June 2006 Bulletin 158
Sir Frank Brangwyn RA J A Goodman
Three Kings Pond R A M Scott
Local Cases at Surrey Assizes … (1603-1625) P J Hopkins
Morden’s Post Office W J Rudd
John Donne – of Mitcham J A Goodman
SS Peter & Paul Catholic church, Mitcham R A M Scott
and much more
PRESIDENT: Lionel Green
PRESIDENT: Lionel Green
VICE PRESIDENTS: Viscountess Hanworth, Eric Montague and William Rudd
BULLETIN NO. 158 CHAIR: Judith Goodman JUNE 2006
Saturday 24 June 1.45pm Visit to Royal Hospital Chelsea
Meet at the Chelsea Gate, next door to the National Army Museum in Royal Hospital Road.
The guided tour of this superb and important building, designed mainly by Christopher Wren,
will cost £2 a head.
Coach trip to Hughenden Manor on Wednesday 19 July
Details of this outing went out with the last Bulletin. There may still be places available, so
telephone Ray Kilsby without delay.
Saturday 12 August 2.15 for 2.30pm .Houses Round the Rushmere.
Meet at the War Memorial in Wimbledon Village, where the High Street joins Parkside. This
informative walk will be led by member Cyril Maidment. No charge.
Tuesday 5 September 1.15 for 1.30pm The Poppy Factory, Richmond
Meet inside the entrance at 20 Petersham Road, close to Richmond town centre. The visit
is free, but donations are expected.
The Society’s events are open to the general public.
Youare invited to make a donation to help with the Society’s running costs.
OUR NEW PRESIDENT AND OUR NEW VICE PRESIDENT
Your committee has unanimously invited Lionel Green to become our President and Eric Montague to
become a Vice President. We are delighted to announce that both have accepted.
Lionel is a founder member of the Society, and contributed to Evelyn Jowett’s classic A History of
Merton and Morden in 1951. His knowledge of Merton priory and St Mary’s church is unrivalled; his
research, his writing and his enthusiasm continue still. We have recently published his A Priory Revealed.
.Monty., a member for nearly as long, is the unchallenged expert on Mitcham, and is widely known for
his talks, for his publications, and for his willingness to help enquirers on any aspect of local history.
Both have always been active members of the Society, and both have served on the Committee, including
being Chairman. We are glad, and honoured, that they have both agreed to accept their new posts.
LOCAL HISTORY WORKSHOPS
Friday 17 February. Seven present. Peter Hopkins in the chair.
Peter Hopkins told us that the Society’s website was very nearly ready, and he talked us through its layout.
After explaining such (to me) unfamiliar terms as PDF (portable document format . I think) he invited us to
discuss the content of some of the pages. At present, while still being developed, you will find us at
Sheila Miller had visited, and been impressed
by, the new medieval gallery at the Museum
of London and showed us excellent drawings
she had made of a fragmentary window arch
from Merton priory on display.
Lionel Green had been gratified to receive
a very nice letter from Richard Milward about
A Priory Revealed. Like Sheila Miller he was
enthusiastic about the Museum of London’s
medieval gallery and we heard more about
the arch fragment, the ceiling boss (much
deeper than it looks in photographs) and the
very damaged glass, all from the priory, on
Two group photos from the 1890s had been brought along by Madeline Healey. They have been owned by
her family for many years, and she knew that they showed members of the Hatfeild family . Madeline’s
grandfather was the Hatfeilds. last bailiff at Morden Hall. When some Hatfeild descendants came to a
National Trust event at Morden Hall Park last year they were able to identify some of the people in the
photos for her.
Cyril Maidment, always fascinated by maps, was
looking forward to exploring the Wimbledon tithe
map of 1850 on CD, which he had obtained from
Surrey History Centre. He had also been
superimposing Lionel Green’s drawing of Merton
priory on the site as shown on Google Earth.
Interesting photos he had brought along showed
the Royal Standard, Singlegate School, Nos 4, 6
and 8 Merton High Street (between the Wandle
and the bus garage), and this view that might, or
might not, be the Mostyn Road/Green Lane corner
before embanking to cross the railway line.
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Judith Goodman had received, on loan from Martin Riley of Suffolk, some extremely interesting material
relating to the Leach/Bennett family of textile printers at Merton Abbey in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Mr Riley is descended from the family, which was connected to the Smiths of Merton Abbey and to Elizabeth
Cook, widow of the explorer. The papers consist mainly of letters from and to family and friends. Mr Riley
would like to see the papers published, and thinks that the editing of them would be best done by this Society.
An exciting prospect!
Peter Hopkins had been looking again at the (1866 copy of) the 1805 map of the Merton Abbey estate, and
reckoning that, even though there is no key, if the survey was done and written up in a logical way, it is
possible to identify most of the buildings.
He reported that the Wimbledon Society had deposited their Merton Place documents at Surrey History
And lastly he recommended a new publication from Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society . Oliver
Harris The Archbishop’s Town . the making of medieval Croydon. It costs £3.75.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 2
Friday 21 April. Nine present. Judith Goodman in the chair.
Sheila Harris opened by telling us how her Cannon Hill Lane property is shaped on one side by the winding
course of an old stream, now flowing underground. She and her late husband had informally parted with the
oddly shaped far end of the tapering plot to a neighbour, and that arrangement has now been legally formalised.
She had brought along the original plans dating to the early 1920s, when her house was built, a dossier of
maps of various dates, and the slightly scandalous letters, connected with the first occupants, that she had
found in her loft.
Graham Murray introduced himself as a resident at Willow Cottages, off Goat (or Mill) Green, Mitcham.
His interests lie in particular in the history of the Cottages and of the parchment works established nearby on
the banks of the Wandle. He has already assembled a useful collection of maps and old postcards and
photographs (several being of premises just outside the boundary of Mitcham, and therefore not in the local
illustrations collection). Graham’s research continues, and we hope to hear more from him.
Peter Hopkins had prepared an article [see page 9] compiled from early 17th-century Assize Records,
mentioning several members of the local gentry, and the fate of local felons brought before the courts.
Bill Rudd’s chronicling of the changes in Morden’s shopping centre continues, a task not made easier by the
rapidity with which new businesses come and go. He is also tracing the appearance (and disappearance) of
local post offices . a feature of our environment most of us once thought permanent [see page 12].
Cyril Maidment reported on the new conservation plan being prepared by Merton Priory Trust. Inaccuracies
in the draft text are still coming to notice (Lionel Green drew Cyril’s attention to several errors in part 1 of the
draft). Cyril’s work on locating priory buildings has demonstrated that much of the area covered by the
cloisters etc. is still open ground . could not this be marked by paving?
He also showed various plans and illustrations of Nelson’s Merton Place cleverly superimposed on modern
maps and pictures.
Madeline Healey, on reading MHS’s latest
book on Mitcham, Upper Green, realised
that No.3 York Place (at one time the Roaring
Donkey beerhouse) had been occupied by
her ancestors, including her great-
grandmother, as a bookseller’s and
stationer’s shop in the 1830s. Madeline’s
family connections are a never-ending source
of local history titbits!
Lionel Green’s Merton priory book and his
work on the daughter houses of Merton has
produced correspondence from Dr John
Gosling of Salisbury. He was at one time a
curate of Plympton St Mary, where he
discovered the long-lost tomb of Bishop
Warelwast . another eminent medieval cleric
associated with Merton.
