The history of an English church, with photographs.
The Story of St Swithun's, Purley was produced in collaboration with the Bourne Society for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the present church building in 1954. It details the earlier mission churches in the area and the people associate with them, moving on two fundraising in the late 1930s for a new building, its start and halt to building in WW2 and then the final build in the early 1950s. Activities and worship at the church are covered in recent decades until 2004 when the work was published.
Growth of Purley in the 20th Century
Church life in Purley was to all appearances non-existent until the growth of the village on the outskirts of London in the late19th century, when prosperous business men and their families began to build houses on the open downland, and tree-lined roads gradually covered the beautiful slopes and valleys. Previously, Purley had been an area of open country where the four parishes of Beddington, Coulsdon, Croydon and Sanderstead met. It has no church older than Christ Church, built in 1878, though records show that early in the 14th Century the Bishop of Winchester gave the family of Pirelea a licence to hold divine service in their oratory and that Reginald of Pirle and John de Purle were granted preachers’ licences in 1332 and 1346 respectively. In 1879, 565 people lived in Purley, in 69 cottages and villas. There was rapid development in the area soon after 1900. By 1975-6, the population had grown to 17,020 and in 2001 it had reached some 26,000. Ward boundary changes since then have made it more difficult to define Purley’s population.
The Formation of St Mark’s, 1905
First steps toward the creation of the parish of St Mark, Woodcote, were taken in 1904 and a temporary iron church was built in 1905. It was in the area known in the days of Edward VI as “the rabbit warren of Woodcote”. It was carved out of the ancient parish of Beddington, with the addition of Ellen Avenue (or Lansdowne Road as it had become by 1911) from the parish of Coulsdon. As it was delicately put by the writer of a brief history of St. Mark’s in 1931, the Bishop of Southwark, in delineating the boundaries of the new parish, had ruled that the area around Ellen Avenue should be incorporated so that “St. Mark’s should have a share of the poorer brethren”.
It is clear that that the church’s responsibility to those living in this part of the parish was taken very seriously. In 1906 the Rev Lucius Smith, the first Priest-in-Charge appointed to St Mark’s, organized a Mission run by the Church Army. It was led by Captain Harvey, who ran roadside services from his cart, helped by ladies of the parish who played for the hymns. Ninety magazines a month were delivered to the hundred or so houses in Ellen Avenue. Volunteers visited homes in the area and ‘took on’ some ten families each, seeking to get to know each family well. By 1910 there were 11 such visitors.
The welfare state was still a concept of the future. Provident clubs were set up; and Lucius Smith negotiated discounts with the local coal merchant for members of the Coal Club, with bonuses in December from the church fund. Further discounts were arranged for Clothing Club members and also with local Purley shops. By 1910 the Mission had a Men’s Club (run by members of St Mark’s), a Quoits Club and two Football Clubs. A weekly social evening was held especially for those ‘in service’, for many servants had no friends in the area to whom they could go on their evenings off. Bundles of secondhand clothing were collected for the area, especially suits, boots and shoes for men so that they were better equipped to apply for jobs. In 1912 a fund was instituted to employ a Nurse to provide for the poor when they were ill or required antenatal or post-natal care.