Before the 20th century, the spiritual life of Sanderstead was centred around All Saints’ Church, which for over seven centuries has been at the centre of the village and at its highest point. The building has been altered many times during its life, both inside and out, but many of its original features remain. There has been continuity of worship there since its earliest days, including throughout the troubled times of the Reformation, the Civil War and Commonwealth. Today’s residents still enter through the same oak door as their forefathers did in the 13th century. Much of the church’s early history has been referred to in opening chapters of this book.
Since the Reformation until the 20th century denominations other than Anglican had no place of their own within the parish. The population of Sanderstead had been growing steadily since the opening of Sanderstead Railway Station in 1884 and Purley Oaks Station in 1899, and at the turn of the century was just over 1000.
The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map of South Croydon shows a Salvation Army Barracks in Bynes Road which would have drawn people living in Sanderstead. The barracks, which could hold 40 people, was situated in Cooper Crescent, where John Cooper (Boot and Shoe Manufacturers) had built a colony of houses (Nos. 103-183 Bynes Road) for some of his outworkers.
Located just inside the boundary of South Croydon, the first modern church to be built was St. Gertrude’s, at the corner of Wyche Grove and Purley Road, built with money left by Miss Frances Ellis to the Roman Catholic Diocese. It was opened as a mission in June 1903. The cost, including the presbytery, was just under £3,000. The eastern boundary to be served ran from the south-east end of Riddlesdown where the District Council boundary cuts the Godstone Road, and follows this boundary going north-east to Addington Lodge. The mission was upgraded to a parish in 1920. In World War II, on 11th May 1941, the Church suffered the effects of a bomb when one side was damaged and the organ and gallery were destroyed. Two masses were said before the Church was ordered to evacuate and services were moved to St. Anne’s Convent for three weeks whilst the building was made safe. Mention must be made of Father Pritchard who was rector in charge at St. Gertrude’s for over 25 years. It was under his guidance that four new churches were established, including the Church of the Holy Family in Sanderstead. When he used to pay the weekly collection into the bank he was often ribbed about the small-denomination coins, which took some time to check. A reading room was named in memory of him at St. Gertrude’s.
St. Anne’s Convent was opened on 12th September 1909 by six nuns of the Ladies of Mary from the community at Coloma, Shirley. It was in the chapel of this school that mass was said for the first time in Sanderstead for over 300 years. In 1980 – in the 71st year of its foundation – St. Anne’s closed and amalgamated with Coloma R.C. Girls School – back to the community from which St. Anne’s had originated. The grounds of St. Anne’s were soon developed for housing, but the wall and railings in Sanderstead Road have been left intact and on the gates the insignia of the Ladies of Mary can still be seen. A Bourne Society plaque to commemorate the school can also be seen there. The unveiling of the plaque, on 26th July 1996, was attended by a large crowd, including 93 years old Miss Skinner, who was one of the first pupils.
With the increased housing development at the lower end of Sanderstead it was decided to make provision for a separate Anglican mission church for people who wished to worship nearer to their own homes. In 1908 St. Mary’s Church was opened by the Bishop of Southwark in a temporary building in Purley Oaks Road on land generously donated by Mr Arkwright of the Arkwright Estate. This original building still serves as St. Mary’s Church Hall. The cost of the building was £665. An extension was added in 1915 and at the same time plans were made to build a permanent church. Fund-raising was started, but with the hardship after World War I the work on the new church did not commence until 21st July 1925 and by this time the original estimate had doubled. Plans were altered, economies had to be made, and fund raising efforts were organised yet again. The completion of the Church was marked by a Service of Dedication on 25th February 1971 in the presence of the Bishop of Woolwich, the Right Revd. D.S. Sheppard MA.
Sanderstead in the 1930’s was still a rural area, but with people walking to the stations each day to catch trains for town. The view from the top of Purley Downs Road was open; Millers Farm was on the corner on the left with glebe lands behind it. Up to this time lavender had been cultivated in the fields alongside the lane which was later to become Sanderstead Hill, supplying the Mitcham trade for many years. Against this setting five men – Herbert Fisher, J. Rowland Hooff, Maldwyn Johnes, Percival Newman and A. Emrys Owens – decided in 1931 that it was time for Sanderstead to have its own Nonconformist Church. The first Sunday evening services were held at the Sanderstead Memorial Hall, Purley Oaks Road. In February 1932 a site on Sanderstead Hill had been purchased, and in 1933 the foundations stones of Sanderstead Congregational Church were laid. In June the following year the first stage of the building was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Collett. The buildings, including the hall, were completed in May 1939. In September of that year the new hall – barely used – was taken over by the army, resulting in all the meetings having to be held in the deacons’ vestry or in the transept of the church. Sunday services continued, and at one time the evening service was held under the stage – an area which the Irish Guards were using for storing meat! It was not until 1946 that the premises were handed back to the church.
