshua Wilson's wife and daughter travelled by road to East Grinstead where they stayed with the SLIGHTs.


Benjamin conducted a prayer meeting at the Room on 6 April 1859 where it was resolved to build a new church on the land.  Mr Chapman and Mr Smye led the prayers and a collection was taken. Later in the month, a circular was drawn up, printed and distributed to 100 friends and relatives to solicit contributions.  Every Congregational minister in Kent and Sussex received one and others who were members of the Kent Union Society of which Mr. SLIGHT had been honorary secretary for many years. .  A covering note was sent with these on 18 April.  The response from Kent was disappointing and that from Sussex even more so.   Those who contributed were mainly friends and in-laws of Mr SLIGHT and congregations with which he had been associated in the past e.g. Joshua Wilson, Daniel TWISS,  H. H. Kennedy of Saint Hill, John Morley of London, Samuel Morley M.P., William Pearless, John Remington Mills, friends in Pembury, the congregation in Tutties' Village.  Collecting cards were also produced.   Joshua Wilson and John Finch of Tunbridge Wells and Rev. SLIGHT himself were in charge of fundraising.


Building began a month later. Benjamin wrote to John Finch regarding the design of the chapel on 7 May 1859. The chapel was designed by Mr Bedlake.  During its construction, Rev. E. F. W. Koch of Oesterwyk near Tilburg in Holland, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church whose congregation included Mrs. SLIGHT's nephew and niece, came to East Grinstead for the day and took great interest in the construction, being shown the work which was then in progress.  As a result, further contributions were received from the TWISS family after his return to Holland.  Although not quite finished, the church was opened for public worship on Tuesday, 11 October, 1859.  Celebrations took place all day with "Divine Service" at 11 a.m. and 2.15 p.m (preacher Rev. William Grigsby of the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London)., a public meeting at 6 p.m. (preachers: Rev. David Davies of East Grinstead, Rev. Grigsby, Rev. W. P. Lyon B.A. of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, Tunbridge Wells, Rev. George Jones of Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, Rev. Henry Thos. Grigg, Baptist minister of Dorman's Land, Lingfield, Rev. James C. Gallaway M.A. of London, Secretary of the English Congregational Chapel Building Society) with dinners (1/- per head) at 1 p.m.and teas (6d.) at 5 p.m. between services.  The attendance was huge, especially in the afternoon..  On 5 November 1859, there was a great storm with winds of great force which toppled the wooden framework of the spire (which had been temporarily glazed with plain glass as the quarry slate ordered for the purpose had been delivered to completely the wrong part of the country) so that it was leaning precariously against the gable end of the church roof and scaffolding.  This was seen by some as God's judgement for presuming to erect such a structure at a non-conformist place of worship!  There was, however, no shortage to volunteers to use ladders and ropes to repair it, after which it was strengthened with additional timbers and iron rods and remains standing to this day.   The building eventually cost £488 to erect and £12 was raised in the collections on the opening day.  Pews were put out for rent for no more, in most cases, than 1/- per quarter.


On, 4 Aug 1859, Mr J. H. Smye, the Scripture Reader from Ashurst Wood, became involved in the controversial happenings at Sackville College.  The Brighton Gazette reported that he had witnessed scandalous behaviour of the Rev. Neale's servants in the College including the use of foul language.


Benjamin SLIGHT became first pastor of the church and took no remuneration for his work.



The War Memorial, Ashurst Wood with the Congregational Church in the background.


Contributions were now sought to set up a day school in the Room, Miss Dickinson of Pembury and Mr Berger of Saint Hill being donors.  The school was opened, after renovation of the Room, on 9 January 1860.  Two sisters, Harriett and Sarah Podmore were the first teachers of the 50 children.  Mr Smye used the school room in the evenings for adult education and the circulating library.


About this time, the Anglicans in Forest Row launched a campaign to attract attendees away from the Chapel to the district church in Forest Row.  Despite some loss of attendance, the congregations became settled and regular and the Sunday School grew in size.



Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on 24 August 1991.


Fund-raising to pay off the building costs of the church continued.   Anniversary services were held in three successive years until, finally, on that held on 1 July 1863 (to celebrate the bicentenary year of the ejection of the Non-Conforming ministers from the Established Church), all except £50 remained which was contributed in October by the English Congregational Chapel Building Society. The earliest enrolled members of the church at Ashurst Wood date from 1863 (these include Mr. and Mrs. SLIGHT) which must have been the year when the church was first formally constituted..


Three letters were written  (12 July 1859, 23 July 1859 and 1 February 1861) by Benjamin from Marsh Green, Edenbridge, the address of Rev. James Cattell.


Chapter 7: Re-emergence from Retirement—His Ministry at Ashurst Wood


On census day, 8 April 1861, the SLIGHTs were not in residence at their newly-built stone house, "Nenthorn", in Ashurst Wood, named after Benjamin SLIGHT's birthplace in Berwickshire, not far from Kelso.  The house was habitable, however, and occupied by the school governess, Mary Ann BYSH and a servant, Esther Randall. 


In fact, Benjamin and his wife were staying at Saint Hill Manor near East Grinstead as guests of William Thomas BERGER (1815-1899), Home Director of the China Inland Mission and editor of its "Occasional Paper", and his wife Mary.  Berger was a starch manufacturer and describes himself as "local preacher of the Gospel". 




William Thomas BERGER and his wife Mary     The China Inland Mission Occasional Paper, March 1875


One of Saint Hill Manor's later owners was L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), founder of the Scientology religion/movement/cult who lived there from 1959 until 1967.  Saint Hill remains in the possession of the Scientology organisation and a training centre was built in the ground in the shape of a mock-medieval castle.



Some time between 8 April 1861 and 2 December 1862, the SLIGHTs sold Sackville Cottage to Mr. Wilkinson, and moved from East Grinstead to "Nenthorn" in Ashurst Wood.



'Nenthorn', pictured in Septmber 1991, home of the SLIGHTs from 1861 until 1889.



Benjamin's next task was to enlarge the schoolroom now used as a day-school. He reorganised it and placed it in touch with the requirements of the Education Act of 1870, placing it under managers, who carried it on for three years.  The School Board having then been formed and got into good working order, the management of the school was handed over to the new body and the buildings leased to it at a nominal rent.    Mr. SLIGHT's next good work was to buy the land adjoining the school, and an infant department was then added to it.  Mr. SLIGHT then made a gift of the whole premises to certain trustees, to be held by them for education purposes.


Meanwhile, in East Grinstead, in 1861, the Bishop of Chichester relaxed his inhibition against the Rev. Neale and formally withdrew it in November 1863, Dr. Neale, by his own admission, not having retreated from his position.  In return, in a gesture of reconciliation, he dedicated his "Seatonian" poems to the Bishop.


In 1863, a new Vicar of East Grinstead, arrived, the Rev. John Peat M.A.  He had been educated at St. Peter' College, Cambridge and had previously been rector of Hangleton near Brighton (1860-64), priest-in-charge at the Weald Chapel, Sevenoaks (1854-60) and curate at Sevenoaks (1850-54).  He published several poems and discourses from 1840 onwards.  He had no sympathy with this movement and exercised his hostility in opposing the Rev. Neale by preventing the first chapel at St Margaret's from being opened for public worship.


About 1866, Benjamin encouraged Joshua Wilson to engage an evangelist named Parry, of the Nottingham Institute, to hold Sunday services in the Old Town Hall (also variously known as Thompson's Corn Store and the County Court House), London Road.  Joshua paid all of the expenses and Rev. D. Davies of Zion Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel co-operated.


The Rev. J. M. Neale of Sackville College died on 6 August 1866 aged only 48.


In or after November 1868, Benjamin wrote his account of the building of Ashurst Wood Church.


Chapter 8: His Final Project—the Building of Moat Church, East Grinstead


Apparently, spiritual and religious life was at a low ebb in the late 1860s in East Grinstead.  High Anglicanism was surviving in the form of the Sisters of Mercy at St. Margaret's, founded by the Rev. Neale.   There had been some unpleasantness at Zion Chapel.  The Rev. David Davies (b.c. 1820), a Welshman from Cay in Carmarthenshire, had been appointed on 27 March 1859 without the church members being consulted and the church had been without a pastor for a considerable period after his departure in or after 1866.   Its congregation had dwindled. The Book of Common Prayer was still in use there.  The Rocks Chapel still existed, "little more than a cottage adapted for public worship" though it was now in the hands of the Primitive Methodists who supplied occasional preachers from long distances but most often there was no preacher. Owing to inadequate lighting, evensong at St. Swithun's parish church was held at 3.00 p.m. in the winter and  Benjamin estimated that 100 worshippers in the entire town on a Sunday evening at that time of year would be a liberal estimate. 


This declining state of affairs was presumably the trigger which caused the idea to form in Benjamin's mind of the creation of a Congregational church in East Grinstead, something he had not previously considered, hence his concentraton on the spiritual life of Ashurst Wood.


So, at the end of the 1860s, in this attempt to revitalise the religious life of the town, Benjamin decided that East Grinstead needed what Ashurst Wood had been given 10 years earlier: a new Congregational church.  He sought and found a suitable site on the right hand site of Moat Road on the corner with London Road.  Edward Steer, who owned it and had developed houses on the other side of Moat Road, was anxious that the respectability of the area should not be diminished by the building of a public house on this site and happily fell in with Benjamin's plan. The two plots making up the site were bought in 1868 for £192 and £115 respectively.  Money was raised from his friends in Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere and a contract of £1000 to build the new church was agreed.


