A fuller history of what has been called “one of the most beautiful churches in Surrey” is available on the Epsom & Ewell local history website which has links to not only much material about our various memorials but also transcripts of our old Baptism and Wedding records of potential use to family historians and other researchers.
THE FIRST CHRIST CHURCH
As Epsom grew in the 1800s, houses were built further and further from St Martin’s – on the east of the town – which was the parish church for the whole Epsom area. To serve the population in and around the Common, St Martin’s established the first Christ Church in 1843 (on the site of the nearby Scout HQ) as a small “Chapel of Ease”.
The initial temporary structure was replaced in 1845 by the red-brick building shown below – a rare 1860s picture by George Snashall, Epsom’s pioneering early photographer.
As the local population grew, Christ Church became a free-standing parish in 1874 and Chapel was replaced by the present much larger building in 1876. The red-brick Christ Church was then demolished. The only remnants are sections of its flint boundary wall around the Scout HQ and, in the grass immediately outside the present church’s main entrance, one of the stone crosses from its roof.
THE TROTTERS OF HORTON MANOR
A key figure in our history is Miss Elizabeth Trotter of Horton Manor, then one of the largest estates in the area. She campaigned hard for the first Christ Church to become a parish in its own right. Although unsuccessful in her lifetime, she left what was then a substantial legacy of £8,000 to fund the larger church building that was needed for the growing numbers in the area – but on the time-limited condition that it would be for that new parish.
On Elizabeth’s death in 1868, Horton Manor passed to her nearest blood relative, niece Mary Elizabeth Brown, daughter of her late sister Ann. Mary Elizabeth and her husband William fulfilled the condition that the family changed its surname from Brown to Trotter, and this William (now Trotter) vigorously continued Elizabeth's campaign. He achieved success with the 1874 Order in Council creating the new parish. This released Miss Trotter’s legacy and preparations began for the new building, as described further below.
William continued active in the life of Christ Church until his death in 1887. Horton Manor then passed to his son William Sampson Trotter. He was also active in Christ Church but, in 1892, sold the estate and moved to the West Country.
(After a couple more changes of ownership, London County Council bought Horton Manor and the estate in 1900 for development as part of the “Epsom Cluster” of mental hospitals – one of Europe’s largest. Those hospitals closed during the 1990s and early 2000s, and the sites developed for housing. The enlarged Horton Manor still stands as Canterbury House at the centre of Manor Park, and the Trotter connection is remembered in the nearby Trotter Way.)
THE PRESENT BUILDING AND ITS OPENING
The present building was designed by the eminent Victoria architect Arthur Blomfield who, perhaps more than coincidentally, was related by marriage to William Trotter. Sir Arthur (as he later became) also designed the chapel at Epsom College and is probably best known for London’s Royal College of Music, behind the Royal Albert Hall.
The new building was consecrated on Wednesday 18 October 1876 by the Bishop of Winchester – within whose Diocese Epsom came at the time. (Our present Diocese of Guildford was created in 1927.) While this was a memorable service, it was partly for the wrong reason: the newly-commissioned heating apparatus malfunctioned, and half a dozen choristers fainted in the oppressive heat!
Miss Trotter’s legacy proved insufficient to complete the planned building. On its consecration, it was missing both the South Aisle (on the side of the church facing the Common) and the upper part of the Tower.
The South Aisle was added in 1879, three years after the consecration. This was generously funded by Lord Rosebery, a high-profile figure in Victorian and Edwardian social, horse-racing and political circles. (Amongst many other things, he was Prime Minister in 1894-95.) He was a regular worshipper at Christ Church until his death in 1929.
After fund-raising, the Tower was completed in 1887 and, thanks to yet further fund-raising, a peal of bells was commissioned and hung in 1890. (At a total weight of nearly three tons, they eventually proved to be too heavy for the supporting structure and, in 1992, were changed for a lighter set that continues to be rung at least weekly.)
Click here for a detailed article on the Local History website about the bells.
The clock was installed in 1891 in memory of Isaac Braithwaite of the then Hookfield House. The high-maintenance mechanism was replaced by a radio-controlled electric system in 2004.
