The Independent Chapel

Church Street, Epsom
The 'Old Chapel' - 1720 to 1904

Extract From 1843 Tithe Map
Extract From 1843 Tithe Map

This article traces the history of Dissenters meeting in Epsom from the late 17th century, with biographical notes on some of the individuals who were involved. There were strong and abiding links with the Protestant nonconformity around Stoke Newington, Newington Green, Hackney and Hoxton.

A History of Epsom United Reformed Church, by Win and Phyl Cary, - www.epsomurc.org.uk explains that: -
"During the Commonwealth, Non-conformists and Episcopalians in Epsom had worshipped together under the parish Priest, sympathetic to the Presbyterian traditions. With the return of Charles II, came the Act of Uniformity, 1662. Priests and congregations not willing to subscribe to the 39 Articles were ejected, and had to meet in secret, i.e., illegally. Evidence from the Surrey Quarter Sessions shows that a school master, Francis Yowell, later to be our first minister, had held an illegal meeting in his house in 1667, not far from our present site. Quite possibly this had been going on since ejection in 1662. Records of fines for meeting illegally showed that several of these worshippers were London Merchants coming to reside in rural Epsom, then in its heyday as a spa town, and coming from some of the famous London chapels.

Anticipating the Act of Indulgence in 1689, and the Glorious Revolution, giving limited licence to Non-conformist gatherings, the Epsom group declared itself publicly in 1688 and it is from this date that the Church marks its foundation.

Benoni Rowe (1690-1699), the well-known London preacher, followed Francis Yowell."

Francis Yowell /Yewel/ Ewell


Surrey Quarter Sessions Records: Order Book and Sessions Rolls 1666-1668, Ed. Dorothy Powell, reports, at p171, the presentment of a conventicle (a religious assembly of more than five people outside the auspices of the Church of England, forbidden by an Act of 1664) at Epsom on 25 August 1667, including a list of the London merchants attending. Francis Ewell had allowed them to congregate at his house, in Ebsham, 'with other unknown malefactors and disturbers of the peace, to the number of twenty besides his own family...for the exercise of religion in a form other than that prescribed for the English church etc'. Each person named suffered a fine of five shillings.

In 1669, a group of about 50 'Presbyterians' met in Ewell, sometimes at the house of Timothy Cutler on Church Street, a brewer, and at other times in the home of Mrs. Holmes, a widow (SAC Vol. 13 pp 157 & 160) One of the preachers had been the Reverend William King, former Rector of Ashtead, ejected from that parish in 1662, who died during 1671.

On 18 April 1676, Fra. Yowell of Epsom, with his wife, was present at another conventicle held in the house of Mary Holmes, widow, at Ewell. This assembly had been mainly of residents in Ewell with others from surrounding villages: an unknown man preached. About a month later, Fra. Yewell was accused of holding further conventicles at his house in Epsom - on 14 & 21 May 1676. The Constables of Epsom had called upon William Glover (owner of 'a parcel of land now a spheristerium, in English a Bowling Alley, containing two acres called Phillips Close, which abutted the Kings Head on the east and the High Street on the north and west') for assistance in dispersing the conventicle held on 21 May 1676. He was charged, under the Act of 22 Chas. II, for refusing to help, but acquitted.

Mr. Yewell is mentioned as 'Francis Yonnell' in 1684 - H. L. Lehmann at 9B14 in the Residential Copyholds of Epsom. The schoolhouse had been comprised in 'Isaaks', 9A11, for the1680 survey of the Manor.

In An Historical Account of My Own Life, with Some Reflections on the times I have lived in, Volume 1, Edward Calamy tells us that: -
"Afterwards [but before 1682 when he attained the age of 11], for the benefit of the air, I was sent to Mr. Yewel's, at Epsom in Surrey, who was a very serious and pious man, and a strict dissenter though no great scholar. He was very indulgent to his young ones, and exceeding careful of them, and took abundance of pains in constantly praying with them, and giving them good instructions. He was a sort of Fifth Monarchy man, and would rather have exposed himself to the utmost hardship than be prevailed with to take the Oath of Allegiance. But at the same time, a more harmless, conscientious, and inoffensive man was rarely to be met with.