The workshop concluded with Judith Goodman giving an entertaining account of her on-going work on the
Bennett/Leach family papers. These included a graphic account of the Bennett household repelling burglars
at their Merton premises in the 1820s by the effective use of a shotgun. Judith also showed photocopies of
some delightful watercolour portraits of the family, and of a print of a young gentleman in the uniform of the
Merton Light Infantry, a unit raised in the Napoleonic wars.
As an experiment, the February workshop was held in the afternoon. We now plan to alternate evening
and afternoon workshop sessions, to encourage more people to attend.
The next workshops will be on Friday 30 June at 2.30 and Friday 18 August at 7.30,
both at Wandle Industrial Museum.
All are welcome.
The Buck’s Head and York Place . postcard c.1905
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 3
‘sT PANCRAS STATION, 1856-2007: A JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY.
St Pancras station has been one of the landmarks of Euston Road for at least 140 years. Its life spans the times
from the earliest railways to the present day, and it is likely to continue well into the future, as it has been chosen
to be the London terminus of the Channel tunnel rail link.
The Society was very fortunate to have Roderick Shelton, an architect and historic buildings consultant, give an
excellently illustrated talk on the history of the station at our March meeting. He is particularly well qualified to
speak on the subject as he is consultant to London and Continental Railways, the consortium who are building
the rail link and modifying St Pancras station to be the Eurostar terminus.
Kings Cross station was opened in 1851 by the Great Northern Railway, and for its first few years the Midland
Railway ran its trains into London on the Great Northern Railway lines to Kings Cross or on the London and
North Eastern Railway lines into Euston. Not happy with this situation, the Midland Railway looked for a site for
its own station on the Euston Road. The station was to be bigger and more impressive than its competitors and
to have a large hotel fronting on Euston Road.
The line to Kings Cross approaches the station from a tunnel under the Regent’s Canal and has quite a steep up
gradient (1 in 100) to approach the station. The Midland Railway did not want this, and so decided to take the line
over the canal and have a small (1 in 300) down gradient into their station. This meant that the platforms would
be about 7m above Euston Road, and advantage was taken of this to support the whole station on cast-iron
columns so as to form an undercroft. The train shed, booking hall and track layout were designed by William
Henry Barlow, the Midland Railway chief engineer. The hotel was designed on a very lavish scale by Sir George
Work commenced on the site in spring 1866 and the first ironwork was delivered a year later. As far as possible,
materials used in the construction were local, or originated in the Midlands and were conveyed by the Midland
Railway. The structural .engineering bricks. were made on site from clay excavated when constructing the
foundations, and the facing bricks used for the station and the hotel were brought by the railway from Bedford
and the Midlands. The roof of the train shed was composed of glass supported by structural ironwork, and had
great similarities to that of the Crystal Palace when constructed at Sydenham. The roof of the station was built
as a single span to permit later flexibility in the layout of the tracks and platforms, although in its 140 years the
layout has never been changed. At the time of its construction St Pancras station had the largest span ironwork
roof in the world.
The speed of construction may be appreciated when it is realised that the last ironwork for the roof was
delivered in July 1868, and the station was opened in September of the same year. Initially the parcels hall was
used as a booking office until the booking hall was opened. There was a hydraulic goods wagon lift down to the
undercroft which was used as a beer warehouse by the brewers of Burton-on-Trent.
Simultaneously with the
construction of St
Pancras station, Euston
Road was dug up to
(later to become part of
system). The whole
area was a gigantic
The Midland Grand
Hotel was built at a
somewhat slower pace.
It was initially
constructed up to the
first-floor level, and
building was stopped for
a year or so. The hotel
opened in the west wing
only in 1873 and
Sir George Gilbert Scott’s design sketch for the ground floor coffee lounge
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 4
the whole building was not completed until 1876. The materials used in the construction were expensive: fine-
grained Mansfield red sandstone, Shap granite and white limestone. It is not surprising that the building went
.over budget., and Sir G G Scott was told to economise. It was designed to be seven storeys high, but was built
to only five storeys to save money. Some statue niches were never filled, and some of the decorative stonework
was not completed. In the end, Scott was sacked when he refused to economise further.
Both the station and hotel were very expensive buildings. A total of 60 million bricks were used in their construction.
The hotel cost £437,000 and the station a similar sum. Today the cost would be many hundreds of millions of
The Midland Grand Hotel was probably the last big hotel in London to be built before the advent of .modern.
plumbing. There were very few toilets, and no baths. Each of the 400 bedrooms had a water jug and wash-bowl,
and maids would empty the chamber pots and waste buckets from each bedroom down ‘slop holes. in the
The Summerstown goods yard was laid out in the 1890s. In the first World War a lone pilot dropped five bombs
on the station. One hit the tower and another landed on the cab road behind the station, and, in total, the raid
caused more civilian casualties than any other single bombing raid during the whole of the war. The hotel was
closed in 1935, as it was uneconomic to modernise it, and it was converted into offices for the railway company.
It remained in office use for British Railways and its associated companies until closed as a fire hazard in 1985.
It is now totally empty.
In the second World War the goods yard took a direct hit, and a bomb hit the station, went through the train deck
and exploded in what is now the Thameslink tunnel beneath. The station was out of action for two weeks, and
the glass roof was replaced by metal sheets. After the war boat trains to Tilbury started at St Pancras.
One of the factors which determined the choice of St Pancras as the Eurostar terminal is that it had spare
capacity. The whole train-shed is now unused and the Midland Mainline services depart from temporary platforms
at one side of the station, eventually transferring to the other side. Work is well underway to convert the station
to the Eurostar terminal. The platforms will remain at the existing level, but the ticket hall, departure lounge and
customs hall will all be in the undercroft, and connected to the platforms by escalator.
Mr Shelton concluded with a video of a virtual reality trip by a passenger entering the Eurostar station, passing
through the booking hall and up the escalator to the train, and finally the driver’s-eye view of the track as the
train leaves the station. It was truly 21st-century technology supporting an excellent historical lecture.
Merton’s war memorial, at the corner of Church Lane and Church Path,
has recently been swathed in polythene and surrounded by scaffolding. The
much-needed restoration and repairs are being undertaken by three young
women, experts in this field. Work continues, at the time of writing, but it is
looking much refreshed and its detail crisper.
At Honeywood Heritage Centre, Carshalton, an exhibition Carshalton
Connections through Art is on until 2 July. On show are works of art by
Hassell, Yates, Tatton Winter and Frank Dickinson, among others, and writings
by authors with Carshalton connections, such as .Mark Rutherford. and
Ruskin. Open 11-5 Wed-Fri and 10-5 Sat, Sun and Bank Holiday Mon. Tel:
020 8770 4297
The Museum of London will be marking National Archaeology Week 15-23
July with many events on the theme of The Archaeology of Tudor Life
and Death. Telephone 0870 444 3850 for information/booking.