Meanwhile, at Zion Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, the Rev. Eustace E. Long (d. 1915), a student from Cheshunt College, became pastor there on 15 August 1869 and remained in this post until 28 January 1877.  He was eagerly welcomed by Mr SLIGHT, despite the latter's independent plans for Moat, and the two men became friends.


Whilst Moat church was being built, a congregation was formed at the "Temperance Hall", a small iron room near the Railway Inn by an evangelist though prayer meetings were intermittent and sometimes poorly attended.


The church, designed and built by Mr Steer, was opened on 5 April 1870, the Rev. Joshua Harrison and Rev. Dr. Stoughton, two fellow students of Mr SLIGHT's conducting the services.  Services took place on the Wednesday afternoon and evening (6 April), the other on the following Sunday (10 April).  There was no permanent pastor at Moat throughout 1870 when various preachers were invited to preach.  In August, a young man, Joseph Townsend Maxwell, was asked to step into the breach and found Mr Steer's attitude towards his youthfulness rather off-putting.  However, a note from Mr SLIGHT ensured that he was invited back the following week.



Moat Church, East Grinstead from the south west (September 1991). 


Benjamin acted as Treasurer in charge of the building fund, receiving and disbursing contributions and expenses, in collaboration with Joshua Wilson who held to his promise to make up any shortfall in Mr. Maxwell's salary of £100 per annum for two years which Mr Wilson had promised as an incentive to engaging him at Moat.  There was no other organisation of any kind so the responsibility lay squarely on Benjamin's shoulders.


Samuel Morley (1809-1886), Liberal politician and statesman, was a life-long friend of Benjamin and frequently helped him in his work.   He was one of the chief subscribers to the building and, several years later, when funds were low, made a further contribution towards its upkeep.


Samuel Morley M.P. (1809-1886)


On the snowy morning of Sunday 1 January 1871, Reverend Joseph Townsend Maxwell became first pastor of Moat Congregational Church, having received a letter from Joshua Wilson urging him to take up the post and guaranteeing him the income referred to earlier.  The following morning, Rev. Maxwell met Mr SLIGHT for the first time.  On Tuesday, 31 January, as the church grew in numbers, a meeting was held of volunteers who had put their names forward to participate in a more formal organisation of the church.  A "Committee of Management" was set up and a Sub-Treasurer and Secretary appointed.  The Sub-Treasurer was to manage the day-to-day finances of the church, handing over to Mr. SLIGHT any surplus at the end of the month, so as to relieve Mr SLIGHT of some of his burden as Treasurer.


Rev. Maxwell and Rev. Eustace E. Long would lunch with Reverend SLIGHT at least once per week when they would discuss matters relating to their two churches.  Rev. Maxwell alludes in his "Memories of Moat Church" to '...the shrewd wisdom and lofty piety of that fine old Scotch gentleman, and the multitude of ways in which he proved himself a guide and counsellor! Yet always with ready sympathy and quick response to the perhaps crude and novel ideas of a young and eager man.  There were things attempted which were not always in accord with his rather conservative notions; but he never frowned upon them.  Sometimes my first suggestion would be received with intense amusement.   He would laugh heartily, perhaps chaff me about the details; but if it were a matter of importance or likely to be of service, he would sit a long time and listen, while I explained or reasoned out my scheme, probably saying, half reluctantly, "Well, try it! try it! but do not be disappointed if it fails!"  If it did prove effective, no one would rejoice more heartily.  He would say, "I never thought you would make it go.  I must be getting an old man!" as though he had failed in perception, but, as long as I knew him, his faculties were ever at their best.  I only wish I could bear more adequate testimony to his abilities and the readiness with which they were expended in the interests of Moat Church.  Almost every Monday morning, if the weather was fine, he would drive to my lodgings, to enquire about the Sunday services, and to invite Mr. Long and myself to dine with him one day during the week.  These were happy and sacred times.  The mid‑day meal and the dessert would be prolonged by talks about the two churches, members of the respective congregations, books we were reading, forms of work we were attempting, denominational matters that were attracting attention, and the deepest realities of christian life and culture.  If my friend Eustace Long were living I am sure he would join with me in saying we both owe a debt of gratitude to that wise old friend for wonderful help in the most plastic years of ministerial life.... That it [the foundation of Moat] proved a success, and afforded five years of happy and blessed work in the Ministry is, perhaps, more to be attributed to my dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. SLIGHT, than I conceived at the time.  They were the real parents of the church, though I had the privilege of being its first minister.'


So far, all Communion Services held at Moat Church had been open, there being no list of communicants as yet.  On 16 January 1872, the first Annual General Meeting of Moat Church was held and, on 27 February, a Thanksgiving Meeting at which it was resolved that a church be instituted and that its first pastor should be Rev. Maxwell.  On 30 April, 1872, services were held to formally constitute the church and to ordain the new pastor.  In the words of Rev. Maxwell:


'All the services were well attended from eleven in the morning till late at night.  For the ministers attending lunch was provided in my room, and a public tea was served in the church.  This was prepared in the open air and the whole proceedings aroused much local interest.  The list of communicants was handed to Mr. SLIGHT.  By prayer and with a few words of counsel, these were formally constituted a Congregational Church.  They then invited me to the Pastorate and my acceptance was signified.  A written statement to this effect was handed to the Revd. Thos. Foyster, Secretary of the Sussex County Union, who officially and cordially recognised the church as part of the County Union.  The Revd. R. Hamilton, of Brighton, chairman of the Union, addressed the church thus newly constituted.  The Ordination Service in the afternoon was presided over by the Revd. J. Radford Thompson, the second minister to succeed Mr. SLIGHT at Mount Pleasant (appointed in 1862), Tunbridge Wells.  The Ordination Prayer, accompanied by the laying on of hands was offered by the Revd. ? Adney, of Reigate. [pencil note: "J. Adeney whose son Prof Adeney at F Row"]  the charge was delivered by my old tutor, the Revd. John Frost, of Cotton End.

In the evening my former Pastor, Dr. Newman Hall, preached to a densely crowded congregation.  This was the public birth of the new church.' 


The SLIGHTs were staying in Brighton in September 1872 at 68, Grand Parade.


Chapter 9: His Final Years


On 21 May 1873, Benjamin was contemplating complete retirement from the pastorate of Ashurst Wood and, on 6 June, in a letter to Joshua Wilson, he aired his feelings of being unable to continue unaided.  A new assistant, Mr Spong, an evangelist, is mentioned on 9 December of that year.


The whole of 1873 and the early part of the following year saw the purchase of additional land at Moat Church for the Sunday School (and later for the manse built in 1878) which had been in existence since April 1870.  A Public Festival for the opening of the Sunday School was held on Tuesday 28 April 1874 and Anniversary services the following day.  The installation of a pipe organ (second-hand) and redecoration of the church soon followed.




Rev. Benjamin SLIGHT in his final years


Benjamin was on the committee of the Dispensary and took great interest in the proceedings and activities of the Dorcas Society.


Between 11 July 1871 and 11 April 1874, Benjamin conducted 8 marriages and between 28 August 1870 and 9 February 1873, 22 baptisms (all infants).


Benjamin's friend, Joshual Wilson, died at his home, 4, Nevill Park, Tunbridge Wells, on 14 August 1874, having made his will on 13 June 1874. 


The Rev. Maxwell  was succeeded by Rev. J. Brantom in November 1875.


On 1 July 1877, according to the log book of Ashurst Wood School, the children were given a half holiday to allow the Rev. SLIGHT to give them a treat "in his meadow."


In 1879, The Rev. C. A. Singleton who lived in Forest Row became junior pastor, the first ordained assistant of Mr SLIGHT, and remained there until 1885.  He succeeded Mr George James Vince whose wife was in charge of the day school.  Mr Vince had been Mr Spong's successor and continued to work in Ashurst Wood, described in 1881 as a "missionary".


Moat Church celebrated its Anniversary on Wednesday, 2 June 1880, when Benjamin's old friend, Rev. Alexander Reid, then of St. Leonard's, was the preacher at a service at 3.00 p.m.  and preached an "excellent" sermon on Ruth chapter II verse 2.   This was followed by tea in the schoolroom for the 200 or so congregation who attended.


A resolution was passed at the AGM of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church which took place after the Lord's Supper on Sunday evening, 5 March 1882, expressing sympathy with Rev. SLIGHT "whose devoted wife and loving helpmeet is now suffering from an illness from which there is no prospect that she can ever recover.", the Rev. Singleton being requested to "convey a verbal report of the resolution to Mr Slight, and enter a minute of the same in the Church Book."


Benjamin made his will on 22 March 1883.   In it, a mention is made of the will of John SCOTT, uncle of his wife Charlotte.  Benjamin left legacies to the trustees of the Congregational Church at Ashurst Wood (£500), to be invested so as to provide an income for the minister and for the upkeep and expenses of the church.  The English Congregational Chapel Building Society (£50), Catherine Morris (£250), Frances Esther Grove (£250).  His supposed niece Charlotte BRUCE is specifically excluded from benefitting but no explanation is given.  Strangely, no evidence has been found to show that she ever existed as his sister Marianne does not seem to have had a daughter of this name.  His silver teapot and cream jug were left to Gertrude RUEB (née SUERMONDT), daughter of one of Charlotte's two sisters, either Mary (wife of Willem SUERMONDT) or Elisabeth (wife of Yman Dirk Christiaan SUERMONDT). 


Catherine MORRIS's original role in the SLIGHT household was as companion to Mrs. SLIGHT and is so described in the 1881 census.  She was born in 1835 in East Grinstead, the daughter of Thomas and Jane MORRIS.  Jane was a widow described as a 'Wine Merchant' in 1851 and 'Wine & Spirit Merchant' in 1861 and the family (including elder sister Louisa and younger brother James Elliott) lived in East Grinstead High Street, not far from Sackville Cottage.  Later, in descriptions of Benjamin's funeral, she was described as 'adopted daughter'.   During Benjamin's last illness, she no doubt acted as his nurse.


James Widdrington Whinfield was born about 1812 in Gateshead, Co. Durham, by profession a grocer and tea dealer, soda water and lemonade manufacturer at 22 Grainger Street, Newcastle on Tyne, (before 1851 until after 1855) and grocer at 41 Grainger Street (before 1876 until after 1874). His wife, Eliza, was born c. 1822 in Leith, Edinburgh and they lived in 3 Higham Place, Newcastle on Tyne (before 1851 until after 1858), 25 Albion Street (1865), 27 St Mary's Terrace (1871) and 46 Jesmond Road, Jesmond (1881).  The legacy is clearly a personal one as it is stated that his wife should benefit, were he to die in the interim.  The reason for it is unknown.  It may be that Mr. Whinfield was connected in some way with Congregationalism in the North East of England or perhaps rendered some service in the past to Benjamin's family.  He died on 27 February 1891.


The SLIGHTs' servants at East Grinstead and Ashurst Wood included Eliza Briggs (1851), Esther Randall (1861), Mary J. Langdon (1871), Frances Esther Grove (1871 and 1881), Emily Grove (1881), George Martin (1883) and 'Nellie' (date and surname unknown).


Between 14 September 1884 and 20 May 1888, Benjamin conducted 11 of the 19  baptisms (all infants), Rev. Singleton performing one and Rev. Meek, the remaining 7.


Charlotte SLIGHT died on 5 December 1884 after a long illness and was buried at Frant Road Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells on the 11th.   On her deathbed, she said that she had had a happy life and, in a service in her bedroom the previous Sunday, she joined in the singing of a hymn by her husband entitled "Visions of Heavenly Bliss".  Benjamin published and circulated a two-page memorial to her and included this hymn together with verses of comfort by Nellie who had previously been a domestic in their household before her marriage.


In 1885, he wrote to Dr Paton of Nottingham to find a new minister for Ashurst  Wood and on 11 March wrote to his friend, the Rev. Alexander Reid of Wilmslow, Cheshire, to inform him of the death of his wife and to ask his opinion of a young minister from Knutsford, Rev. Meek, recommended by Dr. Paton, as a possible successor at Ashurst Wood.  Presumably, the Rev. Reid's response was satisfactory as Rev. Meek came to Ashurst Wood later that year.  Rev. Meek was later to recall:


"I generally went in to see him [Rev. Slight] after the Sunday service was over, and his first greeting was: “Well, my dear friend, how have you got on?”  And this would be followed by a chat about the texts and sermons for the day.  He had a kindly interest in my work and a pleasing happy way of expressing thoughts which have often cheered and comforted my heart."


On 11 May 1885, Benjamin made a codicil to his will, increasing the legacies due to Catherine Morris and Frances Esther Grove.  The following passage appears:


"I declare that in allusion in my said Will to principal money stock or investments to which I might become entitled through or under any Will Codicil or Testamentary appointment respectively made by my said wife in exercise of power given to her by her marriage Settlement and the Will of John Scott deceased as to a moiety of Two thousand pounds in such Will mentioned or either of them I neither had nor have any intention of deducting any sums which I may have held or borrowed on security but considered and consider myself simply as a stranger borrower"


He suffered from so­me sort of brain disease in his later years, slight deafness and lapses of memories although his other faculties were unimpaired.


Miss E. M. Jenks, a Life Deacon of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church reminisced in 1959 on the occasion of the centenary of its founding: "I, of course, had been Christened in the church, I expect by Mr. Slight, and as soon as I was old enough was taken to Chapel by my parents.  Mr. Slight was to me a very important figure.  He was short, with white hair and sparkling eyes full of humour, and he wore a black velvet skull cap with a tassel hanging over from the crown.  We, as children, all loved him.  He always had a cheery word for us.  I do not remember him preaching often and I was too young to judge of his sermons, but I have heard he was a good preacher.  Whenever he was well enough he would walk up the path from his house to the vestry and come in to sit in an armchair by the pulpit so that he could hear better., for he was slightly deaf.  Mrs. Slight generally came.  She was quite a stately Dutch lady, always very nicely dressed, with her ringlets hanging down each side of her head.  She was exceedingly kind and thoughtful and much loved.   If there was any illness or sorrow, it was her first concern, and at Christmas time I shouldn't think anyone was forgotten.  After the death of my grandmother, who always used to knit my father's stockings,  Mrs. Slight knitted them for him (and they were stockings not socks!)."   At that time, the church seated 220.  The choir sat on one side and Sunday School girls on the other.  In the fron pew there always sat three farmers in smocks and old ladies in bonnets, with narrow bands of black velvet across their foreheads.  Miss Margaret J. Waters of Forest Row remembered that Mrs. Slight gave two home-made mince pies to every member of the congregation at Christmas and that Mr. and Mrs. SLIGHT "were so gracious and courteous".


Exactly when Benjamin retired from active service as a minister is disputed among the sources, some saying as early as 1877, others as late as 1886.  The truth is that there was probably a gradual phasing out of his activity between the two dates.


In 1886, the Rev. Bransom was replaced by the Rev. J. Brooker at Moat Church.


In October 1886 (Sunday 10th?), Ashurst Wood celebrated its 27th chapel anniversary, sermons being preached by the Rev. Meek.  On the Tuesday, an afternoon service was held and the preacher was Rev. G. W. Cowper Smith of Tunbridge Wells (the third minister to succeed Mr. SLIGHT at Mount Pleasant, in 1883), his text being the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles iv. 9 and 10.  This was followed by a public tea meeting in the schools, torrential rain leading to poor attendance of both residents of East Grinstead and Ashurst Wood. The meeting was opened with a prayer by the Rev. J. J. Brooker (minister of Moat Church, East Grinstead) and the chairman,. Mr. E. Hilder Strange of Tunbridge Wells, spoke on the subject of disestablishment, followed by addresses by Mr. S. Jenks, Rev. Cowper Smith, Rev. J. J. Brooker, Mr. E. Steer, Mr. G. J. Vince and Mr. B. Groves.  Apologies were made for the absence of the Rev. I. Near by Mr. Meek who also offered a few kindly words to Mr. SLIGHT  It would appear that Benjamin played no active part in the proceedings.


On 19 July 1888, Benjamin made a second codicil to his will (increased legacies for his wife's relatives) and a third (for a further increased legacy for Frances Esther Grove, Catherine Morris, Christina SLIGHT his sister, and the ROBSON and BRUCE families) the following day.


Benjamin SLIGHT's great great niece, Irene HARRISON, and his great great great nephew, Keith BULLEY, pictured outside the front door of 'Nenthorn' on 24 August 1991


On August Bank Holiday Monday, 5 August 1889, Benjamin appeared at the drawing-room window of his residence "Nenthorn" to address, as he had done in previous years, the Sunday school children as part of their annual treat.  Already ill, he caught a chill and he had to retire to his bed a few days later.  His condition worsened but he rallied sufficienty however on Friday 15 August to come down for family prayers. Not long before his death, Benjamin was told of the Jubilee celebrations at Hawkenbury and the opening of the new chapel there.  His recovery was short-lived and he died at 2.30 on the afternoon of Saturday 17 August. Dr. John Magrath was sent for and certified the cause of death as "senile asthenia - hypostatic pulmonary congestion". Mary Grove had been present and registered the death on the Tuesday.



Christina SLIGHT (1815-1899), Benjamin's sister


The morning following his death saw the Rev. Meek preaching a sermon mourning Benjamin's death on a text from Psalm cxvi. 15. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints".


Benjamin's funeral took place on Thursday 22 August.  There was a brief, simple and well-attended service at Ashurst Wood Chapel conducted by Rev. James Caddell, Benjamin's old friend from Sevenoaks:


"The coffin was borne from the house to the chapel in the presence of the mourners and many of the Sunday-school children.  It was carried by Messrs. B. Groves, J. Bowrah, H. Mitchell and E. Morris, and was placed on the platform where the pulpit usually stands.  Among those present we noticed the Rev. W. J. and Mrs. Meek, Mr. J. R. Pearless, Mr. Mrs. and Miss Young, Mr. and Mrs. Jenks, Miss Owden, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, Miss Groves, Mr. and Mrs. Huggett, Mr. and Mrs. Bysh, Mrs. Potten, Mrs. Sayers, Mr. Jas. Waters, Mr. and Mrs. G. J. Vince, Mr. and Mrs. McNaughton, Mr. H. Mills, Mrs. Cox, Mr. and Mrs. John Waters, Mr. and Mrs. Baxendale, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, Mr. Groves, Mrs. Tester, Miss Hooker, &c.   The chief mourners present were Mr. Robson (nephew), Mrs. Phillips (niece), Mr. Suermondt (great nephew from Rotterdam) and Miss Morris (adopted daughter)... At the conclusion of the service, the coffin, which was of polished oak, with massive brass furniture and covered with some beautiful wreaths, was placed in a hearse and taken to Tunbridge Wells, the congregation following a portion of the way."


According to one account, the Rev. W. J. Meek broke down in tears during the singing of the hymn "When our heads are bowed with woe."  The remains were taken in a plain hearse by road to the railway station of the London & Brighton Line at Tunbridge Wells to meet the two o'clock train.  At the new Tunbridge Wells cemetery in Frant Road, local Congregationalists had assembled.


   "The mourners left Forest Row by the half-past one train and among the many who went to Tunbridge Wells were nearly all those mentioned above as being present at the Ashurst Wood service.  The journey from the station to Tunbridge Wells Cemetery was done in a heavy downpour of rain.  The service in the chapel was conducted by the Rev. W. J. Meek, who was assisted by the Rev. G. W. Cowper Smith (minister of the church in Tunbridge Wells founded by Mr. SLIGHT) and the Rev. E. Bailey (an old friend of the deceased's).  The former read the Scriptures and the latter offered prayer."


The official representatives from Tunbridge Wells were the deacons, J. W. Hawkins and E. H. Strange.  A simple service (in accordance with Benjamin's wish) was conducted by Rev. Meek of Ashurst Wood, Rev. G. W. Cowper Smith and Rev. E. Bailey, an old friend.  Mr. James Waters organised the funeral arrangements at Ashurst Wood.  Mr Young of East Grinstead, the undertaker, had provided a polished oak coffin with a brass inscription plate.  Mr E. H. Strange was responsible for the arrangements at the Tunbridge Wells end.  The funeral was attended by several family members.   Representing his blood family were Benjamin's niece, Christina PHILLIPS (née ROBSON, wife of Thomas PHILLIPS) who would had travelled down from her home in Stella, near Blaydon, in Co. Durham; and nephew Mr ROBSON (this would be George, Alexander or Benjamin, presumably, as the remaining nephew, John English ROBSON, lived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), daughter and son respectively of Benjamin's sister, Elizabeth, and who also, presumably, travelled down from the Newcastle upon Tyne area.  Mr SUERMONDT, great nephew from Rotterdam, representing Benjamin's in-laws (the TWISS family).  This Mr. SUERMONDT was, most probably, either Louis Auguste SUERMONDT, son of one of Charlotte SLIGHT's sisters, Mary or Elisabeth, or a son of Benjamin Alexander SUERMONDT, himself also probably a son of one of the two sisters, these being the only two SUERMONDTs mentioned in Rev. SLIGHT's will.


The tree in the centre of the picture taken in September 1991 is growing from the grave of the Rev. Benjamin SLIGHT and his wife, Charlotte.


On Sunday 25 August 1889, the Rev. W. J. Meek preached two sermons at Ashurst Wood chapel on the subject of the death of the Rev. B. SLIGHT.  These sermons were published and still survive. The first, preached at the morning service was on the following texts: John Ch. XI v 11:—“Our friend sleepeth.”; and 1st Thessalonians, Ch.IV v 13:—“But I would not have you to be ignorant brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”  In it, he said:


'It was a favourite expression of our dear old friend's when saying “Good-night” to her, who had been for so long his faithful nurse and friend, to say, “Good night, sleep in Jesus;” and only a night or two before his death he said “Oh to sleep in Jesus and awake with him, then all will be well.”  The same night he repeated some of his own verses, one of which appears specially suitable as we look back and think how near he was to the end of his life:—

Amen, Amen, so let there be,

A blest eternity for me.

Where I shall never sigh nor sin,

But drink unending pleasures in,

Amen, Amen, Amen again,

Till heaven and earth resound Amen.


The night before he died, although at times not conscious, he said “Pray, pray,” and lay with his eyes looking up as if in prayer.  Thus passed away in the peace and hope of the gospel our dear old friend.  It was a calm and beautiful sunset, and our friend is gone to be “For ever with the Lord.”'


The "faithful nurse" was most probably Catherine Morris.


The second sermon, given at the evening service was on a text from Psalm XII., 1st verse:—“Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” and contained the following tribute to his influence in Ashurst Wood:


"In many respects it would be true if we said that he lived for Ashurst Wood, for although through the infirmities of age he was unable for a long time past to take any active part in our work; he never ceased to remember us in his sympathies, his help, and his prayers."


The Ashurst Wood 40th Chapel Anniversary was supposedly, according to newspaper reports, postponed on account of Benjamin's death. It took place on Sunday 6 October and Monday 7th.  Presumably the anniversary was normally held on an earlier date (perhaps in September) than 10 October, the date the Chapel was originally dedicated in 1859.   The Sunday morning and evening sermons were given by the Rev. R. Hamilton of Brighton and that on Monday afternoon by the Rev. W. A. Linington, of Cheshunt and formerly of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead.  This was followed by a tea meeting in the schoolroom.  The public meeting in the church, which followed it was presided over by Rev. Meek who, after opening prayers, gave apologies for absence from Mr. T. C. Thompson (who was to have chaired the meeting), the Rev. Robert Hamilton (who had had to leave earlier on business on behalf of the Sussex Congregational Union of which he was president) and Mr. T. Cramp.  He expressed sympathy with the Vicar of Forest Row, Rev D. Y. Blakiston, recently bereaved for the second time in a year and, once again, expressed the feelings of the congregation at Ashurst Wood on the death of the Rev. SLIGHT, suggesting that, though no monument was necessary other than the church and schools which he had built, he would nevertheless like to see a tablet put up on the church wall to the memory of Rev. and Mrs. SLIGHT.  So far as is known, nothing came of this suggestion.  Rev. Linington also referred to his friend Benjamin and his work at Ashurst Wood and gave an address on the merits of rural congregations over those in towns.  Rev. J. J. Brooker and Rev. J. Bainton spoke next and the final contributions were from Messrs. G. J. Vince, S. Jenks,  J. Huggett, B. Grove, J. Waters and J. Bysh with closing prayers from Mr. Vince.


The SLIGHTs are buried in Area B Section 1 Grave Space 5 in the unconsecrated area of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery. The headstone was blown over in a gale on 11 Feb 1950 and was not replaced.  The grave kerbs are still there and  the lettering 'T. Lynn   East Grinstead' is visible.


Benjamin's estate was valued at £2,907 - 0s  - 8d at the time of the granting of probate on 31 October 1889 at the Principal Registry, London, by Rev. James Cattell, James Richardson Pearless and William Young.  The legacies from the estate were paid out on 9 April 1891.  These amounted to £5633 - 8s - 1d less death duty of £492 - 0s - 8d making a net total of £5140 - 19s - 2d.


Benjamin's death was recorded in The Congregational Year Book for 1890 by way of an obituary article.


One of Benjamin's verses ("Thou art gone to the grave....") appeared on a memorial card for his nephew, John English ROBSON, who died 31 May 1894 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


In October 1916, forty five years after the event, Rev. J. T. Maxwell, former pastor of Moat Church wrote "Memories of Moat Church" "...that there may be put on record some memorial of the wonderful courage, faith, zeal and perseverance of the Revd. Benj. SLIGHT, by whom alone the whole work of the church was inaugurated."


Chapter 10: Postscript—The Campaign to Save the Church at Ashurst Wood


After the national merger of many Congregational churches with the Presbyterian Church to form the United Reformed Church in 1972, the church's continuance was under threat.


By early 1874, the United Reformed Church authorities had decided the church was to close and planning permission for demolition of the Congregational Church and for the building of a three- or four-bedroomed detached house or bungalow on the site was granted to the URC in March by East Grinstead Urban Council just before local government reorganisation.  No objections were raised as, up to that time, the sense of community within the village had become eroded. 


This turn of events came as something of a blow to village organisations which were currently using the church's facilities which were fully booked well in advance.  These organisations included a playgroup which met three mornings a week, the Friday Night Club, the Trans-Atlantic Brides Association, the St Dunstan's Fellowship and the Women's Institute and the newly formed youth club led by Bruce Campion-Smith. 


Every Sunday morning about 40 children and teachers met there for an inter-church Sunday School at 9.45.  There were four classes with a separate room and hall for each class.


The inter-church St Dunstan's Fellowship met there on Tuesday evenings at 8pm

twice a month, having previously abandoned the "cold spaciousness of St Dunstan's big hall" for "the cosy little hall" of the United Reformed Church. 


Meanwhile, the Church of England, anxious to find an alternative venue for their worship to their existing incommodious and inconvenient St Dunstan's, had been negotiating for some years with the Sussex Congregational Church with a view to buying the church and its attached rooms which were in a very good state of repair and there was general acceptance in the village that a sale would eventually take place.


The formation of the youth club had been the Action Group's triumph of a rebirth in community. On the day before its first meeting, Wednesday 1 December 1976, came the news that the church was to be sold. 


As a result of this immediate threat to one of the institutions at the heart of village life, a public campaign was launched amongst the villagers to save the church in the weeks following.  In the following months, this gained the support of the local press.


Eventually, in 1976, the Ashurst Wood Action Group was formed, following a "village appraisal meeting" arranged by the local Women's Institute.  Among its aims was the goal of acquiring the church buildings to ensure that they were preserved for the use of the community and, especially, the youth club. 


Matters came to a head on Tuesday 30 November 1976 when a "for sale" sign was put up at the church and it was put on the market for between £8000 and £10000 and the news of its possible demolition was broken.   An approach was made to the amenities committee of Mid-Sussex Council in the hope that it might consider buying the church buildings and converting them into a community centre.  In doing so, West Sussex County Council would have the opportunity of remedying the traffic hazard at that point. 


