by Mike Senior
In May of 2011 The Lee Parish celebrated another centenary. To mark those events, we tell the story in this instalment and next of our ‘new’ church.
As we learnt earlier in this series, there has been a church in The Lee since about 1200 when the ‘Old’ Church was built. However in the middle of the 19th century the Old Church was in a poor state of repair and the leading residents in the area decided that a new, larger church should be built. The new church was dedicated, as was the Old, to St John The Baptist. The Old Church was restored most recently between 1977 and 1986. The Lee is therefore unusual in having two churches in the same churchyard; both churches are consecrated and are used regularly for services.
One of the local dignitaries who was closely involved in the planning of the new church was a Mr William Callow, who lived at The Firs. It is appropriate to use William Callow’s own words to tell the story of how the new church came to be built. It will be noted that, in those days, The Lee was called, simply, Lee.
A plan emerges
“On the 12th of February 1865, the then Vicar of Lee, the Rev. Spicer Crutch M.A., and Mr Abraham Watson of the Manor House, Lee, called at ‘The Firs’ to meet Mr Augustus Frere, an architect and friend of Mr Callow’s, and discuss a project for building a new church at Lee as the old one was in bad repair and considered too small. And later in the same day Mr Callow walked to Lee with the architect.
“During the same month of February a meeting was held to advance the said scheme at which the sum of £325 was promised by those present. Within about four years afterwards a total sum of £1906 11s 1d was subscribed…
The Bishop intervenes
“During the aforesaid month of February Mr Callow instructed the Architect, Mr Frere, to make drawings and plans for the new church. On March the 2nd of the same year, Mr and Mrs Crutch called on Mr Callow with the news that the Bishop of the Diocese (the Rev. Samuel Wilberforce) was opposed to Mr Frere being appointed architect for the proposed new church and claimed that the architect must be the Architect of the Diocese (i.e. Oxford). And on this Mr Callow demurred and the whole scheme came to a standstill…
“In July 1867 the Vicar, Mr Crutch, reported to Mr Callow that he had seen the Bishop who had asked him as to how the building of the new church at Lee was progressing. And the Bishop appeared very regretful to learn that the scheme had been dropped by reason of his (the Bishop’s) stipulation that the work must be done by the Diocesan architect and the Bishop forthwith waived such stipulation.
“On September 26th of the said year, 1867, the work of building the new church was commenced by Honour the builder under the supervision of Mr Frere as Architect.
“On February the 3rd 1869, a service in the Old Church was held for the last time and on February 6th following the Consecration Service of the new church took place. On this occasion were present among others the Rural Dean with ten other Clergymen, Lady Chesham, etc. The collection at the service amounted to £340. Afterwards a luncheon was given to all the visitors at the Manor House by Mr Watson.”
The above note by Mr Callow was however not the end of the story of the development of the new Church of St John The Baptist. The chancel and vestry were considered, after a time, to be ‘inconveniently cramped’. The Vestry was a recess behind the organ chamber and with large congregations the seating in the nave was proving inadequate. In 1908 therefore it was enlarged. The principal members of the congregation were consulted and a committee was set up which was chaired by the then Vicar, the Revd J. Pownall Britton. Plans were agreed, but the Revd Pownall Britton was about to retire and as a consequence the faculty to begin the work was deferred.
In the next instalment, read about how the building was finally enlarged to become the Church we know today.