Wandsworth Museum is celebrating Tooting Bec Lido and the South London Swimming Group with an
exhibition called The Big Blue till 16 July. Tel: 020 8871 7074. Website: www.wandsworth.gov.uk/museum
The annual Wandle Valley Festival takes place on Sunday 18 June. In our area there will be a Discovering
Archaeology exhibition in the Chapter House, together with .digs. for children and demonstrations of hand-
block fabric printing (10am-5pm); pottery making at the Wheelhouse (11am-4pm); family events elsewhere
at Merton Abbey Mills; a Merton Priory extended exhibit at Wandle Industrial Museum (12-4pm); plus
activities at Deen City Farm and Morden Hall Snuff Mill. Leaflets are available at local libraries, giving
information of these and other activities along the whole length of the river.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 5
.LONDON PLEASURE GARDENS OF THE 18TH CENTURY.
As our Chairman said, this lecture was .a complete experience.. We were treated to delightful music as well as
slides, when Michael Symes told us about the pleasure gardens of London in the 18th century.
Most of such gardens were in London, but some were in other places such as Bath, Birmingham and Manchester.
Spring Gardens was the earliest, going back to the reign of Charles II. These gardens were an important feature of
leisure in social and garden history . .country in the town.. A place where men were able to accompany women
in a .respectable. environment, and they were also a reaction against Puritanism . a place for taking a stroll, for
listening to music and for enjoying other entertainments, for assignations . and to see and be seen. Light refreshments
were available, and the entertainments would include balls, supper parties, exhibitions and paintings on transparent
sheets. Later, fairground attractions were added . these days such places could be compared with Regents Park
or the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.
The gardens were private enterprises, as opposed to royal parks, with a commercial purpose, and entrance fees
were charged, often one shilling (5p). A cross-section of society attended. Usually they operated about three nights
a week from May to September, when the weather was most suitable . generally speaking, it was not very warm
in the 18th century.
Licences were required by law for music and dancing in 1752, and this caused some changes. The gardens were
mostly closed down by the middle of the 19th century.
There were four main gardens in London . Cupers, Ranelagh, Marylebone and Vauxhall.
These were opened in 1691, south
of where Waterloo Bridge now
stands, and the approach was by
water. The name was often
corrupted to .Cupid’s Gardens..
Again admission was one shilling .
.no servants admitted.. On the
whole it had a pretty unsavoury
reputation, and watchmen had to be
employed, especially later. In 1752
a licence was refused. It was
connected with the Feathers public
house on the riverbank, and run at
first by Ephraim Evans. When he
died his widow took over from 1741
to 1759. The firework displays
were particularly spectacular.
After the licence was refused Mrs
Evans ran a tea garden in
connection with the pub, and by
1759 the whole place was derelict.
These gardens were south of where Regents Park would be later. It was a dangerous .out of town. area, and
armed patrols were necessary. From 1737 to 1776 John Trusler was in charge, and these gardens were a rather
grander option. There were long walks lined with trees, and on these hung oil lamps for illumination. There was a
bandstand, and an organ in the great room. Serious concerts were held here. The famous Dr Arne composed many
songs, and conducted the orchestra, often playing music by Handel.
A ticket admitting two cost half a guinea (52.5p) Trusler’s daughter apparently made delicious cheesecakes and
fruit tarts. For many years Torré prepared spectacular firework displays.
There was a decline in popularity, and the gardens finally closed in 1777/8 and the site passed into the hands of the
Ranelagh (then pronounced .Runnelow.)
These gardens were situated on the site now occupied by the Chelsea Flower Show. They opened in 1742. There
was a huge Rotunda 150ft (46m) in diameter, with a fireplace. The admission was 2s 6d (12.5p). Refreshments
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
View in Cuper’s Gardens, Lambeth . from W S Scott Bygone Pleasures of London (1948)
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 6
were available, and there were walks among the trees, a flower garden and a canal. It was .classier. than other
gardens and became fashionable for society people, who walked round and round inside the Rotunda. There were
masquerades, concerts and vocal music, including the very popular song .The Lass with the Delicate Air..
Ranelagh finally closed in 1803, and shortly afterwards the buildings were demolished. The much admired organ
went to Tetbury church in Gloucestershire.
This, the most famous of them all, was situated north-west of the future site of the Oval. In the 1660s it was known
as Spring Gardens, and the energetic Jonathan Tyers came on the scene in 1728 and reconstructed the whole 12acre
(5ha) site. There were trees with lamps along the walks, arcaded supper boxes, a small Rotunda, an orchestra
(bandstand), a .Turkish tent. and statues. Paintings in the boxes were by Francis Hayman and depicted scenes of
sports, often with danger as a theme. There were tables round the orchestra, and food was served, including ham
shaved so thin it was said that you could read a newspaper through it.
Admission was one shilling (5p), and a wide variety of people came . sometimes 10,000 could be present. It
became difficult to keep undesirables out.
Vocal music was added to the attractions in 1745. Tenors such as Lowe, Arne and Incledon sang mostly sentimental
ballads. James Hook was the organist for 45 years. One of the most famous songs was ‘sweet Lass of Richmond
Things became more theatrical as time went on. The cascade shown at 9pm proved most popular. A curtain was
drawn back to reveal a landscape with a miller’s house and waterfall, with concealed lights. Flowing water with a
turning wheel was seen, with foam at the bottom. The effect was created with tin.
Tyers died in 1767. He had amassed a large fortune and owned the Denbies estate in Surrey, where he laid out a
garden with a temple of Death . there may have been an echo here of the themes of the Hayman paintings. As the
years went on people and times changed. Vauxhall gardens became very run down and finally closed in 1859.
Altogether this was a fascinating talk and brought to life vividly the atmosphere of the recreation and entertainments
so popular with all classes of society in the 18th century.
SIR FRANK BRANGWYN RA (1857-1956)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frank Brangwyn. The naming of a new road, off Phipps
Bridge Road, not so long ago, as Brangwyn Crescent, commemorates this artist. His reputation slumped after
his death, as so often happens, but is rising again today.
Brangwyn’s parentage was three-quarters Welsh, but the name is uncommon even in Wales. He was born in
1867 in Bruges, where his architect father had moved for financial reasons. However he grew up in this country,
and, at the early age of 15 he was introduced by A H Mackmurdo, founder of the Century Guild, to William
Morris, who took him on as an apprentice in his shop in Oxford Street. For two years he worked there, mainly
transferring Morris’s embroidery designs to fabric, to be sold as .kits., and enlarging designs for wallpaper. This
was a good discipline, but frustrating, and Brangwyn left, for the precarious life of an artist. Nevertheless Morris
would always find some work for him to do when money was especially tight, and Brangwyn respected Morris’s
ideas and example for the rest of his life.
Brangwyn’s talent and determination began to be recognised. It was primarily as a creator of large, colourful
mural paintings in a very individual style that he became known. The Skinners. Company has a set of 15 of these
around the walls of their Hall. Leeds City Art Gallery has a good collection, and a set intended for the House of
Lords is in Swansea. Many provincial galleries have examples, and the William Morris Gallery at Walthamstow
has a large collection of smaller works, donated by the artist.
It has been said that Brangwyn designed a few stained-glass windows for Morris & Co, but I can find no
evidence for this, though two windows by him are listed in June Osborne Stained Glass in England Sutton
Publishing, Stroud (1997).
Brangwyn was made RA in 1919 and was knighted in 1941 (neither honour would have tempted Morris!). He
has always been respected on the Continent, and both Bruges and Orange have a museum devoted to his work.
For many years he had a studio at Ditchling, Sussex, where there was an artists. colony, and before the second
World War he moved there permanently.
