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History of St. Paul’s Church Woodford Bridge

St Paul’s is over 150 Years Old

St. Paul’s is a parish Church in Woodford Bridge and is part of the Diocese of Chelmsford. St. Paul’s church was built in 1854, in order that people did not have to walk all the way from St. Paul’s in Woodford Bridge to St. Mary's in South Woodford.

What follows is the contents of a booklet about the history of St Pauls. Note that the booklet was written in 1988 so some of the references are out of date.

History of Saint Paul’s, by Giles Monks

Dedicated to F.L.R.

As part of my service for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme it was suggested I wrote a modest account of the History of St. Paul’s, Woodford Bridge. I have been helped by many parishioners and others in this task. I thank them all and apologise for any omissions or mistakes.

GEM 1986

Foreword by Rodney Matthews, Vicar, 1988

As the new Vicar of St. Paul’s, Woodford Bridge it is a great joy to me to be able to write a 'foreword' to the second printing of this very valuable brief history, first written in 1986 by Giles Monks.

I have the privilege of being the tenth incumbent of the Parish. Not a wealthy man, as history says was the first incumbent, but one who like my predecessors has already developed a love for the Church, the building and the Parish of Woodford Bridge. The history says that all Vicar's have left an indelible mark on the Parish; I hope and pray that my mark will be that of helping to build up a loving, caring, worshipping community gathered around this beautiful Church of St. Paul’s.

In our generation there is, sadly, so much "Godless-ness" and it is extremely easy for a pretty "church-on-the-green" to become God-less. This is not the situation at St. Paul’s, God is worshipped, Christ is glorified and I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit is not restricted, but allowed to guide us into ways of proclaiming the "good news" to those amongst whom we live in this our generation.

As you read this booklet give thanks for the vision of those who have gone before us, and the rich heritage that they have left for us; but also remember that the building, valuable and pretty as it is, is only a shell to contain the "real" church of St. Paul’s, Woodford Bridge - the people of God, living, working, loving, caring, praying and proclaiming the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives, in this place.

The history

Woodford Bridge is an ancient village on the main road from Stratford via Chigwell to Dunmow. The ford at Woodford Bridge was one of the few places where travellers could cross the River Roding. The ford was replaced in 1761 by a brick and stone bridge which was in use until 1962 when it was demolished to make way for the Mll and subsequent road widening.

The old bridge was maintained by the Middlesex and Essex turnpike Trust and the toll was collected at the Toll House which stood where the chemist shop next to the White Hart now stands.

Until the 1850's the villagers of Woodford Bridge worshipped at St. Mary's, Woodford walking there by crossing the bridge, up Snakes Lane and across Church fields. About; 1848 a curate of St. Mary's the Rev. Charles Blackmore Waller recognised the need for a church to be built at Woodford Bridge to accommodate the growing population. The Census of 1851 shows a population of 207 adults and 194 children living at Woodford Bridge, working as farm labourers or as servants in the large farms or houses in the area.

Permission was given and building started on the Green formally used for water-cress growing. The stone was Kentish Ragstone and the roof covered with Welsh Slate. The interior was mainly oak beams decorated with silver. The Church had one North aisle and was oblong. The heating was minimal, only the Vestry had a fire to warm the Vicar. The Choir sang from a Gallery at the West End of the Church and the Organ was placed in the North aisle near the present Memorial Chapel. The sermon lasted between 40 and 60 minutes. The middle class gentry sitting in the middle pews - servants in the North aisle out of the way.

The Church was dedicated to consecrated on June 18th, 1854. The Rev. Charles Blackmore Waller became the first incumbent - He was a rich man having connections with the Smith's Linen Bank which financed firms such as Crown Derby and lace firms in Nottingham. He lived in a large Vicarage now demolished but situated near Hill Top Court in Roding Lane North. He had many servants and a carriage to take him into the village and to Church - He built small cottages for his servants in Waller's Close - The large farms at Ray House - also a brickworks (now Ray Lodge Park), Gales Hall now Gales Way, Hill House Farm now a big housing estate and Claybury Hall, now the hospital, provided work for his parishioners. The big houses Thurlby House and Gwynne House also employed as servants many from Woodford Bridge, but the Church records show that poverty was rife as many deaths were among children under 8 years.