This good man had a considerable number of boys under his care; but they fared so well, and the rates he had with them were so low, and he was at the same time at so great an expense to keep up a Meeting on the Lord's Day, in his school-house, to which ministers came down every week from London, that he got very little for all his pains, and he was often in trouble. And it was observed, that he proved at last but unhappy in some of his own children, who discredited their strict religious education. My being there increased and confirmed my health, though it did not much advance me in learning."

As 'Mr. Yewell, schoolmaster of Epsom', he was left forty shillings in the Will of Elizabeth Collyer, widow of London, 20 August 1686 - St Saviour, Southwark, proved 18 March 1687 [PROB 11/386/325]. http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/

Benoni Rowe (1658-1706) had been born in London, the son of William Rowe and his wife, Alice Scott, daughter of the regicide Thomas Scott. In 1696 he became a manager of the Congregational Fund.

On 30 April 1695, Anthony Stephens of [Woodcote Place] Ebbisham made a Will, mentioning his membership of the 'particular congregation' of Hare Court Independent Dissenting Church, Soper Lane, St. Pancras. He also made provision for an annual payment to Mr. Rowe, Minister of the Gospel in Ebbisham for as long as he remained Preacher to the private congregation at Ebbisham.

As 'Bononus Rowe' he appears in Lehmann 2B22 during 1698. With his wife, Sarah, he had five sons and a daughter living at the time of his death. Will of Benoni Rowe, Gentleman of Saint Andrew Holborn, Middlesex, proved 11 April 1706 - PROB 11/488/90

The history and antiquities of dissenting churches and meeting houses, Volume 3, by Walter Wilson, 1810, mentions him in relation to Fetter Lane: -
"Benoni Rowe was son [in law] to Mr. John Rowe, and a younger brother of Mr. Thomas Rowe, both ministers of reputation, and the latter an eminent tutor among the Independents. He was born in London about the year 1658, his father being then minister of a congregational church that met in Westminster Abbey; from whence he was turned out upon the Restoration. He gave both his sons an excellent education; and it is probable they pursued their studies for the ministry under the learned Mr. Theophilus Gale, who kept a private academy upon Newington-green. Mr. Benoni Rowe commenced his ministry at a very discouraging period for Nonconformists, and when he could have been swayed by no other than conscientious principles. During the reigns of Charles and James the Second, he appears to have been a minister in London; but it is probable that his services were only occasional, and frequently interrupted. About the time of the Revolution, in l688, he settled at Epsom, in Surrey, and continued there till the death of Mr. Lobb, 1699, when he accepted a call to succeed him as pastor of the Independent congregation in Fetter-lane, and undertook the service on both parts of the day. Mr. Rowe was a gentleman of good abilities. He possessed an accurate judgement, and a considerable stock of useful learning, to which he joined excellent talents for preaching, and a most lively and engaging conversation. But though well qualified for ministerial service, and useful in his day, be was not popular. He was one of the ministers who assisted at Dr. Watts's ordination, in 1702, and the Doctor has addressed to him an ode in his ' Lyric Poems', entitled, "The Way of the Multitude." Mr. Rowe was taken away by death, on the 30th of March, 1706, in the 49th year of his age. His remains were interred in the family vault, in Bunhill-Fields."

Thomas Valentine, Minister from 1699 to 1755


This gentleman is the subject of a separate article.

Elizabeth Fawkener of Epsom, by her Will, [http://www.ebooksread.com] devised a small part of her land for the erection of a Meeting house for religious worship on Church Lane. The Rev. William Harris of London and another Executor were admitted as trustees of the property on 20 February 1720/1.

In the Will of Mrs. Mary Stephens, relict of Anthony (mentioned above), dated 17 March 1748, The 'Reverend Mr. Valentine was a devisee. The testator also left £1,000 to 'what is called the Dissenters Fund'.

During Mr. Valentine's pastorate the name of John Southwell appears as one preaching to the congregation in 1738. Rev. John Southwell was a dissenting minister of the Presbyterian denomination, but never the pastor of any congregation. He kept a boarding school before being presented by the company of Merchant Tailors, to the grammar school of Wolverhampton, in 1739.

In the 1755 survey of Epsom manor Rev. Thomas Valentine and others together held, by free deed, a quarter of an acre 'whereon the meetinghouse is built'.

The Will of the Rev. Mr. Thomas Valentine, dated 3 November 1751, mentions legacies to a number of his friends from the local gentry, notably Sir John Hartopp, Nathaniel Garland of Mount Diston/Garlands, Mrs. Whately of Nonsuch Park and Mrs. Mary Stephens of Woodcote Place.

Rev. John Barker (1682 - 1762 - Oxford DNB) had become pastor of the congregation in Mare Street, Hackney, in June 1714 'where his preaching, which was then without notes, was accompanied with a considerable share of popularity. Mr. Barker, to the no small dissatisfaction and surprise of the whole Church, resigned his charge in the year 1738, and went to reside at Epsom in Surrey, where he lived about three years, without any stated employment, but was on all occasions ready to assist his brethren. On the death of the Rev. John Newman, of Salters' Hall, in July 1741, Mr. Barker, who was then nearly sixty years of age, was invited to preside over that congregation.' Mr. Barker is believed to have been the guest of the Rev Thomas Valentine at Epsom - in the latter's Will the Reverend Mr John Barker was left £20 'as a memorial of our long and intimate friendship'.

In Congregationalism in Surrey it is noted: -
"The history of this church for many years is exceedingly obscure. William Hoghton was minister in 1764, and continued till 1771, when he gave up the ministry for the law.

[Rev. William Houghton 'William Hoghton, Esq., of Conduit Street, Hanover Square, London (brother of Thomas, and described on Preston Guild Roll (1782) as Wm. Hoghton of London, gent), married Sarah Sykes Garland, daughter of Nathaniel Garland, Esq., of Michaelstone Hall, Co. Essex [and of Mount Diston, Epsom, sister to Lewis Peak Garland, at St James Westminster 21 May 1771], but had no issue. By his Will, dated 12 April 1806, he bequeathed £10,000 to his brother Thomas Hoghton of Tockholes, and the residue of his estate (after payment of other legacies) to be divided amongst the children of his said brother and of his sister Catherine Pickop.

He died in 1806 - 'At his house in Conduit-street, Hanover Square. He was, early in life, in the Church, and had the care of a small congregation at Epsom; in which situation he distinguished himself as a sound Divine and an eloquent preacher. He there married Miss Garland, a lady of good family and very considerable fortune; and soon afterwards quitted the Church, and was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn [as the second son of Thomas Houghton of Tockholes, Blackburn, Lancs.], but seldom appeared in the Courts of Justice. He was well known and much respected at Brooks's, and most of the fashionable Clubs at the West end of the town. He was an excellent scholar, a good mathematician, and possessed strong and acute argumentative powers'.]

[Joseph Cornish (1750 - 1823) supplied Epsom occasionally between 1767 and 1772 whilst training at Coward's Academy, Hoxton. He received 'a unanimous invitation' to take over the ministry here but preferred a call from Colyton - https://en.wikisource.org]

William Sutton is mentioned as minister in 1772; after that we hear no more of the old church - which was reputed Presbyterian - until 1805."
The URC History, mentioned earlier, records:-
"In the latter half of the eighteenth Century, at a time of the great Evangelical Revival, the Epsom dissenting chapel, under alternating Presbyterian and Independent ministers, suffered a different experience, not uncommon to Surrey Churches. Calvinism became strong, while odd and strange sects, such as Antimonianism, entered and caused seceding especially to the Little or Bugby Chapel erected in 1780. The Church Street Chapel declined and closed about 1785. The building was sold and used as a barn,"
A Register of Baptisms at the Protestant Dissenters in Epsom, Surrey from 1785 to 1788 survives in the National Archives in Class RG4 - http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk

In July 1783, William Godwin, a graduate of the Dissenters college at Hoxton, had issued a pamphlet - An account of the seminary that will be opened on Monday, the fourth day of August, at Epsom in Surrey, for the instruction of twelve pupils in the Greek, Latin, French and English languages. However, an insufficient number of pupils came forward and the proposed seminary never opened.

