A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 2: Catholic Life Up To 1942

Until 1923 any Catholics, who lived in Ashtead, would have walked or perhaps rode or driven to Epsom in order to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments. There were no Catholics in Ashtead in 1859, when a Mass centre was first started in Epsom, but doubtless there were some by 1923.

In that year the church of Our Lady and St. Peter was built in Leatherhead. This was an endowed church and so began its life free of debt. Those Catholics, who lived on the south side of Ashtead, must then have found the journey to church much less arduous as they would have walked to the new church in Leatherhead. However it is probable that those living on the northern side of the village found that the journey to Epsom was still the easier of the two.  Nevertheless Ashtead was officially part of the Leatherhead parish and to this day is still referred to, by some of the long established Leatherhead parishioners, as their daughter parish. Among present day parishioners of St. Michael's there are still a few who remember when Ashtead Catholics had to make the journey to Leatherhead each Sunday in order to attend Mass. It was quite a difficult journey and accomplished by most people on foot.

Speaking just before the Silver Jubilee of our church, Reg and Agnes Berryman recalled those days. Reg and his family came to live in Ashtead in 1916. Reg was not a Catholic at that time and for two years he was the boy solo chorister at St. George's church. He became a Catholic after meeting Agnes, who came from Ireland. Reg was a local postman and, after they were married, they moved into one of the cottages near the pond. This was over sixty years ago.

From the beginning they made the weekly journey to Leatherhead for Sunday Mass. They walked through the lanes and scrambled down one side of the natural valley, which separated Ashtead from Leatherhead, and up the other side and then on to the church. There was not even a by-pass in those days. It could not have been an easy journey, especially when the babies arrived and there was a pram to push.

There was no Catholic school either in those days and so religious instruction of the children had to be provided totally by the parish. To ease the situation, in 1932, Fr. McHale, a curate at Leatherhead, started a catechism class for the Ashtead children so that they would not have to make the journey to Leatherhead. This took place on Saturday mornings and was held in a house which was in Barnett Wood Lane, opposite the end of West Farm Avenue. Reg and Agnes Berryman's son was among those who attended

In the years immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War there was a great increase in the general population of Ashtead. Many new houses were built and city workers found that, because of the development of the rail service, commuting to London was easier and they could move away from the built up areas and into the semi-rural surroundings of nearby villages. Obviously the general population increase meant an increase in the number of Catholics living in Ashtead.

The need for a Mass centre had greatly increased. Apart from the distance that the Catholics had to travel to attend Mass there was the problem of the size of the Leatherhead church. Its capacity was not great enough to accommodate the increased numbers. The possibility of new churches both in Ashtead and in Fetcham, where there was also a population explosion, were considered. The onset of the war and the restrictions in building prevented these discussions from going further.

However in 1942 negotiations were opened with the owners of the Constitutional Hall in Barnett Wood Lane and arrangements were made to rent it each Sunday morning for the purpose of celebrating Mass for the Catholics of Ashtead. These were the first public Masses to be celebrated in Ashtead since the Reformation.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial