A History of St James’ Malden

A History of St James’ Malden




(from a prayer used by the Right Reverend F. 0. T. Hawkes, M.A.,

Bishop of Kingston, at the consecration of St James church on

Wednesday, 20th September 1933).

A living community has a debt to the past. The story of St James has deep roots. Those who attended the consecration of the church in September 1933 could look to their forebears with gratitude and from their example draw courage and faith for the future. We too do the same today.

Our own debt to the past fails to be discharged in dedicated service both here and now and in the unfolding years, whatever they may bring of joy or sorrow. This brief history of our parish is therefore presented not as a nostalgic retrospect but as the prelude to a future in which we shall need to demonstrate our continuing faith, hope and love.

In 1262 Walter de Merton, then Chancellor of all England, assigned the management of his Surrey estates to Merton Priory for the support of those students from the diocese of Winchester working in the schools at Oxford. Two years later a charter was granted for the foundation of Merton College, Oxford and there began its long connection with Malden. From our point of view it culminated in August 1929 when the college gave a site for the erection of a new church at the corner of Malden and Bodley Roads – the latter name a link with Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Early in the 1856 a temporary church was established and called St James in Poplar Walk – now Grove. It was the first church in New Malden. It got off to a good start but the first Priest Rev Stirling had to change his surplice in the road as the little church was so small. By the middle of the decade it was superseded by Christ Church, a larger building needed to accommodate a growing congregation. There is an echo of a different age in a report in the Surrey Comet of 1st February, 1868 of a series of lectures delivered by clergy and laity ‘specially designed to reach the labouring classes who are invited to come in their working clothes’.

By the end of the century there was need for more churches. So Christ Church built two daughter churches, one called St John the Divine in Kingston Road (The North side of the Parish) and the other St James in Burlington Road (on the south side of the Parish). St James Mission Church as it was called was built in 1903 at a cost of £1,025, It was always intend that a larger St James Church would be built some time and a site in Westbury Road was purchased in 1908 for this purpose.

Moving down the years, a new bishopric of Southwark was created in 1905. It comprised the administrative county of London south of the Thames – described by Sir Charles Booth as ‘the largest area of unbroken poverty in any city of the world’ - together with the parliamentary divisions of East and Mid Surrey. But it was not until the 1920′s that the developments leading directly to the building of the present St James church began. By then an expanding population was pushing out into the new housing estates of South London. Emerging needs required more clergy and new churches – but where were they to come from? In an imaginative act of faith, Cyril Forster Garbett, then Bishop of Southwark, launched the Twenty Five Churches Appeal in 1925. In three years a poor diocese achieved the seemingly impossible and raised over £100,000 – that is, something like £2 million in present day money. As much again was raised locally or from other sources.

The Bishop wrote that ‘unless immediate action is taken, we shall lose a great and unique opportunity….. In fresh surroundings people are often ready to make a fresh start in their lives. But if they settle down without any church in their neighbourhood, and years pass before one is built, they will probably find they can manage without it and when it does come they will regard it as an unnecessary luxury. Nor must we think only of the adult men and women,- we must provide for spiritual teaching and fellowship for the children and adolescents who otherwise will have little opportunity of knowing what is meant by membership of the living body of Christ.’

St James was one of last of the twenty five churches to be built. On 5th November, 1929 a separate ‘District for spiritual purposes’ was formed partly out of the parishes of Malden and of New Malden and Coombe and partly from the district chapelry of St Saviour, Raynes Park. Reverend Geoffrey Longsdon, M.A (1929-1941) – commemorated in the Lady Chapel of the present church – was appointed ‘Minister in Charge’ The first corporate act of worship in the new district was Evensong the

following Sunday in the little mission church in Burlington Road, dedicated to St James and so providing a link between the nineteenth century church in Poplar Walk and the twentieth century building. The Mission church was later known as St James Hall. Still later it was sold – an office block now stands on the site – to provide funds for the erection in 1966 of the present St James Hall adjoining the church. Forty or fifty people attended that first service. There was no church council, no choir – but there was unbounded enthusiasm and faith.

In May 1930 a Church Building Fund was launched and by the end of the year it had reached £1,000. In March 1931 E. Newberry and C. W. Fowler were appointed as architects. There was a sense of urgency, when 1931 closed plans for the present day church had been fully approved. On St James Day (25th July) 1932 work began. In October, Lord Ashcombe, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, laid the foundation stone. In the evening of that day those who had made it all possible took time off. A social was held at the Graham Spicer Institute and among the performers was a Miss K. Jeffes (now Mrs Darby) who gave a recitation. Miss Dorothy Bates (better known to us as Mrs Jefferies) appeared with the Ambleside Players in a sketch, The Stop Gap Hero’. And then back to work.