On 5 April 1788, Jonathan Boucher, the Vicar of Epsom, reported that there had been a congregation of Presbyterians and a meeting-house but 'they have all gone or reformed, and the meeting-house is shut up'.

A state of dilapidation before repair

Henry Pownall writing in Some Particulars relating to the History of Epsom, published in 1825, remarked:-
"A continuation of the London Road leads to the end of Church Street, in the centre of which, on the eastern side, stands a handsome modern house, the residence of Henry Gosse, Esq... On the same side of the street, a little to the south, is the Independent Chapel, in which tradition says Dr. Watts used occasionally to preach, during his residence with Sir John Hartop, Bart.; whose house nearly adjoins the chapel, and is at present occupied by Henry Miller, Esq.; formerly it was much frequented, when under Presbyterian management.

Since that period, we have only been able to collect the following particulars of the CHAPEL, CHURCH STREET, EPSOM.

In the year 1803, Mr. Shaw being then the absolute owner of the chapel, used it as a barn, and it was in a sad state of dilapidation; the roof was in decay; the heavens could be seen through it; the clock remained in its place without having performed its evolutions for many years; large square pews remained at the sides of the building, but the centre was filled with lumber, and implements of husbandry; here and there hung the tattered remains of curtains suspended by cords, while others had fallen down; hassocks, cushions, and hymn books lay scattered in various places, almost mouldering into dust, and the whole appearance of the place was calculated to impress the pious mind with the most gloomy reflections. Various applications had been made to the owner for the place, and amongst other purposes for which it was desired, was the repairing of it for a theatre by a set of strolling players.

While it was in this state, a gentleman who resided at Epsom on intimate teems with Mr Shaw, availed himself of that intimacy to restore the building to its original purpose; having solicited Mr. Shaw to let him have it, he was informed that to build a barn to use instead of it would cost £300; and the interest of that sum, £15 per annum, was the least at which it would be let; but the great expense of putting it into repair being urged, and an offer of £10 per annum for a lease of ninety-nine years being made, Mr. Shaw was induced to lower his demand to £13 and to promise that during his life he would subscribe £2 annually for the largest pew, formerly used by his father [Joseph Shaw, the elder, deceased 1760, of what is now known as Richmond House, Church Street]. A contract was accordingly entered into for a. lease of ninety-nine years, at £12 per annum, to be granted to such persons as should be named by the gentleman who made the application, and who then received the key.

The expense of repairing was very great. Mr Thomas Wilson, of Highbury, gave pews for the middle of the chapel; Mr. Winchester, late of the Strand, who then had a house at Clay-hill, subscribed £50; sundry other subscriptions amounted altogether to about £100 and the deficiency, being nearly £300, was paid by the gentleman who had succeeded in procuring the lease. When Mr. Shaw died, he was found, as Receiver-General of the County of Surrey, to be much in arrear to government, and an extent issued against all his property; the freehold of the chapel, together with the ground belonging to it, was purchased by the above gentleman, who subsequently executed a trust deed, which was prepared by T. Peliatt Esq., Ironmonger's Hall, and is now in his possession. From this time Mr. Atkinson held the chapel till 1819, when it was taken by a person whose doctrines were in the highest degree objectionable. He did not continue long; but such was the effect of his preaching, that the interest of the chapel was gone. It continued open, but few persons attended till 1824, when the piety and benevolence of Thomas Wilson, Esq., one of the trustees, induced him thoroughly to repair the chapel, and to appoint ministers capable of rightly dividing the word of truth."

Sir John Hartop(p), Bart., father and son, of Stoke Newington


Sir John, third baronet (bap.1637, d.1722), occupied a house on Church Street, Epsom, between the Chapel and Toms Lane [Grove Road], in addition to his Stoke Newington mansion, Fleetwood House [Link to www.british-history.ac.uk]. The Rev. Isaac Watts, who had been tutor to his sons, became the popular minister of a Congregational Chapel, in Mark Lane, London, in 1693. According to Watts, his chaplain for five years, Hartopp 'had a taste for universal learning; and ingenious arts were a delight from his youth … mathematical speculations and practices were a favourite study with him in his younger years; and even to his old age he maintained his acquaintance with the motions of the heavenly bodies … But the Book of God was his chief study, and his divinest delight. His bible lay before him night and day'. Hartopp himself gave sermons: he entertained his family in the evening worship on the Lord's Day with excellent discourses'. The elder Sir John died at Stoke Newington on 1 April 1722 and was buried on the 11th in Stoke Newington church.