Later this summer there is to be an exhibition devoted to his work at the William Morris Gallery.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 7
TONY SCOTT describes recent work at
THREE KINGS POND
Members may have noticed that during late February/early March the pond was drained and cleaned, by
contractors working for Merton Council, and has also been made smaller. There were environmental reasons
for this work.
The pond is a natural feature, and was noted on William Marr’s map of 1695. At that time it was known as
.Heathernderry. and it clearly took its current name from the Three Kings public house (recently closed), which
is known to have been in existence in 1823. The pond is fed and drained by the .Western Ditch., one of the three
main drainage ditches of old Mitcham. Up to perhaps as late as the mid-20th century, the Western Ditch was
visible running alongside Commonside East, possibly starting as an overflow from Watney’s pond. Upon leaving
the Three Kings Pond the Western Ditch ran across the Croydon road (Commonside West) and fed three small
ornamental ponds in the grounds of The Firs (known in Victorian times as Elmwood), which was a large house
situated where the middle of Langdale Avenue is today. The Western Ditch then crossed London Road, very
approximately following the present-day Raleigh Gardens, to make its way beside Western Road to join the
Pickle Ditch and subsequently the Wandle at Merton Abbey.
Probably in the 1930s the Three Kings Pond was given a reinforced concrete bottom and vertical concrete sides,
so that the water depth is 2-3ft (60-90cm). Even the island has vertical concrete sides. A stranger reading this
description might be forgiven for thinking that the pond was devoid of wildlife, but this was not so. In more recent
years gulls, mallard ducks, Canada geese and a pair of swans could often be seen on the water at the same time.
Usually the swans departed at dusk, probably for a peaceful night on the Wandle, having had all the bread they
could obtain from local children and their parents. Some years, however, the swans nested and bred on the
island, and ducks bred there regularly. There must have been some useful-sized fish in the pond, for it was
wonderful to see a heron perched on the .No Fishing. sign in the pond, looking for its next meal.
The work which has recently been done is to make the pond more .environmentally friendly.. Where the pond
edge does not butt onto a road, the bank has been built out at a lower level, using wire baskets of coarse stones,
and then covered in earth, and a reed and marsh grass .turf. has been laid. This work has also been done around
part of the island. The step up from
the water for aquatic birds has been
reduced from 18in (45cm) to 6in
(15cm) or less, making it more user-
friendly for chicks. The reeds may
be a deterrent to Canada geese,
which can tend to take over a stretch
of water and crowd out other birds.
Canada geese do not feed on the
water, unlike ducks and swans, but
instead graze on bankside grass,
which is why they frequently held up
the traffic in Commonside East to get
to the playing fields of the Three
Kings Piece. As I write this in March,
the pond is very slowly being filled
by water from the Western Ditch,
and I hope the pond will eventually
be restocked with fish.
Incidentally, as part of the associated work, the previously piped Western Ditch on Three Kings Piece near to
the Beehive bridge has been exposed as an open ditch again, so as to improve drainage of the area.
THE ANNUAL LUNCH
On Saturday 4 March a good gathering of members celebrated 55 years of our Society’s existence over a
cheerful and chatty lunch. While several people attended who said they would not have come out in the evening
for a dinner, others, we know, were missing because they are busy during the day. So we plan to alternate
lunches with dinners for this annual occasion in the future.
Photographed February 2006 by Ray Ninnis for our Photographic Record Project
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 8
PETER HOPKINS has been reading about LOCAL CASES AT THE SURREY
ASSIZES DURING THE REIGN OF JAMES I (1603-1625)
I recently purchased two second-hand volumes from the series Calendar of Assize Records . Home Circuit
Indictments Elizabeth I and James I, edited by J S Cockburn. One volume is Surrey Indictments James I
(1982), the other the Introduction (1986).
Assizes were the principal criminal courts from the early 14th century until their abolition in 1971. They also
exercised a civil jurisdiction, and discharged important administrative, supervisory and political functions. The
country was divided into six Circuits, and Surrey was part of the Home Circuit, which also included Essex,
Hertfordshire, Kent and Sussex. Two assize judges, together with a small clerical staff, rode each circuit for a
period of 17 days, which allowed just three days for Surrey. Assizes were held twice a year, during the Lent
Vacation (February/March), at Southwark, and during the Long Vacation (July/August), usually at Croydon.
Once the date for each assize had been set, the sheriff had the responsibility of informing the county officers .
justices of the peace, coroners and bailiffs of hundreds and liberties; of summoning jurors, for both the grand jury
and trial juries; and of course for ensuring that the defendants, whether in prison or on bail, were produced.
Once an arrest had been made . either by the victim, or by the local community raised by the hue and cry, or by
the local constables . the accused was brought before a local JP. He would examine the suspect and prepare a
written examination to be used at the assize. He also took written testimony from those who had brought the
suspect to him. Even if the examining magistrate was convinced of the suspect’s innocence, he had no power to
discharge the prisoner. He either had to have the suspect committed to gaol or release him or her on bail, though
bail could only be granted by two or more justices sitting together. He also had the duty to bind over to give
evidence against the accused anyone claiming familiarity with the circumstances of the offence. Although the
examining magistrate was expected to attend the assize, he was not responsible for conducting the prosecution.
Jurors were selected from the freeholders of the county with properties valued at 40 shillings or more, later
raised to 80 shillings (although these conditions were not always adhered to), and who were considered .good
and lawful men.. The majority only served once, and few were expected to serve more than three times. Henry
Carpenter of West Barnes, Merton, was selected as a trial juror in 1613, but was unable to serve owing to
illness . he died later that year. John Hedge of Mitcham served once as a trial juror, and George Ethersolle,
also of Mitcham, served twice in the same capacity. However, shortage of suitable men meant that some served
considerably more often than this . Henry Carpenter’s elder brother, Gregory, twice served as a trial juror and
eight times as a grand juror. Henry Smith of Morden served seven times as a trial juror and Robert Hewett of
Mitcham a total of 13 times as a trial juror. Professor Cockburn suggests that, although frequent jury service
might be due to public-spirit or to shrieval malpractice, there is a strong possibility that it might have been a result
of deputising for others, perhaps for money . a .juryman for hire. service!
The grand jury was a forerunner of the Crown Prosecution Service, determining whether the Crown had a
sufficient case to justify a trial. It also had powers to initiate proceedings, presenting offences known to jurors
personally or brought to their attention by the constables. These were mostly routine matters, such as repair of
roads and bridges, disorderly and unlicensed alehouses, drunkenness and other local nuisances.
The trial jury had the task of listening to the evidence and delivering their verdict. But they usually had between
six and eight cases to hear at one go, and only after that did they deliver their verdicts on each case! Unless they
had prodigious memories they would have been very dependent on the .guidance. given by the judge. Some did
go against the judge’s .advice. and were promptly punished severely. Not surprisingly, these were rare events!
Over the whole period of the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I there was a total of 2795 people arraigned in
Surrey . 2486 men and 386 women. Of these 60% of the men were convicted and 42% of the women. The jury
did have the power to bring in a partial verdict . for example reducing an offence from grand larceny to petty
However, not all those convicted were hanged. Men who could read (or a least could recite Psalm 51:1) could
claim benefit of clergy, and thereby have their sentence reduced to one year’s confinement in the house of
correction. This could, in principle, only be claimed once, so men were branded on their left thumb to alert future
courts to produce the previous record, if they could. 52% of male convicts in Surrey successfully claimed this
benefit over the two reigns. Women could not claim benefit of clergy at this time, but they could claim pregnancy.
