St. Barnabas Church, Epsom.

Its furniture and other items of interest.

St Barnabas Church 2009
St Barnabas Church 2009
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

When I viewed the photographs of this church recently on the Internet, I was surprised to see what appeared to me to be a complete transformation of its interior, and stunned by the absence of much of its furniture which had been installed over the past century. Naturally, I was curious to know as to how and why so many items had been removed, also to where they had gone or whatever happened to them.

Church Interior pre WW2
Church Interior pre WW2
Image source not known

I realize that there cannot be many people left alive to-day who can recall and describe how the interior of the church looked like and the various things it contained in the distant past. So, I wish to take this opportunity of giving readers the best description of everything I can remember as a young boy in the 1930s.

Church Interior in 2014
Church Interior in 2014
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

On entering the main door from Temple Road you looked up the centre aisle of the nave, through the Chancel and up to the high alter in the Sanctuary. Upon the altar, beneath the huge east window was a large brass cross raised high in the centre with two tall candles at each end. The long burning time 6" candles actually slotted into the two tall white holders giving the impression that they would burn for a mighty long time! Large letters of alpha and omega covered the lines where the candles slotted into the holders. There were seven wooden carvings on the higher part of the altar. They related to Christ's suffering and crucifixion. Behind the altar, hung a long back-drop with canopy overhead and side-drops which were movable on hinges at the very top. On close inspection gold thread was visible in the material. After the war four more candles were added, making 6 in all. Then later one of the parishioners Mr. Sidney Toy, FSA, FRIBA, designed a reredos to fit behind the altar. It had six alcoves to house the six candles. The whole structure was quite elaborate. Unfortunately, the cost was too great to have it made. So, he designed a modified reredos, which was approved, paid for and constructed. It was there for many years, but where is it now?

The wooden ceiling in St Barnabas Church
The wooden ceiling in St Barnabas Church
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

Three oil lamps were suspended by chains from the high wooden ceiling. The one in the centre was slightly higher than the other two. Two very heavy wooden candle holders stood on the first of three steps up to the altar. On the left side in the Sanctuary was the Bishop's throne with its beautiful soft brown cushion. On the right side was the Credence table each side of which were two round heavy wooden blocks on the floor in which the two Acolyte Servers placed their four foot long candle stick holders. A step stretched from wall to wall across the Sanctuary. Upon it were long cushions for communicants to kneel on at the Communion rails made of brass and were supported by upright wrought iron work painted black. At either ends of the wide step were three banners: on the left-hand end was a banner of the Apostle, St Barnabas. On the right-hand end were banners of the Mothers Union and Servants of the Sanctuary. They fitted into wooden sockets on the floor and were secured further up the wall by special brass latches.

In the Chancel stood choir stalls on both sides facing inwards. The front stalls were for the choir boys and the rear stalls were for the choir men on the right and choir women on the left. Behind them was the organist playing the organ, the large organ loft being immediately overhead. You had to step down two steps from the Chancel into the Nave.

In the Nave, near the end of the left choir stalls, was the wrought iron and brass lectern which stood on a white stone plinth. Near the end of the right-hand choir stalls was the square shaped pulpit painted black. Those pieces of furniture, which dated back to the Consecration of the church, were installed as a temporary measure until enough finance was available to fund the construction of far superior choir stalls and pulpit made from light oak after World War Two. High up on the pillar behind the pulpit hung a wooden crucifix.

The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

Statue of St. Peter
The Statue of St. Peter and Plaque
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

Between the pulpit and the entrance to the Lady Chapel, is the beautifully carved wooden statue of St. Peter given as a memorial to Alexander Ogilvy and his sister Elaine, by their parents. Inside the Chapel stood a tall wooden carving of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus holding an orb. There was also a framed painting of Jesus as a boy with his parents. Close to the Church's Foundation stone, written in Roman numerals, was the framed Roll of Honour to those killed in the First World War. This beautiful memorial was painted by Phyllis Ethel Chipperfield who was an exceptional artist and a very active member of the congregation at St Barnabas Church. The removal of this memorial in 1990 created great concern in the community many years later, when it was discovered and disclosed that it had been deposited in a vault in the Surrey History Centre at Woking. Meetings were held in which many people expressed their displeasure. Over a period of many weeks, their findings and comments were kindly printed, together with a picture of the comforting angel and the bereaved person weeping, in the Epsom Guardian.

The Foundation Stone
The Foundation Stone
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

St Barnabas Roll of Honour
St Barnabas Roll of Honour
Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre

On the other side of the side door to the church (close to the Lady Chapel) stood a small altar which originally came off a ship and was presented as a gift to St. Barnabas Church. It was in two parts. The table part measured about 5' wide x 2' deep, and the heavy wooden structure, from which a curtain drape hung and was placed around the table, was about 6' high. These were lifted into place in the Chancel every Sunday morning for the Children's Service at 9.30 am. After the service it was returned to its normal place. On the first Sunday of every month the Boy Scouts and Cubs and the Girl Guides and Brownies marched down the centre aisle and presented their flags to the Priest who received them and placed them in the two corners of the curtained structure. They remained there until the end of the Service when they were received by the flag bearers who marched up the centre aisle and outside to come to attention at the flag pole flying the flag of St. George. They were then dismissed by the Scout Master.

