Addington’s ancient church has a place in nation’s history

St Mary’s Addington, with a thousand-year history, and linked through all the centuries to Croydon Minster

MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: From the Norman Conquest to the Victorian age, Croydon buildings have been important to the Archbishops of Canterbury, as DAVID MORGAN explains

Much is made of the fact that Croydon Minster has six Archbishops of Canterbury buried there. Yet less than three miles away there are five more Archbishops buried within the grounds of another Croydon church, at St Mary’s, Addington.

St Mary’s proudly states that it is the oldest building in the borough still in public use, with a founding date of around 1080. Croydon Minster claims a named priest, Elfsie, from 960, although the Saxon building in which he prayed has long since crumbled.

Both churches have relied on their respective Lords of the Manor for support and enrichment. From 1386, in the reign of Richard II, St Mary’s had the Leigh family, while Croydon Parish Church, as it was back then, had the Archbishops next door in their Croydon Palace, first used by Archbishop Lanfranc shortly after he was appointed by William the Conqueror in 1070.

The Leigh family’s first connection with Addington and the church was John atte Leigh. Leigh was the Sheriff of the County of Surrey until his death in 1479.

His son, another John, was an avenor to Henry VIII. An avenor’s job was to be in charge of one or more stables.

Henry VIII: did a land deal with the Leigh family to hand them Addington Manor

A son of this John, named Nicholas, married Anne Carew, was a daughter of Sir Richard Carew. In a land deal with Henry VIII during the reformation, Nicholas’ father sold the manor of Leigh which they held in Kent, but in return received the manor of Addington, with the parsonage and advowson which had previously been held by the priory of St John, Jerusalem.

After a period of almost 400 years and after passing down from father to son for 11 generations, Addington Manor was sold. The amount of land that the Leigh family owned was never huge, but their fortune increased through various marriages. In January 1768, Barlow Trecothick, an Alderman of London and a future Lord Mayor, bought the Addington estate for £38,500 – equivalent to about £6.5million today.

Trecothick was a notable merchant, slave-owner and trans-Atlantic politician of the revolutionary 18th century who had lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Jamaica, where he owned an estate, as well as owning a plantation in Grenada.

Around 1750, he moved to the London to work as a commission merchant on trade with North America, becoming a City Alderman from 1764. He was MP for the City from 1768 and was Lord Mayor of London in 1770. It was at this time that Trecothick began building the grand Addington Palace that we know today.

In Boston in 1747, he had married Grizzell Apthorp. Grizzell (sometimes spelt “Grizzel”) was the daughter of Charles Apthorp, one of the richest traders in the colonies, and someone for whom Trecothick had worked for several years.

The wonderfully named Grizzell Apthorp, once the proud owner of Addington Palace with her husband

Apthorp also had a son named East who became a prominent clergyman. After being educated at Cambridge University, Rev East Apthorp returned to Boston but became very unpopular with many of the colonists because of his support of the Crown.

A public spat in which the vicar defended the British Government’s taxation without representation alienated him further; in 1764, he decided to leave America.

His sister Grizzell came to his aid, offering him and his wife rooms at Addington, where she and her husband were undertaking a huge building project on the Palladian-style mansion which still stands today.

East Apthorp had been in the country for only a year when the vicar of Croydon at that time, Rev John Vade, died suddenly. The American was given the post.

Here we can find another link, one mired in controversy and allegations of skulduggery.

John Vade’s father, William, had been an apothecary. Among many wealthy clients whom he was treating was Sir John Leigh at Addington. William Vade was persuaded by a Mr Douglas, a London surgeon of the day, to arrange a marriage between Sir John, an ailing 55-year-old, and Wade’s teenaged daughter, Elizabeth.

In May 1733, the ceremony went ahead and was recorded in the Fleet registers for legal but clandestine weddings. Subsequently, in the Court of Chancery, it was claimed by other members of the Leigh family that William Vade had complete hold over Sir John. They maintained that the marriage ceremony went ahead with the old chap propped up on cushions and too ill, or inebriated, to speak.

The marriage did not last long. Elizabeth, the young bride, died in 1736. Sir John Leigh died a year later. Sir John’s family disputed where any inheritance should go. It was left to the courts to decide that his estates held in Middlesex and Kent were to be settled to Vade as fees for his medical practices.

At Addington later that century, Trecothick not only got on with the job of building his mansion, but he also set about updating and improving “his” church, which is just a short Sunday stroll from the Palace.

Charles Manners-Sutton: the first Archbishop to move into Addington Palace in 1807

An article written by Rev Benham, the vicar of Addington from 1867 to 1873, is quite revealing about the works that were carried out.

St Mary’s was described by him as “being in a wretched plight” in the early part of the 18th century. He tells of how Trecothick “re-pewed” the church but also that he was responsible for an act of ecclesiastical “vandalism”.

For generations, the Leigh family had been buried under the eastern part of the chancel, in a vault that extended for its whole width. Trecothwick broke up any wooden coffins, and piled up the lead ones before bricking up the southern portion of the vault so as to leave room for a vault for his own family.