So much interest was shown in the property that the agents, Turner, Rudge and Turner of East Grinstead and Graves, Son and Pilcher of Brighton decided to sell the property by auction on Friday, January 21 1977 at the Crown Hotel, East Grinstead.  The justification for the auction was that the Charity Commissioners had to be satisfied that the property was being sold at the best possible price.  The advertisement took the following form:


              EAST GRINSTEAD

        In pleasant quiet position


         Consent for one dwelling

              All services

           ST MARY'S VICARAGE.

              WINDMILL LANE

      (at a disclosed reserve price)


              ASHURST WOOD

       In a quiet village position



A Victorian Church with modern hall, cloak-

          rooms, kitchen, etc.

           Vacant Possession

Consent for demolition and erection of one house

             or bungalow.

           Joint Auctioneers:


GRAVES, SON & PILCHER (Brighton 25991)



          ON 21st JANUARY, 1977




29 High Street, East Grinstead (Tel: 24101)

and 77 High Street, Uckfield (Tel: 5688)


Protests increased over the coming weeks and resulted in the cancellation of the auction on 12 January.  By May 1977, plans to sell the church into private hands had been abandoned and its future assured as the new Anglican parish church for Ashurst Wood.


01 Aug 1720

Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells opened

01 Aug 1800

Birth at Nenthorn, Berwickshire

31 Oct 1803

Baptism at Nenthorn Kirk, Berwickshire

12 May 1804

Benjamin's infant twin brothers buried in Kelso


Birth of Samuel Morley


Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, closed.

12 Aug 1819

Marriage of Benjamin's sister Elizabeth to George ROBSON in Jedburgh

1 Jan 1811

Baptism of Benjamin's first cousin, James Beal SLIGHT, in Alnwick, Northumberland

23 Apr 1811

Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel opened in East Grinstead

25 Dec 1823

Opening of United Secession Church, Carliol St., Newcastle upon Tyne

05 Jul 1825

Ebenezer Henderson returns to England and takes charge of missionary students at Gosport.

Apr 1826

Ebenezer Henderson arrives at Hoxton Mission College

17 Dec 1826

Benjamin delivered farewell discourse on the merits of the Sabbath School system at the Postern Chapel, Newcastle upon Tyne.

01 Jan 1827

Began studies at Hoxton Mission College, London, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society.

29 Sep 1828

Directors of the Mission College, Hoxton, recommended that Benjamin abandon training as a foreign missionary. 

09 Oct 1828

Ebenezer Henderson wrote to Thomas Wilson recommending Benjamin's admission to Highbury College

10 Oct 1828

Benjamin's letter of application to the Committee of Highbury College

11Oct 1828

Dr. Thomas H. Burden wrote to Thomas Wilson regarding Benjamin's health prospects.

19 Nov 1829

Robert TWISS, Charlotte TWISS's father, dies in Rotterdam

08 Jul 1830

Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, reopened by Thomas Wilson.

08 Aug 1830

Benjamin preaches at Mount Sion Chapel for the first time.

01 Sep 1830

Benjamin living at the house of Mr J Armstrong, Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells.

08 Dec 1830

Meeting at Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells, to begin the formation of a church.


"The Room" at Ashurst Wood built by Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead

21 Jan 1831

Meeting at which Benjamin was appointed pastor of Mount Sion

22 Mar 1831

Benjamin living at Myrtle Cottage, Tunbridge Wells.

Mar 1831

Ebenezer Henderson reads letter of acceptance of Benjamin's pastorate.

10 May 1831

Benjamin's public ordination at Mount Sion Chapel, Tunbridge Wells.

21 Jun 1831

Benjamin wrote to Thomas Wilson regarding the Sick Fund

Oct 1831

Benjamin began running Bible classes at Mount Sion

May (?) 1832

Bnjamin represents Kent churches at Congregational Union's inaugural meeting in Finsbury, London


Benjamin founds Sunday School library at Mount Sion

May 1833

Benjamin ill

09 Oct 1833

Benjamin founds school for illiterate servants and other young women at Mount Sion

14 Aug 1964

Benjamin's lithograph portrait published in East Grinstead Courier

15 Sep 1969

Bertha Luxford, owner of Benjamin's lithograph portrait, dies in Eastbourne.

24 Aug 1834

Princess Victoria and her mother staying in Tunbridge Wells

04 Oct 1835

Benjamin preaches sermon "The Prevalence of Popery Considered"

Nov 1835

Publication of "The Prevalence of Popery Considered"

20 Jan 1836

Mary TWISS née SCOTT, Charlotte TWISS's mother dies

28 Jun 1836

Benjamin marries Charlotte TWISS at St. Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent.


Benjamin preaches sermon "Christian Unity: or all believers on in Christ"


Joshua Wilson marries Mary WOOD

02 Oct 1839

Benjamin officiates at first marriage to take place at Mount Sion

01 Dec 1839

Benjamin opens Hawkenbury Chapel and schoolroom

06 Jun 1841

The SLIGHTs not at home on census day

29 Jul 1841

Benjamin writes of plan to build a new chapel on a new site to replace Mount Sion

15 Nov 1842

Benjamin's mother, Hannah née DOWNS, dies in Newcastle upon Tyne

17 Jun 1843

Thomas Wilson dies at Highbury Place

23 Oct 1843

Public meeting to discuss building of new chapel to replace Mount Sion

1 Nov 1843

Handbills and subscription forms sent out for building of Mount Pleasant church

21 May 1845 (or 1846?)

Foundation stone of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church laid by Charles Hindley M.P.

19 Sep 1845

Railway arrives in Tunbridge Wells

26 May 1846

Rev. John Mason Neale officially appointed as Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead.

08 May 1847

Rev. Neale placed under an inhibition by the Bishop

20 Jan 1848

Mount Pleasant Congregational Church opened

23 Jan 1848

Service held at Mount Pleasant

27 Jan 1848

Service held at Mount Pleasant

04 Apr 1848

Private enquiry at St. Swithun's, East Grinstead, into Rev. Neale's conduct at Sackville College Chapel

03 Jun 1848

Rev. Neale tried before the Court of Arches and loses case

23 Jun 1849

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit Queen Adelaide in Tunbridge Wells

Oct 1849

Benjamin retires as minister of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, Tunbridge Wells

Good Friday 1850

Rocks Chapel opened in Old Road, East Grinstead

23 Apr 1850

Benjamin sells property in Tunbridge Wells to John Colbran

1 Oct 1850

The SLIGHTs move to East Grinstead


Fire in the Earl's Room, Sackville College

25 Feb 1851

Riot outside Sackville College, East Grinstead

Jan 1852

Benjamin decides to re-enter the Ministry

21 Apr 1852

Benjamin returns home from holiday in Brighton during alterations to Sackville Cottage leaving his wife in Brighton.

26 Apr 1852

Death of Benjamin's father, James SLIGHT

Oct 1854

Benjamin preaching occasionally

Nov 1854

Benjamin gives lecture on Mohammedanism

June 1858

Rev. James Turnbull M.A. of Rocks Chapel, East Grinstead, dies.

16 May 1855

Benjamin visited his friends in Tunbridge Wells, the Stranges

19 May 1855

Benjamin suffering from "face ache"

28 May 1855

Death of Daniel Dickinson of Pembury, late of Bell's Ewe Green, Kent

May/Jun 1855

The Room at Ashurst Wood closes

02 Jun 1855

Funeral of Daniel Dickinson

10 Sep 1855

Benjamin reopens the Room at Ashurst Wood

23 Dec 1855

Benjamin writing Uncle Daniel, the Pious Farmer.

Mar 1856

Publication of Uncle Daniel, the Pious Farmer.

Jun 1856

The Sisters of Mercy move into William Pearless's premises in Church Street, East Grinstead

05 Jul 1856

Edward Martin assaults John Henry Rogers, assistant warden of Sackville College

03 Sep 1856

Letter to Joshua Wilson

06 Oct 1856

Death of George Taylor of Sackville College, accurser of Henry Rogers

Jan 1857

Death of Mrs. Butcher, Sunday School teacher at Ashurst Wood

8 Feb 1857

Funeral of Mrs. Butcher

18-19 Nov 1857

Rev. Neale attacked at a funeral in Lewes, Sussex.

13 Apr 1858

Benjamin proposes acquiring William Pearless's property in Church Street about to be vacated by the Sisters of Mercy in June

01 Jun 1858

Benjamin ill with "an inflammation" and bled by the physician

02 Jun 1858

The SLIGHTs travel to Eastbourne

24 Jul 1858

The SLIGHTs still in Eastbourne

Jun 1858

Sisters of Mercy quit William Pearless's premises in Church Street after being given notice by the owner

02 Dec 1858

Letter to Joshua Wilson

30 Jan 1859

Rev. Neale's wife, Sarah, attacked by Mary Ann Preston, an inmate at Sackville College

Mar 1859

The future site of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church put on the market

27 Mar 1859

The Rev. David Davies appointed minister of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead, without the members being consulted

06 Apr 1859

Prayer meeting held in the Room, Ashurst Wood, for the building of a new church

14 Apr 1859

Rev. Neale accused of arson by the Brighton Gazette

18 Apr 1859

Letters seeking donations sent to Congregational ministers

May 1859

Benjamin suffering from a throat infection.  Joshua Wilson and his family stayed with the SLIGHTs

07 May 1859

Benjamin wrote to John Finch regarding the design of the chapel at Ashurst Wood

12 Jul 1859

Benjamin staying with Rev. James Cattell at Marsh Green, Edenbridge, Kent

23 Jul 1859

Benjamin sill at Edenbridge

04 Aug 1859

Mr. Smye Scripture Reader at Ashurst Wood, witnesses scandalous behaviour of the Rev. Neale's servants at Sackville College

11 Oct 1859

Opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church

09 Jun 1860

Opening of Ashurst Wood day school

01 Feb 1861

Benjamin staying with Rev. James Cattell at Marsh Green, Edenbridge, Kent

08 Apr 1861

The SLIGHTs staying at Saint Hill Manor as guests of William Thomas BERGER and his wife Mary.

