At the beginning of the 19th century when King George IV was on the throne the inhabitants of Crowborough were predominantly foresters living in rough cabins in the forest. In previous years this part of Sussex was the centre of the Iron industry but with the increased use of coal for smelting and the depletion of the forests it is recorded that by 1825 the last iron furnace was put out. Many remained as charcoal burners, tanners and farmers during the daytime but at night smuggling was a common local activity. Crowborough, especially the Warren and Marden’s Hill, was a very convenient hiding place midway between the coast ports at Newhaven and Cuckmere Haven and the markets in London. There was an Inn in what is now called Smugglers Lane which is close to the Chapel which was closed down by the authorities in the late 18th century because it was a centre for smugglers. By 1833 when our history begins it was reported that “smuggling is much diminished”
A Christian farmer called George Doggett came from Norfolk and settled at Buckhurst Farm in the nearby village of Withyham. With his wife Eliza, who he married in about 1830, they travelled to worship in Tunbridge Wells but he had long hoped for a Baptist church nearer to their home.
One night he had an unusually vivid dream where he saw the Ashdown forest in the direction of Crowborough as a very rough and stormy sea with boats in great danger. There in the middle of the forest was a lighthouse directing the frightened sailors to a safe harbour. George shared this dream with a Christian friend who was immediately sure that God was guiding him to establish a place of worship in the area so that the gospel of Salvation could be preached.
In 1832 when George Doggett was 36 years old and in the year of the birth of their first son Henry, he went to search for the location of the lighthouse of his dream. There, in the exact spot he found a disused barn, cowshed and some cottages and after contacting the owner was able to take out a 21 year lease on the property. He fitted out the barn with seats and after obtaining a licence for public worship invited ministers to come and preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the first non-conformist place of worship in the Crowborough area and by God’s grace this same gospel has been preached continually ever since, bringing many from the storms of life to the safe haven of Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first congregations must have been quite a rough looking group of people because when Mr Sedgwick came from Brighton one Sunday to preach he said afterwards “ Well, Doggett, I never preached to such a congregation as that before. I did not know how the time went, as I was afraid to let them see I had a watch”
The original barn was made of wood and thatch and must have been very draughty and cold. It was not long before the walls were replaced with locally cut stone and those original stone blocks are still a significant part of the buildings structure today. The cowshed at the back was used for housing a Sunday school, the start of a ministry to children which continues to this present time.
In 1843 the buildings and land were to be sold but opponents of the church attempted to purchase the property, but by the Grace of God a good friend of Mr Doggett from London provided the £260 needed and the site was purchased for the church one day before the opponents could complete the transaction.
The following year in 1844 a Baptist church was formally constituted with Mr Jonathan Mose appointed as the first Pastor. A church statement of faith and belief was written which has been maintained until the present time.
The first 10 members were baptised in the pond 300 or so meters away at the bottom of Summersales Hill with many visitors attending the service. The names of these first members can be seen here in the member’s record book which is still used for recording the names of people joining the church.
Since that time the church has been blessed by God in the provision of godly and faithful pastors with a remarkable record of only 6 pastors over a period of nearly 170 years.
Mr Ebenezer Littleton Mr Stanley Delves
All the Pastors since Mr Saxby have lived in “Chapel House” adjacent to the chapel which was built in 1855 using the stone from the original cottages that were there. The house has of course been upgraded and renovated over the intervening years.
The Chapel building itself became dilapidated and it became necessary for it to be rebuilt and enlarged in 1897. The first estimate was £68 but in the end the total cost was £400, a very large sum for the church to find. This building continued to give good service for almost 100 years with various additions and modifications until 1995 when a growing congregation and the need for more modern facilities again made a very substantial enlargement and modernization necessary.
The “Branch Chapel” was built originally by the Congregationalists in the centre of Crowborough and was bought from them in 1905 by the Forest Fold church and used for the evening and weeknight meetings to reduce the need for travel to outlying Forest Fold Chapel in the days before the motor car was commonplace. This was sold in 1994 and the proceeds used towards the cost of the enlargement of the main Forest Fold Chapel.
More comprehensive historical records can be seen by following the following links.
A History of Forest Fold Baptist Chapel, Ebenezer Littleton, 1898