By the mid-19th Century, Croydon was growing at such a rate that it needed a new church, specifically for the servants of those who formed the congregation at what we know today as the Minster. DAVID MORGAN charts the history of the Parish Church’s ‘chapel of ease’
St Andrew’s Church on Southbridge Road was built in 1857 as a “chapel of ease” to the Parish Church. This meant it was a new place of worship constructed inside an existing parish for folk to attend instead of the main church.
The person tasked with getting the new church completed was Rev J H Rudolph, the rector of Sanderstead. A house went with the new church, plus an endowment of £2,000. It was to serve an area comprising much of the Old Town, Union Street with parts of Duppas Hill Lane and Terrace, West Street and Queen’s Street, with a total number of residents of about 2,400.
It was constituted as a “consolidated chapelry” by an order in the council in June 1861.
Black’s Guide to Surrey of that year described St Andrew’s as a “church for the poor, with about 300 seats, all free”. The small building, with a nave just 25 feet wide, saw some minor improvements over the years until, in 1891, a major upgrade took place.
Costing £2,252, with the work carried out by Mr Wimburn of Croydon, a south aisle was constructed together with a new chancel, a Lady Chapel and additional vestries. A further 90 seats could now be accommodated. Edward White Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, attended the official opening ceremony in November 1891.
The most recent extensive change to the building happened in 2011. The architects Lee Evans Partnership designed and built a most stunning internal transformation. The church space was divided into two, with a secular space and its tiered seating, divided from a community meeting area by a crystal glass screen.
The installation of such a screen that could change from clear to opaque with the application of electrical voltage was the first of its type in any church in Britain. The redesign allowed the building to begin to host events such as the graduation ceremony of the Croydon Children’s University and a range of dramas and musical concerts, as well as its usual services of worship. The Hive-Croydon Charity was created to run a hub of activities for the wider community.
Many people, both clergy and congregation, have made huge contributions to the life of St Andrew’s over the years. The importance of education is a recurring theme in the parish. Rev Fitzroy John Fitzwygram arrived in 1861, during the absence of the first vicar Rev H R Reynolds.
Fitzwygram was no stop-gap appointment though.
An article from the very first edition of the Croydon Times, dated June 29, 1861, set out the new vicar’s plans. The editor must have been very pleased with his scoop.
“The Rev J. Fitzwygram is working great improvements in the St Andrew’s district to benefit the working classes. He has issued an appeal for assistance in his labours.
“He has two objects in view. First, he requires their aid in establishing a school. St Andrew’s now has a District assigned to it of 2,000 inhabitants but at present has no Parochial School. The Whitgift School, situated on the edge of the District, accommodates 70 boys, but is already quite full and cannot receive any more scholars.
“About 24 girls and infants attend the school belonging to the Parish Church, and some few go to other schools in different parts of the town. There are, however, a very large number of children who are not at school at all.
“Under these circumstances he has determined to open a school for 75 children in a building he has hired for that purpose close to St Andrew’s Church. The alterations required in the building and the fitting up of the school room will involve an expenditure of £110.
“He has already received the following donations: Sir Robert Fitzwygram, Bart. £20, Lady Fitzwygram £10, Lady Baker £5, Miss Fitzwygram £5, Rev J Fitzwygram £10, Rev Reynolds £3, Rev Hodgson £3, Rev. Randolph £10, Mr Newton £1, Mr Clouter £1, Miss Russell 10s.”
Thus, the St Andrew’s School was born in premises in Lower Coombe Street, adjacent to The Cricketer’s Arms.
Rev Fitzwygram departed at the end of 1863 to take up a vicar’s post in the newly-formed parish of St James, Hampton. He carried on with his drive to improve the standard of education for children there. Thanks to his generosity and foresight, together with other family benefactors, students at Hampton Grammar School are still able, today, to apply for a Fitzwygram Bursary.