This was confirmed or otherwise by a jury of matrons, though it would appear that successful claimants (55% of
female convicts in Surrey) were not always pregnant at the time of their conviction. Officially, pregnancy only
delayed execution, and some women were hanged after giving birth, and others died in gaol, but most were
released, often having served a discretionary gaol term of up to seven years.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 9
39% of male convicts and 23% of female convicts in Surrey were condemned to be hanged, though even these
might be reprieved and pardoned . the men, perhaps, to be conscripted into the army. Justices could recommend
a royal pardon, particularly in cases of accidental homicide, in which case the convict would remain in gaol until
the next .circuit. pardon was issued for the release of all reprieved felons in the gaols of that circuit, which took
place at intervals of three to five years. General pardons were not granted in cases of murder, highway robbery,
rape, house breaking or horse stealing. Individuals might be pardoned on grounds of pregnancy, contrition,
confession, turning king’s evidence, age (juveniles were often reprieved), or because the conviction was based
on weak evidence.
Indictments of inhabitants of Merton, Mitcham and Morden
(numbers in brackets are those that the editor has given to identify each entry)
Turning to local cases, grand larceny was the most frequent indictment, especially the stealing of livestock:
In March 1610 John Turnor of Mitcham, labourer, was found not guilty of stealing an iron-grey gelding (valued
at £4) from Edward Jones at Mitcham. (333)
In March 1613 Thomas Richards of Mitcham, labourer, was indicted for grand larceny. On 31 Dec. 1612 at
Mitcham he stole a bay horse (10s.) from an unknown man. He died in gaol before the case was heard. (573)
In March 1614 Isaac Homes of Mitcham, labourer, was found guilty of stealing 4 sheep (13s. 4d.) from Robert
Hewett at Mitcham, and was allowed benefit of clergy. (Robert Hewett was not a juror at this trial!) (645)
At the same assize John Broome of Merton was condemned to be hanged for stealing a bright-bay gelding (£4)
from William Wollascott and a brown-bay gelding from Edmund Wollascott in the previous August. (653)
In February 1618 Robert Peade and Edward Hawkins, labourers of Merton, were indicted for grand larceny.
On 20 Dec. 1617 at Merton they stole 2 black cows (£6) from Peter Snell. Peade was found guilty but allowed
benefit of clergy. Hawkins had died in gaol. (909)
In March 1619 Robert Levett of Abinger, and Gilbert Charleton of Shere, husbandmen, were indicted for
grand larceny. On 26 Sept. 1618 at Mitcham they stole 13 sheep (£3 18s.) from William Gilgrest. Levett was
found not guilty. Charleton was found guilty, but was allowed clergy. One wonders why they were so far from
In March 1621 William Cheyney of Mitcham, labourer, was found guilty of stealing 14 sheep (£4 13s. 4d.)
from George Godman at Mitcham. (1226) He was allowed benefit of clergy even though he had just been
convicted of a similar offence at Croydon! (1213)
In June 1621 Henry White of Mitcham, labourer, was found guilty of stealing a brown gelding (£1) from
Richard Carter at Mitcham. On 15 Apr. 1621 before Francis Mingay, JP, Walter Warrington, porter, and
Nicholas Forman, glover, of St Saviour, Southwark, entered recognizances to give evidence against White, and
on 18 Apr. before Sir Edmund Bowyer, JP, Richard Carter of Mitcham, miller, entered a recognizance for the
same purpose. White was condemned to be hanged. (1258)
In July 1623 Robert Stevens of Morden, labourer, was found not guilty of stealing a brown cow (£2) and a red
calf (5s.) from Edward Stile at Morden. (1488)
In March 1624 Francis Chittye of Mitcham, labourer, was indicted for grand larceny. On 1 July 1623 he stole
19 yards of cloth (10s.) from Thomas Rodes and 25 yds of cloth (£1) from Edward Honywood. He had died
before the assize took place, but apparently not in gaol. (1599)
In March 1625 Robert Ofeild of Mitcham, labourer, was indicted for grand larceny. On 29 Sept. 1623 at
Mitcham he stole a black cow (£2) from Evan Lloyd. He was found guilty, but was pardoned by general pardon.
There were also two cases of burglary, a crime for which there could be no claim to benefit of clergy:
In March 1622 William Waterton of Mitcham, labourer, was indicted for burglary. On 22 Sept. 1621 he
burgled the house of Judith Barnham, widow, at Mitcham and stole 2 cloaks (£2), 2 pairs of hose (£1), a hat
(5s.), a gold half-unit (11s.) and 12s. in money belonging to Robert Armstronge and a doublet (11d.) belonging
to Robert Newington. On 2 Jan. 1622 before Sir John Leigh, JP, Robert Newington of Mitcham, yeoman,
entered a recognizance to give evidence against Waterton, and on 3 Jan. before Sir Nicholas Throgmorton and
Sir John Leigh, JPs, William Baseley and Richard Crosley, husbandmen of Mitcham, entered recognizances
for his appearance. Waterton was found not guilty. (1307)
In July 1623 Robert Cotes of Mitcham, labourer, was indicted for burglary. On 16 Mar. 1623 he burgled the
house of Nicholas Tyler at Buckland and stole a flitch of bacon (10s.), a sack (1s.), a pair of shoes (1s.), a pair
of stockings (1s.), a knife (2d.), an ash staff (1d.), 1 lb of raisins (2d.), 1 lb. of currants (2d.) and 1 lb. of sugar
(2d.). He was found guilty and condemned to be hanged. (1485)
This offence seems minor, but Cotes had previously been accused of highway robbery and murder, and had
escaped conviction, despite three indictments and one guilty verdict as follows:
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 10
In July 1618 Robert Coates of Buckland, husbandman, had been indicted for murder. By an inquisition held at
Reigate, 23 June 1618, before Thomas Mun, coroner, on the body of William Dairye, a jury found that on 21
June at Reigate, Coates cut Dairye’s throat with a knife (2d.). However the jury found that he was not guilty,
naming .John Astrawe. as the killer. (A jury was not allowed to return a verdict of murder by persons unknown,
but could name a fictitious killer, such as .John Astrawe.). (967)
In March 1619 a new indictment was brought against Robert Coates of Reigate, husbandman. This time he
was indicted for highway robbery. On 21 June (1618) he assaulted William Darey in the highway at Reigate
and stole from him £2 in money. He was found guilty, but remanded without sentence because the court wished
to take advice on the indictment. (1007) At the next assizes the indictment was set aside because it did not clearly
show the year in which the offence was committed, and so his conviction was quashed. (1055)
In June 1619, the assize at which his previous conviction was quashed, he was indicted again for the same
offence. On 21 June 1618 he assaulted William Darye in the highway at Reigate and stole from him £2 in
money. On 17 June 1619 before Bostock Fuller, JP, Nicholas Tyler, yeoman, Robert Bell, husbandman, and
Richard Smith, husbandman, of Buckland, entered recognizances to give evidence against Coates; On 20 June,
Richard Felton of Betchworth, tailor, entered a recognizance for the same purpose; on 21 June, Matthew
Darye of Leigh, husbandman, Thomas Alchin of Betchworth, gent., John Brake of Reigate, surgeon, and
Sarah Westbrooke of Betchworth, spinster, entered recognizances for the same purpose; and on 22 June,
Thomas Woodman of Reigate, husbandman, and Agnes Westbrooke of Betchworth, spinster, entered
recognizances for the same purpose. But Coates was found not guilty. (1056)
Two other indictments for killing involved Mitcham residents:
In July 1614 Matthew Hawkesworth of Mitcham, yeoman, was indicted for felonious killing. On 13 Sept. 1611
at Mitcham he stabbed John Selman in the head with a dagger (1s.) and killed him. He was found guilty, but
allowed clergy. (701)
In March 1622 Anne Hore of Mitcham, spinster, was indicted for infanticide. On 5 Jan. 1622 at Mitcham she
gave birth to a female child which she immediately strangled. On 16 Jan. 1622 before Sir John Leigh, JP,
Margaret Smith, widow, Anne Smith, widow, Richard Tomson, Elizabeth Tomson, his wife, and John
Glover, labourer, of Mitcham, entered recognizances to give evidence against Hore. She was found not guilty.
