History of Christ Church

Chorleywood Parish Council
British History Online - Rickmansworth
British History - Rickmansworth (St. Mary)
Christchurch Parish Records - National Archives
Photographs Courtesy of hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk

The Formation of the Parish

The present church, consecrated in 1870, replaced an earlier church built on the same site when the parish of Chorleywood was formed out of the area previously covered by the ancient parish of Rickmansworth. This came about by Order in Council dated 3rd December in the year 1845. The parish of Rickmansworth originally extended from what is now known as Northwood to the boundaries of Chenies in one direction and from Watford to Denham and the Chalfonts in the other. The formation of the parishes of Chorleywood and West Hyde were the first, Northwood followed in 1854, Croxley Green in 1872 and Mill End in 1875. On the 13th November 1845 the building was duly consecrated by the Bishop of London as the church of Christ Church Chorleywood, it was declared a separate parish on 3rd December 1845.

The First Church

The church consisted of a single nave, chancel, tower and vestry. It was designed in the Early English style by B.Ferry, F.S.A. and finished outside with flint and Bath stone. The tower capped with a small pointed roof was not demolished with the rest of the original church in 1870, it is the original tower built in 1845 that now supports the spire that is such a feature of our present church. The graceful pointed arch and the tall lancet windows of the tower give some indication of the interior appearance of the original church. Of its furnishings only the communion table remains and that has been drastically altered.

The Parish

The need for a Ministry in this area is shown by the entries in the first Register of Baptism. Whole families were brought forward for Baptism on the same day with ages ranging from 17 years down to infants, obviously families with whom the church had no previous contact. The first Burial Register shows the usual sad story for those times. The number of infant burials tragically outnumbers the adults buried, several from the same family being buried at the same time, children of rich and poor alike.
A Church School was built in 1853 and so that as many as possible could receive the benefits of education there were classes in the evenings for older men and boys. Apparently women and girls were not considered to be worth bothering about, there is no mention of any classes for them.

The new Church

In 1868, the vicar the Rev James Aitkin wrote:
‘The pressing need of greater church accommodation is becoming more and more felt, and I rejoice to know that efforts are being made to raise funds sufficient for the purpose of Enlarging the Parish Church… The congregations on Sundays are generally inconveniently large for the present building.’
Three of the church leaders went to the church on Friday, 5th February 1869 where they arranged to meet George Edmond Street, A,R.A., who designed so many churches, although his crowning achievement was undoubtedly the Gothic design he produced for the Law Courts in London. He advised nothing satisfactory could be done with the existing edifice and suggested they should pull it down and re-build it, with the exception of the tower which he proposed should be altered by adding a spire and throwing out bolder buttresses.
The new building was faced with ordinary split flints which give a more natural finish than the square cut flints often used at that time. It is worth noting how beautifully the various shapes and sizes are fitted together with the minimum of mortar. Bath Stone was used for the windows and Wycombe for the quoins. The interior shows a restrained example of Victorian Gothic, less fussy than a number of churches built round that time. Although the tracery of the shorter windows in the nave may be rather heavy considering the lack of height, the east window and chancel generally are most satisfactory, especially the treble opening formed from two overlapping arches in the wall between the chancel and the organ chamber. The columns and arches dividing the aisles are well proportioned and quite effective when viewed from the chancel. A number of details such as the pointing of the chancel roof and the carving of the corbels, pulpit and font were carried out later in accordance with drawings provided by George Street so that the interior represents a complete conception of a single mind. At this time the tower was left with its small pointed roof, the spire designed by Street was added until later.

After the Re-building

Christ Church in 1905.  Photograph courtesy of hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk

imageThe lighting was improved in 1875 when James Aitkin and his curate designed six hanging brass candle coronae to light the aisles and four standing brass candelabra to light the chancel. It was quite a job lighting and dousing the candles as over 100 were used, not including the candle end scrounged by the organ blower which, with a fine disregard for fire risk, was balanced on the back of his chair behind the organ to enable him to read his “Comic” during the sermon. These illicitly used candle ends were stored by the boys in the mouth of one of the deep bass organ pipes which were hardly ever used and have since been removed. If ever something like the Dead March was played using these pipes and the boy was not smart enough to move them, they came flying out like bullets from a machine gun. Candles remained the sole form of lighting until just before World War I when gas brackets were added. Electric light was installed in 1927 when the brass caned coronae were raised and adapted for electricity and the chancel candelabra were removed. The first burial in the churchyard was that of Susannah Tuffrey who died 5th December 1845 aged 67. It was much smaller than it is now and even when the church was re-built it still only consisted of the land immediately adjoining the church, front and back. The present carriageway through the churchyard was originally the roadway to the school and Vicarage and the entrance to the church was through a small gate in the wall opposite the church door. The churchyard between the carriage way and the common was obtained by enclosing this small piece of common land about the year 1900. Land was given on the other side of the common in lieu of it.

The very fine Lych Gate was given in 1920. At the same time the Churchyard was extended at the back to include part of the Vicarage orchard and in 1937 the land between that and the main road, formerly part of the garden of the Court was presented to the Church.

