St. Mary’s ‘blackboard’ and the 1999 afternoon sermon
The Charities Board on the wall of the north aisle of St. Mary the Virgin, Ewell, which sets out charitable bequests made for the relief and education of the poor in the ancient parish of Ewell (including the liberty of Kingswood, of which more anon), was 150 years old on Good Friday 1999. The board states unequivocally that it was made on ‘April 2 1849’. This date was just over seven months after the consecration of the ‘new church’. One wonders whether this was a one-off idea of the then Vicar and churchwardens, or whether there had been something similar in the old church which had become worm-eaten and decrepit, as the new board itself was to become just over 100 years later.
The board bears at the end the names of the five people who were at that time mainly responsible for administering the charities listed. First came the Vicar, ‘The Revd. Sir George L. Glyn, Bart.’, the man largely responsible for the new church. He was then in his eighteenth year as Vicar, with another thirty-two or so still to come! Since his brother died nine years before, he had also been a baronet and the local squire, a position he was to hold for thirty six years until his death in 1885.
The first churchwarden named was William Hobman. As Cloudesley Willis tells us in his Short History of Ewell and Nonsuch, William Hobman occupied Rectory Farm House which, until 1905, lay between the old church tower and the new church. He is best known as the uncle of William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite painter (whose middle name was originally Hobman but became Holman). Holman Hunt of course knew Ewell well and in 1847, before the birth of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, had painted for Sir George Glyn, a picture of Ewell Old Church months before its demolition. Subsequently, between 1851 and 1853, he was to create The Light of the World, drawing on scenes in and around Ewell; a reproduction of this work now hangs in St. Mary’s, only a few feet away from the Charities Board naming his uncle.
The second churchwarden named was Stephen Marfleet. Willis’s history says he was a grocer with a shop in the present Cheam Road, which was then called South Street. Barbara Abdy, in her publication Victorian Ewell Revealed through the Census, mentions Stephen as being charge of the shop until his death in 1885, when the business was taken over by his son Frederick, then aged 51.
The final two names on the board are those of Henry Playford and Frederick White, who are described as ‘Overseers’ – that is, Overseers of the Poor. Such overseers date back to the Elizabethan Poor Law and were responsible, with the churchwardens, for the relief of the poor of the parish, for the administration of the poor rate and also for the administration of parochial charities intended for the poor. By 1849 much of the overseers’ work had been affected by the 1834 Poor Law Act under which able bodied poor were only able to get help through Workhouses based on unions of parishes – in this area based on Epsom.
What this group of five oversaw was a range of benefactions listed on the board. A description of each is contained in Charles Abdy’s A History of Ewell. Suffice it now to take one example, where the board tells us (with abbreviations expanded):–
‘Mr. Thomas Brumfield’s Charities. Late School Master of Ewell. £404 12s 5d (of) 3 per cent Consols in the names of Sir J.R. Reid, Bart., James Andrew and Thomas Stowers. The yearly dividend of £12 2s. 8d. is received by the Vicar for preaching Afternoon Sermons. Also 5 shares in the Sun Life Office amounting to £32 10s. 0d. yearly and 5 shares in the Sun Life Office realising £6 yearly, for the education of 10 Poor Boys and the Clothing of 6 Poor Widows to be elected yearly by a Majority in Vestry Assembled’.
This charity was established in 1773 and in 1784 the Vestry agreed to erect a memorial to Thomas Brumfield which can now be seen on the north wall of the present church in the new Welcome Area, above the hymnbook shelves. Economically the memorial also refers, at the top, to Helena Fendall who in 1799 died aged 99 and founded another charity named on the board. She is also to be remembered for another benefaction; she left £100 for making and fixing a clock in the church tower which was set up in 1800, transferred to the new church tower in 1848, and still serves us today.
Over the years since 1849 the various charities named on the board have been subject to adjustments under new charity legislation. They are now mostly administered by the Ewell Parochial Trust and I am grateful to the present Clerk and Treasurer, Geoffrey Berry, for much help on this article. Thomas Brumfield’s charity is still recognisable. The first charge on the income from the funds is still an annual payment of £12 to the Vicar of St. Mary’s and the objective is the preaching of afternoon sermons. The balance is split between two schemes run by the Ewell Parochial Trust for, firstly, Relief of Need, and secondly, Educational Need.
In 1897 it was decided that these ‘good causes’ related to the ‘Ancient Parish of Ewell’. This covers most of the present ecclesiastical parish (but not the part which was in the old parish of Cuddington) and also several new ecclesiastical parishes, including All Saints, West Ewell and St Francis, Ruxley Lane. But it also covers the liberty of Kingswood, which runs from near Kingswood Station to the escarpment above Reigate. This is because from Saxon times until 1838, the liberty formed part of the parish of Ewell: corpses from Kingswood were often brought to Ewell for burial. Fortunately, the trustees now do have a power, ‘in exceptional cases’ to help people who live outside the Ancient Parish. The scope of the Ancient Parish does, however, explain why the present Trustees include, in addition to the Vicar of Ewell and others, representatives from the Borough of Reigate and Banstead as well as the Borough of Epsom & Ewell. History is still alive and well!
But we are lucky to have kept the Charities Board intact. During church restoration in 1954, it was noted that the board, then hanging in the Vestry, was worm-eaten and it was quickly put outside the church. The Trustees of the Charities advised that the board should be restored and agreed to contribute to refixing the Board in a suitable position in the church. It seems, from Alick Lewer’s 1972 guide to the church and the village, that it was placed ‘on the stairs leading to the Gallery’. This may have been fortunate because, in its present position in the north aisle, it would have been damaged or destroyed in the 1973 fire which gutted the north aisle as well as the old vestry. Its present position does, however, make it very eye catching to those who come to look. It is a reminder to us all that past benefactions can live on if they are adapted to new circumstances.
It has to be admitted, however, that time has been allowed to erode the value of the £12 allocated by Mr. Brumfield in the eighteenth century to pay the Vicar for his afternoon sermons.