02 Dec 1862

The SLIGHTs in residence at "Nenthorn"

01 Jul 1863

Anniversary services at Ashurst Wood celebrating payment of the debt on the building of the chapel

Nov 1863

The Bishop of Chichester withdraws his inhibition on Rev. John Mason Neale


Mr. Parry, the evangelist, begins to hold Sunday services in the Old Town Hall, East Grinstead


Rev David Davies leaves Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead

06 Aug 1866

Death of Rev. John Mason Neale


Benjamin buys the site of the future Moat Congregational Church

Nov 1868

Benjamin writes an account of the building of the church at Ashurst Wood

15 Aug 1869

The Rev. Eustace Long begins his ministry at Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead

05-10 Apr 1870

Opening of Moat Congregational Church, East Grinstead.  Foundation of Sunday School

28 Aug 1870

Benjamin officiates at a baptism at Ashurst Wood

01 Jan 1871

The Rev. Maxwell becomes pastor of Moat Church, East Grinstead

31 Jan 1871

Meeting at Moat Church

11 Jul 1871

Benjamin conducts a marriage at Ashurst Wood

16 Jan 1872

First AGM of Moat Church

27 Feb 1872

Thanksgiving meeting at Moat Church for institution of the church

30 Apr 1872

Inauguration of Moat Church and ordination of. Rev Maxwell

Sep 1872

The SLIGHTs staying in Brighton

09 Feb 1873

Benjamin officiates at a baptism at Ashurst Wood

21 May 1873

Letter to Joshua Wilson: Benjamin comtemplates complete retirement

06 Jun 1873

Letter to Joshua Wilson: Benjamin unable to continue his ministry unaided.

09 Dec 1873

Letter to Joshua Wilson.  Mr Spong mentioned for the first time.

11 Apr 1874

Benjamin conducts a marriage at Ashurst Wood

28 Apr 1874

Opening of the new Sunday School building at Moat Church, East Grinstead

29 Apr 1874

Anniversary services at Moat Church, East Grinstead

13 Jun 1874

Joshua Wilson makes his will

14 Aug 1874

Death of Joshua Wilson

Nov 1875

Rev. J. Brantom becomes pastor at Moat Congregational Church, East Grinstead

28 Jan 1877

The Rev. Eustace Long leaves Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead

01 Jul 1877

Rev. SLIGHT gives the children of Ashurst Wood school a treat "in his meadow"


The Rev. Singleton becomes junior pastor at Ashurst Wood

02 Jun 1880

Anniversary celebrations at Moat Church

05 Mar 1882

AGM held at Ashurst Wood Congregational Church.  Meeting expresses sympathy to Benjamin for his wife's incurable illness

22 Mar 1883

Benjamin makes his will


The Rev. Singleton leaves Ashurst Wood


Death of the Rev. Eustace Long


Closure of Ashurst Wood United Reformed Church

March 1974

Planning permission granted by East Grinstead Urban Council for demolition of Ashurst Wood United Reformed Church and building of a 3-4 bedroom bungalow on the site.

30 Nov 1976

"For Sale" sign erected outside the church

1 Dec 1976

Ashurst Wood youth club meets for the first time at the Ashurst Wood United Reformed Church

12 Jan 1977

Auction cancelled

21 Jan 1977

Planned auction of Ashurst Wood United Reformed Church and hall at the Crown Hotel, East Grinstead


ADNEY, Rev. J.

of Reigate, father of Professor Adeney of Forest Row.  Offered the Ordination Prayer at the ordination of Rev. Maxwell at Moat Church, East Grinstead on 30 Apr 1872.


of Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells.  B.S.'s landlord from before September 1830 at a rent of 12/- per week until before 22 Mar 1831.


old friend of the deceased who offered prayers at his funeral service in the cemetery chapel at Tunbridge Wells.


Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.

BAYES, Thomas

statistician and mathematician, inventor of Bayes' Theorem.  Presbyterian minister of Mount Sion Chapel, TW.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.

BEAVIS, Rev. H. J.

of Ramsgate preached on Sunday 23 Jan 1848 at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, a few days after its opening.


Designer of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church built in 1859.

BELL, Rev. George

Minister of United Secession Church, Carliol Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, from August 1834.

BERGER, William Thomas

(1815-1899) owner of Saint Hill Manor and director of the China Inland Mission.  Contributed to the setting up of a day school at Ashurst Wood, opened on 9 Jan 1860 and the SLIGHTs were staying with him on 7-8 April 1861 when the census was taken.


Vicar of Forest Row in 1889.


Offered prayers at the laying of the foundation stone of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church on 21 May 1846 (or 1845?)


Owned the site of Ashurst Wood Congregationalist Church prior to the building of the church when the site contained a lime kiln at its NW end.  The land was sold on his death to Benjamin SLIGHT.


One of the pallbearers at Benjamin SLIGHT's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889.


succeeded Rev. Maxwell as pastor of Moat Church, East Grinstead in November 1875 until he left in 1886.


succeeded Rev. Brantom as minister of Moat Congregational Church, East Grinstead, in 1886.  Opened the public tea meeting at the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in October 1886.  Spoke at the public meeting after the tea on Monday 7 Oct 1889 for the Chapel's postponed anniversary celebration.

BRUCE, Charlotte


BURDEN, Dr. Thomas H.

of 2, Brunswick Square, physician who examined Benjamin and pronounced him fit for the home ministry in a letter to the Committee of Highbury College on 11 Oct 1828

BURDER, Dr. Henry Foster

lecturer at Highbury College 1810-1830


of Hammerwood, assistant to Mr Chapman in the Sunday School in the Room at Ashurst Wood before and after 1855.  She died in January 1857.  Benjamin preached a funeral sermon on Sunday 8 Feb in the morning.  Mr. Chapman (q.v.) preached in the afternoon.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service on 22 Aug 1889 at Ashurst Wood.  Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.

BYSH, Mary Ann

School governess living at the SLIGHTs' newly built house, "Nenthorn" on 8 Apr 1861

CATTELL, Rev. James

of Marsh Green, Edenbridge (1859-1861), later of Stone Villa, Chipstead, Kent (1883) and then of Park Lodge, Bessels Green near Sevenoaks (1889).   Friend of Benjamin and of William CHARLWOOD (q.v.).  Preached at the evening service of the opening of the Room on 10 Sep 1855.  Benjamin was staying with him at Marsh Green on the following dates: 12 jul 1859, 23 July 1859 and 1 Feb 1861.  Executor and beneficiary of Benjamin's will of 22 March 1883.  Now at Sevenoaks, conducted Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on Thur 22 Aug 1889.

CHAPMAN, William

of East Grinstead, Superintendant of the Sunday School at Ashurst Wood before and after 1855 and also conducted the morning and afternoon services from 10 September 1855 when the Room reopened..  Preached a funeral sermon for Mrs Butcher (q.v.) on the afternoon of Sunday 8 Feb 1857.  Co-led the prayers at the meeting of 6 Apr 1859 in the Room at Ashurst Wood where the decision was taken to build the church.


Friend of Rev. James Cattell (q.v.) and owner of the Room at Ashurst Wood until May or June 1855 when the friends of Zion Chapel were unable to keep up the rent and Benjamin bought the building.

CLAYTON, Rev. John

M.A.  Present at B.S.'s ordination on the morning of 10 May 1831 at Mount Sion Chapel, TW.  Gave an address at the laying of the foundation stone of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, on 21 May 1846 (or 1845?).


publisher of the Guide to Tunbridge Wells of 1840 and later of the Tunbridge Wells Gazette.  Bought properties (nos. 13, 15 and 17) on Little Mount Sion.  These were sold on again in 1890 to John Goulden.

CRAMP, Thomas

Unable to attend the postponed anniversary of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889.

DAVIDSON, Rev. Ralph

pastor of the Poster Chapel, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1826.  Benjamin's published discourse of 17 December 1826 is dedicated to him.

DAVIES, Rev. David

of East Grinstead. Appointed pastor of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead on 27 Mar 1859 without consulting the congregation. Preached at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859.  Co-operated with Rev. SLIGHT's hiring of an evangelist, Mr Parry (q.v.), to conduct services in East Grinstead c. 1866.

DAWSON, Rev. Adam

assisted Rev. John Smith at United Secession Church, Carliol Place, Newcastle upon Tyne from c. 1827


Farmer of Pembury who retired to Bell's Ewe Green.  Member of the congregation of the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, TW.  Died 28 May 1855 and buried on 2 June.  Subject of Benjamin's Uncle Daniel


of Pembury.  Contributed to the setting up of a day school at Ashurst Wood,  opened on 9 Jan 1860.

