East & West Molesey

A Dictionary of Local History

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1972

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Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin (EM)

A church is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being at Molesey, which was almost certainly on the site of the present St. Mary's. No details of this building have been preserved. It was probably small and built of wood. A more solid church or mud, mortar and flint rubble erected in the twelfth century survived until the middle of the Victorian era. It was still a small edifice, comprising a nave and chancel only, the whole being about fifty-two feet long by twenty-six wide. In 1368 the fabric had fallen into such a bad state of repair that, following a visitation by the bishop, the dean was instructed to hold an inquiry to find out who was responsible for its maintenance and to issue directions for its repair. The roof, at first probably thatched but later tiled, was crowned at the western end by a small wooden weather-boarded tower surmounted by a splay-foot spire. There was formerly an entrance porch on the south side, but this was converted into a vestry. At the western end there was a door set in a pointed arch, over which was a two light window. The attractive east window consisted of three lights each with a trefoil head, with six smaller lights above. On the roof of the nave on the north side was a small flat-roofed dormer window with probably a matching one on the opposite side. On either side of the nave was a family pew, each about ten feet square with an entrance from the outside. That on the south side was built in 1712 for Mr. Hezekiah Benson of Bridge House, and that on the north, which was divided in two, in 1760 for Captain John Clarke and Charles Carpenter. In each case permission to enclose part of the churchyard was given by the vestry, and "to be for ever appropriated to their Respective Houses". In 1849 the building was described as a "pretty little rustic structure". It contained a number of handsome memorials some of which have been preserved in the present church.

For many years this church, which could only seat about 135 people, had been far too small for the population of the village, in the decade after the opening of the railway had jumped from 765 in 1851 to 1,568 in 1861. Although St. Paul's had been opened in 1856, pressure on the accommodation continued. Agitations had been afoot since 1843 but all attempts had been frustrated by lack of funds and personal animosities.

On 7th December 1863, about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, smoke was observed coming from the church and it was found that several of the pews were on fire. This was soon extinguished but some damage had been done, particularly to the pews, pulpit, and other fittings in and around the chancel. References to this fire usually exaggerate the damage caused. In fact the insurance company's estimate for restoration was less than 160. Its importance, however, lay in the fact that it forced the parochial authorities to act, and they decided to pull down the old church and build a new one on the same site.

The architect of the new church, which is in the Early English style, was Thomas Talbot Bury, a student of Augustus Pugin. He also designed the parish schools and the Vicarage. The nave and chancel were consecrated on 17 October 1865, a north aisle, tower and spire were added in 1867; and a south aisle, for which the architect was Bury's friend Charles Barry the son of Sir Charles Barry, in 1883. The chancel was extended in 1926-7.


EAST MOLESEY CHURCH - From a drawing by C. R. Cracklow 1824

Parish Church of St. Peter (WM)

The earliest mention of a separate village of West Molesey was in the latter part of the twelfth century, and it is probable that a church was first built here at that time. The building was long and low and consisted of a nave and chancel only with a small porch on the south side. The walls were built of plastered rubble with some small round flints, and were in some places nearly five feet thick. In the fifteenth century the present tower was added. It seems likely that it was intended at that time to rebuild the whole church but the scheme never completed. The west window was probably erected in the early part of the sixteenth century as it has the badge of bishop Fox (d. 1528) carved over the apex.

In 1843 the nave and chancel were rebuilt in white brick in a rather poor Gothic style. The architect was James Macduff Derick of Oxford. In 1859 a north aisle was added.

The font dates from the fifteenth century and the pulpit and a communion table (now moved to the north aisle) are Jacobean. A piscina saved from the old building is incorporated in the walls of the present church.


