A History of the Little Iron Church

Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of “The Little Iron Church” St. George’s Church, West End, Esher

Article Reprinted with kind permission from Angela Stockbridge
“The Little Iron Church” January 2004

WEST END, ESHER is steeped in history dating back to the Domesday Book. Many of its residents have resided in the village all their lives. The local residents’ are very proud of their village and it is widely regarded for its annual Flower Show. It has many organisations and societies, such as: the Friendship Club, Sports & Social Club, Cricket Club, Pigeon Club, Racing Club, French Circle, Golf Society, two Women’s Institutes, the newly extended Village Hall and the Playgroup. Although it is only a few miles from London, the village is surrounded by wonderful woodlands, and is host to many kinds of wildlife and natural habitats, e.g. the very rare ‘Star Fruit’. Our resident pair of Swans nest each year on the Prince of Wales pond (one of several in and around the woodlands) bringing much excitement each year when the cygnets arrive! Built in 1879, this year St. George’s church celebrates its 125th Anniversary.

In 1878, or perhaps a little earlier, Queen Victoria donated a piece of land for the building of a church and a school. A need was felt to make provision for “the spiritual wants of the “Aged, Poor and Infirm of West End” and to spare them from the steep and often muddy climb into Esher. Following the building of the School, and thanks to the splendid Mr. Robert Few of Wolsey Grange at Lower Green, the villagers got their church. Mr. Few, a churchman, offered to “build a temporary iron church on part of the site granted for a permanent church by the Queen. The Rector responded with gratitude and wrote: “Regard this iron church as something of a Missionary Church”. And so, the little iron church was erected during the hardest winter in memory, costing less than £300, and was opened on 30 March 1879. The structure consists of a corrugated iron exterior with wood panelling lining the interior. The windows are 19th Century; the East window (which in fact is not aligned to the east, but rather to the south east) was obscured when the sanctuary was altered during the refurbishment in 1961. The solitary bell in the shingle-spired bellcote is mid-19th Century. The Oak litany desk, mahogany elbow chair and elm kneeler are late 19th Century, while among modern items are two particularly interesting pieces.

Interior of St. George’s Church. West End - May 2000
Interior of St. George’s, c.1900 showing the ‘south east’ window

The church has a timber frame with corrugated outer cladding, ‘was built as a temporary measure!’

Revd. Samuel Lilckendy Warren (c. 1900)

‘The Iron Church’, West End

Mr. Braddock having, as we announced last month, resigned the office of Choirmaster and Organist on receiving an appointment in Long Ditton, his own parish, has been presented with an ink stand in memory of his connection with the Choir of the Iron Church, bearing the following inscription: “Presented by the Rector, Treasurer, and Choir of the Iron Church, Esher, to R.F. Braddock, on his resignation, October 1889.”

The Old Pipe Organ was bought from the Welsh Guards when they were stationed at Sandown Park in the 1914-18 War and was sold recently to an organ restoration enthusiast.
The Pewter bowl for use in baptism is shaped like a miniature font and was designed and made by the well-known artist and craftsman, Tom Neal.
The Oak lectern was presented to the church in 1980 by Mrs. Sheila Haslett and her family in memory of Michael Haslett. The lectern was made by Robert Thompson Craftsmen Ltd of Kilburn
St. George’s Church c.1900 An Autumn picture of the village landmark when it was covered with ivy.

Very special is the Bible, which had been a gift from the Duke and Duchess of Albany on the occasion of their marriage in 1882. After the death of her husband in 1884, the Duchess became a great benefactress to the schools as well as to several charities and was very active in local affairs. She often attended the church in West End and when she left Claremont in 1916 she gave this beautiful Bible for the use of the church. The Bible is full-bound in blue leather with brass clasps and corner decorations and end papers of moiré silk. The edges are gilded and tooled with honeysuckle flowers and leaves.

The Holy Bible presented by The Duchess of Albany following the death of her husband, Leopold.
On the front cover is an applied duke’s coronet above the monogram ‘L H’ in gold and silver.

The centenary festival was celebrated during 13-17 June 1979 when the Bishop of Guildford preached at an open air service. The little iron church was built to last for just a few years, long may it remain in its endearing simplicity—perhaps as a symbol of endurance in the new Millennium.

George Thirtle (one of the oldest residents in West End) remembers…. “We normally had Evensong there (I’m going back now to the period between the First World War and the mid-1930s) at 3.30 in the afternoon and Communion service once a month, but I wasn’t allowed to attend the service until I was confirmed at Christ Church. The old Verger and bell ringer was a man named Adams.

Moment of history at church on the green!

The Revd. William Allberry Rector of Christ Church, Esher, officiates at the first marriage in the history of St. George’s Church (May 2000
The first marriage to be held in St. George’s Church in its history, when a special licence had to be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
St. George’s Church, West End. January 2004

February 2004
Angela Stockbridge
West End