The early history of the church in Britain is somewhat obscure. The earliest date suggested by historians is AD 14–37 and during the last century of Roman occupation (until 410) the religion was nominally Christianity. There were Bishops of London and York mentioned in 314 but the English Church really dates from the consecration of Augustine as the Archbishop of the English at Canterbury on November 16th 597, following the conversion of King Æthelbert in the same year. He conquered the Angles, Mercians, South Saxons, East and West Saxons and Christianity was said to have been the first bond uniting these kingdoms.
By 889 there is a reference to ‘mynsterhames’ or ‘mother churches’ in Surrey and it is suggested in the Victorian County History of Surrey that as the four ancient deaneries of Surrey were Croydon, Southwark, Guildford and Ewell, these places also contained the central churches of the deaneries to which all worshippers had to go at least once a year. John Aubrey reports a local tradition that there had once been seven churches in Ewell before the Danish invasions, but these were probably the seven daughter churches in the Deanery of Ewell.
There was an Anglo-Saxon tradition that the right of presenting parsons belonged to the men who built and endowed the church. The church in Ewell was built on land which the Abbot of Chertsey claimed to have held since 675 although it is unlikely that the church would have been built much before 889. The church was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but many of the timber churches were omitted, and Philip Shearman suggests that one of the two churches listed under Epsom may have been in Ewell since both were held by the Abbot of Chertsey. The Church at Leatherhead was stated to belong to the Royal Manor of Ewell in the Domesday Book.
The earliest documentary reference is 1190 when Pope Clement III issued a Papal bull giving permission for the Abbot of Chertsey to retain the benefices of Ewell and Epsom amongst a number of others. In 1194 William de Alezun, described as ‘Vicar of Ewell’, asked the Abbot to defend his right to a messuage and wall in Ewell, pleading that he had already successfully defended this previously, and in 1230 a Henry de Ecclesia of Ewell is mentioned in the Fitznells cartulary.
The late Mr. H. Veal in his history of St. Mary’s mentions Robert Anketil as Rector of Ewell but does not mention the source of his information. He also refers to the discovery of 11th and 12th century work when the old church was demolished in 1848 (leaving the old medieval tower still standing).
The first Register of John de Pontessara, Bishop of Winchester 1282–1304, records the admission of Alexander Rayner to the Rectory of Ewell on 8th May 1290 and on 7th April 1300 the Bishop entrusted the Office of Penitentiary in the Archdeaconry of Surrey to Magistro (Master) Alexander, Rector of Ewell. A rector was entitled to use the prefix Master if he had graduated at a university and held a degree in the arts. An earlier reference to Ewell in this Register occurred in 1286 when a list of churches and chapels in the Diocese of Winchester was compiled including the ecclesia de Ewell.
The Register of Henry Woodlock (Bishop of Winchester 1305–16) contains a number of references to Ewell or to the Deanery of Ewell. In 1305 Alexander, Rector of Ewell, and John, Rector of Lambeth, were commissioned as the bishop’s proctors to demand and receive from the king’s justices clerks imprisoned in the county of Surrey. All the clergy had the right to be tried in an ecclesiastical court if charged with a civil offence and should be handed over to the bishop’s proctors on demand.
On 25th December 1309 a Papal mandate was issued for Alexander to exchange with Gerard de St. Cirico, Vicar of Farnham, but he was still at Ewell in July 1310. On 12th October 1310 an Alexander of Ewell was sued for attacking William of Stavele, but whether this was is not stated. Gerard was in possession by 22nd September 1311 as recorded in Woodlock’s Register and also the Papal Registers and the Close Rolls.