Women were actively involved at the church from the start, with a working party busy in 1933 raising money for church funds. During the war a canteen was set up for soldiers and a knitting circle was formed. In 1969 No. 14 Beechwood Road was purchased by the Church, and Abbeyfield Housing Association was started to provide a home for the elderly within the security and companionship of a small household. In 1975, with the support and interest of friends at St. Gertrude’s, it was possible to buy a further property at No. 2 Beechwood Road.
In 1972 when the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches joined to become the United Reform Church, the Sanderstead Congregational Church voted to become part of this Union.
In 1936 an extension to All Saints’ Church was built along the whole of the north side, with a Lady Chapel at the east end. Four carved stone heads were incorporated representing the then rector, Howard Rose, two churchwardens – Messrs Dew and Ryde – and the architect of the extension, Mr Tolhurst. The inspiration for this came from the medieval masons whose faces peer down from the pillars in the old nave. This was not the first alteration to the church. Much earlier, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the building had been considerably changed – for example the south side originally had an upper row of windows. It is believed that there was once also a gallery, although no illustrations of the interior in former times have come to light. Many will, however, remember the Victorian decorations whereby winged angels holding texts in their hands adorned the walls of the nave and the chancel arch.
Until the break-up of the estate in 1919, the advowson of the Church (the right to appoint the rector) was in the possession of the Atwood family and its descendants the Wigsells and Arkwrights. It was sold in 1929 to the Revd. P.E. Warrington, who lodged it with the Martyrs’ Memorial Fund. When the Church Council heard of this in 1934 they took the right of compulsory purchase provided by recent legislation and then placed the “patronage” in the hands of the Diocese of Southwark, where it remains today.
Considerable damage was done during World War II when the church roof was set ablaze during an air-raid. Due to the prompt action of the rector, parishioners and the fire brigade the damage was contained and the church continued to be used for services despite the inconvenience of the occasional shower! In 1980 a further extension was added to the north of the Lady Chapel to accommodate the increasing number of worshippers. This extension is dedicated to St. Catherine, linking it to the earlier chapel of the same name recorded in the will of Dyones Atwood in 1530 (see Chapter 4)
During World War II, with the increased travel restrictions, it was decided to provide a place for Roman Catholics to gather for Sunday mass in the village. Two ladies – Miss Richardson and Miss Cox – offered a schoolroom in their kindergarten, “The Skep”, 117 Limpsfield Road as a mass centre. This building had originally been the village smithy. The parish priest was willing to use this room provided he could count on 30 people attending. Mass was said for the first time in November 1942 with 41 people present. When Miss Richardson and Miss Cox retired after the war the land and premises were bought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark and in 1951 the mission church became known as The Church of the Holy Family. It soon became clear that a larger building was required, and in December 1956 a new church was opened with the old smithy as the parish hall. The smithy is over 200 years old – a fact commemorated by a Bourne Society blue plaque. This also records that, in 1992, Bishop Howard Tripp, a member of a well known Sanderstead family and assistant Bishop in the R C Diocese of Southwark, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first mass to be held here.
The foundation stone of St. Edmund’s Church, Riddlesdown, was laid on 25th September 1954 by Mr John Laing. Up to the outbreak of World War II people from the Laing estate, Riddlesdown, had to walk to All Saints’ Church for worship. The curate, Revd. F.B. Hutchingson, arranged for a private bus to transport the older children to Sunday school, while the younger ones met at the house of Mrs Gibson in Buttermere Gardens. When the wooden estate office at the corner of Mitchley Avenue and Buttermere Gardens became vacant in 1939 permission was ought to use it for the Sunday school. With only a “Valor” lamp for heating, chairs had to be bought and an old piano acquired. The estate office quickly became a religious and social centre for the community, with Sunday evening services and youth activities. The usage soon outgrew the building, and under the leadership of Mr Goddard (who had previously opened his house to “The Pilgrim Band” children) the community set about raising funds to build a church of its own. In 1945 Mr Goddard approached Mr John Laing, who offered a site free of charge with the stipulation that the patronage should be in the hands of an evangelical trust. This condition could not be met as responsibility for worship would have had to rest with the rector of Sanderstead. After many discussions Mr Laing renewed his offer of a site without any conditions and work started on the building of a combined church and hall.