On June 1st, 1880 the church was destroyed by fire which started in the Vestry. Mr. Rackham the Churchwarden was the Village baker whose business was opposite the Church - on seeing the flames he had the presence of mind to raise the alarm and save the silver plate and parish records. However the Church was gutted, only the four walls surviving. Work started to rebuild the Church. The Parish was now larger so another aisle was added to the South Wall and a South porch built facing Manor Road. The new organ was built at the West End of the Church with the Choir each side. A local lad was given the job of working the organ pump during services and the title 'blower'. The oak beams decorated with silver were replaced by deal and brass. The new church was re-dedicated on June 1st, 1886.

The Vicar's son also a priest was Charles Edward Waller who married a rich Italian lady from Rapallo - She gave the Florentine marble which was used to decorate the High Altar, pulpit and font.

The Rev. Charles Blackmore Waller died on the same day as Queen Victoria, 22nd January 1901. He was buried with his wife Florinda, who had died in 1876. The Church was decorated with wreaths and black crepe.

The next incumbent was his son the Rev. Charles Edward Waller. He inaugurated the Waller Prize still given annually to the boy or girl who progresses through Sunday School to confirmation.

His son, also Charles, was ordained but became a school chaplain. He left a bequest of silver and money to St. Paul’s when he died in 1972.

The Rev. G. Thornton stayed only two years before going abroad. The Rev. Cecil Mead-Allen died as an incumbent and is buried outside the East Window. Parishioners still recall with love the next four Vicars all of whom left an indelible mark on the Parish.

On December 14th 1987 the Rev Rodney Matthews was inducted as Vicar of the Parish.

After the Great War several changes took place. The most notable of these was the construction of a Memorial Chapel in the North Aisle. The plaque there commemorates the forty-five men connected with the parish who were killed in action. Percy Green on the panel is buried in the. Churchyard, near the Vestry door, having died of wounds on 27th November, 1918.

Opposite the South porch was Gwynne House, which today is the Prince Regent Hotel. It was also a part of Dr. Barnado's Homes, whose children attended St. Paul’s each Sunday before their chapel was built. When the Home closed in the 1960's, the lectern was entrusted on permanent loan to the Church. It was made by the boys in their own workshop and is inscribed, "A gift of the boys of Garden City, Staff and Friends to the Boys' Church, 1928".

The church was electrified, in memory of Helen Waller, sister of C.E. Waller, in 1929. This was renewed by Mr. A. Williams in 1985.

In the South Aisle the Lady Chapel, the Altar and fittings were given by St. Laurence's Church, Catford, when it was demolished in 1968. The altar reredos is on the West wall.

The rebuilt organ was installed and moved to its present position and dedicated on October 1st. 1967 and the West window was no longer obstructed.

The Bapistery was moved from the South Entrance, now the Choir Vestry, to underneath the West window. The roof was completely repaired in 1979, the slated tiles being replaced by plastic ones.

The original Church Bell of 1854 which survived the fire of 1880 was restored in 1983 by Mr. Norman Burr, who found that some 120 years of exposure to damp and hard work had eroded both the wooden bell wheels and metal bearings which he totally renovated. A showcase in the porch contains the original parts.

The collection of Church plate continues to grow. Recent gifts are a ciborium from Councillor J. Clark in 1983, in memory of her parents and a communion set given by Reverend Raynes in June, 1985. The moveable lectern is in memory of Hugh Medwyn Williams who died in 1983.

Inside the church

(Numbers refer to the plan in the original printed booklet)

  1. East window - inscription "It is finished in memoriam".
  2. Patterned Victorian Windows.
  3. To the memory of Henry Samuel King died 1878.
  4. Window to Robert Stacpoole - 17 years churchwarden, died 19th November 1885.
  5. Baptistry window to Amy Katherine Barnett whose father - Henry Barnett lived in Claybury Hall. Amy was baptised 6th August, 1854.
  6. Window in memory of George Taylor Benton died 9th March, 1881. His tomb is the pillar seen from the pond at East end of the Graveyard.
  7. Victorian stained glass - West windows. Restored in 1987 in memory of the local doctor, Dr. R.L. Roberts.
  8. Window to Alfred and Elizabeth Clapham who lived at Thurlby House. Their son Bernard Aubury Clapham killed in Egypt on 27th March, 1917 is on the memorial tablet. See 11.
  9. Plain window.
  10. Window to C.E. Waller erected by his friends. Plaque in memory to Helen Waller .
  11. Memorial tablet to those from the Parish who died in World War 1.
  12. Stone and marble pulpit.
  13. Organ renovated and dedicated on 1st October, 1967.
  14. Font of stone and marble given by Mrs. C.E. Waller.
  15. Memorial window to Rev. F .L. Raynes.

