Past, Present & Future

Below you can read about the following:

The locality

The History

The Trust and trustees

Our Vision and Ethos

How we care for God`s Creation here in Penhurst


The LocalityView of the Centre from Tent Hill

This 17th Century Jacobean Manor House is situated in the heart of an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" in the High Weald at Penhurst, East Sussex, next door to the beautifully restored 14th Century church. The retreat centre provides a haven of tranquility in an historic setting, yet it is only 90 minutes from London and 1 hour from Gatwick airport and the M25.

The Centre is only seven miles from East Sussex coast and the historic town of Battle is four miles away. The Abbey has huge significance in English history as it marks the site where Harold fell in the Battle of Hastings. It is an attractive town with many places of interest to visit. The view of the Retreat Centre above (amongst the trees in the distance) is taken from Tent Hill where William is alleged to have camped before the battle.

The History

House from church porchThe House

It is likely that there has been a dwelling and a church at Penhurst since Saxon days and the site of the original house was enclosed by a moat. Penhurst "Head of the Wood" is recorded in the Domesday book.

Doomsday book entryIt is thought that the present house was built in 1652 by Revd John Gyles, the retired Anglican Minister of Ninfield.  He built the house to move into with his wife.  They married in March 1652 but, unfortunately, he died just eight months later, and the house passed into new hands.

Over the years the house became part of the estate of the Earl of Ashburnham and eventually became a farm house occupied by a tenant farmer. 




The Broomhall Family

PaulPaul and Rosalind Broomhall bought the house from Revd John Bickersteth, founder of the Ashburnham Christian Trust in 1956. Together Paul and John established the Friends of Ashburnham and Penhurst Churches and Penhurst church was restored before work on the Manor House was completed. A Thanksgiving for the restoration of the church of St. Michael the Archangel, Penhurst was held on Sunday October 16th 1960, a year before Paul and Rosalind finally moved into their house.

Born in China and India respectively, Paul and Rosalind did much to support overseas missionary work, travelling to India and Nepal five times between 1950 and 1974 on behalf of Interserve. Their travels involved riding and walking over the Himalayan mountains often at great personal cost and danger - to visit and encourage isolated missionaries. For some 35 years The Manor House was an oasis of warm hospitality - for family gatherings, for the refreshment of overseas workers on furlough, for the homeless, for church members and for casual visitors from many parts of the world. Until Paul`s death in 1995 a prayer meeting was held monthly to support the many people who had gone to work overseas from the parish. The Trust was formed in 1996 by members of the extended Broomhall family, two of whom had served overseas as mission partners. The vision to found a Christian retreat centre at Penhurst was inspired by the words in 2 Corinthians "for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God".

Paul Broomhall was the great nephew of James Hudson Taylor and the house contains many fascinating artefacts associated with the history of mission, including original portraits of Amelia Hudson Taylor and Benjamin Broomhall, first Secretary of the CIM and brother in law to James Hudson Taylor, the 19th century pioneer missionary to China.


"In this place I will give peace"

This text was inscribed over the door of the late Mary Cundy`s house in the mountain village of Paimey, Nepal. Mary, a medical social worker, was one of the many Interserve partners who was a frequent visitor to the Manor House. During her lifetime she encouraged the Trustees to persevere in their vision.

Front view of house south facing aspect


The Trust

Penhurst Retreat Centre Charitable Trust was formed in 1997 by members of the extended Broomhall family, two of whom had served overseas as missionaries. The vision to found an ecumenical Christian retreat centre at Penhurst was inspired by the words in 2 Corinthians "for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God".


The make-up of the trust is as follows:

Open gate to the Centre










Vision and ethos


Overall vision and purpose

Penhurst Retreat Centre has been established as a place where small groups and individuals from all parts of the world can find rest and refreshment in body, mind and spirit whilst preparing for or returning from their place of work and service.

The Centre seeks to provide a place where people can:

·  Find an environment of prayer

·  deepen their relationship with Christ and each other

·  Work through personal issues such as fear about the future and disillusionment

·  Recover from trauma or loss

·  Seek guidance about the next step

·  Resolve uncertainties about how to deal with a difficult situation or relationship.


