History of Caterham URC

A brief history of this church from its foundation in 1863 to the present day.

The village of Caterham-on-the-Hill has existed since Norman times with a church at the top of Church Hill that can be traced back to 1095 (although this is partly guesswork), changing little before the middle of the nineteenth century.  In the 1860s, the small parish church of St Lawrence  was still the only church for the population of 815 people. The village on the hill developed to service the two new projects: St Lawrence's Asylum which was built in 1870 and the Guards' Depot in 1874.  Both closed during the 1990s though a small healthcare presence remains on a small part of the site.

Prior to 1856, had you walked along the turnpike road in Caterham valley, you would have been surrounded by open fields. The coming of the railway in 1856, made Caterham accessible from London and the valley became a prime development area.  Caterham changed fairly rapidly from being a country village to being a London suburb. The resident population rose by 5,500 in just 20 years.

The history of the Free Church in Caterham began in 1863 when Mr William Garland Soper of Beulah House started services in a carpenter's shop near the railway station.  A Congregational Chapel in Stafford Road was opened in November 1865.  A full-time pastor was appointed in 1868 when there were 29 members and a site for a permanent church acquired on Harestone Hill.  The new building, designed by John Sulman, son-in-law of one of the deacons, was commenced in 1874 and completed in April 1875.  The adjoining lecture hall was added in 1878.  There is a local story that an Anglican bishop visiting Caterham asked to be directed to the church and was taken to the - then - Congregational Church with its splendid clock tower in Harestone Valley Road. When he saw the tiny Mission Church of the Church of England, the bishop is said to have decided that his flock should have an equally good church. Thus in 1882 the present church of St John’s was opened.

On 24 March 1944 the church was burned out by an incendiary bomb, but services were able to continue in the church hall.  The church, rebuilt with a modified internal plan and west end, was reopened in 1951.  A new concourse was added and the Harestone Hall and meeting rooms completely refurbished in 1999, to be a centre for community. Many local organisations hold their meetings on the premises, one wing of which is in use as a counselling suite.


United Reformed Church

We became a United Reformed Church in 1972 when the Congregational Church in England and Wales united with the Presbyterian Church. In 1981 the Churches of Christ were added to our number. The Congregational Union of Scotland joined the United Reformed Church in April 2000.

The United Reformed Church remains a small denomination in the United Kingdom but our membership of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches unites us to a large and world-wide fellowship of churches within the Protestant tradition.

In the United Reformed Church each local church arranges its worship programme and its witness and service to the local community. We observe the gospel sacraments of baptism and holy communion and submit ourselves to the Bible as the highest authority for our faith and action.

We hold a regular church meeting of members and an elected body of elders shares the pastoral and spiritual leadership of the congregation with the minister.

The United Reformed Church is committed to pray and work for the unity of the Church. We are a member of Caterham and District Churches Together and work in close co-operation with all local churches.


John Sulman

Sir John Sulman (29 August 1849 - 18 August 1934) was an Australian architect. Born in Greenwich, England, he emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1885.  He was educated at the Greenwich Proprietary School and in 1863 passed the Oxford junior examination. After his family moved to Croydon next year, he was articled to Thomas Allom, a London architect; he learned the use of oils and water-colour, and executed perspective drawings for Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Following illness, Sulman resumed work in London in 1868. While articled to H. R. Newton, he attended classes at the Architectural Association and at the Royal Academy of Arts, winning the Pugin travelling scholarship in 1871. An associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1872 (fellow, 1883), Sulman designed the Congregational Church at Caterham, Surrey: the first wedding there was his own, to Sarah Clark Redgate (d.1888) on 15 April 1875. They moved to Bromley, Kent. He lectured on applied art and formed the Nineteenth Century Art Society.and the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he was Pugin travelling scholar in 1871.  After travelling through England and western Europe Sulman began practising as an architect in London and designed among other buildings a large number of churches. 

John and Sarah had three children, a son Arthur (1882–1971) and daughters Florence E. (1876–1965) and Edith (1877–1907).  They moved to Sydney, Australia on account of his wife's tuberculosis. They arrived on 13 August 1885 and settled at Parramatta, where his wife died on 31 December 1888.

His parents John (senior) and Martha moved into Addiscombe at Lane Cove Rd. in Turramurra.  He married again, to Annie Elizabeth Masefield (a relative of John Masefield) at St Luke's Anglican Church, Burwood, on 27 April 1893.  His health broke down in 1896, prompting a trip to Europe. When they returned, he turned the cottage he had originally intended for his parents at Boomerang St. Turramurra into their family home Ingleholme, which developed into a "rambling complex of gables, bays, turrets and chimneys".  From 1921 to 1924 he was chairman of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee and influenced the development of Canberra.

Children by this second marriage were Geoffrey and Thomas Noel ("Tom", or "Tommy"). Geoffrey enlisted in England and joined the Royal Flying Corps. He died aged 23 in 1917, in a flying accident over England, prior to being qualified for combat duties.  Thomas became a racing car driver, and developed the Sulman Singer, and Sulman Park in Bathurst is named after him. He was still racing in 1954. He died in 1970, aged 70. 

He retired in 1928 but remained a highly visible presence in civic, art and architectural circles, taking a proominent role in many public debates.  He died in Sydney aged 85 years.



Forthcoming Church dates

Find out about the many Church events each week.