July saw the commencement of work on Section C of our re-development programme and with it the removal of stonework embracing the Church and Transept.
What a different story it was, 63 years ago, in July 1944 when the Rev John Waterhouse (Minister from 1939-1944) recorded the following
“The Bombing of the Epsom Methodist Church July 3rd
The first flying- bombs were launched against the London area on Thursday night, June 15th, 1944. On that night, what appeared too many watchers to be an aeroplane on fire, crashed in Ewell West, doing considerable damage and inflicting casualties?
That was our first experience of the flying bomb (above), and the house of one of our members, Mr Horace Hart, was damaged on that occasion. During the next few weeks, the attacks became quite intensive, and continued without respite each day and night. On the night of June 26th, the Rev Robinson Whittaker, of the London Mission, addressed a public meeting in the Upper Hall. Despite alerts, there was a good attendance, and when Mr Whittaker had appealed for our help in the restoration of the many bombed centres of the London Mission, over £200 was given or promised by Epsom friends. Little did we know that exactly one week hence, our own church would be victim to Hitler’s latest weapon of destruction?
On the night of Sunday July 2nd, there was a constant stream of flying-bombs (shown above). I was on duty at the Wardens Post on Epsom Common till 4 a.m. Then I came home and lay down to rest in the Manse kitchen in my overcoat, as I had a feeling that I might at any moment be called out to an incident. My wife thought I had got a touch of nerves, perhaps I had I certainly had a feeling of apprehension. At about 4.40 am there came the drone of another flying-bomb, which was greeted by a salvo of gun fire. The engine of the bomb faltered, went on again, and finally stopped. I heard a tearing swishing sound, a loud explosion, and a clatter of glass. I said to my wife, ‘That would be Ashley Road, and probably the church is down’ She said she thought it was further away. I said I must go anyhow’ so I jumped on my bicycle. My first anxiety was for the safety of our two fire-watchers, Miss Jessie Cook and Mrs Robert Northcott, who were on duty at the church. I rode over a sea of glass, it seemed as though every window in the High Street was on the road. When I turned the corner of Ashley Road I found I had been right, to an almost uncanny degree, in my location of the bomb. The great block of flats known as Ashley Court adjoining our field, had been hit. The front was a pile of rubble and somewhere under the rubble there raged a fire. Partly by the light of this fire and partly by the first dim light of dawn I looked at our church. The building seemed a shell only. Not only the windows, but the doors, and much of the roof was gone, but the masonry around the windows had disappeared. Shreds of the black-out curtains were flopping in the breeze, and the whole building looked an abomination of desolation. I made my way through to the vestry and was amazed to find there an electric light burning. In the vestry was Miss Jessie Cook, quite unharmed but imprisoned. ‘Where is Mrs Northcroft’ I asked. “She has climbed out of a window” was the reply, and is giving first aid to the injured. It was a relief beyond measure to find that our firewatchers were safe. They had come off duty at the Ashley Court fire watchers post at 3.a.m. Had they been there when the bomb fell they would certainly have been killed.
After ascertaining that the fire watchers were safe, I climbed into the church and surveyed the scene. It seemed then that the church was almost beyond repair. One of the roof beams was split across, and hanging dangerously. Masonry, furniture, pews were all one great jumble. It was raining, and I saw pools gathering on the floor. . But the chancel was intact, the rose window unbroken, and a vase of flowers on the communion table remained untouched. After a quick survey of the school premises, which though much shattered, still stood. I hastened to Ashley Court to see if I could render any service there. In the field, near the gate, I almost stumbled across a body. It was a corpse. I learned later that it was of a Mr Meadow, a resident in the flats, whose body had been blown, by the explosion right across the field, against the side of the church itself. I think he had actually been blown on to the school room roof, from where he had fallen, as I saw the impression made by his body in the shrubbery by the Primary Room windows. The Wardens and Fire Services were working hard on Ashley Court. They were playing water on the fire, which I understood came from a gas main. Under the fire was a man, who was later safely rescued, though both scorched and drenched. It was a miracle that he escaped.
After rendering what help I could in Ashley Road, and visiting the homes of a few of our folk who lived nearby, I returned home. On the way back another flying-bomb came low over the town, and I remember flattening myself on the ground in the market place. I felt that Epsom was no longer a place for my young family and that same morning I sent them north. Mrs Waterhouse, however, stayed with me, and together we set about our tasks.
I cannot speak too highly of the work which Mr & Mrs Thomas, the caretaker, did during ensuing days and weeks. They started to clear up in the same manner as they would after a Guild Party, and never dismayed. We were greatly helped on the first day by a party of some 20 Canadian soldiers who turned up ‘out of the blue’ and worked like navvies on our behalf. I well remember how we salvaged hymn books and Bibles, which were scattered everywhere. We tried to keep the more important articles of furniture away from the rain, which steadily descended through the roof.