St. Andrews

The coming of the railway had brought new people to Chorleywood and by 1898 the population had grown to about 1,200. The Parish became an Urban district in 1913 by which time quite a town had grown up on the “Berk” (Chorleywood West). Because of this plans were made some time before for the building of a daughter-church in that area to save people having to cross the common in all weathers for Divine Service. A plot of land in Quickley Lane was purchased for £200 in 1907. The building was dedicated on St Andrew’s Day Monday 30th November 1909 and was known as St Andrews Church Room.

Christ Church

Christchurch approx 1930. Photograph courtesy of hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk

The church 1930-50The church building really looks very much now as it did when it was consecrated in 1870. The text over the chancel arch has been altered, it use to read ‘This is His Holy Temple let all the Earth keep Silence” but the Rev Cecil Hughes got so tired of opening every service by saying ‘Oh Lord open thou our lips” with such a contradictory text overhead that he had it changed to “I will be a Father unto you and ye shall be my Sons and Daughters saith the Lord Almighty”. There was originally some more text on either side of the east window, with the opening words of the “Te Deum” written on ribbons entwined with bluebells and lilies as seen in Victorian scrap-books. These were replaced in 1939 with the Commandments which had previously been at the back of the church on either side of the tower arch, The carved stone representing Our Lord in Majesty, enthroned upon the world, was carved by an unknown sculptor for Earl of Lambeth from designs provided by George Street. The carved wood Communion Table came from India and was presented to the first church in 1845. There are also two carved stool seats used occasionally which came from the same source. The Communion Table was enlarged and adapted for the present church by adding extra panels at the end, carvings being brought form the sides to the front so skillfully the joins can hardly be seen. Later the pointing of the ceiling was carried out by David Bell after designs by George Street. The stylised paintings of lilies and roses which fill the quatrefoil openings of the Communion Table were not there originally, they were added in 1886.

All the stained glass windows are by Clayton & Bell except the three in the north wall of the nave which are by Heaton & Butler. All the windows in the chancel, except the east window, were given by the Barnes family. The east window depicts scenes in the Life of our Lord. The inscription is incomplete as the window was damaged by a bomb which exploded behind the Manor House during an air-raid in the last war The oak panelling on either side of the Communion Table was placed there quite recently, covering some encrusted Victorian tiles which were very attractive in themselves but not really suitable in that position.
The organ, built by Wm Hill & Sons, was purchased with funds raised by James Aitkin. The silver communion vessels were presumably presented to the old Church, there is no record of the donor. The silver flagon is Georgian and the silver chalice and paten are dated 1845. The lovely silver-gilt chalice and paten were given in 1886 together with the large cross standing above the Communion Table and the brass Alms Dish. When presented the chalice, paten and cross were only ornamented by engravings but were later enriched with sapphires, garnets, seed pearls, carbuncles, crystals and other semi-precious stones.

1970 onwards

In 1973 a comfortable lounge was built at the west end of the church to meet the needs of the rapidly growing congregation. At last the church had cloakroom facilities. These were halved shortly afterwards to make room for a parish office. Access to the church from the lounge was made under the tower. The pipes for the organ were moved to their present position in the tower when a new organ was installed in 1977. This organ was built by Wood-Brown Ltd and had an electronic console which meant it could be sited anywhere in the church giving the organist a better view of the service.
The church had a narrow escape in 1984. On 10th May the spire was struck by lightning setting the wooden shingles on fire. Fortunately the fire was spotted from the Vicarage and the fire brigade arrived in time to save the structure, although extensive damage was done to the electrical systems of the church and church room.
Gradual refurbishment of the church and its facilities has continued throughout the last few years of the 20th century. A front and rear office space was built and the Church Room area extended. Additionally, recarpeting, redecoration and upgrading of facilities has provided a good working environment for the office staff. Within the church itself recent developments have included:
(I) A gradual upgrading and enhancement of the sound and PA system.
(ii) The introduction of adjustable lighting enabling the creation of differing moods in the church.
(iii) A video link from the church into the church room, especially appreciated by parents in the bulging creche and worshippers at special festivals (e.g. Christmas, Easter) when the church is full.
(iv) Since March 1999 the recarpeting of the church and the introduction of interlocking, movable chairs has allowed for differing layouts and uses of the church, for worship and social activities. The chairs replaced those that had been in the church since 1933, and were becoming very much the worse for wear

2011 The Junction

After several years of planning, the church room built in the 1970s was demolished in October 2010, to be replaced by a modern two storey building, The Junction. Building work was completed in July 2011 and It was officially opened by The Bishop of St Albans, The Rt Rev Alan Smith on 3rd September 2011. Details of the building work and ther final results can be seen on the Junction pages on this website.

The Future

There is great diversity in the uses to which Christ Church and its facilities are put from day to day, throughout the year. The buildings are the hub of a very active, thriving and vibrant community. As a church Christ Church recognises the need to be continually developing its facilities. The church is a beautiful historic building, but it is also the centre for an active faith community, reflecting the fact that the Christian faith speaks of a Living God interested and active in the world today.
So Christ Church is now looking ahead into the 21st Century to see how the buildings and the site can be an even more effective centre of faith and of service to the local community.