A little local history

St Matthew's Church, Surbiton, London.



Here are some facts About St Matthew's church

The building was completed in 1875, having taken less than 2 years to build.

The church and the big original vicarage (the house where the vicar lives) were paid for by one man, William Matthew Coulthurst, who was the senior partner in Courts Bank, who owned a lot of Surbiton. (Coutts is still in business; they are the Queen's bankers.)

On the outside of the "East" end of the church there is a stone plaque indicating who built the church, and that it was partly built in memory of his dead sister, Hannah Mabella Coulthurst. The church is not orientated to the East, as is usual, but East-Northeast. It is pointing to the place where Hannah is buried, and to where the Coulthursts lived in Streatham.

Built into the wall behind that stone are: a photograph of Hannah, a copy of The Times, some coins, and a letter from William Coulthurst.

Church and vicarage cost £26,500


The old vicarage was pulled down in 1939, and the present one built on the same site.

When the church was built, St Matthew's Avenue and Kingsdowne Road were only country tracks, and the church stood in a hay meadow. The only nearby house already built was the large house opposite, which is now 24/26 Kingsdowne Rd.

The spire is 173ft (53m) high, and the main roof of the church is 61ft (18.6m) high.

Without the flat roofed room at the "West" end, it is 131ft (40m) long and" 81ft (24.7m) wide .

The rough, flakey stone on the outside walls is Kent Ragstone, whilst the smooth grey stone inside and out is Limestone from Portland in Dorset. Inside, the ochre yellow bricks were hand-made locally, probably in Red Lion Road.


The roof is quite special. It is made of English oak in a style which is normally only seen in Cheshire. If it reminds you of the inside of a wooden sailing ship, that's because centuries ago, they used to use ship-builders to make roofs for big churches.

Like most churches, St Matthew's is in three parts: the Nave (from the Latin for "ship" because of the roof), where the people sit on benches called pews; the Chancel (from the Latin for "singing"), which is a bit higher, and where the choir sit on either side; and the Sanctuary, a small area behind the rai! at the top end.There are two side areas called Transepts where the Nave joins the Chancel. These make the church cross-shaped when viewed from the sky.

When it was built, St Matthew's looked very different from now:

The "East" window was much darker, but was blown in when a V1 flying bomb landed nearby in the war. That also caused the big cracks which you can see in the walls of the Sanctuary. The floor throughout the church was originally black and white marble, as the Chancel shows.

Last century, the church was lit by gas burners which sounded like a gun going off when they were lit.

The raised dais with the red carpet was part of the 1975 reorganisation of St Matthew's, as was the Sitzler Room behind the "West" end of the church, and the side aisles were closed off into long narrow rooms at the same time, so the church once felt much wider.

There used to be a tall wooden pulpit -for preaching- against the right hand big pillar at the front of the Nave, which was removed in 1975.

Two stained glass windows were installed in memory of loved ones in the Northwest and Southeast corners of the Nave.

The big new "East" window features people from the Bible who were famous for telling others about Jesus. The centre panel features the writers of the gospels. (Notice that Luke and Matthew still show the tools of their former jobs, as a doctor and a tax collector, respectively.) It is significant that the bulk of the window is clear: it is to remind Christians that they should look from the Bible to the needs of the world and take the gospel out, not remain in a spiritual ghetto.

Between them are two round designs based on things to do with Jesus' crucifixion:

On the left the crown of thorns surrounds a pillar to which Jesus was tied to be whipped, three nails from the cross and the hammer and pliers used to fix them. On the right the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas for the betrayal surround the cross, the spear stuck into His side, the sponge on a stick used to offer Him a drink and three dice with which the soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes.

At the top are three symbols of God:

On the left, an orb, such as the Queen has as a sign of Majesty  - for God the Father

In the middle, a bread wafer and cup from Holy Communion        - for God the Son

On the right, a dove, as was seen at Jesus' baptism                     - for God the Holy Spirit

By the door to the porch is a coloured rope. This operates a hammer to ring a large bell up in the tower. This is rung 5 minutes before the service starts to call people to church. The bell came from St Mary's, Long Ditton, and is older than St Matthew's.

Also in the tower are a set of eight chimes. These sound like bells, and are rung 14 hour before a service, and after a wedding. Chimes are like giant bronze fire alarm bells, mushroom-shaped, and stacked one above another. Unlike traditional bells, they do not move when rung, but are struck by a series of hammers. The long ropes from these hammers come down to a rack like a large harp, and can be rung by one person pulling on each rope in turn.

The organ was put in soon after the church was built. The main mechanism is behind the pipes, but the organist sits at the manual on the opposite side of the Chancel. We use the organ for some of our services, but the piano, drums and other instruments at others, because we do lots of different kind of services for young and old.

On the left of the Chancel, high above the Choir stalls are painted copies of The Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and The Creed.

On the "West" wall of the church is a memorial to all the people from St Matthew's parish who died in the 1st World War.

The metal gratings in the floor contain the pipes from the old Victorian heating system, connected to a huge boiler under the East end of the church, and no longer used.

The wooden pews in the nave are numbered, because for many years people used to pay "Pew Rent" on the place where they sat in church, the income was used to pay the Vicar. Today, we don't do that because it's wrong and unfair on poor people who are just as welcome in the church as rich people.

The table at the "East" end, and the one which normally sits on the red dais at the front of the Nave are for Holy Communion (some churches call it "Mass" or "The Lord's Supper"), when people share bread and wine as Jesus did with his friends just before His death, to remember that Jesus loves us so much that He died for us on the cross, and then rose to life again on Easter Day.

Don't forget! The church of St Matthew's is actually the people who meet here to worship God, not the building. If the building burnt down, the church would simply meet somewhere else.