The fourth baronet, who inherited both his father's name and title, was eldest, and indeed only surviving son. He married twice; his first lady was Sarah, daughter of Sir Joseph Woolfe, of Hackney, Kt., an alderman of London: she died 12 September, 1730, aged 35 years, and was buried at Stoke Newington. Many years after her death, he re-married Mrs. March [spinster of the parish, at St. Martins, Epsom, by special licence, 5 November 1760], by whom he had no child, and who did not long survive him; and, from want of heirs male by these ladies, the title became extinct.

The church register at Stoke Newington records: - 'My lady was buried in a velvet coffin, Sept. 22, 1730, in the church; Sir John Hartopp, bart., 28 Jan. 1762. Over the last Sir John and his lady was placed a grave-stone, inscribed. 'Dame Sarah daughter of Sir Joseph Woolfe, knt., ob. Sept. 12, 1730, æt. 35. Sir John Hartopp, bart., ob. Jan.15, 1762, aet. 82.'

Miss Sarah Marsh appears in Sir John Hartopp's Will of 9 July 1759 as his 'housekeeper'. There was, however, a Marriage Settlement on her 10 October 1760. The Will of Dame Sarah Hartopp, Widow of Bath, Somerset, was proved 30 May 1763 - PROB 11/887/388.

Thomas Wilson (1764 - 1843) [Link to https://en.wikipedia.org], known as 'The Chancellor' or 'The Chapel Builder' was an extraordinary philanthropist who 'retired from business as a young man [aged 34] to give the whole of his time to the work of the Kingdom of God, going to Hoxton (afterwards Highbury) Academy, of which he was Treasurer for nearly 50 years. Wilson did the kind of work now done by College Principals, Moderators, and Chapel Building Societies. He was one of the founders of the London Missionary Society, the Religious Tract Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Congregational Union and the Congregational Library'. From 1804 he occasionally acted as a lay preacher. Buried at Abney Park, Stoke Newington, a memorial stands in the Yew Walk.

The Evangelical Magazine for 1805 reported that
"At Surry (sic), a large meeting-house which had been suffered to fall into decay, having been obtained by some friends of the gospel, and repaired, was opened for divine worship on Friday July 19. Mr Hughes of Battersea began with reading and prayer; Mr G Clayton of Walworth preached from 'I will glorify the house of my glory'; and Mr Dore of London from 'Thro' him that loved us'. Mr Bowden of Tooting concluded with prayer; and then requested subscriptions for defraying the expenses of repairs, which amount to £400. The place is put into trust and is at present supplied from Hoxton Academy."
A letter to The Universal Magazine during 1808, although incorrect in religious denomination, appears to relate to these premises: -
"The new Methodist meeting-house at Epsom was lately entered in rather a singular manner. The good people at the head of the concern had, it seems, placed up a subscription box, for the purpose of private benevolence, and the making of proselytes. Some fellow, who, doubtless, thought the money collected ought to be circulated in a different manner, got into the chapel, by means of a ladder, through one of the windows, and carried off the contents of the box, leaving behind him the ladder and following note, addressed to the treasurer, in an excellent clerk-like hand-writing: Sir, It is universally admitted that 'an exchange is no robbery,' neither can an article bought or sold be so deemed - you will therefore have the goodness to consider the cash received merely as the purchase of the ladder, or in exchange for it!"

The Story of Congregationalism in Surrey


"There [The life of Thomas Wilson.] we learn that the meeting had for many years been attended by persons of opulence and their families, but that the congregation became so reduced that the doors had to be closed. [Wilson's actual words were - 'formerly very genteel persons attended, many in their carriages. But how was the fine gold changed!'}

The chapel had been closed for twenty years when Mr. Wilson made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain it. But a year or two later, in 1805, another gentleman managed to secure it [on lease, before purchase in 1813 following the case of Noel v Weston], and after putting it in repair, conveyed it to trustees. It was then reopened with a sermon by Rev. Geo. Clayton, of Walworth. [who survived until 14 July 1862. He then died at Great Gaines, Upminster, aged 79, deeply lamented by all who knew him, for 51 years the beloved pastor of the Independent Church, York Street, Walworth. 'Under severe suffering he was fully sustained by the gospel he had so long preached to others.']