Originally, the church had no Hall, and rented a “Guild Room” in West Street for meetings. After a fund-raising drive, a new “Church Room” – opened by Lord Rosebery in 1899 – was built towards the foot of West Hill. However, its location hampered the development of work with children and families. To better serve our mission, a new Hall was built alongside the church, opening in 1986. The cost was met by the sale of the old hall (which now houses the Epsom Christian Fellowship and Cornerstone School) and the original Verger’s House in West Hill, together with the generosity of the congregation.
After what was then called the Great War, the North Transept (originally filled with pews facing into the Chancel – and which Lord Rosebery and his family regarded as their private chapel) was converted into a Memorial Chapel, with the WW1 memorial forming the reredos of the new altar. The dedication of the new Chapel in 1920 was among the last acts in the Parish of the Revd Henry Bowles (Vicar 1912-20) whose only son, Reginald, was one of those listed on the memorial. The Chapel also contains a WW2 memorial that was dedicated in 1950.
Clicking on the links above will lead to detailed articles on the Local History website about the war memorials – each of which has further links to biographies of the parishioners (115 in total) listed on them.
Christ Church is blessed with many fine decorative features, many of which were given as memorials. The extensive stained glass was almost all installed before 1900 – the principal exception being the East Window over the High Altar which was installed in the 1950s to replace the original window that was damaged beyond repair by enemy action in 1941.
Clicking on the links above will lead to detailed articles on the Local History website about the memorials and stained glass - including biographies of the individuals memorialised.
Perhaps the most striking features on entering the church are: the mural over the Chancel arch (in memory of the Revd George Willes, the first Vicar 1874-81); and, under it, the Rood Screen (in memory of William Sampson Trotter) through which is seen the exquisite mosaic work behind the High Altar and around the East Window in memory of his parents, William and Mary Elizabeth Trotter.
As noted earlier, Christ Church began as a Chapel of Ease for St Martin’s. In 1899, Christ Church established its own Chapel of Ease, called St Barnabas, on Hook Road to serve the growing population in the developing north of the town. Numbers became such that, in 1909, the church moved from the initial temporary structure into its new building in Temple Road, and became a free-standing parish in 1917.
In 1908, Christ Church took under its wing – as St Michael’s – the Mission Church in Woodlands Road serving those living to the south of Epsom’s centre. However, disrepair of the corrugated iron building and falling congregations led to its closure in 1956 and subsequent demolition.
In 1970, the Wells Church was established by a former Christ Church Curate. This later became an ecumenical church but, in 1988, came formally back into the parish as “Christ Church on the Wells”, a community church serving the Wells and Ebbisham estates. Following the Borough Council's December 2015 decision to close and redevelop the Wells Social Centre (in which Christ Church on the Wells met) weekly services were suspended there from Easter 2016.
THE 1990s “REORDERING”
To prepare for the needs of a 21st century congregation, the church interior was substantially but sympathetically “reordered” between 1987 and 1995. To allow for more flexible seating, the Victorian pews were replaced with chairs. A new dais was built to provide a central setting for celebrating Holy Communion from a new nave altar. The lobby’s inner dark oak doors were replaced by the glazed doors and archway which, with other new glazing, made the previously gloomy west end of the church more welcoming.
The overall result is a sympathetic blend of a fine Victorian church with modern furnishings. This facilitates our wide range of worship styles and provides a splendid setting within which we face the challenge of our Vision Statement
VICARS OF CHRIST CHURCH
The first Christ Church (1843-74) was a Chapel of Ease to St Martin's and came under its then Vicar, the Revd Benjamin Bradney Bockett. Vicars of the separate parish of Christ Church have been:
Revd George Willes 1874-1881
Revd Canon Archer Hunter 1881-1911
Revd Henry Bowles 1912-1920
Revd Neville Stiff 1921-1923
Revd Francis Hooke 1923-1925
Revd Lionel Mylrea 1926-1936
Revd John Matthews 1937-1940
Revd Hugh McMullan 1940-1947
Revd Canon Edward Robins 1947-1960
Revd Richard Falkner 1960-1966
Revd Derek Bedford 1966-1981
Revd Mark Wilson 1981-1996
Revd Jeremy Anderson 1996-2000
Revd Andrew Facey 2001-2010
Revd Rosemary Donovan 2011-
Biographies of all Christ Church’s Vicars, up to and including the Revd Mark Wilson, are available via the links on the Local History website.