Another case is referred to three times in the records among a list of discharged recognizances in March 1622.
Bail had been granted to the two defendants but no further details are given (1344):
John Mathewes of St Gregory by St Paul, London, shoemaker, George Monnrux of St Michael, London,
tailor, and William Stevens of Morden, husbandman, to give evidence against Hester Walducke and Lawrence
Dodd. Taken 20-22 Jan. 1622 by Sir John Leigh, JP.
Nicholas Mathewes and Humphrey Milles, husbandmen of Morden, for the appearance of Lawrence Dodd of
Morden, husbandman. Taken 22 Jan. 1622 by Sir Nicholas Throgmorton and Sir John Leigh, JPs.
Fulk Hughes, glover, and Abraham Horsely, tallow chandler, of St George, Southwark, for the appearance of
Hester Wallducke of Morden, spinster. Taken 1 Feb. 1622 by Sir Edmund Bowyer and Sir John Leigh, JPs.
One case of recusancy involved residents of Merton:
In July 1605 Dorothy Crosse, wife of Sir Robert Crosse, Mary White, spinster, and John Smythson,
yeoman, of Merton, were among several people indicted for recusancy. They were proclaimed according to
statute. (89) (Dorothy Crosse, of Merton Abbey, may have been the widow of Sir Gregory Lovell).
Grand Jury Presentments included an alehouse in Mitcham and road repairs in Merton:
In March 1614 the grand jury presented that .Evan Fludd of Mitcham, victualler, keeps several masterless men
in his house.. (691) and a writ was issued in July 1614 for the production of Evan Fludd of Mitcham, victualler,
at the next Surrey assizes, held in March 1615. (757)
In March 1620 Thomas Locke, gent, Mr Boroll, Thomas Hayle, gent, Michael Weston, gent, Mr Norton,
and Mr Hunte, all of Merton, and Mr Fenton and Mr Bland, of Wimbledon, were presented for defaulting on
their obligation to provide carts for highway repairs. (1135)
In July 1622 the grand jury presented that .the highways in Merton are greatly decayed and ought to be repaired
by the parish.. (1393)
In March 1623 this was followed by an indictment of the inhabitants of Merton for not repairing the highways
Writs were issued for the production of the inhabitants of Merton at the next Surrey assizes in July 1623 (1608)
and in March 1624. (1672)
So, although Mitcham had the most indictments for felonies, Merton’s inhabitants en masse found themselves on
the wrong side of the law!
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 11
BILL RUDD traces the story of
MORDEN’s POST OFFICE
Now that the Morden London Road post office is tucked away at the back of a shop, at 8 Morden Court Parade
I.ve been looking at my collection of directories to see when Morden got its first post office.
It was in 1891, and it was in Central Road. According to the 1891 census the P.O. clerk was Fanny Adam, the
daughter of Thomas Wilkie Adam, baker, and his wife Charity, except that by then her father was a widower. The
family, including a young son, Thomas Wilkie Jnr, were already living in Central Road in 1881. The four cottages
next to the bakery were built in 1875. The post office was on the opposite side of the road, next to the Plough beer
house. Both were swept away in the development of 1932/3.
The next post office was in London Road, by 1903, in one of the new-built Crown shops near the old Crown inn,
which had been built in 1840 after the disastrous and fatal fire the year before. The inn had a front balcony and
could have been an exchange point for mail coaches on the London-Epsom turnpike.
Like the one in Central Road this post office was described as a .town sub-post; M.O., S.B., and Annuity &
Insurance Office.. Charles Stent, sub-postmaster, was a baker. Letters were still arriving through Mitcham.
The Crown shops were already there in 1890, well placed for the housing development that took place at the end
of the century. It is unclear which of the three shops the post office was . probably the middle one. The matter was
solved with the arrival of the next occupant, Ernest Chennell and family, who we know were at No.2, though
Charles Stent was still around. Chennell was a grocer in addition to being sub-postmaster. He was the entrepreneur
who produced postcards of the local area, including two views of the shops, taken from opposite directions. One
also includes a bakery, a house called Rosaries, and the village club and reading-room. The shops stood tall, with
their upper floor front balcony and line of roof gables.
Ernest Chennell gave up the post office after 1927, but the family remained in residence. His wife Elizabeth
Hannah died on 17 November 1939 aged 80. Ernest died on 20 February 1949 aged 83. His daughter Elsie Marion,
living at Hall Cottage, Central Road, died on 12 May 1983 aged 90, leaving Morden a pictorial legacy.
The next post office was across Crown Road at 1 Mellish’s Terrace, a corner shop integral with the house, in
London Road, in 1928. The terrace was part of the end-of-the-century development. The first occupier was
William Cockbill, shopkeeper, in 1903. Two other shopkeepers followed, until George A Taylor in 1925, who took up
the post office from Mr Chennell.
The opening of the City and South London Railway terminus on Saturday 13 September 1926 (Ernest Chennell was
a guest) brought about the long line of shops on that side of London Road, and a complete renumbering, in due
course. The two sub-post offices remained where they were, in Central Road and London Road.
By 1934 the shops on the north or even-number side were complete from 2 to 86. There was a new Crown Inn. The
Crown shops were numbered 96, 98, 100, and the corner shop was No.120. On the south or odd-number side shops
stretched from No.9 to No.45. By 1936 the line was complete from No.1 to No.63. Shops were already in evidence
in Aberconway Road and Cinema Parade. Morden cinema was open. The first shop was open beyond the bridge over
the Underground railway, No.81, Morden Cycle Stores. And 89A,
a flat, with 89B, business premises in a tiny room over the covered
way to what later became York Close. The flat was entered by a
side door to No.89, which was in fact the new crown post office.
These last figures come from the electoral register for 1936, with
the most important qualifying date, 30 June.
The shop numbers on the odd side of Abbotsbury Road ran from
1 to 23. Then a large gap before shops Nos 33 and 35. The
reason for this gap is not known. The gap was eventually part
filled with shops Nos 29 and 31 complete, like most of the others,
with upper flats entered by flights of stairs at the back. No.27
appears in the electoral register effective dates 16 February 1959
to 15 February 1960. The all-important qualifying date was 10
October 1958. This was when the crown post office opened at
No.25. It took up two shop fronts, leaving access to Flat 27 on the
front right-hand side. The reason is clear. The large space at the
back of the post office allowed vans carrying mail and security
vehicles carrying money a safe place that could be secured.