For some time the church was supplied from Hoxton Academy. Then Rev. John Atkinson went to live in the neighbourhood and preached regularly till 1820, when he removed from the town. [Died 17 July 1823 at Church house, Leatherhead, Surrey, after a long and painful illness, aged 52, late of Epsom]

Renewal

After his removal the building again fell into decay, and the roof became unsafe. Then, by the aid of several friends who felt the need of spiritual provision for Epsom, £100 was raised for the support of a minister, and the chapel was again repaired. It was reopened for public worship on January 28, 1825.

For a while Hoxton Academy supplied the preachers; later in the year John Harris, a student of the Academy, accepted the pastorate.

John Harris was born on March 8, 1802, at Ugborough,a village of Devon. He was a sedate, thoughtful child, and this won for him the nickname of 'Little Parson Harris'. At the age of thirteen the family removed to Bristol. His parents belonged to the Established Church, and used to attend the Cathedral but a heavy shower one Sunday sent them into the Tabernacle near by. This led to their joining the society there and young Harris attending the school. When fourteen years old he composed a poem on "The Perfections of God." This brought him under the notice of Mr. Wills, who had the piece printed in a Bristol paper. As a boy he preached for the Itinerant Society of that city, and later Mr. Wills introduced him to the notice of Mr. Thomas Wilson. After a year of private study he entered Hoxton, and after a distinguished career accepted the invitation to Epsom.

Mr. Harris remained at Epsom thirteen years. His health was far from good, but he was able to do a quiet useful work, and at the same time prepare himself for the important position he was afterwards to hold. In 1838 he was invited to become Theological Tutor and President of Cheshunt College; and that same year his scholarship received recognition by a diploma of D.D. from Brown University, U.S.A. In 1848, he suffered from partial blindness, but a winter in Italy did much to restore him, and he again took up his work at Cheshunt. Two years later when New College was formed by the amalgamation of Coward, Highbury and Homerton, Dr. Harris was chosen for the first Principal, and held that post till his death, December 21, 1856.

[Singers and songs of the church: being biographical sketches of the hymn writers by Josiah Miller
'... he was tempted by the return of robust health, at the close of 1856, to be more venturesome than usual, and in consequence he took a severe cold, which was soon followed by dangerous and at length fatal symptoms. In the closing hours of his life the Fifty-first Psalm was on his lips, and he uttered also, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'-' O God, be merciful to me!' He died on the afternoon of Sunday, December 21, 1856, in the fifty-fifth year of his age.

Dr. Harris was eminent as a preacher and author. He was possessed of great refinement of taste, devoutness of feeling, and eloquence of expression. In society none were more condescending, gracious, and urbane than he. In the pulpit he was a great preacher, and the delivery of his principal sermons, ordinarily read with eloquence, was looked forward to as an event. Without the strength of Chalmers, he possessed a refinement and skill of diction, and sometimes an elevation and sublimity of sentiment and thought, all his own; and with the pen he not unfrequently outstripped all competitors, gaining prizes where many other able writers entered into the contest without success. His taste enabled him to avoid whatever would offend; he had talent to use the best thoughts, and to interweave the best words of others; he was a master of happy expressions and pleasing turns of thought; and, where it was necessary, he could bear all before him with an avalanche of argument and appeal. Dr. Harris was a voluminous as well as a very able writer.
']
In Glimpses of the Old World, or Excursions on the Continent, and in Great Britain by the late John A. Clark, D.D., Rector of St. Andrew's Church, Philadelphia, United States, pub. 1847, the author mentions a visit to see Rev. John Harris at Epsom. On arrival, to his 'great regret', the races were in progress and at none of the 'stores' was Mr Harris to be heard of, being 'absent' - as a conventicle preacher ought to have been on such a day.

