Christ Church, Epsom Common

Christ Church Road, Epsom KT19 8NE

Christ Church, Epsom Common
Christ Church, Epsom Common
Image courtesy of Christ Church © 2005

Christ Church, Epsom Common is part of the Church of England, within the Diocese of Guildford. Properly, the "church" is the lively community of people of all ages for whom the worship and fellowship activities within the building are a vital focus of their lives - see www.christchurchepsom.org.uk. However, the building is a particularly beautiful one (as recognised by its Grade II* Listing) and also has an interesting history.

Contents

The first Christ Church (1843-76)
The Trotters of Horton Manor
The present building and its opening
The Vicarage
Subsequent additions
The Church Hall
Expansion
The 1990s "Reordering"
Vicars of Christ Church

See also:
Christ Church's stained glass (including biographies of the people memorialised)
The bells of Christ Church
George Good - Christ Church's long-serving (1876-1935) founder Director of Music
G F Watts - Christ Church's 1886 celebrity wedding

The texts of Christ Church's 50th Anniversary and Centenary histories

Christ Church Baptisms 1874-1922 (A to M) & (N to Z)
Christ Church Weddings 1875-1910
Christ Church WW1 Memorial
Christ Church WW2 Memorial

The first Christ Church (1843-76)

For centuries, Epsom had the one parish church of St Martin of Tours in Church Street, to the east of the town. As the town grew in the 1800s, houses were built further and further to the west. To serve the population in and around the Common, St Martin's established Christ Church in 1843 as "Chapel of Ease", on the site of what is now the Scout HQ alongside the present Christ Church.

In his 1860 "A Handbook of Epsom", C J Swete records that it was "intended for the convenience of the working classes of its vicinity, whose abodes have rapidly sprung up in the locality of the Common."

The initial temporary structure was replaced in 1845 by a red-brick church (sited just in front of the present Scout HQ). The architect was William McIntosh Brooks, and the result was described by Mr Swete as "a rather pretty structure". That is borne out by this 1860s photograph, one of a series of pioneering early photographs by Epsom's George Snashall.

The first Christ Church
The first Christ Church, photographed by George Snashall in about 1865
Image courtesy of Bill Saunders, © 2013

The unusual Romanesque design, in red brick, is very similar to McIntosh Brooks' church of St Peter and St Paul in Albury, near Guildford. That was built in 1842, three years before Christ Church, having been commissioned by the then Lord of Albury Manor to be in the style of the 11th Century church of St Peter at Thaon, Normandy.

This first Christ Church had seating for about 150 but this soon proved inadequate for the increasing local population. As described below, it was replaced by the present building, providing about three times the capacity, in 1876. The earlier building was then demolished, the only remnants being sections of its flint boundary wall around the site of Scout HQ and, in the grass immediately outside the present church's main entrance, one of the stone crosses from its roof.

The Trotters of Horton Manor

A key figure in Christ Church history is Miss Elizabeth Trotter (1786-68) - known as the "founder of the parish". She lived with her brother John (1780-1856 - who had been MP for West Surrey 1841-47) and his wife Maria (1787-1861) at Horton Manor, one of the largest estates in the area. When the new Chapel of Ease opened across the road from the South Lodge to the Manor grounds, the Trotters moved their attendance from St Martin's to Christ Church.

The new chapel proved popular with the local population and Miss Trotter began to campaign for it to become a free-standing parish church, separate from St Martin's. The campaign developed momentum and, with the Bishop's strong support, the Vicar of St Martin's (the somewhat eccentric Revd Benjamin Bradney Bockett) issued in April 1853 an appeal for funds to provide the endowment necessary to finance the change.

However, Mr Bockett's enthusiasm did not last. Even though the growing local population meant that the small chapel was proving too small, things did not progress. Miss Trotter died in 1868 with her dream unrealised, but maintained pressure from beyond the grave by leaving what was then a substantial legacy of £8,000 to fund the building of a new Church with places for at least 450, together with its endowment and the provision of a Vicarage. This was on the time-limited condition that it would be for the long-proposed new parish - which was also to be free of "ritualistic nonsense".

As John and Maria Trotter had no children, the entail on the estate had passed it to Elizabeth on their deaths in, respectively, 1856 and 1861. On Elizabeth's death in 1856, the entail passed the estate to her - and, indeed, John's - nearest blood relative, being their niece Mary Elizabeth Brown, daughter of their late sister Ann. Mary Elizabeth and her husband William seem gladly to have accepted the condition that the family changed its surname from Brown to Trotter. This William (now Trotter) vigorously continued Elizabeth's campaign. Things came to a head in April 1871 when he took public issue with Mr Bockett's obfuscation in a note to "The Parishioners of Epsom." This set out the background, noted the renewed support of the Bishop and Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and identified the Vicar as "the only impediment in the way. … If the Vicar's opposition can be disarmed [the parishioners] will very soon see their wishes and mine fulfilled in the erection of a new Church in a new District."