Crown Post Office 25 Abbotsbury Road (1992) WJR
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 12
The war had stopped development on the odd side of London Road, which reached No.103. Alongside was an unnumbered
building which (from my remembrance as a postman of delivering letters there in 1952) was occupied by
Stanton Instruments. The line was eventually finished, rather different architecturally, to No.117.
The whole of the shopping centre, which included Morden Court Parade and Crown Lane, had survived the war
and the lingering elements of rationing. It recovered to become a thriving commercial community.
But then, slowly at first, but in increasing numbers, familiar shops began to close down. The end of leases may have
been a contributory factor. Whatever it was, a steady decline set in. The three-storey Co-op store was demolished
and replaced with an office block and a ground-floor supermarket. Cafés, restaurants and takeaways of every hue,
charity shops and increasing numbers of house agents took over. The cinema had disappeared. Morden acquired
two more public houses, and an amusement arcade. Attempts at recovery failed. Shops continue to change
management with monotonous regularity.
The shock came when it was announced that the post office was to close. People were surprised to find the
supermarket was setting up a site in the store. Protests followed and a petition circulated, but to no avail. By
November 1992 the local newspaper announced .Your New Post Office.. The advantage given was the longer
That should have been the end of it. After all other stores had been doing the same thing. We now know it was
doomed to failure. In 2005 the supermarket changed hands, but plans to close the post office were already in
process. The race was on to find alternative premises. In July T & T Food & Wine at 8 Morden Court Parade took
it over. Since then they have knocked down the dividing wall with No.7 (a brief charity shop) and doubled their size,
and appear to be doing well. Wish them luck.
JOHN DONNE . of Mitcham
The news that the National Heritage Memorial Fund has pledged £750,000 towards the purchase (for £1.4m) by
the National Portrait Gallery of a highly important portrait of John Donne is very welcome. At the time of writing
there is less than a tenth of the price still to find. The portrait was on display in the exhibition Searching for
Shakespeare which closed on 29 May.
Donne (1572-1631), poet, thinker, courtier, prose writer and
cleric, is arguably the most significant person, certainly the
greatest writer, to have lived in Mitcham. There are 97 quotations
from him in my edition of the Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations. .Batter my heart, three person’d God.; .Death
be not proud.; .O my America! My new-found-land.; .No
man is an Island . therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.. And many more.
Five years ago Eric Montague wrote an article for the Bulletin
(No.138) about Donne and his six-year residence in Mitcham,
from 1605 to 1611. Though the location of the cottage where
he lived with his wife and children has never been established
for certain, a drawing exists which shows the building which,
at least in the mid-19th century, was believed to have been
what Donne mournfully referred to as his .little thin house., his
.hospital., .prison., or .dungeon.. In fact, while resident at
Mitcham, Donne managed to escape pretty often. He kept
lodgings in London and maintained his membership of two clubs,
which he frequently attended, and whose meetings were certainly
convivial. Moreover his Mitcham years, though stressful, were
intensely creative, and saw the production of some of his finest work.
It was his family, hard up and socially isolated, who had the more dreary time in the Mitcham years. Poor Ann
bore 12 children in her short life. The last, stillborn, was buried with her in 1617. She was 33. R C Bald in his
John Donne: a Life OUP (1970) tells us something of the four children born and baptised at Mitcham. They
were Francis, baptised in January 1607, who lived less than seven years and was buried at St Clement Danes;
Lucy, baptised in August 1608, who died suddenly at the age of 18 and was buried at Camberwell; Bridget,
baptised in December 1609, who married Thomas Gardiner of Camberwell and bore at least one child; and
Mary, baptised in January 1611, who died aged three, and was buried at St Clement Danes. JG
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 13
TONY SCOTT outlines the history of
SS PETER & PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH, MITCHAM
(Some of the material which follows was included in Tony Scott’s article .The effect of the Oxford Movement
on Mitcham. which appeared in Bulletin No.152)
The Catholic church in Mitcham stands in Cranmer Road at its junction with Madeira Road and Cricket
Green. It is virtually opposite the stone obelisk which commemorates the finding of water in 1822 at a time
of severe drought. The present church was opened on 2 July 1889 amid great celebrations, but Catholicism
had been re-established in Mitcham nearly 40 years before that.
The Simpson family
Mitcham had become a Mass centre as long ago as 1853, when William Simpson (Jun.) and his wife
Winifred invited the chaplain of the Faithful Virgin Convent, Upper Norwood, which had been established
some five years earlier, to ride over to their house each Sunday to celebrate Mass.1 At that time they lived
in one of the houses at the Cricket green, probably Elm Lodge.2
William Simpson was born in 1819, the eldest son of William and Emily Simpson. Before her marriage the
previous year, his mother was Emily Cranmer, a member of the family who had been lords of the manor of
Mitcham Canons since 1656. The role of lord of the manor fell to William (Sen.) upon the death of his
brother-in-law in 1828, but even prior to that date, he and his wife Emily were resident at The Canons, and
brought up their four children there.
The family were all members of the Church of England, but when William (Jun.), the eldest son, went off
to Trinity College, Cambridge, he became interested in the Catholic faith and was received into the Church
in 1843. At about this time he married Winifred, daughter of Sir Edward Mostyn of Talacre in Flintshire,
North Wales. The next son, Richard, went to Oriel College, Oxford, graduated and became an ordained
clergyman of the Church of England. He returned to Mitcham in 1844 at the age 24 to become the vicar of
Mitcham, a post under the patronage of his parents. Probably as a result of the Oxford movement of
Anglo-Catholicism, partly led by John Henry Newman, Richard resigned the living in 1846, and within a
month was received into the Catholic Church together with his wife.
The youngest son Robert was born in 1825 and at the age of 17 went to St John’s College, Oxford, where
he too became influenced by the Oxford Movement and became a Catholic in 1845, subsequently being
ordained a Catholic priest. The only daughter of William and Emily Simpson and the youngest of the family
was also named Emily. She was received into the Catholic Church in 1848 at the age of 22, and four years
later entered the Franciscan Convent at Taunton where she remained until her death in 1883.
The early days
From early in 1853 regular Sunday Mass was offered in the drawing room of William and Winifred’s home,
Elm Lodge. After a few years they moved to the Manor House, a substantial property on the east side of
London Road in a location now occupied by the Justin Plaza office block. Mass was said in an outbuilding
of their house, and this was probably also used as a schoolroom, for while at Elm Lodge Winifred Simpson
had started a small school class and had obtained some equipment from the sisters at Norwood.3 The
numbers at the 10am Mass on Sundays grew steadily, with the congregation coming from miles around,
since the nearest adjacent missions were at Croydon, Norwood, Wandsworth and Surbiton.
By 1857 plans were advanced for the erection of a chapel4 on land given by William Simpson (Jun.) which
he had acquired in 1840, possibly as a 21st-birthday present from his parents. During 1861-2 a small brick
chapel and a wooden building to serve as a schoolroom1 were erected on this land at a total cost5 of £409,
which was paid by William Simpson (Jun.).6 The location was next to the Tate almshouses in Cricket
Green, where the playground of SS Peter & Paul’s Catholic Primary School is today. The first resident
Catholic priest in Mitcham, from May 1862 to October 1863, was Fr Robert Simpson, youngest son of the
lord of the manor, who, quite possibly, lived with his parents in The Canons.