The Methodist church was also shortly to be represented in Sanderstead and in June 1948 the Croydon quarterly meeting took its first steps. Difficulty was experienced in obtaining planning permission to build in Limpsfield Road, which was at first refused. In 1949 representations were made to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and eventually permission was granted. The price of the land was fixed at the very reasonable sum of £100 because under war-time legislation pre-war use was the determining factor. This reflects the relatively low value of farm land at that time. Cows once grazed where the car park now stands! Work commenced on Sanderstead Methodist Church, Limpsfield Road, as a dual-purpose building and the foundation stone was laid on 5th March 1955. The ceremony had to be cut to a minimum owing to a snowstorm. The opening service and dedication took place on 1st October 1955, the cost of the building being £16,300. 7s. 6d. In 1977 the Cheshire Foundation Housing Association built homes on the land adjacent to the church, specifically for people using wheelchairs, funded mainly by the association, with an additional grant from the local council.
St. Antony’s Church, Wentworth Way, was built in 1957 to serve parishioners living in Hamsey Green. Like St. Edmund’s, Riddlesdown, it has its own vicar but is part of the team ministry of the parish of All Saints’. The dedication is to one of the early desert fathers, honoured for their wisdom and the sound advice they gave to all who came to them for help.
In 1958 the Mitchley Hill Chapel, Limpsfield Road, was opened at a cost of £9,250, an independent evangelical church originally without a minister and bearing no denominational name. It was intended that it would be run by elders. The need for a chapel had been voiced by local residents five years previously, and the eventual building could seat 200 people. As the church fellowship strengthened over the years the members felt able to call on the services of a pastor, and as a body makes a significant contribution to the local community.
Above is a brief history of the development of churches in the Sanderstead area, each begun or enlarged as the need arose. Today there is a strong ecumenical movement, as each one shares in “Churches together in Sanderstead”.
Church and chapel guides
St. Gertrude’s Church (minus the existing sanctuary and some thirty or forty feet at the other end) was opened in June, 1903. It is impossible to give exact dates as the extant notice books only begin in December, 1913. Financial details are even more hazy, as the only account books in the archives run from April, 1910, to the present day, except for a gap of more than six years from November, 1920, to February, 1927. It is known, however, that the original building (presumably including the presbytery) cost slightly under £3,000, provided from money left to the Diocese by the late Miss Frances Ellis.
The area to be served was contained within the following boundaries:
“NORTH. From a point on the east where the Borough Boundary cuts the Shirley Church Road, following the Boundary in a south-west direction until it cuts the Coombe Road, then west along the Coombe Road (both sides included), Lower Coombe Street, Duppas Hill Lane and Duppas Hill Road (both sides of all these roads excluded) to Waddon Station.
“WEST. From Waddon Station along the Stafford Road to Coldharbour Lane (now Purley Way) and along this Lane to the western end of Edgehill Road, thence along Hillcrest Road, Peaks Hill Road, Green Lane to Woodcote Lane.
“SOUTH. Along Woodcote Lane to the Brighton Road to a point opposite Old Lodge Lane, along Old Lodge Lane, Firs Road, Hayes Lane, past Kenley Station to the Godstone Road to the south-east end of Riddlesdown.
“EAST. From the south-east end of Riddlesdown, where the Union and District Council Boundary cuts the Godstone Road, follow this Boundary going north-east to Addington Lodge, then along Lodge Lane to Addington; from Addington follow Shirley Church Road to the point where it is cut by the Croydon Borough Boundary. N.B. – Where the boundary is said to follow a road, path, etc., it goes along the middle of the road, path etc., unless the contrary is stated.”
The mission was worked temporarily by Fr. O’Connor, O.F.M., as Fr. Albert Whereat,* who had been designated as the first rector, never took charge. The first real rector was Fr. Charles Turner* who officiated from June, 1904, until about the end of April, 1907, and was succeeded by Fr. Rudolph Bullesbach*, who erected the Stations of the Cross in January, 1910, and left in April, 1914. Then came Fr. John Torrance*, who remained during the war and was succeeded in October, 1920, by Fr. Edward Larkin. In the Synod of that year the Mission was raised to the dignity of a Parish.