WEST MOLESEY CHURCH - From a drawing by C. R. Cracklow 1824

St. Paul's Church (EM)

After the opening of the railway in 1849 the population rapidly increased, mainly in the area which came to be called Kent Town. In 1854 Mr. Kent started to build a church in the middle of his new development which he offered as a parish church in place of the old and overcrowded one. As this offer was declined he applied to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for leave to open it as a district church with himself as patron and this was granted. The church was opened for services on 24th February 1856 and consecrated by Dr. Sumner, bishop of Winchester, on 30th October of that year. It consisted at first of a nave and chancel, seating about 250 people. As further accommodation soon became necessary a south aisle was added in 1861-2; a north aisle in 1864. The nave was extended in 1870; and the tower and spire with a baptistry underneath were added in 1887-8, completing the church with a total seating capacity for 500 people. The style of the building is Perpendicular. The architect was Stephen Salter.

Methodist Church (EM)

About 1840 dissenting services were being held in a cottage in Bell Road. After a break they were recommenced in the early 1860s in a room in a house, now called "Tor House", in Manor Road, which was then a private school. They were conducted by students from Richmond College. In 1864 a Sunday school was formed under the superintendance of Mr. E. Bailey which met in the same house. In 1867 a building was erected on land adjoining the house to act in the dual role of Sunday school and meeting hall until sufficient funds were available to build a church. Enough ground was left in front of the school to enable the church to be built.

Plans for the new church, designed by a Mr. A Launder of Barnstaple, were approved on 1 August 1876, and the building was opened for divine service on Whit Monday, 21st May 1877. Seating is for 350 people.

The Sunday school was rebuilt in 1885, consisting of a main hall, with fourteen small classrooms leading from it. It was the first institution of its kind to be so constructed.

Baptist Churches (EM)

A congregation of Baptists was started in 1885 under the pastorate of the Rev. Alfred Hall, and the site for a church was chosen in Bridge Road. The church was opened on 14th December 1886. It was soon realised, however, that mistakes had been made. Firstly the scale of the church was much too ambitious for the size of the congregation, consequently they were loaded with a dept repayment far above their capabilities. Secondly the church was at the wrong end of the village. Membership did not increase, and when the energetic Mr. Hall left the district to take an appointment in Wales, dwindled even further. Finally the church was closed and sold in November 1896 to Mr. Harry Tagg, boat builder, for a sum of 1,000, hardly enough to pay off the debts. In the same year a new pastor, the Rev. George Harper, was appointed and for a time services were held in the Conservative Hall, until enough money was raised to build a new church. In 1897 a site was chosen in Walton Road opposite to the present Co-operative Society's store. A church was built of corrugated iron on brick foundations, capable of seating about 250 people, and opened on 15th June 1897. When first built the church had an ornamental spire on the front end of the roof, of which it was said it was "considerably higher than many buildings of its class". Probably because of this the spire was later completely blown off during a storm and embedded itself in the roadway outside. By the early 1930s support had again fallen. The church was closed and the building sold to the Molesey Labour Party who used it as a meeting hall. Just before the last war, with adjacent property, it was demolished to make way for a parade of shops. The building in Bridge Road, still bearing an ecclesiastical air, is now a shop.

St. Barnabas (Roman Catholic) Church (EM)

This was started in a corrugated iron building in Vine Road in 1906. A Fine new church in mottled brick in the Romanesque style, seating about 300 people, was built beside it and opened for worship in 1931. The original building was afterwards used as a meeting hall and school but was later demolished after being gutted by fire. A new hall now occupies the site.


St. Barnabas (Roman Catholic) Church

Around the turn of the century a community of French nuns, "Les Dames de la mere de Dieu" (The Ladies of the Mother of God), founded a convent at a large house called "Stonyhurst" in Vine Road. In October 1905 permission was granted by the nuns for those members of the faith who lived in the neighbourhood to worship in the little chapel they had erected in the house. This soon proved far too small for the increasing number of Catholic residents. Mainly through the energies of the clergy of St. Raphael's church, Kingston, a building of timber and corrugated iron which stood at Putney, where its services were no longer required, was purchased, dismantled, and re-erected on a plot of land by the side of "Stonyhurst". The church, dedicated to St. Barnabas, was consecrated and opened for divine service by the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev. Peter Amigo, D.D., on 28 November 1906. Seating was for about 120 people.

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