The Centre was established with mission partners working overseas in mind. However while seeking to maintain this emphasis, the Centre welcomes guests from both near and far, those in full-time Christian work, those in secular employment and anyone in need of spiritual refreshment. All are welcome here, including those of other faiths or none, provided that they respect the Christian ethos of the Centre and do not cause distress, disturbance or discomfort to other guests or staff.  All are welcome to take part in the prayers which are offered twice daily in the chapel.

Groups using the Centre

As a Christian Retreat Centre the Trustees would normally expect all retreat or group leaders to be committed and practising Christians. The Retreat Centre is available for groups to organise their own Christian worship and other associated activities.

We acknowledge that within Christian tradition there is a wide range of worship styles, teaching, approaches to prayer and spirituality. The Trustees welcome that diversity provided that the practice followed falls within the central tenets of the Christian faith.

Centrality of relationship and prayer

The trustees and staff seek to live out a gospel of peace and to demonstrate this through their daily activities within the Centre, and in their relationships both with guests and with one another.  Everything that takes place within the Centre is under-girded by prayer. 

Welcome and responsiveness

The aim of the Centre is to be responsive and sensitive to guests and their individual needs.  The warmth and quality of welcome given is much more important than items or practices which speak of one particular Christian tradition.  In order to achieve this aim, active listening, prayer and debriefing is on offer to guests within the Centre and professional counselling, mentoring and spiritual direction can be provided on request if booked in advance.

Place of quiet and reflection

The Centre recognises that the ideal balance between quiet time and engagement, reflection and action, rest and activity, study and prayer, may be different for each individual.  We advocate, therefore, a spirit of acceptance and tolerance to enable the needs of each guest to be met as fully as possible. Guests and staff will be encouraged not to make noise that disturbs others. Guests who come to retreat in personal silence are given every opportunity to do so, including meals in their rooms if desired, and others around them are asked to be sensitive to their needs. Silence is an important part of many retreats and the Centre seeks to provide opportunities for silence at the discretion of the Retreat Leader and/or Centre Hosts.

Open to all

The Trustees and staff are committed to providing an ecumenical environment for guests respecting the diversity in understanding and practice of the Christian faith and enabling the full breadth of Christ’s body to feel both accepted and welcomed.  To help fulfil this aim the Centre accommodates a wide and varied range of liturgy, retreat support materials and Christian artwork.  All traditions, insights and forms of Christian worship that bring glory to God are valued and respected.

Length of stay

In order to enable people to listen to God as fully as possible, we endeavour to find ways of encouraging guests to spend 4-7 days at the Centre.  Consequently discounts are offered for longer stays.

Caring for God`s creation

Fairtrade logoWherever possible we use fairly traded and ethically sourced products. We support a local fair trade distributor who provides us with beverages, cereals, preserves, sugar and chocolate based products for our snack table and for use in the kitchen.

We also buy ethically sourced products from the supermarkets and wholesalers as we believe that this encourages them to continue to stock these goods. Nearly all of our meat and most of our UK grown fruit and vegetables are sourced from local outlets and we only use local free range eggs. Meals are freshly made to order and very little food is wasted. Visit Homestead Farm`s website to read about the origins of much of our meat. This is literally only a few fields away making it`s carbon footprint very small indeed.



Bee on lavenderAll our cleaning materials are eco friendly and we have switched to biodegradable napkins, unbleached bamboo toilet rolls, compostable bin liners and laundry detergent sheets that dissolve in the wash - all with no plastic!

We recycle or compost almost everything including paper, card, plastics, metals, food waste and garden waste.  We use Suez for recycling our waste. Their aim is a society where all waste materials are reused, recycled or recovered for their energy content.

In our grounds we provide good habitats for birds, bees and wildlife whilst avoiding the use of damaging chemicals.  We are also planning to create a wildflower meadow.

Wherever possible we try to use goods with a low carbon footprint and try to support those who live and work locally.

Sadly we still rely on fossil fuels but would love, in the future, to be less dependent on these.