Some of the work of the Ewell Vestry between 1780 and 1894
Church Vestries played a vital part in running the affairs of parishes until their work was taken over in 1894 by parish councils. Documentation is available in the Documentary Group papers on the work of the Ewell Vestry from about 1780 to 1894. Much of the work was taken up with matters directly relating to St. Mary’s Church – repairs, improvements and beautification of the fabric of the old and, later, the new church, and the appointment of church officers, church workers and National School headmasters. They also dealt with the election of parish officers, the allocation of bequests and the appointment of Overseers of the Poor. Various Acts of Parliament such as the Act of Settlement, the Poor Laws and measures for the upkeep of roads also had to be acted upon.
The Ewell Vestry met at least four times a year and the minutes of the meetings were recorded by the Vestry Clerk. The Vicar or a churchwarden usually chaired the meeting and the other members of the Vestry were drawn from the local gentry and leading business people.
The following is a selection of items dealt with, other than church matters, between 1780 and 1894, when many of the responsibilities of the Vestry were taken over by a Parish Council, and show the variety of decisions that were made.
Subscriptions were raised to provide one or two men for the Navy.
King George III requested that well-to-do people in all parts of the country assuage the plight of the poor and ‘midling’ classes by cutting down on their intake of bread. Measures suggested that the consumption of bread should be reduced to one quartern loaf (i.e. a 4lb loaf) per person per week. Flour should not be used for pastry and the feeding of oats to horses should be restricted.
The sum of £73 18s was raised in Ewell to celebrate George III’s Golden Jubilee. This was spent on bread and beef. There was also residual cash. Money and food were distributed by a special committee.
The killing of sparrows was rewarded by churchwardens who paid for them at the rate of 2d per dozen birds. It was considered that the birds destroyed too much grain. In 1831 the practice was discontinued ‘for the time being’.
The Watch House in Church Street was deemed dangerous and in need of repair.
The Vestry was able to insist on road and footpath repairs being carried out in the parish by the Turnpike Trusts.
Repairs were required to the road from Howell Hill to the village.
The footpath from the Bulls Head Inn to the Green Man needed repair.
Repairs had to be carried out in Church Street. This was left in a neglected state when the new line of road was adopted in the village in 1834.
Attempts to get the Vestry to agree to change in local affairs often ended in delay or total failure. Clearly, at times, the Ewell Vestry disliked any alteration in time-honoured practices:
The Vestry turned down a request for street lighting in the village.
The Vestry resolved not to support the Local Government Act of 1858.
A request from George Torr of Garbrand Hall to partially enclose the horse pond, widen the road and build a new bridge was rejected.
The Vestry was adamant that the parish should not be grouped with any other parish or that the parish should be divided into wards. They also would not accept the Epsom Sanitary Authority’s proposal that Ewell sewage should be amalgamated with sewage from Cheam and Cuddington at the Old Malden outfall.
However, some actions were more positive:
An oil lamp was installed in Church Street.
A request was made by the Vestry for a police station to be set up in Ewell. Frequent complaints were made between 1807 and 1853 of disorderly behaviour on Sundays, particularly in The Grove and West Street. The request was turned down.
Mr. Haynes, a builder, was appointed as Inspector of Public Nuisances under an Act of 1855. Between 1857 and 1861 two complaints were made of pollution of the Hogsmill River. The first alleged that water had been discharged from Mr. Yuill’s washing factory in Spring Street into the Spring, making it impure. The second came from Hall & Davidson, millers, who stated that sewage was leaking into the river. In the last instance the people concerned were advised to revert to having cesspools on their premises.
The boundaries of Ewell Parish were defined.
It was decided to purchase a new fire engine. It had been reported in 1856 that the old fire engine needed repair.
The Vestry asked the magistrates not to extend the licence for the production of cartridges at the Gunpowder Mills. In 1875 the mills were closed completely.
It is apparent that the Vestry worked hard and conscientiously to provide Ewell with what it considered to be an appropriate lifestyle. At times it appeared to be reactionary, but much of what it achieved was praiseworthy and even far sighted.