Fr. Larkin added the sanctuary to St. Gertrude’s at a cost of £1,500 odd. He also, at a cost of £1,000, bought a site and built the beginning of a church at Selsdon, 1926-1927. The Hall, which has proved so great a boon, was his conception. Costing about £800, it was ready in November, 1926.
When Fr. Larkin left in February, 1927, Fr. Terence Leo Fichter* took his place till August 27th, 1930, Fr. William Alban Pritchard being appointed to succeed him on August 30th.
An assistant priest having become necessary, Fr. Francis Redaway* was appointed in June, 1914. His successors were Fr. William Curtin*, 1916-1919, Fr. Bernard Pearce*, 1919-1921, Fr. George Lynch-Staunton, 1921-1923, Fr. John Colley, 1923-1924, Fr. James O’Connell, 1924-1928, Fr. Herbert Loader, 1928-1930, Fr. Frank Ryan, 1930, Fr. Maurice Condon, 1930-1931, and Fr. Bernard Heaney*, 1931-1934.
By 1931 a second assistant was needed and Fr. Bernard Smoker came on October 5th of that year. He remained until November 1935. Fr. John Cremin was here from June 23rd 1934 to November 18th, 1936, Fr. Francis Little from then to September 1st, 1940, Fr. Paul Baker from September 1st, 1940 to early in the following year, Fr. Gerard Wall from June, 1942, to September 6th, 1943, and again from January 28th, 1946 to September, 1948, Fr.Charles Borelli from mid-1943 to the end of 1945, and Fr Cyril Hanrahan* from January, 1944 to June, 1946.
Besides these, special mention must be made of Fr. Thomas Travers, who was first curate from November, 1935 to June 9th, 1943. This period took in the Battle of Britain and the worst of the air-raids, during which time he courageously said Mass each Sunday at Waddon – one of the worst danger spots of the parish, being so very close to the aerodrome and industrial Croydon.
To finish the list – Fr. Colman Quinn came on September 1st, 1946, and Fr. Hubert Simes on September 25th, 1948.
The church and sacristy were extended and completed in October, 1935 at a cost of £2,943 plus nearly £1,000 for furnishings. This included the Baptistery, gallery, confessional and porch. The extension was blessed and formally opened by the late Bishop William F. Brown of Pella on November 15th, 1935.
In this month we presented the Croydon Corporation with a small piece of land to enable the rounding off of the very awkward junction of Wych Grove and Purley Road.
The High Altar and baldachino (immortalised by a photograph in Fr. J. O’Connell’s three volume work, “The Celebration of Mass”) were finished in December, 1936, at a cost of £360 odd, £150 of which was given by the late Frederick Fawdry, a generous – but anonymous – benefactor of the parish.
On Friday, June 25th, 1937, the feast of St. William, Abbot, our church was solemnly consecrated by Bishop Brown.
“Came the war” and with it, very early on Sunday, May 11th, 1941, a bomb in the next garden which was within an ace of blowing the church and presbytery to pieces. As it was, only the Epistle side of the church was badly damaged; the organ and organ gallery were destroyed. Two Masses were said before we were ordered to evacuate. Mass was said in St. Anne’s Convent Hall on the following three Sundays until patching-up operations had rendered the church safe for use again.
But it was not till Easter Sunday, March 25th, 1951, that the war damage had been repaired and the whole church was once more available. The bombed organ gallery was not rebuilt but was replaced by a large window which considerable improved both the lighting and the appearance of the church. The total cost of the repairs, incidental decorations, a new confessional, and a new heating boiler and oil-burning installation was £5,960, and of the Compton organ £1,150.
Turning now to developments:
A landmark was the opening on September 12th, 1909, by six nuns of the Ladies of Mary, of St. Anne’s Convent, Sanderstead, for use as a school for girls. On the following Friday and Saturday Kensitite protest meetings entitled “Why I object to convent schools” were held in front of the convent, the speaker attacking the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady and Confession! Nevertheless the school was duly opened on the 20th with nine pupils. Holy Mass was said for the first time in Sanderstead for 300 years on Christmas Eve, 1909, in the convent chapel. There were twenty people present, one of whom had not been to the Sacraments for thirty years.
