THE CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, EWELL


The old church from the south-east
The old church from the south-east.
Photo of a watercolour, courtesy of Surrey Archaeological Society.

The new church
The new church
The new church.
Images courtesy of Peter Reed © 2013

Introduction


There are quite a few articles on this website dealing with specific aspects of St Mary's and the object of this one is to provide an overview of the church's history, incorporating links to the other material - hopefully it will be a 'one-stop shop' for all things St Mary.

Old church


This is the oldest picture we have of the church
This is the oldest picture we have of the church.
Photograph of a 1789 engraving.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The list of vicars in Appendix 1, goes back to 1239 but, when the old church was demolished in the late-1840s, there were traces of building work from the 11th and 12th centuries. (Cloudesley Willis believed that a church existed back in Saxon times and that it was possibly made of timber.) The nave and south aisle, built of flint rubble and Reigate Stone (otherwise known as upper greensand, a type of sandstone), were mainly 13th century, the chancel (area around the altar) dated from the 14th century and the Chantry Chapel was built in 1529. The old tower, which still stands, was built in cut flint and Reigate Stone and a brick parapet was added subsequently.

The old tower c.1900
The old tower c.1900.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The stone and flint work on the old tower
The stone and flint work on the old tower
Image ©Linda Jackson 2013.

In mediaeval times the Abbot and Convent of Chertsey held the right to appoint the vicar. Then, in 1415, this right was transferred to King Henry V, who passed it on to the Prior and Convent of Newark. The period from 1536 to 1541 saw King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, so that in 1539 the patronage of Ewell passed to the Crown. This remained the case until Sir William Lewen acquired it in 1709 and it then passed down to the Glyn family, thus.

Sir William Lewen (c.1657-1721) was a merchant, High Sheriff of London in 1713 and Lord Mayor in 1717. The family was from Dorset and his brother, George, had been mayor of Poole. William married in 1685 Susannah Taylor from Turnham Green in West London. Sir William purchased the Ewell Rectory in 1709 and from him it descended to Richard Glyn and family.

Lady Lewen was a 'lunatic' and on Sir William's death his Ewell estates were inherited by his nephew George, son of the aforementioned George Lewen. George Lewen Junior (MP for Wallingford, Berkshire, died 1743) was the father of Sir Richard Glyn's first wife, Susannah Lewen. Sir William was also the uncle of Ann Maynard, Sir Richard Glyn's mother.

The living remained under the control of the Glyns until the last of the Glyns, Margaret, died in 1946, and after a period in the hands of Mrs J Foubister, it was transferred to the Diocese of Guildford. Ecclesiastically Ewell was in the Diocese of Winchester until the Diocese of Guildford was formed in 1927.

We shall come to the demolition of the old church very soon, but let's look at what remains today. As I said, the old tower still stands and, of course, the old churchyard is still there. Otherwise, everything has gone, apart from some items that were moved to the new building.

The altar, screen, font, many of the monuments and brasses - see Appendix 2, six bells and the clock were all placed in the new building; the fine old Tudor pulpit eventually went elsewhere. The tower still sports the wrought-iron weathervane made by Richard Bliss in 1789 and he was the great-grandfather of Cloudesley Willis, who chronicled much of the history of Ewell. There is now a wrought-iron gate in the tower doorway as a memorial to Mr Willis.

The memorial gate
The memorial gate.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The tower suffered some damage in a 1940 German air raid, but the worst problem came from subsequent vandalism and in 1971 it was surrounded by protective iron fencing.

The old iron railings round some of the tombs were taken during the Second World War (so were the ones from my old house, but I understand that much of this metal was never used for the alleged purpose of munitions). The Glyn family tomb is on the site of the old church altar.

A couple of years ago I was tramping round the churchyard on a dismal day, photographing various tombs, and I found the old grey tower a forbidding and almost sinister structure, but it is fortunate that it was preserved for posterity (although it almost wasn't - read on!).

Proposal for a new church


Sir George Lewen Glyn had been the vicar of St Mary's since 1831 and was also the leading landowner in Ewell, owning one-seventh of the village. He was not happy with the state of the church for a number of reasons. Given its great age, the building was dilapidated, the graveyard was too small and there were very few seats for the middle classes and the poor. At that time churches used a system of pew rents for much of their accommodation, so that a large proportion of the seating was effectively reserved for the well-off. The old St Mary's had 492 seats in total, of which 153 were free of charge for the poor; there were no seats for the middle classes. Sir George also foresaw a significant increase in population when the railway came: this happened in 1847 (see 'The Railway Comes To Epsom'). Additionally, a public footpath through the churchyard was very near to the Rectory, which annoyed Sir George, and he wanted it moved.