DON, Sir Alexander

Benjamin's father's employer before and after 31 Oct 1803


of Marden.  Present at B.S.'s ordination on the morning of 10 May 1831 at Mount Sion Chapel, TW.

FINCH, Ebenezer Whiting

of Wollaston near Wellingborough, Northants became assistant minister at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, in 1849.

FINCH, Henry

by August 1889, his residence built on the site of the Room at Ashurst Wood


of Tunbridge Wells.  Joint organiser of fundraising for the building of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church in 1859.

FOYSTER, Rev. Thomas

Secretary of the Sussex County Union.  Present at the inaugural service at Moat Church, East Grinstead, on 30 Apr 1872, and welcomed the church into the Union.

FROST, Rev. John

of Cotton End.  Former tutor of Rev. J. T. Maxwell who delivered the charge at his ordination on 30 Apr 1872.

GALLAWAY, Rev. James C.

M.A. of London, Secretary of the English Congregational Chapel Building Society.   Preached at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859

GIBBS, Rev. S. T.

Minister of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's_ Chapel, East Grinstead.  Emigrated to America and was replaced on 9 Dec. 1855.  Benjamin assisted him.

GILLON, Rev. Adam Dawson

co-pastor of United Secession Church, Carliol Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, from c. 1827.

GRIGG, Rev. Henry Thomas

Baptism minister of Dorman's Land, Lingfield. Preached at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859

GRIGSBY, Rev. William

of the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.  Preached at the afternoon service of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859 at 2.15 p.m. and at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.

GROVE, Benjamin

Addressed the public tea meeting of the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in October 1886.  One of the pallbearers at Benjamin's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889. Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.

HALL, Dr. Newman

Former paster of Rev. J. T. Maxwell who preached on the evening of his ordination at Moat Church, East Grinstead, on 30 Apr 1872.


classics tutor at Highbury College from 1826.  Present at B.S.'s ordination on the morning of 10 May 1831 at Mount Sion Chapel, TW.

HAMILTON, Rev. Robert

of Brighton, President of the Sussex Congregational Union, gave an address at Moat Church, East Grinstead, on 30 Apr 1872, at the church's inaugural service.  Preached morning and evening at the postponed anniversary of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Sunday 6 Oct 1889.

HARRIS, Rev. John

D.D., President of Cheshunt College.  Preached the morning sermon on the opening day of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, on 20 jan 1848.

HARRIS, William

senior classical tutor at Highbury College until 1829

HARRISON, Rev. Joshua

One of Benjamin's fellow students at Highbury.  Conducted the opening services of Moat Congregational Church, East Grinstead, on 5 and/or 6 April  1870.


of Marden.  Participated in the opening service at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, on 20 Jan 1848.


(1784-1858).  Missionary to Iceland and other parts of Europe.  Returned to England on 5 July 1825 and took charge of missionary students at Gosport moving with them to Hoxton Mission College where he was resident and theological tutor April 1826 until 1830, after which he moved to Highbury College as senior linguist and philologist.   Recommended Benjamin to the Committee of Highbury College in a letter of 9 Oct 1828   Preached at Mount Sion Chapel in March 1831 when he read Benjamin's letter or acceptance of the pastorate.

HILL, Rev. William

Anglican clergyman who conducted services at St. Swithun's parish church, E. Grinstead at the end of 1857 and attended the evening service at Zion Chapel when Benjamin was preaching.  Espoused the cause of Ashurst Wood to Mr H Kennedy (q.v.) of Saint Hill, with whom he stayed and was instrumental in engaging the "Scripture Reader", Mr Smye (q.v.).

HINDLEY, Charles

M.P.  Laid the foundation stone of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church on 21 May 1846 (or 1845?).


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.  Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.


See Rev. Meek's morning sermon on death of Rev. Slight


of Maidstone. Present at B.S.'s ordination at Mount Sion Chapel, TW, on the morning of 10 May 1831.  Participated in the opening service at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church on 20 Jan 1848.

JENKS, Miss E. M.

Life Deacon of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church who remembered the Slights there.  Alive at the time of the Church's centenary in 1959.


Addressed the public tea meeting at the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in Oct 1886.  Attended Benjamin's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889 at Ashurst Wood. Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.

JONES, Rev. George

minister of the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, TW, in March 1856.  Dedicatee of Benjamin's Uncle Daniel. Preached at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859

JONES, Rev. Thomas

of Woolwich.  Chaired meeting to form church at Mount Sion Chapel on 8 Dec 1830.


Esq., lessee of Saint Hill at the end of 1857 until at least 1859.  Rev.William Hill (q.v.) persuaded him to fund a "Scripture Reader" at Ashurst Wood who took up his post on 10 April 1858. Contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859.

KOCH, Rev. E. F. W.

oif Oesterwyk near Tilburg in Holland, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, attended by Mrs. SLIGHT's nephew and niece.  Came to East Grinstead in summer or autumn 1859 for the day and was shown the building site of the church at Ashurst Wood.  Instrumental in obtaining further contributions from the TWISS family on his return to Holland.


D.D. of London.  Preached the evening sermon at the opening of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, on 20 Jan 1848.


of Cheshunt and formerly of Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead.  Preached at the postponed anniversary of the Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 October 1889.  Spoke at the public meeting in the Church after the service and tea.

LONG, Rev. Eustace E.

Minister at Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel, East Grinstead, from 15 August 1869 until 28 Jan 1877.  Friend of Benjamin's and lunched with him at least once per week.

LUXFORD, Mrs. Bertha P.

died 15 September 1969 in Eastbourne.  Owner of lithograph portrait of B.S. published in the East Grinstead Courier on 14 August 1964.

LYON, Rev. W. P.

B.A., succeeded Benjamin as minister of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, in 1850. Preached at the public meeting at 6.00 p.m.of the opening of Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Tuesday 11 Oct 1859.


Physician who attended Rev. Slight at his death at 2.30 p.m. on Sat 17 Aug 1889 and certified his death.

MARTIN, Mr and Mrs

Attended Benjamin's funeral at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.

MARTIN, Rev. Samuel

of Cheltenham.  Later pastor of Westminster Chapel.  Chairman of Congregational Union 1862.  B.S. conducted his marriage on 2 Oct 1839 at Mount Sion Chapel.  Preached to a young congregation at the final dedicatory service of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, on 27 Jan 1848.

MAXWELL, Rev. Joseph Townsend

First preached at Moat Church in August 1870.  Became first pastor there on Sunday 1 Jan 1871.  Guaranteed an income of £100 per annum for two years by Joshua Wilson (q.v.).  Benjamin would visit him almost every  Monday morning, weather permitting, and invite him to lunch at Ashurst Wood later in the week.  On 27 Feb 1872, it was resolved that a church be constituted with Mr. Maxwell as pastor and his ordination took place on 30 Apr 1872.  In October 1916, when living at Crouch End, wrote a handwritten account, "Memories of Moat Church", of his time at Moat Church.

MEEK, Rev. William John

of Knutsford, Cheshire.  Minister at AW from 1885 or 1886.  Would call in and visit Mr. Slight after the morning service.  Preached a sermon on 18 Aug 1889 at Ashurst Wood, mourning Benjamin's passing and broke down in tears at his funeral on 22 August at Ashurst Wood.  Conducted the funeral service at the cemetery chapel of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery.  Preached two sermons, morning and evening, on Sunday 25 Aug 1889 on the subject of Rev. Slight's death.  These were subsequently published.  On Monday 7 Oct 1889, presided, in place of Mr T.C. Thompson, over the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church at the postponed anniversary celebration.

MILLS, John Remington

Contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859.


One of the pallbearers at Benjamin's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889 in Ashurst Wood.

MOORE, Dr. George

retired physician of Tunbridge Wells who advised Benjamin in 1849 to retire to the country and refrain from pastoral duties or other work for at least two years.


of London.  Contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859.  Benjamin wrote to him on 7 May regarding the design.

MORLEY, Samuel

M.P.(1809-1886). Liberal politician and statesman.  Lifelong friend of Benjamin Slight.  Contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859 and one of the chief subscribers to Moat Church, East Grinstead in 1870 and contributing to the upkeep in later years. 


One of the pallbearers at Benjamin's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889.

NEALE, Rev. John Mason

(1818-6 Aug 1866), Warden of Sackville College.  Scholar and hymnologist.  Benjamin mentions him in a letter of 13 Apr 1858 relating to the ejection of St Margaret's Convent from Pearless's premises in Church St.

NEAR, Rev. I

Was to have addressed the public tea meeting of the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in October 1886 but made his apologies.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.


Evangelist of the Nottingham Institute who held Sunday services, at the instigation of Rev. SLIGHT, at the Old Town Hall in London Road, East Grinstead c. 1866.


of Nottingham.  Presumably there was a Nonconformist College there.  B.S. wrote to him in 1885 concerning a new minister for AW.


of Lenham.  Participated in the opening service at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church on 20 Jan 1848.

PEARLESS, James Richardson

Solicitor to Benjamin SLIGHT at the time his will was drawn up on 22 March 1883 and appointed one of his executors.  Attended Benjamin's funeral on Thur 22 Aug 1889.


solicitor of East Grinstead, owner of buildings in Church Street occupied by St Margaret's Convent from June 1856 which they were forced to vacate two years later.  He bought land from Mr. Bowrah's (q.v.) estate for £7 10s, pocketing fees of £4 11s 4d), which was used as the site for Ashurst Wood Congregational Church. Contributor to the church building fund in 1859.