By a fortunate chance a pipe organ all of fifty years old – was bought for a song (£100) in 1932. It was restored by Henry Speechly and Company at a cost of £700 and contributed to the strong musical tradition of the church until it was pensioned off. Almost forty years later the Copeman Hart Electronic Organ was installed (July 1970) and this to was replaced by a new pipe organ console in the mid 1990s.

A peal of eight bells was considered – the bellfounders quoted £736 for casting and hanging – but there was some doubt whether the local population would take kindly to it. In the end the Church Council settled for a single bell. A stained glass windows was proposed by the architect for the large west window, but this was turned down.

On Wednesday 20th September, 1933 the new church was consecrated by the Right Reverend F. 0. T. Hawkes, M.A., then Bishop of Kingston, in the presence of some 850 people. No fewer than 150 had to be turned away. This date should had been the 25th of July but was postponed due to the illness of the Bishop of Southwark.

On the previous Sunday, as a symbol that the new church was more than bricks and mortar, the final evening service in Burlington Road was followed by a procession to the new building of some 80 or 90 people led by cross and choir, demonstrating – as the consecration hymn put it – that Christ was their head and corner stone. A piece of stone from Southwark Cathedral was incorporated into the west wall to serve as a reminder of the wider loyalty owed to the diocese.

Excluding many gifts of furnishings, the cost of the new church and its fittings was £12,500 of which about half came from diocesan and other sources. The rest was raised by the parish – some £4,000 prior to the consecration and the balance by 1935. The mood was one of confident, forward looking enthusiasm.

Much was achieved in those pre-war years. Geoffrey Longsdon not only bought a house opposite the church to serve as a vicarage but in anticipation of housing development on the fringe of the parish acquired the site of what is now Green Lane Hall and also the land adjoining the church on which the present St James Hall now stands. Green Lane Hall was opened in 1937. The building was extended in the next two years and so enabled the spiritual and social needs of that part of the parish to be met. A parish tennis club played on courts behind the hall – an illustration as good as any of people who worshipped, worked and played together yet succeeded in avoiding introversion. The Electoral Roll increased from 160 at the end of 1933 to 480 in 1939. A new generation was coming along; the Sunday School had 180 girls and boys on its books at the end of 1933. One more thing something like one eighth of the parish income went to missions.

The optimism of the new parish contrasted with deepening external tensions. The sanctuary gates installed in thanksgiving for peace, September 1938′ recall the false sense of reassurance which followed the Munich Agreement. It was not after all ‘peace in our time’ as many supposed. In January 1940, the Bishop’s letter, written in the ‘phoney war’ period which followed the outbreak of war, ventured the view that as the year begins its course we are all of us impressed with the sense that events of decisive importance for the future history of mankind may come to pass before it is over’.

In the same issue of the parish magazine, Tudor Williams – with a thought for the physical well-being of its customers, advertised that ‘all wool goods will be unprocurable after this month’. One way or another the world would never be the same again.

Late in the afternoon of 16th August, 1940 the sirens sounded. Bombs – 150 in all – began almost immediately to rain down on New Malden. Tennis at Green Lane Hall did not go to game, set and match. Those who played finished the day helping the injured within the parish. A high proportion of the 550 casualties with the (then) Borough of New Malden and Coombe suffered in the course of the war occurred in this raid. One bomb fell on the corner of South Lane and Green Lane badly damaging the shop and post office – the war had come home. Thirteen hundred houses were damaged and 84 were destroyed or had to be demolished.

But in general the minutes of war time meetings of the Church Council reflect the necessary but unheroic business of trying to carry on so far as wartime conditions allowed. The two church halls were for some time used for civic purposes. On 18th June, 1944 there began eighty days of flying bomb attacks nerve wracking and viciously damaging. On 20th June the east end of the church suffered serious blast damage. Services had to revert to Burlington Road Hall and continued there until October 1947 when temporary repairs made a return to the church possible.

