|The history of Methodism in Tunbridge Wells goes back at least to 1762, the year of John Wesley's first recorded visit to the area. On this occasion, he preached in a large private house (Little Bounds) at Southborough, and he reported in his Journal that ‘the people were all attention: if the seed be watered surely there will be some fruit’. |
|Clearly the seed was watered, for by 1778 a congregation of Methodists was meeting in the Presbyterian meeting house on Mount Sion (still in existence, although long disused as a chapel), which they were able to make use of on Sunday evenings and during the week. Wesley’s Journal records a number of visits to this chapel from 1778 onwards.|
The Tunbridge Wells Methodist Society was originally placed in the Lewes Circuit, being transferred to the Sevenoaks Circuit in 1810.
|In 1812 the Methodists built their first chapel, on the present site, at a cost of £2000 plus £300 for the land. It was opened on 24th June. Since the church’s membership at the time was only twenty, the project was an ambitious one, and the building was not finally free from debt until 1860, thanks largely to the generosity of Henry Reed, a Tasmanian entrepreneur and evangelist living at Dunorlan in Pembury Road. The church received its first resident minister in 1819. Prior to this date, the Circuit had only two ministers, both based at Sevenoaks and making use of the ‘circuit horse’ to travel the wide area under their charge.|
|Additions to the original building, for the use of Sunday School and other organisations, were made in 1821 and 1839, Methodism's centenary year. In 1840 the chapel’s seating capacity was increased to accommodate a growing congregation. The final phase of the development of the old chapel took place in 1847, when the worship area was extended backwards and a new schoolroom added. In the same year, the former Sevenoaks Circuit was divided, and a new circuit formed with Tunbridge Wells at its head.|
In 1857, the Primitive Methodists, one of a number of separate denominations into which Methodism had by this time become divided (Vale Royal belonged to the Wesleyan Methodist denomination) erected their first chapel in Camden Road. They have existed in Tunbridge Wells for some years previously, worshipping from 1854 in the Presbyterian chapel on Mount Sion. The original Camden Road chapel was replaced by a new building in 1878.
In 1872, the old chapel on the Vale Royal site was demolished, with the loss too of the four large poplar trees in front, reputed to have been among the finest of their kind in Kent.
|The foundation stones of the structure we see today were laid on 20th May. The architect was Charles Bell of London, and the builders the local firm of Willicombe and Oakley. During the period of its construction, the congregation met in the Great Hall, Mount Pleasant (still surviving opposite the station). The work was completed with remarkable speed, at a cost of £5000, and the new church was opened on 2nd June 1873.|
The organ that is in use today was added in 1883. Its present position, following the redevelopment of 1982, is the original one, although from 1906 it was situated in the transept to the right of the chancel. In 1930, various interior improvements were made to the church, most notably the replacement of the previously plain side windows with stained glass (the front windows are contemporary with the building). Some of the new windows were donated in memory of particular individuals, others by organisations within the life of the church. The Communion table also dates from 1930.
In 1932, the year of Methodist Union, when most of the separated Methodist bodies were reunited to form the Methodist Church as we know it today, the Camden Road church was brought into the same circuit as Vale Royal. At this period, a small Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Hill Street was closed, and its membership amalgamated with that of Camden Road.
In 1980, after various other options had been considered in the preceding years, it was decided that the future of the Methodist Church in Tunbridge Wells and the Circuit would best be served by a complete refurbishment of the Vale Royal premises and the sale of the chapel in Camden Road. By April of the following year, a scheme for this had been drawn up and a final decision to go ahead was taken by the church as a whole. The closing service at Camden Road was held in August 1981, and its contribution is now commemorated by the Camden Chapel at Vale Royal, which preserves its Communion table. Work on the redevelopment of Vale Royal began in January 1982: the present vestibule, and the canopy at the front of the church were added at this time. While work was in progress, the congregation worshipped in the hall of King Charles’ Church. The church was reopened for worship on 1st September 1982.
Since Easter Day 2015, Vale Royal Methodist Church have been worshipping with the Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church on Mount Ephraim.