The story of Mary Wallis
The story of Ewell United Reformed Church begins in the early 1800s with a young lady named Mary Wallis. She was the daughter of a poor but respectable couple in Ewell. At the age of 9 years old she went into domestic service. She attended a chapel in Epsom and one evening while walking home she believed God was telling her she should build a chapel in Ewell: there was no non-conformist chapel there at that time. So strongly did she believe this that she knelt down there and then and promised God that she would use all her wages, except for what was absolutely necessary for living, to build a chapel. Her wage was just £8 per year!! Her family tried to dissuade her but to no avail.
A year passed and one day she heard that an itinerant preacher was staying in Ewell so she set about finding a room where she could hold services. The only place she could find was a slaughter-house ~ not the best place to hold church services ~ but she scrubbed and whitewashed the walls and ceilings and scrubbed the floors and with a few chairs it was passable. Unfortunately she could only have this room for a year.
A second room was offered to her, and her little congregation worshiped there for 5 years until the owner died. By now she was earning £10 a year and her employer who had been looking after her savings told her that they now amounted to £100. At that point she decided she was going to build a chapel. The story is told that when the £100 had been spent the builder came to her and told her he couldn’t go on with the work until he had £20 more. That night the family heard Mary explaining the matter to God and asking for help. Shortly afterwards, while she was out, two ladies called and left a parcel. In it were £21 and a new gown.
The chapel was built and needed to be formally opened. Mary decided to ask the great preacher, Rowland Hill, but he wouldn’t do it until Mary’s employer told him all about Mary’s struggle to open a chapel in Ewell; he was then so touched by the story that he did agree and the little chapel was opened in 1825.
Mary and her small congregation continued to struggle, losing the chapel through the “machinations of some enemies”, and getting another room in which to hold the services. By this time there were 70 in the congregation.
In February 1865 a new chapel was built in Ewell seating 330 people and this chapel became a Congregational Church in May 1865. This first Congregational Church for Ewell was built at what is now called the Gertrude Longhurst Memorial Gardens in Ewell village (in front of the Sainsburys store). John Carr Sharpe, who laid the foundation stone, was the manager of the gunpowder mills on the river Hogsmill. The church expanded and ten years later a Sunday School and Lecture Hall was built next to it.
Mary Wallis died in 1879 aged 90. 100 years ago a book was published: “THE TRUE STORY OF MARY WALLIS OF EWELL” by T.G. CRIPPEN (published by London, J M Dent, 1915). You can find out more about Mary Wallis here.
Eventually the site in Ewell village was felt to be too small, and in 1938 a new building (the present United Reformed Church) was opened in London Road. The site of the first church was bought by Stanley Longhurst, and made into a memorial garden for his wife. During World War 2 the buildings at the back were used as a shadow factory, where aircraft components could be made without attracting the attention of enemy bombers.