This seems finally to have unblocked things. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners drew up the necessary scheme for creating the new parish and began the necessary formal consultations. At a meeting of Queen Victoria's Privy Council at Windsor Castle on 7 July 1874, an Order was approved to implement the scheme (as reported in The London Gazette for 10 July 1874) - notwithstanding some continuing objections from Mr Bockett, as noted in the Order. The population of the new parish was estimated to be about 1,600 persons, of whom four-fifths belonged to the working classes.

Miss Trotter's legacy was thus released and preparations began for the new building, as described further below. When William Trotter died in 1887 - 11 years after the consecration of the new Christ Church - Horton Manor passed to his son, William Sampson Trotter. Although he then had the house extensively remodelled, he did not settle there. Indeed, he seems to have overreached himself financially. Arrangements having been made to break the entail, he sold the house and estate in the early 1890s and the family moved to the West Country. William died in Somerset in 1907, but the connection with Epsom was strong enough for him to be bought back for burial in Epsom Cemetery alongside his parents.

(In 1900, the Manor and its land was acquired by the then London County Council for development as part of the Epsom cluster of mental hospitals - one of Europe's largest. Those hospitals closed during the 1990s and early 2000s, and the sites developed for housing. The enlarged Horton Manor still stands as Canterbury House at the centre of Manor Park, and the Trotter connection is remembered in the nearby Trotter Way.)

(Click here for a fuller background on the Trotter family.)

The present building and its opening

The present building was designed by the eminent Victoria architect Arthur Blomfield - with the exterior, in accordance with Miss Elizabeth Trotter's wishes, in flint and white stone.

Sir Arthur - as he became in 1889 - is probably best known for the Royal College of Music in London. Locally, he also designed the chapel at Epsom College and St George's, Ashtead. As to this eminent ecclesiastical architect's engagement for the relatively modest project of Christ Church, it is perhaps not a coincidence that there was some family connection: Arthur's half-sister was married to William Trotter's brother.

The £8,000 bequeathed by Miss Trotter turned out to be much less than was needed. A public appeal was launched, the results of which nearly matched that sum. Even so, the total meant that the initial build had to omit the planned south aisle and tower. The General Statement of Account issued in 1876 showed that total expenditure had been £15,000, made up of: £6,589 for the Church; £2,799 for the Vicarage; and £4,420 for the Endowment Fund. This resulted in a deficit of £534 for which a further appeal was made.

The new building was consecrated on St Luke's Day, Wednesday 18 October 1876. The service was led by the Bishop of Winchester - the diocese within which Epsom came before the 1927 creation of the Diocese of Guildford. While this was a memorable service, it was partly for the wrong reason: the newly-commissioned heating apparatus malfunctioned, and half a dozen choristers fainted in the oppressive heat!

A postcard view of Christ Church, Epsom c.1900
A postcard view of Christ Church, Epsom c.1900

The Vicarage

To house the new Vicar (the first being the Revd George Willes), the building project for the new church included a new Vicarage just across the road. As shown in the picture below, this was absurdly grandiose.

The original Christ Church Vicarage c.1880
The original Christ Church Vicarage c.1880
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The first few Vicars had private means, and took the upkeep of the building and its extensive grounds in their stride. This wasn't the case for the Revd Neville Stiff. He came from a more modest background and, shortly before his installation as Vicar in 1921, wrote in the Parish magazine: "Also there is the Problem of the Vicarage with its two acres of garden which, in spite of augmented income, will be a real and serious embarrassment and burden to me. It is a house that would not be taken by a wise layman with double the income, yet I am bound to go in, till a smaller, suitable house can be obtained."

Sadly, he died (of an asthma attack) in 1923. His successors might not have been as financially pressed, but also found the Vicarage to be absurdly large. In addition, it was increasingly difficult to maintain - and the cellar was prone to flooding. The nettle was eventually grasped in 1938, during the sadly short incumbency of John Matthews (1937-40); like Neville Stiff, he died (of a brain haemorrhage) in post. In addition to building the present more modest Vicarage (see below), the grounds were reduced.

The 1938 Vicarage
The 1938 Vicarage
Photograph by Roger Morgan © 2014

The only part of the original building that remains is the old coach-house and stable block which, minus the spire visible on the left of the old photograph, can be seen on the right of the modern photograph (taken from about the same vantage point as the old one). As shown in the inset, the stone panel over the double doors is incised with a pair of interlocking Cs - doubtless to represent the initials of Christ Church, and some 50 years before the trademarking of the Chanel logo.

The 1876 Vicarage coach house and stable block
The 1876 Vicarage coach house and stable block
Photograph by Roger Morgan © 2014

Subsequent additions

Miss Trotter's legacy proved insufficient to complete the planned building. On its consecration, it was missing both the South Aisle and the Tower.

Generously funded by Lord Rosebery - a regular worshipper at Christ Church until his death in 1929 - the South Aisle was added in 1879, three years after the consecration.