The chapel and the wooden schoolroom continued in use for their respective functions for over 25 years
even though the schoolroom had been built as a temporary structure. By 1883 the school had expanded to
about 50 pupils, and it was realised by many people, not least H.M. Inspector of Schools, that the building
was inadequate and in a state of disrepair. As a result, from February 1886 the schoolroom was transferred
to the chapel during the week, with Mass still being held there on Sundays. Furniture had to be moved in
and out as the occasion demanded. This arrangement was sanctioned by the Inspector for two years only,
expiring in May 1888.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 14
The new church
By this date it had already been decided by Fr Thomas Revill, the .parish priest., to build a new and larger
church, and permanently convert the existing chapel into a schoolroom. Early in 1887 he had written to
William and Winifred Simpson, who had temporarily moved to Torquay, possibly on account of William’s
health, asking for their help in obtaining a site for a new church. Winifred initially offered the present site
to the Diocese on a 99-year lease at a rent of £3 per annum, but later decided to give the site to the church.
The surveyor of the site was Robert Masters Chart, a local man, who had just completed the design for the
Vestry Hall. He wrote to the Catholic Bishop of Southwark John Butt7 in November 1887 offering his
services as architect of the new church, but he was not chosen. Instead it seems that a Diocesan decision
was taken to employ experienced church architect Frederick Arthur Walters of 4 Great Queen Street,
Bloomsbury, who, the previous year, had designed the Catholic church in Wimbledon. Eventually a simplified
design in soft yellow London stock bricks, with a hammer beam style roof covered in tiles was agreed and
tenders for the work were invited.
The cheapest estimate, from Buckle & Wheeler of Abingdon, Berkshire, was chosen. This was for a total
sum of £21998, a small fraction of the £33,000 which the Sacred Heart church at Wimbledon cost. Later
various fittings, such as altar, altar rail, benches and confessional were ordered.9 It is not known when the
site was cleared of the small cottages and the foundations dug, but we may surmise it was September/
October 1888. In October Mr C Temple Layton, a leading parishioner who lived at The Croft, Commonside
East, wrote to Bishop Butt offering to provide a belfry costing £52 10s 0d and a suitable set of three bells,
in addition to his promised £500 donation towards the cost of the whole building work.10 After some
correspondence this offer was accepted by the bishop.
On 2 July 1889 the church was formally opened by the Bishop of Southwark in the company of two canons
and 12 priests. After the ceremony the bishop, clergy and visitors were entertained to luncheon by Mr and
Mrs Temple Layton. During the afternoon and on the following day a fête and fair were held in the grounds
adjoining The Croft.
The cost of the church
and presbytery, about
£2350, although initially
paid by the diocese, was
eventually all repaid by
the parish. For many
years summer fêtes and
Christmas bazaars were
held to pay off the debt.
Slowly it reduced, with
typically £50 being raised
per event. An indication
of the time required is the
fact that the consecration
of the church as a whole,
which could not take
place until it was free of
debt, was not held until
Sadly, William Simpson, whose wife Winifred had given the land for the new church, never saw it completed,
for he died in June 1888 at the age of 69. It is not recorded that Winifred donated towards the building
costs, but it would seem out of character if she had not done so. Her son William Francis Joseph Simpson
married Mary Herbert in January 1891 aged 28 and resided in Mitcham. He and his wife became great
benefactors of the parish, and he was a manager of the school from November 1895 until September 1917.
After the first World War he made an annual allowance of £50 to the priest towards the running expenses
of the parish.11 This donation was continued by his son Philip Witham Simpson after William died in 1932.
The P W Simpson Trust was set up in 1961 to perpetuate this annual donation, and even though Philip
Simpson died in 1964 the Trust currently gives £500 per annum to the parish. A tablet marking the connection
of William and Mary Simpson with the parish, and their outstanding generosity, can be seen in the church
from the cover of the centenary booklet
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 15
A few major alterations have taken place in the church over the last 100 years. As the population of Mitcham
grew there was a need to enlarge the church, and in July 1938 a new sanctuary, lady chapel and confessional
were built so as to enable the congregation to expand to fill the whole floor area of the original church. The gas
lighting was replaced by electricity in 1933. As a direct result of the Second Vatican Council the altar was moved
so that the priest could face the congregation, and the sanctuary remodelled in the late 1960s. An additional
entrance at the front was constructed in the centenary year of 1989. It is interesting to contemplate what
changes might be made in the next 100 years.
References . All items are in the R C Diocese of Southwark archives unless indicated otherwise.
Robert Simpson A History of the Mitcham Mission (c. August 1879)
Merton Local Studies Centre: Tom Francis Lecture Notes of Old Mitcham p.67
As recorded in .The Mission of Mitcham . the first 40 years., written in 1951 by an unknown author; in SS Peter & Paul Catholic Primary
Letter to Bishop Thomas Grant, dated 19 October 1857, signature missing
Letter to Bishop James Danell, dated 9 August 1879 from Rev Robert Simpson
Letter to Bishop Thomas Grant, dated 1 July 1862 from Rev Robert Simpson
Letter to Bishop John Butt, dated 24 November 1887 from R M Chart
Letter to Bishop John Butt, dated 18 June 1888 from F A Walters
Invoice to Bishop John Butt, dated 23 August from F A Walters
10. Various letters between Bishop John Butt and Mr C Temple Layton
11. Various Episcopal Visitation reports on Mitcham (1916-1923)
We should like the Bulletin regularly to publish studies of places of worship in our area. As the old
parish churches have been well covered elsewhere, our emphasis ought to be on the newer Church
of England churches, the Roman Catholic churches and the non-Conformist chapels (we have .done.
Morden’s mosque). We are grateful to Tony Scott for this article, and readers will recall that a few
years ago Ray Ninnis wrote a very fine account of the history and architecture of St Olave, Mitcham.
If anyone feels inspired to write about their local church or chapel please get in touch with the editor.
A CHANCE TO VISIT BLENHEIM
For his WEA branch Ray Kilsby is arranging a coach trip on Sunday 3September to Blenheim. He expects
to have some vacancies to offer to MHS members. There would be a pick-up point in Morden. A visit to a
bus museum, which also houses some Morris cars, is included. Cost £22.
PETER McGOW and the Wandle mills.
Peter McGow of Croydon has been for many years
researching the Wandle mills in a systematic way, making
extensive use, in particular, of insurance policies and
bankruptcy notices, which, as source material, have been
under-used in the past. He is always very generous with
his information and has helped many local historians in
the Wandle valley. Now he has deposited a copy of his
unpublished Notes on the Wandle Mills with the Wandle
Industrial Museum. He has also permitted the Museum
to scan the notes and place them on their website .
www.wandle.org . where they can be freely consulted.
Copyright is shared between the author and the Museum.
Contact the Museum if you wish to consult the printed
copy of this wonderfully informative dossier.
Mitcham Bridge from Glover’s Snuff Mill . print c.1800
Letters and contributions for the Bulletin should be sent to the Hon. Editor. The views expressed in this
Bulletin are those of the contributors concerned and not necessarily those of the Society or its Officers.
Printed by Peter Hopkins
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 159 . SEPTEMBER 2006 . PAGE 16