The war years brought other changes – not all of them easily assimilated. Early in 1941 Geoffrey Longsdon left the parish after eleven and a half formative years. His successor, Charles Abdy, unsupported by a curate, bore a heavy load. He led the parish towards a then unfamiliar churchmanship. Servers were appointed for the first time in 1941 to add a dignity to the Communion Service’. In the following year a Parish Communion took its place as the main service of the week. On Trinity Sunday 1944 Eucharistic vestments were introduced and henceforth worn at all celebrations of Holy Communion. Some preferred the old ways and could not easily reconcile themselves to change. By January 1945 the membership of the Freewill Offering Scheme had fallen to 58 – scarcely more than a third of its membership at the beginning of the war. The decline also reflected other factors. Removals due to enemy action had taken their toll. The damage to the church was another discouragement. More generally, the war had weakened the authority of the church at large.

There had to be a re-awakening but it was not easily accomplished in the drab post-war years. A Church Council preoccupied with a war damaged and shuttered church and faced with the inadequacy of resources at the end of the war could well feel frustrated. Yet somehow they held together and a cadre of Church Councillors set an example by their continuing membership in bad times as well as good. Such a one was Ted Duck, Lay Reader, commemorated by a plaque in St James Hall, youth leader and in his later years, verger. He was also founder of the Boys Brigade here.

In the remaining years of Father Abdy’s incumbency it was not unmeritable merely to hold one’s own

against the difficulties of the times. There were notes of false optimism from some quarters. Addressing a Diocesan Conference in May 1945 the Chaplain General had invoked Field Marshal Lord Montgomery’s generalship as a model for the church to follow. But how were such notions to be squared with the hard post-war facts of low priority in the queue for restoration of war damage, with difficulty in raising enough money to pay church expenses so that little more than the traditional allocation of communion alms went in support of work outside the parish and with a sense of weariness? A speaker at a Rural-Decanal Conference in 1946 put these domestic preoccupations in their wider context. These were days in which Europe lay bleeding. Post war conditions in Europe were appalling. Despair, failing morals and suicide (that final loss of hope) stalked abroad. ‘Displaced persons’ were the label of human misery. The mushroom cloud of Hiroshima cast a new and terrifying shadow. The church could only hold on.

Early in 1953, Charles Abdy announced his resignation on health grounds. A cheerful Irish priest, Father Smylie, helped steer the parish through the interregnum and in mid 1953, the Reverend Neil Munt and his family switched on the vicarage lights once again.

With the advent of more expansive times and with a younger man at the helm, the war weary years receded into the past. Wartime controls were progressively removed. Progress was a more a discernible possibility. The parish was able to flex its muscles again. The ‘church militant’ might not be all that it was but at least the times seemed more propitious. In 1954 Paul Davis joined the parish as an assistant curate lightening the load carried by a single handed priest in a parish with a population of some 14,000 souls (although two qualified Lay Readers had given such assistance as they could since the later part of Charles Abdy’s time). There were two occasions for Celebration – and who is not the better for that? First 1954 brought the church’s twenty first birthday and then in 1958 came the Silver jubilee – a splendid affair of civic dignitaries and trumpets. Curates came and went; in November 1956 Paul Davis left and was succeeded in June 1957 by Colin Clay who emigrated to Canada in August 1959 and there remains. In the last part of Neil Munt’s incumbency he was supported by Arthur Green.

It is in the nature of St James, an outer suburban parish with a significant managerial and professional element, that its lay people are usually engaged in jobs and often in voluntary service of various kinds beyond the parish boundaries. In William Temple’s words, it is right that the laity should minister to the world. So they have done in many ways but that has not eased the task of successive vicars who have often found it difficult to find enough youth leaders, Sunday School teachers or churchworkers able to shoulder some of the responsibility of parish affairs. In 1962, Diocesan concern was being widely expressed about the need for more lay involvement in church work; the challenge today is even more insistent. We cannot expect a single priest to do everything.

Such considerations had as early as 1960 already led to discussion by the Church Council of the advisability of a Stewardship Campaign at St James. This was an ‘era of professionally organised schemes (although in Southwark a Diocesan Stewardship Department removed matters from the commercial arena) and there were some misgivings about the importation of methods some felt to be intrusive. It was not therefore until 1962 that a decision was taken to go ahead. By then Neil Munt’s resignation was imminent and in the event the Campaign did not commence until November 1963 – a timing which enabled his successor Francis W. L. Butcher, to settle into the parish.

Fears that a stewardship campaign replete with parish dinner, hostesses, jobmasters and so on would lead to an unwelcome air of razzmatazz proved illusory. There was a healthy response in terms of money (an increase in 90% in parish income), time and talents. It was accompanied by a sense of corporate effort enthusiastically undertaken and produced a renewed sense of commitment to the parish and it people and to the church’s work of mission.