St Andrew’s links with schools carried on until very recently, when the secondary school was closed in July 2020. Many different roles have been carried out by the clergy to support their school.
Rev Percy Bruckin was an active governor during his 19-year stay from 1947 to 1966.
Teacher recruitment adverts for this period show that it was to him and his vicarage address that prospective candidates should post their stamped addressed envelopes in order to receive the job specification and application form.
More recently, Wealands Bell combined a chaplaincy and teaching position at the school with being the parish vicar. Today, Folake Makanjuola is the priest in charge, arriving in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic into a new role as part of the team ministry centred on Croydon Minster.
A curate appointed in 1863 was William Champion Streatfeild. Educated at Eton and Trinity Cambridge. His family had a focus on social need, as his maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer. The Streatfeild name will be familiar to keen readers. His granddaughter, Noel Streatfeild, wrote many novels, including the ones with “shoes” in the title which followed on from her hugely successful Ballet Shoes book published in 1936.
Rev Henry Ralph Blacket (sometimes spelt with two Ts), was vicar at St Andrew’s between 1880 and 1889. Born in 1815, St Andrew’s was his last church before retirement. His name can be found in many church archive and newspaper articles of the day.
In 1883, the Canterbury Education Board Report records Blacket as paying his five-shilling annual subscription. In those days, because of Croydon’s close links with the Archbishops, the area came under the direct auspices of Canterbury.
The CEB recorded that there were 398 pupils in St Andrew’s School, compared to 385 for St John’s, the Parish Church. Both schools were given a grant of £100.
Blacket’s name was in the local papers in 1885. He was reading a lesson in the Parish Church service celebrating the Croydon Church Choirs Union; 12 local church choirs sent members to sing on that night, including St Andrew’s, and there was a congregation “that almost filled the building”.
Blacket was married twice and had 11 children, many of whom inherited the longevity gene from their father, who lived to be 90. One daughter Mabel died in 1954 aged 87 and another, Constance, died in 1956 aged 95.
Perhaps the most celebrated member of the congregation over the years was Cicely Mary Barker, the artist famous the world over for her “Flower Fairies”.
Jane Laing’s book Cicely Mary Barker and Her Art, published in 1995, outlines Barker’s close links with St Andrew’s and the local area.
In 1924, Barker moved to a three-storey semi-detached Victorian house at 23, The Waldrons, with her mother, Mary, and her sister, Dorothy. The three of them attended church regularly, at St Andrew’s and at St Edmund’s, Pitlake, preferring the “low” style of worship found there to that of the “high” parish church.
Barker was a devout Christian all her life. Canon Ingram Hill remembers her as “one of the pillars of the St Andrew’s church”. Indeed, the fellowship that she found in the church meant so much to her that she named her final home in Storrington after it.
In 1941, she painted individual pictures of the seven sacraments in oil on smooth, fine canvas, to decorate the font. These are still there today. She used her fellow worshippers as models. Canon Ingram Hill even appears as the curate.
Barker designed a stained glass window in memory of her sister Dorothy at St Edmund’s, Pitlake. Although we know what the window looked like, it was lost after the church was demolished.
A major work of Barker’s, entitled Out of Great Tribulation, was painted for Norbury Methodist Church in 1946. After this church was closed, the painting was stored for many years, until it was loaned to St Andrew’s to be hung there.
This painting, which is a highly emotive one, represents hope rising from sadness. Some of the characters are taken from the local community: Barker’s mother stands by the right of the Christ figure; the airman is Albert Warren, whose parents owned a greengrocer’s in Southbridge Place; the elderly gentleman behind the airman is probably a dentist named Mr Allen.
Apparently, each model received £5 for sitting for Miss Barker and received one of the preliminary pastel sketches. Even her earlier flower fairy figures were modelled on real life, using children from her sister’s nursery school.
The church building today might look modest from the outside, surrounded by roads busy with traffic and with the Croydon Flyover nearby, but it packs a punch with its history and its memories.
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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