In 1842 the tower was examined by an architect, who decided that it was in no danger of falling down (tick), but, as a precaution, the bells should not be rung. Cloudesley Willis recounted: 'One night the ringers when ringing a peal heard a crash overhead; in terror they hurried down the stairs, calling to each other that the tower was falling; the staircase door, which opened inwards, could not be opened at once because of those pushing behind. At length the ringers drew breath in safety in the tap-room of the King's Head Inn nearby. When presently the tower was seen to be still standing, some of them went back, and found that the clapper of one of the bells had broken loose and fallen on the floor overhead'.

No further progress was made until 1845, when Sir George engaged architect Henry Clutton to undertake a full survey. Clutton was only 26 years old at the time and just about to embark on a fairly stellar career; he converted to Catholicism and went on to design a number of Roman Catholic religious buildings and country houses. He also spent six years designing a new Westminster Cathedral, but the project ran aground and was taken over by one of his former pupils.

Clutton's verdict was as follows.

  • There were bad settlements and cracks in the walls, caused by excavating graves and deep vaults nearby.

  • Every external moulding and ornament was obliterated.

  • The stone surfaces of the walls and buttresses were entirely decayed.

  • The churchyard level was about 3ft 6ins above the pavement, causing damp. (Sir George used to complain that no papers could be left in the church because the damp soon obliterated the writing.)
Additionally, the churchyard was becoming dangerous and on two occasions the gravediggers had almost been buried alive by collapsing earth.

Clutton felt that repairing the old building was a waste of money and Sir George agreed, but there was much opposition, partly on financial grounds and partly because of hidden agendas (see the Vestry Minutes for the relevant period).

Thomas Alcock (soon to be MP for East Surrey) thought that adequate restoration could be achieved for about 3,000 and hired another church architect, Benjamin Ferry, to give an opinion: Mr Ferry largely agreed with Clutton. James Gadesden said that the majority of parishioners were against rebuilding and that many places had no church at all. The Vestry adjourned discussions indefinitely.

Sir George might well have given up - at least for the immediate future - but his Bishop encouraged him to investigate what funds might be raised by voluntary subscriptions and by late-1846 he had pledges for well over 3,000, much of it from local sources. He personally donated 500 and Lady Glyn gave 70 towards fittings and fixtures. Someone even leant on Queen Victoria to throw in 20! All Sir George now needed was about 1,000 (or so he thought) and he proposed borrowing the capital, which would then be repaid from the Church Rate.

Gadesden and Alcock gave in, with the latter being persuaded to stay away from the crucial Vestry meeting in exchange for acquiring the right of patronage for Kingswood Church (organised by Sir George). Sir George offered a plot of land for the new building and churchyard extension. In return the Parish would pay him 1,000 and let him have the materials of the old church for use on the new one; it was also agreed that the Parish would forfeit the right of way over the aforementioned footpath. Mr Clutton would be the architect (James Gadesden did not like his design!) and George Myers, well-known for his work with Augustus Pugin, was appointed as builder.

Work begins


1866 OS map
1866 OS map. The tower of the old church is shown in yellow
and the new church is coloured red.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid by Sir John Rae Reid on 26 June 1847, accompanied by a sermon from the Rural Dean, Robert Tritton.

Initially Sir George was unhappy with the work of George Myers: it was discovered that some of the foundations had been filled with rubble and not the agreed solid brick. Consequently he appointed a Mr Butler as Clerk of Works to keep an eye on the situation. There was a further disagreement later in 1847 when Myers recommended using Swanage Stone instead of flint, as he considered the later potentially unstable. Needless to say, the stone was a lot more expensive than flint (which was available locally) and Sir George wanted the new church to look as similar as possible to the old: however, he capitulated, but capped the extra cost at 100. Much of the stone was quarried in Bath by Myers' own men, taken to Paddington on the Great Western Railway and then hauled to Ewell in carts.

Sir George showed an interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of Myers' men: he not only arranged special midday services for them but also sent them an 18 gallon cask of beer. He once remonstrated with the foreman for swearing in front of parishioners but presented him with a case of instruments and a bible at the end of the job.

Early in 1848 cracks began to appear in the new tower, which was probably caused by the speed of building. A new Clerk of Works was appointed and branded much of the previous work as 'a shameful job'. Sir George blamed Butler, who had already been 'let go' as unnecessary, rather than Myers.

Built!