In the evening, crowds gathered outside in Ashley Road. I chalked up a notice ‘Hitler may destroy our building, but never our faith’ which many saw and read. Members of the Youth Club arrived in large numbers that evening, and gave help. Night by night, for weeks afterwards they toiled on, and showed true loyalty to the church. We made doors out of splinter wood, including the remnants of the Book Stall, from which we had sold books in the Market Place. We made frames for the windows of the lower hall, and filed them with rubberised material. The church building was considered unsafe, and we could do nothing about the windows.
Immediately after the bombing, we had generous offers of hospitality from the Congregational Church, the Parish Church, and from Christ Church. We accepted the first offer, which came from our friends of the Congregational Church. For one month we held United Services with them, in atmosphere of great friendliness and cordiality. It so happened that on the first Sunday (July 9th) both Mr Bates and I preaching at the two Services, spoke of ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ I was informed later that the Vicar of Epsom had taken the same text at the Parish Church. On Sunday August 6th, the last Sunday of my appointment in the Sutton Circuit, we returned to our own building, holding services in the School Hall. The services were conducted by my wife and me, she preaching in the morning. In September it was possible to hold services in the church, whose roof was now covered and supported with props. The first Services in the church were on September 17th, the day of the Harvest Festival, and the Rev John Blamey began a new chapter in the history of the Epsom Methodist Church.
It may be of interest to record a few further points. On July 15th I conducted a wedding in the chancel of the bombed church (one of the old girls of the Sunday School) determined to be married in the church, not withstanding it’s open air character As the service began, an alert sounded – and as the service closed the all clear was given.
Large pieces of the fuselage of the bomb lay in the field. One considerable portion was found on the roof of the church itself. An old lady aged 90, resident in a house almost opposite the church, escaped injury, though her companion help was killed.
Considering the violence of the explosion, casualties were light. As far as I know, not more than five lost their lives. The church withstood the blast extremely well; it was well and truly built. In due course, it will be stronger and more beautiful than ever. We record our gratitude to Almighty God who sustained us through the fiery trial of these evil days, and brought us through the valley of the shadow of death “.
(Note; the reference by the Rev John Waterhouse to the field is of course our car park, and the land on which our Church Hall and Scout H Q stands, having been purchased in 1911 for anticipated future development)
Treasurer's August 2017 Update
This time last year, I was sitting at my PC on almost the same day thinking about the end of the financial year.. We have just had the Civic Service which was a superb time of celebration and we wish Liz Frost all the very best. The church collection did not suffer from the collection for the Mayor’s charities being at the same time. Over £500, including gift aid, was raised for Liz’s charities, the Sunnybank Trust, Citizens Advice Bureau and the Lower Mole Countryside Trust.
Already £62,818 has been received from external organisations using the premises. This is set against an original budget of £60,000 and a projection of £68,000. It is a valuable source of income for the church and enables so much more to be planned. We are very grateful to Sue Massingham for the care she takes over the room bookings and all the paperwork that is required. To give you an idea of how many organisations use the premises, I co-signed the agreements the other day as a church trustee and there were twenty eight of them. Sue had prepared these and they were all different in some aspect together with a significant number of pages.
We are always keeping a watchful eye on expenditure. The second biggest figure (the biggest is the circuit assessment which is set for the year so won’t vary) is for utilities (gas, electricity, water, cleaning and insurance). Having negotiated an improved gas contract last year, we are seeing the benefits over the past twelve months and we expect to be well under budget.
I spoke about the legacy left to the church by Ms Eileen Wilks last year. We have now received £330,000 of the legacy. The sale of her house has completed and the solicitors are currently sorting out the final payments. This extra funding has enabled the church to employ Chris Shaw as an assistant minister for three years and we are all looking forward to his starting with us on 1st September.
I now get a two month break from writing to you so when I next hit the keyboard it will be around 10th September and I will know the draft results for the year (which closes on 31st August). I hope I will be able to let you know some more good news.
Thank you again for your continued support for the church. We are ministering in exciting times, and we pray for wise use of the resources made available to us.
The white perspex box for your Prayer Requests is on the table near the church entrance
The Epsom Riots 1919 and EMC
Wesleyan Soldiers Institute where the car park and present Hall is located, the church is left and the wall can be seen, part still exists. Every window in the front of the building by now had been broken and Inspector Pawley’s family, who had been asleep in the Inspector's quarters on the first floor, had been moved to the rear of the building. The temper of the mob turned even uglier, threatening to burn the building down and continuing to shower it with various missiles. The officers inside the station had by now received some reinforcements, as summoned by telephone - one station sergeant, two sergeants, and ten constables from other stations, as well as some of the off-duty Epsom officers who had arrived and had managed to enter the building through the rear windows.
Deciding that offence was the best means of defence, Inspector Pawley, Station Sergeant Green and seven or eight other officers charged into the crowd and succeeded in clearing the garden temporarily of the mob. Regretfully during this charge Sergeant Green was felled by a blow from some heavy object to the side of the head. He was carried unconscious to a house at the other side of the road until after the affray.