Upon entering the main door of the church, (by means of a temporary black lean-to porch) the font stood immediately to the right. It was re-located further around the corner when the church was extended towards Temple Road years later. Prior to all that, in fact, in the early 1940s we had a new Curate, Rev. James Eric Blunt, AKC. Before he was called to serve in the Holy Ministry, he was a master carpenter. He soon put his carpentry and painting skills to excellent use when he built a Children's Corner a few yards from the font. In addition, he ingeniously built a scale model of the Good Friday/Easter Day scene which the ladies of the parish adorned with miniature flowers. He also built the Christmas scene which changed from the initial empty stable to Christ's birth, the arrival of the shepherds and later the visiting wise men from the East. These scenes were put on display annually and people came from far and wide to view them and admire Father Blunt's devoted work. He was so highly talented.

The Font
The Font
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

On the left hand corner of the Nave hung two most memorable paintings. One showed a sailor at the stern of his ship on night watch duty in terrible weather. Behind him was Christ in shining light caring for the Naval rating as he stood alone. The other painting was of a soldier lying down on the battlefield in the Great War. Yet he was not alone - looking down on the soldier was Christ on the cross.

Further down the Nave on the same wall was a composition of three figures: Christ on the cross, his mother Mary on one side and his disciple, John, on the other. Behind them was a dark brown material back-drop. Against the wall below were a prayer desk and a chair for the priest to use when listening to confessions. Further down the left-hand aisle was an L shaped wooden communion rail and an altar used for Requiem Masses. Overlooking the width of that altar was a painting depicting the burial of Jesus.

At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, blackout curtains were hurriedly made for all the church windows. During the day the curtains could be raised to one corner by means of a cord, but it was impossible to use the same method for the huge east window. Instead, every small pane of glass in it was painted black! After the war it took several weeks for Mr. Senate, the Verger, to scrape all the paint off. No doubt, fine traces of black paint on that huge window are still visible to this day.

Like all churches during the war, bells were forbidden to be peeled or tolled for services. They were only to be used if we were invaded by enemy parachutists. During my 17 years at St. Barnabas, a Nativity play was often performed before packed audiences just before Christmas. The acting talents amongst the parishioners were amazing. They rehearsed under the guidance of a producer for several weeks. Others worked behind the scenes. There were technicians operating the spot lights, wardrobe mistresses providing all kinds of second-hand clothes, make-up artists, musicians and many others. There was always a matinee followed by an evening performance. They were hard times during the war, but we all pulled together. Not only did we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving in the church, but a service was also held in the midst of the vast area of allotments where so much food was grown by those who lived in the workers cottages which didn't have gardens.

The Bell
The Bell
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2014

There are a few small items of interest which I feel should be mentioned. A large brass gong was sounded by the chief server known as the MC (Master of Ceremonies) at particular times of the service. At the point when the priest consecrated the bread in the Communion part of the service, the MC sounded the gong three times. That was a signal for the Verger to peel the church bell three times. This was repeated less than a minute later, when the priest consecrated the wine. The purpose and tradition of that sequence was for those who were lying ill in bed at home. Hearing the three peels twice helped them to join in spirit with those worshipping in the church at those precise times. There was a smaller gong in the Lady Chapel which was also used at the Children's Services. As mentioned before, the church bell did not ring during the war years.

The Church had two brass thuribles for burning incense. They were also known as censers. The larger of the two was in the shape of a church spire. The smaller one was used at the Children's Services. When each was not being swung, the thurifer hung it on a brass stand, cast in the shape of a Bishop's crook, which had been donated in memory of a former parishioner. The incense to be burnt was carried in a little brass boat by the boat boy. The thurifer and boat boy always led the processions. They were followed by the Crucifer who carried the cross which was inlaid with precious stones, or so I was led to believe when I was very young! The two acolytes walked each side of him. In the late 1940s a wooden crucifix, about the same height as the cross, was given in memoriam to someone else in the church. They were followed my members of the choir and banner bearers. Lastly, on the end chairs, each side of the centre aisle in the back row, were held the Church Wardens' staffs. They carried them as they walked each side of the Priest at the rear of any church procession. On the top of each staff was a small brass cross similar to the shape of a D.S.O medal.

I hope readers and researchers will gain further knowledge from my descriptions of how things began at St. Barnabas Church just over a century ago. As a former parishioner it has been my pleasure to make this contribution in my 80th year.

This article was written by Michael Tucker © 28 February 2014

Lady Berkeley
Lady Berkeley
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Rev. Boucher
Rev. Boucher
Rev. Parkhurst
Rev. Parkhurst