On Dr. Harris' removal from Epsom, Rev. Wm. Jackson was chosen pastor. He was born at Brixton in 1812, and entered Highbury College at the age of twenty-two. He was ordained on Tuesday, 27 November 1838. Rev. George Clayton took part in the service, and Dr. Harris gave a combined charge and farewell to the Church. The charge to the minister was given by his father.

Mr. Jackson remained till 1842, when he removed to Melksham. He afterwards held pastorates at Bungay and Eltham, where he laboured till his death in 1856. He is described as a man of high principle, and of catholic spirit, conscientious even in trifles.

He was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Lea (Lee), whose ordination took place on 31 October 1843. In 1855 a number of members who found some difficulty in working with Mr. Lea, withdrew from the Church, and commenced services in a large room connected with the 'King's Head Hotel.' [Spread Eagle?] Soon after, a site was obtained in the 'Parade' where a wooden structure was erected. The first minister was Rev. Elliott, who was followed successively by Rev. J. Redford, - Boardman, and C. Harrison.

[In A History of Epsom, 1860, C J Swete mentions that 'The Old Chapel in Church Street is now in the occupation of the Independents. The minister is the Rev. Thomas Lee. This building is a neat structure in the centre of a cemetery sacred to the dead'.]

Epsom was Mr. Lea's only pastorate. In 1878, after thirty-five years' faithful service, he resigned under medical advice, and gave himself to agricultural pursuits. He died at Epsom after great suffering, on February 24, 1893. [Death reg. Epsom 3/1893 Thomas Lee, 76]

After his retirement the divided churches, acting on the advice of the Surrey Congregational Union, amalgamated, when Rev. Charles Harrison took the oversight for about twelve months. The union took place on the first Sunday in August 1878.

The next minister, James Thorpe, held the pastorate for one year, 1879-1880. He left Epsom for Albion Chapel, Nottingham.

During the pastoral vacancy, new schools, etc., costing about £2,800, were erected on a freehold site given by Mr. Thomas Norman. The foundation stones were laid on 27 July 1882, by Mr. Evan Spicer, Mr. Horace Marshall, and Mr. Norman. The building was opened in the early part of the following year.

In 1883, the church called Rev. William Summers to the vacant pulpit. Mr. Summers had been a Hackney College student, and had already done good service at Southminster, Mere, and Ringwood. His coming to Epsom was the beginning of a general revival of interest. For twenty years he conducted a faithful ministry, in the course of which he received 560 persons into Church Fellowship. During his pastorate the old church was remodelled and a new organ erected.

Rebuilding

[It was again rebuilt in 1904, in red brick with stone dressings, in a quasi-Decorated style. It had chancel, nave, aisles, and tower with a small spire. The first stone was laid by Mr. Evan Spicer.]

In 1905 a new and beautiful church was erected upon the site of the old building. It cost £4,000, and is capable of seating 500 persons. Mr. Summers resigned his ministry in April 1906. Rev. Henry Atkinson, of the Adelphi Chapel, Hackney Road, has recently settled, and commences his ministry with every prospect of success."


Brian Bouchard October 2012


Endnotes

1. Dr. Isaac Watts, writer of "Our God, our help in ages past", See http://books.google.co.uk

2. William Harris, DD, Minister of the Gospel (1675 - 1740) Will, of St Mary Whitechapel, proved 10 June 1740 - PROB 11/763/132

3. "The Protestant Dissenters Grammar School at Mill Hill, [had been] founded in the year 1807. The office of principal at the commencement of the school, was the late Rev. John Atkinson, formerly classical tutor at Hoxton Academy, he had been well trained at a grammar school in the north of England, was a man of solid judgement, superior literary attainments, and sterling piety, and thus well qualified for the situation which he occupied; but in the short space of three years, feeling the inconveniences of the system adopted by the committee in the management of their concerns, he retired from the station with disgust. - This good man afterwards established a grammar school at Epsom in Surrey, and subsequently became theological tutor at Wymondley Academy, in Hertfordshire [His brief tenure at Wymondley did little to dispel the reputation for heterodoxy and ill-discipline that had blighted the institution since its establishment in 1799.] A variety of painful incidents and personal afflictions overtaking him, which depressed his mind, he at length sunk under them, and was taken to his eternal home." (The Committee of the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School, 1825)



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