EWELL FRANCISCAN MONASTERY (OR FRIARY)


The Grange, Kingston Road/London Road

The Grange.
The Grange c1940s.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Composite 1896 OS Map
Composite 1896 OS Map

The monastery was housed at The Grange from 1886 to 1897. Information about it is scarce, but we have a few facts, plus some names. The names are not of major use, since they are mostly French, written on census forms in execrable handwriting and probably mis-spelled anyway. Additionally, it was usual for Franciscans to adopt a different forename from their own.

Unfortunately, we do not know where the Ewell Franciscans went after 1897 (possibly some of them moved to the then newly-built Chilworth Friary, now St Augustine's Abbey and, since 2011, home to Benedictines, but that is just conjecture). What we can say, however, is where they came from and why they were here in England.

In 1886 The Grange was bought by the Reverend Edward Bacon of Essex and the establishment appears in Kelly's Directory for 1887 as 'Franciscan Monastery (Rev. Father Stanislaus Bacon), Grange School'. I presume that Stanislaus was Father Bacon's religious name. In fact, he was Edouard Bacon, born in Normandy around 1837.

Expulsion of teaching priests from France

The Second French Empire collapsed in 1870, when Napoleon was defeated by the Prussians: this resulted in the formation of The Third French Republic which, amongst many other things, detested the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church in areas (such as schools and hospitals) which they thought the State should control. Also, many of the Catholic priests were anti-Republican and preached that view. In the late 1870s the State began to curb the priests, wrapping it up as a desire to establish a State education system, and the man who implemented the plan was the Minister of Education, Jules Ferry, who later became Prime Minister. Their particular targets were the Jesuits, but ultimately all the religious orders were affected.

Jules Ferry by Nadar
Jules Ferry by Nadar.
Image source: Wikipedia.

To cut a long story short (you can read a full account at www.cchahistory.ca), in 1879 two laws were passed: one required the Jesuits to disperse entirely and leave their premises, the second decreed that all other orders obtained authorisation from the Government. As you might expect, there was outrage and protest and, in particular, the other orders refused to apply to be authorised.

The Jesuits were required to leave by 29 June 1880. When they didn't the police started to eject them by force. The Morning Post of 30 June said,
'Today almost the entire body of the religious orders of the Roman Church has ceased to have any rights in France. Not only Jesuits, but Franciscans, Dominicans, Oratorians and more than forty others of those various associations which give expression to the peculiar religious impulse of different individuals, exceeded last night their utmost hour of grace, and are liable to be expelled from their habitations and from their country by two gendarmes.'
It took many years for the Republic to get rid of the teaching priests, although a large number of them left France immediately for countries with a more liberal attitude towards them. The photograph below tells you everything you need to know about how France expelled the monks.

Closure of the Grande Chartreuse monastery and forcible expulsion of the monks in April 1903
Closure of the Grande Chartreuse monastery and forcible expulsion of the monks in April 1903
Photo published in the French magazine L'Illustration (May 1903).
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

West Ham

Edouard Bacon was one of the Franciscans who came to England and in the 1881 census he can be found as the Superior of the Seraphic Monastery in Upton Lane, West Ham (the Upton area now forms part of Forest Gate). We know he had been forced out of France because the enumerator dutifully wrote it on the form ('Expelled from France by the Republican Government by the Edict of May 1880') and he added the helpful information that the priests were officiating to the Ursuline Convent, also in Upton Lane.

The Ursuline Convent has no relevance that I can see to the monastery in Ewell, but I will tell you about it very briefly. This began when four Belgian nuns were sent to England to set up a convent school and it started off in 1862 when they operated from a couple of cottages; the following year they acquired two houses, with stables and gardens, in Upton Lane. The full story is at www.ursulines.co.uk. Over the years they expanded and the establishment is still in business today as St Angela's Ursuline School.

The Upton Lane monastery was a novitiate where Father Bacon and six younger priests prepared boys for the priesthood. I think we can probably assume that his previous monastery had been in Northern France, since all the priests and the vast majority of the 17 students were born in Normandy or Brittany. Two of those students were Joseph Marie and Raoul Niclos.

The Franciscans were still in Forest Gate long after Father Bacon left, but I cannot find them on subsequent censuses. Suffice it to say that Edouard, now known as Edward or Stanislaus, turned up in 1886 as the man in charge at The Grange, which became another novitiate.

In Ewell

Father Bacon died in 1889 and The Grange passed to Joseph and Raoul, by now priests themselves, in association with three persons in Paris surnamed Nicaise. All we have to show the scale of the Ewell monastery population is the 1891 census. I doubt that even the enumerator could read what he'd written, so there is little point in attempting the names. However, we do know that the priest who took over as the Superior was known as Father Condrice (per Kelly's Directory) and that his proper first name was Conrad - that's as far as I'm prepared to go. Raoul (now Alphonse) Niclos was described as 'director', but it doesn't look as if Joseph Marie was there. Almost everyone was French and in addition to Conrad and Alphonse there were just over 60 brothers and students, so it was a fairly sizeable establishment One piece of evidence we have for their presence in the area comes from the interesting and useful memoirs of George Challis, where he says 'One of our pet pastimes was to tease the young monks who used to come into Epsom from the Monastery at Ewell. Sometimes they broke ranks and chased us and then we were for it'.

As mentioned earlier, the monks left in 1897 and The Grange was sold to Miss Mary Jane Burton Carlisle, who had already inherited from her father the adjacent house, The Elms (also shown in the map at the beginning): she lived at The Grange until her death in 1923, when the property passed to her sister, Mrs Florence Perkins. St Mary's Close was eventually built on the site.

Two of the Franciscan students, both aged 18, are buried in Grave H20A in Epsom Cemetery - Francis Banse (died 1892) and Pierre Louis Guillaume (died 1895).

More information about the Franciscans in Great Britain is at www.friar.org.

Linda Jackson © 2015.