History of Tongham
People have lived in and around Tongham for hundreds of years. A flint axe-head from the Stone Age has been unearthed here. The Romans built a villa in the area while the name "Tongham" comes in various spellings in documents from the 11th Century. Tongham is an Anglo-Saxon word from 'Tong' or 'Tongue of land' between the two streams, and 'Ham', the Saxon for 'home'. The name exists on a map from 1637.
Until the 1860s, the nearest church was in Seale, a tiring walk up the Hog's Back and down the other side. It was John Back, who then lived in Aldershot Place, who promised two of his workers that they would have a church of their own in Tongham.
Plans were prepared and on 27th May 1864, Fanny, John Back's daughter, laid the foundation stone. You can see the trowel she used preserved in a case inside the church on the South wall. The church is built of hard chalk stone, called clunch. It took a year and a half to build and it was dedicated on St Paul's Day (25th January) in 1866.
It was logical to call the church after St. Paul, as the neighbouring parish of Ash had its church dedicated to the other great apostle St. Peter. The Bishop of Winchester conducted the service of consecration, as Tongham was originally in that diocese.
In the same year (1866) the local school, "St. Paul's National Voluntary All-age School", was opened next to the church. Many local people had all or most of their schooling there until a new school was opened on the Cardinals Estate in the late 1950s.
The church had a major part in the founding of the school and there are still very close links between the present St. Paul's Infant School and the church. The old school building - now called "The Old School" - was redesigned and opened as a Community Centre and Church Hall in 1991.
Tongham is now the smallest parish in the Deanery of Aldershot, which extends from Tongham to Aldershot, Fleet and Farnborough. There are just over 2800 people in the Parish, mainly in the village of Tongham itself, but the boundary extends to the north side of the Hog's Back to include some of Runfold as well as the best known landmark, the Hog's Back Hotel. Modern local attractions also include the Hog's Back Brewery at Manor Farm.
Inside the church
Inside, it is possible to see the pale blue vault of the apse with its round canvas paintings (known as "roundels"), fixed to the ceiling above the altar.
The nine roundels show different religious symbols:
The first roundel on the extreme left is an "A" or alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet.
Opposite to it is an "O" or omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, from the vision of St. John in the Bible where the Lord God says "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 22: 13)
In the middle are the letters "IHS", the first three letters ("yes---") of Jesus' name in Greek.
The letters "XP" are also Greek and pronounced "CHR". They are the first letters of "Christos" and the Roman General Constantine saw them in a vision and heard the words "In this sign you will conquer", just before the battle which led to him becoming the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
There are two flower designs. One is the Passion flower, which stands for the suffering or passion of Jesus on the cross.
In the other, the lilies of the field symbolise Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The star of David reminds us that Jesus was a Jew from the family of king David.
The pelican is a symbol of self-denial - the mother bird who is prepared to feed her chicks on her own blood, just as Jesus feeds us in the Communion service on wine, the symbol of his blood.
The lamb reminds us that Jesus is described as "the Lamb of God" making the ultimate sacrifice for us, once and for all.
The five windows behind the altar stand for the four writers of the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with Jesus as saviour of the world in the middle. Amongst the many other stained glass windows in the church, there is one showing St. Paul with his usual long beard, sword and book. In one of his letters, St. Paul tells his fellow Christians to put on the whole armour of God, including the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.