The Revd Lionel Mylrea (1882-1940)

Vicar of Christ Church, Epsom Common, 1926-36

The Revd Lionel Mylrea
The Revd Lionel Mylrea
Image courtesy of Roger Morgan © 2015

After the tragically early death in 1923 of the much-loved Revd Neville Stiff and the disappointing short tenure of the Revd Francis Hooke, 1926 began with Christ Church at something of a low ebb. Fortunately, things rapidly picked up with the Lionel Mylrea's arrival.

Lionel William Mylrea was born in Haughton, Staffordshire on 15 October 1882 - the first of the more than comfortably-off William and Ellen (née Shorrock) Mylrea's three children - and baptised in Christ Church, Stafford on 22 November 1882.

After gaining his degree at Keble College Oxford and study at Ely Theological College, Lionel was ordained in 1906. He served two Curacies; 1906-08 at St Sepulchre in Northampton; and 1908-12 at St John's in Torquay (when, while there, he lived with his parents, who had moved south). His first parish as Vicar was St John's, Boldre on the edge of the New Forest, where he took up his appointment in 1913. A keen bee-keeper, he was instrumental in establishing the New Forest Bee-Keepers' Association, of which he was the founder Chairman and, indeed, was elected to the Council of the British Bee-Keepers' Association in 1917.

While in Boldre, he met Constance Guy, whom the 1911 Census recorded as a 21 year old Art Student living with her widowed mother in Bournemouth. (Her father had been a clergyman in London). In 1920 - when Lionel was 38 and Constance was 30 - they married in Christchurch, Hampshire. They had no children or, at least, none that survived.

Lionel Mylrea was 44 when he was appointed Vicar of Christ Church in 1926. Thanks to his warm personality and other attributes, he settled in quickly and oversaw the arrangements for the church's 50th Anniversary in October 1926, which was a suitably joyous celebration.

Physically, Lionel closely resembled the then Aga Khan (see below) for whom, much to his own amusement, he was mistaken more than once in London. He was equally amused when, with his wife, he found that a London restaurant had reserved a table for them in the names of "Mr and Mrs Hooray".

Lionel Mylrea and the then Aga Khan
Lionel Mylrea and the then Aga Khan
Image courtesy of Roger Morgan © 2015

Christ Church flourished under the leadership of "Father Mylrea" - as, being a keen Anglo-Catholic, he was known to all. He reportedly showed great dignity and reverence in Church. The social life of the Parish also meant a great deal to him. He took a keen interest in the activities of the Christ Church Players (in which Constance was a deservedly star player) - at their peak in those pre-television days. He would accompany the Players on their visits to other parishes, describing himself as "the Impresario".

Parishioner Miss M Prett recalled in Christ Church's 1976 Centenary History that "Blessed with perhaps more of this world's goods than the average incumbent, [Lionel] and Mrs Mylrea were kindly and generous hosts. It was quite an occasion to go to the Vicarage for a meal, where a well-trained manservant would meet guests at the door and later serve the meal which his wife had cooked."

Outside the church, he proved himself to be a man of many interests and broad sympathies. He was a keen lecturer. Having visited Oberammergau for the Passion Play - which moved him deeply - he gave talks (illustrated with his slides) in various districts about the experience.

After what the parish records suggest could have been a heart attack, the cigar-smoking Lionel Mylrea retired from Christ Church in 1936. The following year, he was appointed by the Diocese of Colchester as warden of its House of Mercy (a "mother & baby home") at Great Maplestead. However, after little more than three years, he died there on 14 August 1940, aged only 57. The Chelmsford Chronicle's report of the funeral records that the committal was taken by the Bishop of Colchester and that the mourners included his widow, mother-in-law, both sisters and nine of the local clergy.

Although Lionel Mylrea has no explicit memorial in Christ Church, his decade as Vicar saw two additions to the "goods and ornaments" of Christ Church that continue to provide a physical link with him. The first - reflecting his Anglo-Catholicism - is the installation of an Aumbry (for storing the consecrated elements of the Eucharist) in what is now the Peace & Reconciliation Chapel. The second is the oak lid for the original 1876 font. The timber for this came from a family farm in Somerset farm where, even though it was understood to have come from a ship of the Spanish Armada, it had been used as part of a pig trough. Oak hardens as it ages, and this is certainly very tough: the local undertakers, Messrs Longhurst, agreed to help shape the timber and their sawyer apparently broke three bandsaws in the process!

Roger Morgan © 2015