The power of the Church over people's lives changed dramatically in Victorian times. Things were very different from what they had been in the eighteenth century, when the Church of England was an unobtrusive part of the social order. Then, the vicar of a parish like Ewell was one of many gentry residing in the area, and distinguished only by his duty of leading communal worship once a week, after which the congregation could be told, in a sermon as elegant as was possible, about the moral basis of their social duties.
A series of changes in the early nineteenth century swept away this old order. In Ewell, the payment of tithes to the parson ceased with the Enclosure Act of 1802, while the care of the village poor was delegated to Epsom Workhouse in 1836. From that year it was no longer necessary to get married in a church, and after 1858 the Church of England no longer processed wills and probate. In 1832, one in six Surrey magistrates had been a clergymen, but times were changing and it was no longer acceptable for a man of the cloth to send poachers off to transportation or put out tenders for a new gibbet. In short, the clergy were losing their hold on the levers of secular power.
At the same time, and perhaps in compensation, an awareness of spiritual power was growing among ministers of the Church. The old order had been represented in Ewell by parson Maggs (1802-25), who according to the tradition in Cloudesley Willis had 'a book of sermons, one for each Sunday in the year; and he went through these sermons Sunday by Sunday, and year after year'. Concerns about the spiritual state of his parishioners, as individuals, would have probably struck Maggs as a bit vulgar, something best left to the Methodists. By contrast, his successor Sir George Glyn, incumbent for an unprecedented fifty years from 1831 to 1882, was very concerned about the souls of his flock. And this is where the Parochial Memoranda come in.
Between 1843 and 1861, Sir George kept a notebook on spiritual and church matters.
He clearly intended as an official record for future incumbents - at one stage he seems to have hoped that his eldest son, George Turbervill Glyn, would become vicar of Ewell after him. But the notebook is also intended as a progress report on the souls of those villagers who had been reforming, backsliding, or generally resenting the advice of their minister. The intention was to give a private view of the people of Ewell, but in practice it tells us a lot about Sir George himself.
There was certainly no compromising with him. Augustus Gadesden, who had disagreed about the cost of a new Commandments board in the church, had actually 'told a Gentleman he was determined not to quarrel with Sir G. Glyn & therefore did not mean to have anything to do in any matter that would bring him into contact with him', but Sir George marched into Ewell Castle and 'endeavoured to shew him how unreasonable it was'. Captain Lempriere had an old quarrel over church matters but patched it up when he came to sympathise after the death of Emily Glyn in 1854; unfortunately Lempriere failed to show any support a few years later when Sir George wanted to sack his curate, and that was the end of their rapprochement.
Commandments board in St. Mary's church Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
If Sir George could be this brusque with his social equals, he was not going to show much sensitivity to the ordinary villagers. The Parochial Memoranda give a list of those who were upbraided, usually for working on Sundays; occasionally their responses are recorded - perhaps the only records we have of what Mrs. Cox the market gardener's wife, Allen the mill worker and a destitute 'lad named Simmonds' said and thought. Significantly, Sir George did not invoke any legislation against working on Sundays: he restricted himself to exhortation. If Ewell had remained an agricultural parish - one in which (by the Enclosure of 1802) the Glyns had one of the largest estates - these exhortations would have had more force. However, it is clear from the Memoranda that the growing industrial population of the parish lay outside the vicar's control. There was 'much quarrelling & swearing' among the workers at the Upper and Lower Mills, and they jeered at the only one of their workmates who went to church. The gunpowder mills were a particular thorn in in Sir George George's side, since they were run by James Sharpe, a Scots Presbyterian who was planning to open a chapel for his co-religionists. After the fatal accident of 1863, which claimed the lives of three men, Sir George preached an open-air sermon on the ruins of the works, attended by nearly a thousand people and afterwards confided to his journal: 'It may be this event may in God's hands prevent or at least delay his purpose. I am quite at ease in the matter trusting that if the cause of truth needs it the Lord will… overrule this terrible event to the Salvation of Souls'.
Aftermath of the April 1863 Ewell Gunpowder Mill Explosion Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
The Parochial Memoranda are preserved among the Glyn papers in Surrey History Centre (6832/6/5/26). A transcript was made by the Documentary Group of the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society (now Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeology Society). This has been typed and checked against the original by Sheila Ross.