Edward Henry Williams, the Parish Clerk
Edward Henry Williams was born in 1824 and moved to Ewell as a teenager, following in his father’s trade of gardener. In 1856 he was appointed as parish clerk of St. Mary’s, a post which he occupied for 41 years, keeping records for most of this time. Williams’ notebook was handed down for many years in the family, and was shown to the parish office in 1946. At present it is in the hands of John Shapley, who has kindly supported the preparation of a microfiche copy which will be available for consultation by researchers at Bourne Hall Library.
The notebook contains details of burials at St. Mary’s until 1889. Williams may have originally intended it as a practical record of details which affected the scale of fees, such as whether the deceased was from inside or outside the parish. However, he took the opportunity to note other information, such as the cause of death – including the first person to die of a railway accident, at the Gibraltar crossing of the Ewell West line. The deaths of members of his own family were heavily ringed in black ink, often accompanied by remarks on the good qualities of the dead.
Williams’ skills were not confined to his duties as parish clerk, since he was gardener for Sir George Glyn at Glyn House. It was in this capacity, as a memorandum in his notebook shows, that he went to Woking, to the nursery of Messrs. Waterer and Godfrey, where he bought evergreen shrubs and trees. These were to ornament the two churchyards, old and new. The trees, which were paid for by public subscription, arrived in the winter of 1857, less than ten years after the old church had been demolished. One of the yew trees was planted inside the outline of the old building, where the Bray chantry had been.
It is now 7’ 4” in girth (measured at three feet above the ground) and other yews from this planting range in girth from 4’ 8” through 6’ 5” to 8’ 10”. The largest of the set, growing by the Bridges’ tombs, has a girth of 10’ 6”: an impressive increase in 143 years, particularly when one considers that yews are meant to be slow-growing.
Edward Williams’ book was brought to the attention of local historians by the late Maurice Exwood, whose book, The Churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Ewell, had already aroused interest in the topic. Williams makes a cameo appearance in Cloudesley Willis’ memories of church-going in the 1870s, following Sir George out of the vestry ‘and rolling his eyes from side to side, in a way that made us children behave ourselves’. It is good to know that seventy years later, with the generous assistance of Mr. Shapley, it has been possible to find out a little more about someone who must have been one of the characters of Victorian Ewell.