The Revd John Matthews (1887-1940)

Vicar of Christ Church, Epsom Common, 1937-40

his wife, Mary Katharine ("Kitty") (1889-1974)

The Revd John Matthews
The Revd John Matthews
Image courtesy of All Saints, Weston Green © 2015
(The picture was actually taken in Epsom - shortly before John's
death in 1940 - at the request of his former congregation.)

John Edward Matthews was born in Wrexham, North Wales, in 1887. He was the second of John and Elizabeth Matthews' five children but, as the first of their four sons, was named after his father. Although this was a modest household - his father is recorded in Censuses as a Wheelwright and Carpenter - it was clearly aspirational. In 1910, John gained a BA from Bangor University and then moved to South Wales to train for the priesthood at St Michael's College, Llandaff. Following his ordination in 1911, his first Curacy was in nearby Cardiff.

(Two of his brothers - William and Robert - followed him into the priesthood, notwithstanding their less than obvious starting points recorded in the 1911 Census as, respectively, a 14 year old clerk in a contractor's office and an 18 year old painter and paperhanger.)

John's next Curacy (1913-21) was back in North Wales - at St Deiniol's, Hawarden on Deeside. While there he met Mary Katharine ("Kitty") Trott. Kitty was born in 1889 to the Revd Henry William Trott - a Somerset vicar - and his wife Caroline (née Davis). For 1900-06, Henry was in Africa serving as the Organising Secretary of The United Mission to Central Africa. On his return, he was appointed vicar of St Mary's, Bruera, near Chester - where he served until his retirement in 1933 - and the family moved north.

The forthright but kindly Kitty was far from a typical Vicar's daughter. Fired by the drive for female equality, she had joined the Women's Freedom League (a 1907 breakaway from Mrs Pankhurt's increasingly militant Women's Social and Political Union) and later left her teaching post to become the WFL's Organising Secretary for the North of England. Although the WFL pursued non-violent protest, Kitty was once arrested for "obstruction" during a demonstration in London and was imprisoned for two weeks in Holloway. She was proud of her "jail-bird" tag. Campaigning for female suffrage was generally suspended during WW1, and Kitty instead joined the new Women's Police Service, serving as one of Britain's first policewomen. After her first post in Brighton she was assigned to North Wales, near where her father was a parish priest - and even nearer where John Matthews was a curate.

In 1919, John (then aged 31) was married to the 29 year-old Kitty by her father at his church of St Mary's, Bruera. During further Curacies - which were widespread (one was in Gretna Green!) - the couple had four children.

In 1929, John was appointed to St Nicholas, Thames Ditton, to take charge of its daughter church of All Saints in the developing area of Weston Green, just north of Sandown racecourse. This became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1934, and John continued there as its first Vicar. In the mid-1930s, Kitty's mother died, and her father moved to live near them: indeed, becoming assistant priest alongside John at All Saints.

After a total of eight years at All Saints, John was ready for a move and, in 1937, accepted the appointment to Christ Church as the successor to the Revd Lionel Mylrea. He settled in well, both at Christ Church and locally - among other things, playing at Epsom Cricket Club. Almost immediately, John was faced with one of Christ Church's occasional financial crises: in the June 1937 parish magazine, he noted that the half-year accounts showed that expenditure was 75% higher than income! Things recovered, helped by a fundraising Vicarage Fete and that autumn's "Evangelistic Campaign".

The absurdly grandiose Victorian vicarage had long been a maintenance nightmare and, in 1938, it was John who finally secured agreement to build a more sensible replacement. Sadly, his generally poor health took a turn for the worse and he took a recuperative trip to South Africa as the guest of his brother Herbert who had business connections there. He returned with his health improved, but still plagued with headaches - doubtless a symptom of his chronic high blood pressure.

John seems never quite to have got back to his old self. He had just been appointed as Chaplain to the Manor Hospital, but felt the need to stand down from that - and continued to take things lightly in early 1939 (when he could at least enjoy the new Vicarage). The progress to war and then its outbreak in September 1939 must also have taken its toll. Throughout all this, Kitty was a highly active support for her husband - most unusually for a Vicar's wife also serving on the Parochial Church Council.

On 16 June 1940, John carried out normal Sunday morning duties at Christ Church. In the evening, he went to preach at St John's, Stoneleigh. He began to feel unwell during his sermon and, on his way back to the Vestry, collapsed and fell into unconsciousness. He was rushed by ambulance to what is now Epsom General Hospital, to which Kitty was summoned. John never regained consciousness and, with Kitty at his side, died of his brain haemorrhage early on Tuesday 18 June. After a large funeral at Christ Church on Friday 21 June, John was buried in Epsom Cemetery.

Kitty returned to the Weston Green area, enjoying a further few years with her father who died in 1943. She herself had a sprightly old age - witness the picture below - eventually dying in 1974, aged 85.

Kitty Matthews at 80, cycling around Thames Ditton
Kitty Matthews at 80, cycling around Thames Ditton
Image from a 1969 local paper, courtesy of All Saints, Weston Green

In memory of John Matthews' all too short time at Christ Church, the "Vicars" board was installed in Tower Porch in 1941 - the dedication being very discreetly noted by the minuscule "In Memoriam J.E.M." in the bottom centre of the frame.

The 'Vicars' board
The "Vicars" board
Image courtesy Roger Morgan © 2015

Roger Morgan © 2015