A year after the opening the number of pupils had grown to thirty-three. In 1919, St. Anne’s was recognised by the Board of Education as a secondary school. With numbers constantly increasing, a new wing was added in 1924. A kindergarten was built and later enlarged. By the fifties it was a flourishing school of 700 pupils, but progress eventually caught up with it and St Anne’s was demolished to make way for the housing scheme that stands on the site today. The pupils were transferred to Coloma as Kate Payne remembers…
The chapel at Selsdon (dedicated to St. Columba) referred to above and completed in July, 1927, was enlarged to accommodate another sixty people in April, 1938, and in October of the same year a resident priest was appointed, thus relieving South Croydon of a large and rapidly developing area.
In June, 1931, The Gables – a fair-sized house with large grounds in Dale Road, Purley – was bought for £2,750. Mass was said there for the first time on Sunday, September 13th. The congregation grew so rapidly that the Bishop felt justified in making it a separate mission and appointed Fr. Eugene Cotter as the first rector. He took over in February, 1934 and by 1939 had built a permanent church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
On April 2nd, 1933, Mass was said for the first time at Waddon in the Council School hired for the purpose. This was due to the initiative of Fr. Smoker and proved so necessary that a second Mass was added on the following July 29th. In February, 1939, “Bramley Hill Side”, Haling Park Road, was bought for £2,200. The property extended to Violet Lane, Waddon, where it was intended to put up a church. A contract for the building of a temporary chapel had been signed, when war broke out and the contractors had to rescind the agreement. Nothing could be done till 1948 when the present building, dedicated to St. Dominic, was finished. The cost was about £1,000, including all the incidental work. The first Mass was said on December 19th. In 1951 the building was extended (at a cost of nearly £500), as the attendance at Mass had grown to well over 200.
Owing to the difficulty of transport during the war, it became necessary to provide Sunday Mass for the people of upper Sanderstead, and the late Miss Elizabeth Richardson (then a Protestant, although she became a Catholic some years later) very generously volunteered to lend her schoolroom at “The Skep” in Limpsfield Road for the purpose. Mass was said there for the first time on November 8th, 1942, with a congregation of forty-one. Largely owing to Fr. Hanrahan’s insistence, Mass was continued after the end of the war in May, 1945, and a second Mass was added from November 14th of that year. It was Fr. Hanrahan who urged the purchase of the Skep when Miss Richardson left. The property was bought for £4,000 in March, 1946, and the whole amount was paid off by the end of July, 1950. Less than a year later – on February 19th, 1951, the Bishop appointed the late Fr. Michael Moriarty to be the first resident priest of the new mission, to be known as “The Holy Family”.
From the point of view of the antiquarian, the Church of the Holy Family is of interest. Part of the building is almost certainly nearly 200 years old – an old stone in the face of one wall of the house gives a weather-worn date in the seventeen-hundreds. The portion of the fabric now used as the Church was for the two generations or more a blacksmiths and wheelwrights’ shop, and the kitchen was in old times used as a small brew-house for the refreshment of the few scattered inhabitants, principally farmers and cottagers, who then lived at Sanderstead.
For many years the lack of a Catholic elementary school had been a drawback and a menace, causing many children to drift from the Church. The beginning of a remedy for this was the purchase in June, 1951, for £4,600, of a large house and grounds at 68, St. Augustine’s Avenue, for use as an elementary school for children from five to eleven years of age. This was opened under the title of “Regina Coeli” on Tuesday, September 14th, with nearly fifty children under eight years old. Numbers steadily rose and when the school reopened after the Summer holidays of 1952 (by which time the necessary alterations had been completed), there were 164 pupils from five to eleven years of age in attendance.
There still remained the urgent problem of the “over elevens”. A promising solution to this was provided by the purchase by the Diocese, as from April 20th, 1953, at a cost of £9,350, of the large house and extensive grounds in Pampisford Road known as Kendra Hall, to be used as a secondary modern school. Much remains to be done before it gets fully into its stride, but already there are two classes in being, besides two more to accommodate the overflow from Regina Coeli.
In so short an account it is obviously impossible to pay individual tribute to the numbers of – one might almost say the “numberless” – living parishioners who, by their unselfish giving, not only of money, but still more of their time and labour and prayers, have made so wonderful a development possible. The priests of the parish know them and honour them and pray for them. There surely never was and never will be a more loyal and devoted and co-operative body of people. May God bless them