Some of the soldiers had by this time managed to enter the police station and affect the release of one of the prisoners. Inspector Pawley then released the other one. The two prisoners having been released, the soldiers again formed themselves into a semblance of military formation and marched back to the camp. The tumult subsided. Sergeant Green was then moved to the infirmary where he died at 7.10am the following day without regaining consciousness.
The police station had suffered considerable damage during the disturbance and in addition to Sergeant Green, the Inspector, four sergeants and eight constables’ sustained injuries. The following day the police made an application to the local magistrates under the "Closing in Time of Riot" clause of the "Intoxicating Liquors Act", that all the public houses in the parishes of Epsom and Ewell be closed for the sale of intoxicating drink until the following Monday. This was granted and in addition all the clubs in the District were also closed. The order remained in force until the Thursday when it was confirmed that the military authorities had placed the town out of bounds.
The inquest into Sergeant Green's death was held in the Court House opposite the police station, a building that had also received some damage during the riot. The chairman of the jury was James Chuter Ede, who was to become Home Secretary in the 1945 Labour Government. The jury returned a verdict of Manslaughter against seven Canadian soldiers and added a rider commending Inspector Pawley and the officers acting under him for their valour and discretion during the riot. These sentiments that were echoed to the Commissioner by the local magistrates.
As a result of investigations by Divisional Inspector Ferrier into Sergeant Green's death, eight of the rioters were charged with manslaughter. Following the committal proceedings at Bow Street, two were discharged and six remanded in custody. At their eventual trial at the Surrey Assizes on 22/23 July 1919 in front of Mr. Justice Darling verdicts of "not guilty" were returned on two of them. The remainder were found "not guilty" of manslaughter but "guilty" of rioting and were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. A later appeal was dismissed.
Remarkable scenes were witnessed at the funeral of Station Sergeant Thomas Green. The whole route from Lower Court Road, where he had lived, to the Ashley Road cemetery was lined with rows of people. The High Street was crowded - rarely had so many people assembled in Epsom before.
The procession, in which over a thousand men took part, included eight hundred police officers and river police, sixty special constables, the local fire brigade, postmen, most of the local council, officers from the Canadian army, comrades of the Great War and patients from the Horton War Hospital. Every shop on the route was closed and most of the houses had their blinds drawn. The funeral service took place across the road from the police station in Ashley Road in the Wesleyan Church (now Epsom Methodist Church) to which Thomas Green belonged. The church had also been damaged in the riot.
The procession arrived at the Ashley Road police station lead by V Division Band playing Chopin’s Funeral March. The number of flowers sent was huge. They filled the front room of Thomas Green’s home in Lower Court Road, where he had lain the night before his funeral and spilled out across the front garden. There was a tribute from Lord Rosebery marked ‘Honour and Regret’. On the head of the coffin was a beautiful wreath of roses, lilies, carnations and stocks from his invalid widow - her writing could only just be deciphered as she was recovering from a stroke. “With deepest love to my dear noble husband who was killed doing his duty from his broken-hearted wife and daughters Lily and Nellie”.
The coffin was followed by four sergeants of V Division and four members of the Epsom force. Three of the sergeants - Kersey, Greenfield and Blaydon - had been injured in the riot. They acted as bearers at the chapel and cemetery. At the cemetery the coffin had Guard of Honour of 12 Barnado boys from their home in East Street.
The funeral arrangements were very kindly carried out free by Messrs. G. and J. Furniss. Ex-sergeant Alf Furniss and ex-sergeant Bradley Furniss were friends and fellow veterans of the Great War. Carriages for the mourners were also supplied without charge and the Council decided unanimously not to charge for the grave space.
Thomas Green was a very popular local man with two girls, Lily and Nellie. He came from Billingshurst near Horsham and was one of a family of nine. He was a keen gardener, a member of the Allotment Association, and had done much for allotment holders locally. He was greatly loved by local children who took up a collection of pennies to buy him flowers. Local girls carried handfuls of flowers that they had picked themselves.
A ceremony was held at Epsom Court House to make presentations to the police officers who had taken part in the defence of the police station. The 24 presentations were made by Lord Rosebery. Some of the officers were in mufti having retired from the force since the riot. Lord Rosebery gave each a gold watch or gold chain with medallions inscribed “As a token of public appreciation of the gallant fight by the Epsom Police 17th. June 1919.” Inspector Pawley was presented with a clock and his son Harry Pawley with a silver cigarette case given by Sir Roland Blade MP for the help he gave that night. A cheque for £310 was also given for Mrs. Green who was unable to attend because she was in hospital.
A new Methodist Church app for your phone or tablet
The monthly Prayer Breakfasts on Saturday mornings are at the Manse. There will be a simple breakfast and time to pray for the life and work of our church. Everyone is welcome. Mark and Judith would find it helpful to know if you hope to attend—please letRev Mark Wakelin or the Church Office know.
Future dates for Prayer Breakfasts: 10th Feb, 10th Mar, 14th Apr, 12th May, 16th Jun.