There were two important contributory factors. First a clear obligation had been placed upon church members as individuals to consider their personal responsibilities. Secondly an excessive preoccupation with meeting the day to day costs of parish housekeeping was removed and energies were available for the tasks of a caring church. Francis Butcher was a much loved priest for 17 years the longest incumbency in the history of the parish. A feature of his work was the close co-operation with the near by U.R.C. Church which dated from the mission to Malden and a partnership between the two churches was established. During this time a new church hall was built beside the church and the old Burlington Hall was sold to pay it. The formation of a number of parish groups took place – St James Players, the Guild of Needle work, Young Wives (later the Women’s Guild ) and the over 60s Club.

In Advent 1964, Donald Cluer, a former insurance official who was ordained after undergoing the Southwark Ordination Course, arrived in the parish to provide welcome assistance to Father Butcher. Regular services were introduced at Green Lane Hall. They continued during David Miller’s curacy. For many years, too, the Vicar was assisted at the Church by Dr. Norman Cockburn, sometime General Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and a valued friend of all in the parish. In October 1967, healing services were introduced. There is a range of weekday activity extending from Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides to adult organisations, in particular a much valued ‘over-60′ club, all of which have helped to draw people into the church. A Mission Group has given practical expression to a concern for work and prayer beyond the parish bounds. Some years ago it inaugurated what is now a traditional ‘A Christmas Day for the lonely’ in which the parish seeks to demonstrate that there is ‘room at the inn’ for those who are lonely, elderly or stand in need of a hand of friendship. This was led by Freddie and John Stephenson with various couples and families for many years.

In September 1980 Andrew Wilson became Vicar in succession to Francis Butcher who had retired. Very soon his musical ability (for he had a fine tenor voice and played both the Organ and the piano) and his interest in liturgy brought significant developments to St James. He greatly encouraged the choir often singing with it in anthems and recitals. The Alternative Service Book was introduced although the English Missal continued in use on weekdays.

1983 was our Golden Jubilee and a great time of new things and renewing the old. The Mother’s Union was revived, the first Christingle service was held on Advent Sunday, the Icon of St James was installed and proper Stations of the Cross replaced the paper ones we had been using for a year or two. The congregation was encouraged to subscribe and use Bible Reading Fellowship notes and a Bible study group was established.

Andrew was quite a scholar and in many of his sermons he referred to books he had recently read. Often the interest of individuals was caught and many of us started to read more deeply and more widely about our faith. This resulted in a number of vocations to the ministry both ordained and for Lay Readers. Andrew’s example of humble, gentle pastoral care brought a new perspective to the life of the parish. An awareness of the forgotten, the poor and the weak was forced upon us.

Early in 1986 Deaconess Diane Osborn was appointed to St John’s Old Malden with half her time to be available to St James. The full Easter ceremonies were introduced to a mixed reaction from the congregation. On June 29″‘ Anthony Hardy was ordained Deacon to serve in the Health and Safety Executive and at St James. The following year he became a priest with his first Eucharist at St James on Sunday July 12th 1987.

Following from the report “Faith in the City” we started the ‘Coffee Pot’ on the last Friday of the month to raise funds for the Urban Fund. We had a number of special events and made the target for our contribution. Father Andrew then encouraged us to move on to the Parish Audit. We sought to take stock and develop a strategy for both mission and maintenance of the life of the Parish. When Andrew left us in November 1989 the groundwork was complete and the analysis in full swing ready to be taken forward when Christopher Davies was appointed.

After what had seemed to be a long interregnum our waiting was rewarded by the Induction of Christopher Davies as our Parish Priest and vicar. The Induction service was held in the evening of Tuesday June 5th. 1990 by Dr. Peter Selby Bishop of Kingston and the Venerable David Gerrard Archdeacon of Wandsworth.

Throughout the ministry of Fr.Christopher, we were blessed by his kindliness and his ability to steer awkward situations into favorable paths. The old electric organ was replaced by a splendid new Peter Wood console, and the pipes were refurbished. He always saw the best in people and always encouraged them to serve God in whatever capacity that opened up to them. He was a good organiser, and this ability was recognised when he was asked to be the Rural Dean as well as maintaining his Pastoral and priestly ministry here in the Parish. He was a good liturgist, and this was seen in the Eucharist by his dignity and his deep spirituality.

During the course of his ministry the Church celebrated its diamond Jubilee marking the years from 1933 to 1993. The preacher on this occasion was the Rt. Revd. Dr Hugh Montefiore Assistant Bishop in Kingston.