A lovely old picture of the new church c.1900
A lovely old picture of the new church c.1900, photographed by Perry.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The new church was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on 24 August 1848, with an audience of 1,500 people. The local newspaper reported: 'The day was quite a holiday. A large flag was hoisted in the village...and a marquee was erected on the lawn, in which an excellent cold collection was spread, to which the visiting clergy with their ladies were invited. The children of the schools were afterwards regaled with tea'. In the evening a public dinner was held at the Spring Hotel, Ewell. A collection raised 235, of which 100 came from Mr Alcock. Cloudesley Willis remarked that the varnish on the pews was not yet fully dry and his two aunts, attired in new dresses, stuck to the seat.

Trouble


The original intention had been to demolish the old tower and sell the materials, but after the new building was finished James Gadesden threw another spanner in the works. He had an ulterior motive, since the contentious path linked two of his properties. Eventually the Parish gave in, but at more expense to Sir George. The right of way would be ceded in exchange for leaving the old tower standing: this cost Sir George the revenue from the materials plus another 100 to attach a burial chapel to the tower. The path was eventually closed off in January 1849.

Gadesden was not finished yet. At the end of 1849 he challenged Sir George's accounts, which caused the latter to ask whether Gadesden had read the relevant vestry minutes. The accounts were examined by Sir John Reid and Mr E R Northey and found to be in order. The new church had cost over 6,000 (just over half a million in today's money), which was above average at the time.

The new church


Initially the new church was thought to be too large, having 945 seats (in a parish of 1,500 people) but, as I mentioned earlier, Sir George predicted a rapid growth in population because of the railway and he was right.

A religious census of 1851 showed that the average morning congregation was 381 (plus 146 Sunday School attendees); 146 and 306 people respectively turned up for afternoon and evening services.

So, let us take a look round the new building. Here are two similar views of the interior, taken about 113 years apart.

The interior c.1900
The interior c.1900.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The interior 2013
The interior 2013.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

One of the main features of any church is the pulpit. As I mentioned, the old Tudor pulpit is no longer there, but a marble and alabaster pulpit was given in 1897 by Mr and Mrs Edward Waterer Martin in memory of their son and daughter who died in the late 1880s.

The pulpit in 2013 Pulpit Detail
The pulpit
Images courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

There is a brass lectern, presented in 1883 by George Stone (son of George Brooker Stone), who was vestry clerk for 49 years, and the church has some fine stained glass.

The Thanksgiving Window in the Lady Chapel
The Thanksgiving Window in the Lady Chapel.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

Another of the stained glass windows.
Another of the stained glass windows.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

Other things to look out for are the altar, thought to be from the early Jacobean period; , a reredos (screen/altar decoration) on the west wall of the sanctuary, depicting the Last Supper, donated by Sir Gervas Glyn in 1883; a clock bought with 100 left by Mrs Helena Fendall, who died in 1799 at the grand age of 99. I could go on all day, but I recommend you visit the church's own website, at http://www.stmarysewell.com, which describes the highlights in more detail. Please be aware that, outside of service times, the church is often locked, so you will need to check with the Parish Office if you are thinking of paying a visit.

The main panel of the reredos.
The main panel of the reredos.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

In 1973 there was a serious fire, which damaged the north aisle and destroyed the organ, built by Henry Willis and acquired in 1865. The church was fortunately able to acquire a replacement Willis organ from a church in Highgate. The firm of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd, organ builders, still exists today - see http://www.willis-organs.com/index.html.

The 'new' Willis organ.
The 'new' Willis organ.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

Repairs after the fire, December 1973
Repairs after the fire, December 1973.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Memorial plaque concerning the fire and restoration.
Memorial plaque concerning the fire and restoration.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

After all the fire damage had been repaired, in 1975 a Fire Memorial Window, designed by Laurence Lee, was installed in the north aisle. On the south wall there is now a new stained glass window commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the present Queen and the Millennium. That seems to me a very nice touch, demonstrating that the church not only still respects its many centuries of past history but is laying down new history for future generations.

Linda Jackson
July 2013

Sources


Guide by Alick Lewer, 1972

1998 Guide (150th Anniversary) by E M Myatt-Price (still available direct from the church, according to their website)

'A Short History of Ewell and Nonsuch' by Cloudesley S Willis

Website of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ewell

APPENDIX 1 - Rectors/Vicars and Patrons of Ewell from 1239

APPENDIX 2 - Some monuments and memorials in St Mary's

APPENDIX 3 - Links to records on this website

APPENDIX 4 - Some Residents of the Churchyard


HV Usill
HV Usill
Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page
Page Family
Page Family
TH Snow
TH Snow
JA Larby
JA Larby
J Harrison
J Harrison
Foundlings
Foundlings
Nonsuch Mansion
Nonsuch Mansion
New Stables
New Stables