Outside the church

The Churchyard is still open to visitors. The gravestones reflect the history of this Parish. Near the gate is the grave of the first Vicar, Charles Blackmore Waller who died in 1901, with his wife, Florinda, who died aged 52 years on April 17th, 1876, and their two daughters who died young; Florinda Josephine, aged 6 years died in 1854 and Flora Emmeline, who died in July 1862, aged 5 months.

Nearby is the memorial to the Watkins family. They were the owners of Gales Farm, and a ghost was said to haunt the place by ringing bells, supposedly of the young lad, aged 2, who was interred here in 1870.

The tomb of the Reverend Cecil John Mead-Allen who died suddenly, aged 61, in October 1933 is behind the East Window. He was also Chaplin of Claybury Hospital.

In the Churchyard are three Commonwealth War Graves to men killed whilst serving in the First and Second World Wars.

Nearby is a stone to the Widow of Colonel Robert Parker Campbell C.B. of the 90th Highland Light Infantry, killed in Lucknow, 11th November, 1858.

An unusual stone is on the South Side to Charles Humphrey Phillip, aged 21, recording his death by drowning whilst sailing to Australia on 4th November, 1877. He perished with 154 people in the loss of the ship.

The Manpower Services Commission has recently undertaken a review of the Churchyard, and people seeking information of relatives buried here,

can be shown their plot if they make an appointment with the Vicar or Wardens beforehand.

The Cottage adjacent to the Churchyard is the School House. This was built in 1859 from the design of the Prince Consort who wished to encourage country living. It is now a listed building and was used by the Schoolkeeper. The Hall next door was the School. When the school closed in 1906, the buildings became the Church Hall, and the School House was used by the Verger.

The gales of October 16th, 1987 caused two trees to fall down and considerable damage was done to the Cottage and the wall on the graveyard side.

The purpose of the Church as a place of worship and a power house for the local community still remains. 'The pretty Church on the Green' is a living witness to the work Jesus Christ set his followers. As St. Paul writes "We proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake".

As you leave, please think of the work of this parish and all who worship here.

The Raynes Memorial Window

This window was designed in 1987 by Mr. Alan Younger in memory of the Reverend Frank Raynes. For the window the artist has adopted the Flemish idea of a Roundel which in this case is based on the hymn of St. Francis praising Brother Sun, Sister Moon and all Creation.

The Roundel shows wind and water - (Rain being used as a pun) and the small figure of St. Francis. The whole of nature is dependent on the Sun and other natural elements of creation.

The dates in the diamond refer to the Ministry of the Reverend Frank Raynes at Woodford Bridge.

Mr. Alan Younger has also designed some of the glass windows in Woodford Parish Church and is currently designing the Rose window for St. Alban's Cathedral.

Around the edge of the window are various items and creatures which reflect the St. Francis theme of all creatures praising God - However motifs have been included to illustrate some of the interests and events of the Reverend F .L. Raynes' life.

FLR memorial window (upper part)

Returning to the left side working upward the following motifs are shown -

The window should be completed and installed in 1988. It represents the sincere affection which all Frank's friends and parishioners had for him.


In Memory — FLR — Vicar 1965-1987

Incumbents of St. Paul’s, Woodford Bridge

Charles Blackmore Waller 1854-1901
Charles Edward Waller 1901-1919
George Ruthven Thornton 1919-1921
Hyma Goulden Redgrave 1921-1928
Cecil John Mead-Allen 1928-1933
Wilfred de Vaumorel du Pre 1933-1935
Ernest George Gordon Edmonds 1935-1954
Philip Arthur Wright 1954-1965
Frank Lloyd Raynes 1965-1987
Rodney Charles Matthews 1987-2003
John Howard Springbett 2004-2014
Ola Franklin 2014-2023