The Rev Benham describes his shock at discovering bones, debris and coffins piled up to the ceiling when he and the parish clerk opened the vault so that they could tell the parishioners exactly what was there, after years of rumour.

Having created a vault for his own family, Trecothick’s “dynasty” never materialised. Grizzel died childless in 1769; Trecothick died in 1775. His second wife, Anne, also had no children. A nephew inherited much of the family wealth but Addington House was sold, first in 1803 to George Coles and then, in 1807, to the Canterbury See as a palace for the archbishops.

Charles Manners-Sutton, who had overseen the sale of what was soon to become known as the Old Palace, in the centre of Croydon’s market town, and the purchase of Addington, became the first Archbishop to reside in the new palace as well as to worship in St Mary’s.

Rev Benham describes a portrait of him that hung in the church vestry. The coat he wore “was a long surtout, with a double collar, buttoning close round the neck.”

Archbishop William Howley: would preside over Victoria’s christening, coronation and wedding

Manners-Sutton, the first Archbishop to be buried at St Mary’s, was given final resting place “under the organ”  (which is now positioned under the vestry), where his son, who was Speaker in the House of Commons for a time, was also buried.

Manners-Sutton’s successor as Archbishop, William Howley, did much for Addington.

Howley (pronounced Hooley) has been described as the last of the “Prince Archbishops” – he controlled the church’s income (power which was to pass to Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1836), wore a wig and travelled in a carriage pulled by six black horses, which must have been quite a sight on the road from Addington to London.

During his career as a churchman, Howley assisted at the baptism of the then Princess Victoria and later, as Archbishop, informed her of the death of her uncle William IV and her accession to the throne in 1837. He officiated at Victoria’s confirmation, crowning and marriage.

Howley was Archbishop from 1828.

At Addington he rebuilt the main body of the church, together with improving the lives of his parishioners. A great pipe was constructed from the top of the hill to bring a constant water supply to the village, where the cottages were all renovated, A school was built and the Palace had a new wing added with a Chapel.

Under Howley’s direction, the seating capacity in the church was increased to about 260. Howley would be buried in the chancel upon his death in 1848.

Later, in 1875, while Archibald Campbell Tait was in situ, St Mary’s church was closed for a year for significant repairs and extensions. A north aisle was added, while the tower was raised to include a new ringing chamber as, previously, the bells were rung from ground level.

St Mary’s, Addington, is well worth a visit once lockdown is finished

James Bird Sumner, Charles Longley and Edward Benson were the other Victorian era Archbishops who lived and worshipped at Addington. All but Benson were buried at St Mary’s, though the chancel is decorated with wall paintings in his memory.

In 1897, the Church of England sold Addington Palace to Frederick English, a diamond merchant from South Africa. He and his wife Kitty spent a vast amount of money renovating and putting their stamp on the building. In 1909, six years after the work was completed, English died and was buried in St Mary’s churchyard. His widow vowed never to sleep in the Palace again and returned to South Africa.

All the six Victorian Archbishops who lived there would have attended many meetings and services at Croydon. They were the patrons of that church and so would have been involved in official aspects of its life and organisation.

If you have never visited either church then set your sights on at least one of them, once visiting and travelling restrictions have been lifted. Be amazed at the Benson wall paintings, the Leigh tomb and the Trecothick urn at Addington and enjoy the details of the restored tombs of Archbishops Whitgift and Sheldon in the Minster.

Read more: 200-year-old documents reveal story behind the graves
Read more: Cleric who faced court at time of Pepys, plague and puritans

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Addington’s ancient church has a place in nation’s history

  1. Lewis White says:

    Thanks David, for yet another fascinating, fact-filled article, revealing not only the key dates and reigns of monarchs, but the amazing stories of real people. The illustrations also help bring it all to life.

    It is important to not judge a book by its cover, and I must plead guilty to having driven past St Mary’s on a dozen occasions and thinking “what a shame it is not the original medieval building”.

    How wrong I have been !. Will definitely call in and inspect it !

  2. Thanks for your article, David. I have been at St Mary’s, Addington, for 20 years as a parishioner, the first ten as a chorister, and the last ten as the current Organist and Director of Music.

    Whilst I have a generalised knowledge of the Leigh and Trecothick families and the archbishops, whose memorials one can hardly miss inside and outside the church, you have certainly added to my knowledge in this article.

    For a moment, I read it that I sit on top of Archbishop Sutton’s grave when I play the organ, but I think I am right in saying he is under what is now the vestry.

    One of the mysteries of St Mary’s is the lost entrance to the Chancel vault. It may well be that it is covered by the vestry. There is certainly no obvious blocked entrance visible at the eastern end of the church. I didn’t realise that the vault extended across the total width of the Chancel, but that does make sense with hindsight.

  3. HorseWeb says:

    David, thank you for such a great article — so many nicely presented, interesting facts made it a great read! Storytelling about the medieval era makes me think of Shakespeare: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” 🙂

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