After fund-raising, the Tower was completed in 1887 and, thanks to yet further fund-raising, a peal of bells was commissioned and hung in 1890. At a total weight of nearly three tons, they eventually proved to be too heavy for the supporting structure and, in 1992, were changed for a lighter set that continues to be rung at least weekly.

A fine Gillett & Johnson clock was installed in 1891 in memory of Isaac Braithwaite of Hookfield House. The high-maintenance mechanism was replaced by a radio-controlled electric system in 2004.

Christ Church is blessed with much fine stained glass, in most cases donated as memorials. Almost all of this was installed between the church's opening in 1876 and 1903. The two exceptions are the East Window (originally a memorial to Miss Elizabeth Trotter) and an adjacent "Light of the World" window on the South Wall of the Chancel. Both of these were damaged beyond repair by a bomb that fell on Stamford Green in 1941. Both were replaced in the 1950s - in the case of the East window by a quite different design by the eminent stained glass artist Liddell Armitage based on the Te Deum.

There is much other fine decoration, again mostly donated as memorials. Most striking on entering the church is - as can be seen in the photo at the end of this article - the mural over the Chancel arch (in memory of Christ Church's first Vicar, the Revd George Willes) and the fine Rood Screen by Fellowes Prynne (erected in memory of William Sampson Trotter). And the Chancel itself is dominated by splendid "opus sectile" decoration around the East Window and a reredos and in memory of, respectively, William Trotter and his wife, Mary Elizabeth.

The Church Hall

Originally, the Christ Church had no Hall, and rented a "Guild Room" in West Street for meetings. After a fund-raising drive, a new "Church Room" was built towards the foot of West Hill. This was opened by Lord Rosebery in 1899.

The old Christ Church Hall, 1971
The old Christ Church Hall, 1971
Image courtesy of Bill Saunders

However, its location hampered the development of work with children and families. To meet that need, a new Hall was built alongside the church, opening in 1986. The cost was met by the sale of the old hall (which now houses the Epsom Christian Fellowship, which built the Cornerstone School alongside it) and the Verger's House at 36 West Hill, together with the generosity of the congregation.

The new Hall
The new Hall
Photograph by Roger Morgan © 2014

Expansion

As noted above, Christ Church began as a Chapel of Ease for St Martin's. To serve the growing population to the north of the town, Christ Church established in 1899 its own Chapel of Ease on Hook Road, called St Barnabas. Numbers became such that, in 1909, the church moved into its new building in Temple Road and became a free-standing parish in 1917.

In 1908, Christ Church took under its wing - as St Michael's - the Mission Church in Woodlands Road serving those living to the south of Epsom's centre. However, disrepair of the corrugated iron structure and falling congregations led to its closure in 1956 and subsequent demolition.

In 1970, the Wells Church was established by the then Christ Church Curate. This later became an ecumenical church but, in 1988, came formally back into the parish as "Christ Church on the Wells", a community church serving the Wells and Ebbisham estates. Following the Borough Council's December 2015 decision to close and redevelop the Wells Social Centre (in which Christ Church on the Wells met) weekly services were suspended there from Easter 2016.

The 1990s "Reordering"

Apart from the 1920 alteration of the North Transept into a Chapel to house the parish's First World War Memorial (also now housing the Second World War Memorial installed in 1950), Christ Church in 1990 was little changed from Victorian times.

To prepare for the needs of a 21st century congregation, the church interior was substantially but sympathetically "reordered" in the early 1990s. To allow for more flexible seating, the Victorian pews were replaced with chairs. A new dais was built to provide a central setting for celebrating Holy Communion from a new nave altar. The lobby's inner dark oak doors were replaced by the glazed doors and archway which, with other new glazing, made the previously gloomy west end of the church more welcoming.

Christ Church interior
Christ Church interior
Photograph by Roger Morgan © 2014

The overall result is a sympathetic blend of a fine Victorian church with modern furnishings. This facilitates our wide range of worship styles and provides a splendid setting within which the people of Christ Church face the challenge of their Vision Statement -

Vision Statement

Vicars of Christ Church

Christ Church was, from 1843 to 1874, a Chapel of Ease to St Martin's and came under its then Vicar, the Revd Benjamin Bradney Bockett. Christ Church then became a separate parish (before moving into the present building in 1876), the Vicars of which have been:
Revd George Willes 1874-1881
Revd Canon Archer Hunter 1881-1911
Revd Henry Bowles 1912-1920
Revd Neville Stiff 1921-1923
Revd Francis Hooke 1923-1925
Revd Lionel Mylrea 1926-1936
Revd John Matthews 1937-1940
Revd Hugh McMullan 1940-1947
Revd Canon Edward Robins 1947-1960
Revd Richard Falkner 1960-1966
Revd Derek Bedford 1966-1981
Revd Mark Wilson 1981-1996
Revd Jeremy Anderson 1996-2000
Revd Andrew Facey 2001-2010
Revd Rosemary Donovan 2011-

Roger Morgan ©2014