PEAT, Rev. John

Vicar of East Grinstead (surrogate) at St Swithun's Parish Church from 1863.  Educated at St. Peter's College, Cambridge where he was a College Prizeman in 1831 and 1832.  B.A. in 1833 and M.A. in 1836.  Created deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1836 and priest by the Archbishop of Canterbury the following year.  Formerly curate of Seveoaks (1850-54), perpetual curate at the Weald Chapel, Sevenoaks (1854-60), rector of Hangleton near Brighton (1860-64).  Implacably opposed to Rev. John Mason Neale's movement and worked to prevent the first chapel at St Margaret's Convent from being opened for public worship.

PODMORE, Harriett

Taught at the newly opened day school at Ashurst Wood from 9 Jan 1860.  Sister of Sarah (q.v.)


Taught at the newly opened day school at Ashurst Wood from 9 Jan 1860.  Sister of Harriett (q.v.).

POPE, Rev. William Law

minister of Church of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells 1829-1879. The term 'Popites' coined from his name to describe attendees at that church in opposition to the 'Slightites' of Mount Sion Chapel.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.


servant of the SLIGHTs, in 1861, living at "Nenthorn", Ashurst Wood, on 8 Apr 1861.

REID, Rev. Alexander

B.A.  Intimate friend of B.S.'s from Highbury days (late 1828-mid-1830) until at least 1885.  At St. Leonard's in 1880 when, on 2 Jun, he preached at Moat Church's anniversary.  Living at Wilmslow, Cheshire in March 1885 when Benjamin wrote to him on 11th, informing him of Charlotte's death and asking for an opinion of Rev. W. J. Meek of Knutsford, a prospective successor for Ashurst Wood.

RIX, Mr.

Benjamin's medical attendant at TW in 1849


successor to Dr. Henry Foster Burder at Highbury College 1830-1839.

ROGERS, John Henry

assistant warden at Sackvill College.  Assaulted by Edward Martin, a resident, on 5 Jul 1856.  Accused of doing harm to another, inmate, George Taylor, and causing his death on 6 Oct 1856.

SAINT, Rev. John James

Rector of St Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent who performed the ceremony at Benjamin's wedding on 28 June 1836.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service on 22 Aug 1889 at Ashurst Wood.


(c. 1771-?), brother of Charlotte SLIGHT, lived at No. 2, Somerset Place, TW, in the parish of Speldhurst, before 1837 until after 6 June 1841.


temporarily filled the vacancy at Zion (Countess of Huntingdon's) Chapel at East Grinstead in 1855 and preached at the afternoon service at the opening of the Room at Ashurst Wood on 10 Sep 1855.


In 1879, the first ordained minister to become junior pastor at Ashurst Wood.  Lived at Forest Row and departed in 1885.


of Chatham.  Read the ordination prayer at B.S.'s ordination at Mount Sion Chapel, TW, on the morning of 10 May 1831.

SMITH, Rev. John

of Newcastle upon Tyne.  Minister of the Garth Heads Chapel (congregaton of Burghers) from 1784 until 1823 when it moved to the United Secession Church, Carliol Street until 1834.  Recommended Benjamin to Directors of the London Missionary Society.

SMITH, Rev. G. W. Cowper

In 1883, third minister to succeed Rev. Slight at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW.  Preached at Ashurst Wood's 27th chapel anniversary in October 1886 and read from the Scriptures at Benjamin's funeral service at the cemetery chapel in Tunbridge Wells.


"Scripture Reader" engaged on recommendation from the Country Towns Mission by Rev. William Hill on behalf of Benjamin and Mr. H. Kennedy (q.v.) of Saint Hill who took up residence in Ashurst Wood with his family on 10 Apr 1858.  He started a weekday service in the Room, a "Cottage-Lecture" on a Wednesday evening, at the close of which a circulating library allowed participants to borrow 30-40 books.  Built up the congregation so that the building of a new church became necessary. Co-led the prayers at the meeting of 6 Apr 1859 in the Room at Ashurst Wood where the decision was taken to build the church.  On 4 Aug 1859, he witnessed scandalous behaviour by the Rev. Neale's servants at Sackville College including the use of foul language.  Ran adult education classes and the circulating library in the evenings in the schoolroom at Ashurst Wood.


Evangelist and assistant to Rev. Slight at Ashurst Wood, first mentioned by him in his letter of 9 Dec. 1873.

STAPLEY, Charlotte

One of those living at 3, Park View, the SLIGHTs' home in 1841.

STEER, Edward

Property developer in East Grinstead from whom Benjamin bought the site for Moat Church in 1868.  Designer and builder of the church which was opened on 5 Apr 1870.  Addressed the public tea meeting of the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in October 1886.


solicitor living with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law, Charlotte STAPLEY, at 3 Park View, in 1841 a house shared with the SLIGHTs


One of Benjamin's fellow students at Highbury.  Conducted the opening services of Moat Congregational Church, East Grinstead, at the beginning of April  1870.

STRANGE, E. Hilder

linen draper by profession in the Market Square, Tunbridge Wells and deacon at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church.  Chaired the public tea meeting at the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in Oct 1886 and spoke on the subject of disestablishment.  Represented his Church at Benjamin's funeral and was responsible for organisation of the event at Tunbridge Wells.


of Paddington.  Led the evening service on the day of B.S.'s ordination at Mount Sion Chapel on 10 May 1831.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.

THOMPSON, Rev. J Radford

the second minister to succeed Benjamin at Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, TW, appointed in 1862.  Presided at the ordination service of Rev. J. T. Maxwell at Moat Church, East Grinstead on 30 Apr 1872.

THOMSON, Patrick

Intimate friend of B.S.'s at Highbury (late 1828-mid-1830).


Married MARTIN, Rev. Samuel (q.v.) at the first marriage to take place at Mount Sion Chapel, TW, on 2 Oct 1839.

TURNBULL, Rev. James

M.A.  Minister of the Rocks Chapel, East Grinstead, from 1855.  Died in June 1858.

TWISS, Caroline

sister of Charlotte SLIGHT and witness at her marriage on 28 June 1836.

TWISS, Daniel

brother of Charlotte SLIGHT and witness at her marriage on 28 June 1836. Contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859.


nee SCOTT (1767-20 January 1836), mother of Charlotte SLIGHT

TWISS, Robert

died 19 November 1829

VINCE, George James

Succeeded Mr. Spong as Benjamin's assistant at Ashurst Wood until replaced by Rev. Singleton in 1879.  Remained there, described in 1881 as "missionary".  His wife was in charge of the day school. Addressed the public tea meeting of the 27th chapel anniversary at Ashurst Wood in October 1886.  Present at Benjamin's funeral at Ashurst Wood on 22 August 1889. Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary, and offered the closing prayers.


Spoke at the public meeting in Ashurst Wood Congregational Church on Monday 7 Oct 1889, part of the postponed chapel anniversary.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.


Attended Benjamin's funeral service at Ashurst Wood on 22 Aug 1889.

WATERS, Mrs. Margaret J.

of Forest Row.  A child when a member of Ashurst Wood Congregationl Church.  Remembered the Slights.  Alive at the time of the Church's Centenary in 1959.

WHINFIELD, James Widdrington

(c. 1812-27 Feb 1891).  Grocer, tea dealer and soda water and lemonade manufacturer in Newcastle upon Tyne before 1851 until at least 1874, at 22 Grainger Street, moving later to no. 41.  He and his wife Eliza (born c. 1822 in Leith, Edinburgh) lived at 3 Higham Place (1851-1858 or after), 25 Albion St (1865), 27 St. Mary's Terrace (1871), 46 Jesmond Road (1881).  Beneficiary of Benjamin's will.  The nature of his relationship with him is not known.


Bought Sackville Cottage, East Grinstead from the SLIGHTs some time between 8 Apr 1861 and 2 Dec 1862

WILSON, Joshua

(1795-14 Aug 1874).  Son of Thomas WILSON (q.v.).  Married Mary Wood, only daughter of Thomas Bulley of Teignmouth in 1837.  Lived at Nevill Park, TW.  Bought properties from Benjamin in TW.  On holiday in Eastbourne at the same time as the SLIGHTs before 1858.  Received Benjamin's letter of 2 December 1858 espousing the cause of the chapel at St. James's, Newcastle upon Tyne.  The WILSONs stayed with the SLIGHTs in East Grinstead in May 1859.  Joint organiser of and contributor to Ashurst Wood Congregational Church building fund in 1859. Paid the expenses of having an evangelist, Mr Parry (q.v.), preach in East Grinstead c. 1866.  Also guaranteed to ensure the first minister of Moat Church, East Grinstead, a salary of £100 per annum for two years in 1871-2 with funds from his own pocket if necessary.  Made his will on 13 June 1874.  Died at his home, 4, Nevill Park, TW.

WILSON, Thomas

(1764-17 June 1843).  Non-conformist benefactor Treasurer of Highbury College, manufacturer of ribbons, silks and gauzes.  Reopened Mount Sion Chapel, TW, on 8 July 1830 and sent Benjamin there on 8 August. Lived at Highbury Place. Buried at Abney Park Cemetery


Undertaker of East Grinstead who provided Benjamin's coffin of polished oak with a brass inscription plate.

YOUNG, William

Grocer of East Grinstead, one of the executors of Benjamin's will. The Young family attended Benjamin SLIGHT's funeral at Ashurst Wood on Thur 22 Aug 1889.