Some words that Fr. Christopher wrote in 1992 are valuable for us in 1999; I quote; “1992 is full of promise for St James. Our fellowship is growing, more people are coming forward to take positions of responsibility and leadership, and I am both confident and full of joy that God will lead us yet further along the road in spreading his Good News” (quoted from Parish Magazine 1992).

I am sure that we will not lightly forget such words. Fr. Christopher’s last Parish letter of 1996 had the words of St. Paul echoing in our ears. “I thank God in all my remembrances”.

When Fr Christopher left the parish was steered through the interregnum by Frs Edmund Lee and Maurice Slattery. Edmund served as a full time curate from 1995-99 and his fine musical and preaching talents were much appreciated. Maurice an hon. curate ordained in 1994 did excellent work as a Pastoral Assistant for some years. He was also a teacher at Beverly Boys School. A large team of clergy and Readers were built up in Christopher’s time. Which included two other Hon. clergy , Gillian King (89-96) and Alec Giffiths (from 88-) Chaplains to local hospitals. Clive Piggot a Lay Reader was ordained in 1996. A local teacher at Beverly School he is a highly respected and well known also in the wider community. When the Revd Philip Thrower was inducted in September 1997 he came to a lively parish, the product of many years faithful service. He is succeeded by the Revd Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente, our current vicar.

The interior of the church is distinctive by reason of its sand-lime brickwork and relatively large area of clear glass both in the traceried west window and in the clerestory.

The proportions of the building are such that the general effect is of a spacious and lofty structure. Apart from the restoration of war damage the main innovation since 1933 has been the decorative work in the apsidal east end. A proposal for the decoration of the sanctuary was first put forward by Charles Abdy; in all three schemes were proposed over a period of some years before Mr. J. Sebastian Comper was appointed on the recommendation of the Diocesan Advisory Committee to develop yet further proposals. His scheme was approved in 1957 and the work was executed during Neil Munt’s incumbency. It transformed the apse from its original Cistercian simplicity into the elaboration of design and heraldic work, which the visitor now sees. There is room for differences of view about its merits.

The church can less reservedly consider itself very fortunate to have acquired two memorial stained glass windows by the famous John Hayward. The earlier is the south porch window installed in 1967 in memory of Arthur Albert Weaver, MM, and sometime Church Councillor. The other is the Curry family memorial window installed in the Lady Chapel in 1973.

The Lady Chapel also contains a statue of the Virgin and child executed by the Camberwell School of Art and installed as a memorial to Gwen Cockell, a member of the Congregation who died in 1958.

In 1983, Stations of the Cross were installed in memory of Mrs Johnston by her family, and an Icon of St James given in memory of Gilbert Hutchings by his wife and son. More recently three more icons have been given and a prayer corner created in the south

Saint James is fortunate in having been served by competent officers for many years and it is essential that this should continue. It is a fact of life that the administrative work increases year by year, with church members being entirely responsible for providing, in their giving, for the maintenance and upkeep of the parish in every aspect of its work. There must be many good folk in our congregation, who will, in the not too distant future, be willing to take on the important offices, which will fall vacant from time to time. It is heartening to see new faces in joining in the many activities, which are an essential part of the parish life. Surely from them will emerge potential officers.

In thinking about the future of St James, we firmly believe that we must continually be trying to adapt to a changing world, but at the same time embracing the essentials of our Christian faith. And here our thoughts very much hinge on the Lord’s words in the Gospel

“a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. “

Apart from using our time and our talents to do whatever we can, we must not overlook the valuable place which Faith, Prayer and Worship must have in our lives. These are most important aspects of our future at St James, an increased awareness of the power of prayer, the necessity to learn about our faith; and for every one of us to play our part in the Body of Christ, according to our talents.

We are reminded of the words of St James in his Epistle, Chapter 2, vv. 14-26: “faith without good works is dead”, and further words of St Paul about Faith, Hope and Love. These must always apply to the Christian community, remembering that the greatest of these is LOVE

Our patron James, first of the apostles to give his life, is traditionally pictured in pilgrims clothes, stripped of unnecessary things, carrying a staff and nothing else. May he and our forebears be a sign to us and an encouragement to step out into the future. The journey is not over the work is unfinished. We are the next part of St James History. Let us make it speak clearly and effectively.

“Wherefore seeing we are compasses about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith. ”

Hebrews 12 v. 1 & 2