Ecclesiastical - the 19th Century

An improvement in England`s spiritual health thankfully came about following the Wesley-inspired evangelical awakening that began towards the end of the 18th century and continued through most of the 19th.

Church attendance increased, reaching a high point during the second half of the 19th century, and many new churches were set up, especially in urban areas where the industrial revolution had led to an increase in population. Sarratt`s population grew from 334 in 1801 to 542 in 1841. In 1811 there were 80 families living in 66 inhabited houses.

In 1815 John Foster arrived as vicar, with his wife Emma-Maria. John stayed for 23 years and during that time the family moved into the new rectory off Church Lane. They suffered a tragedy in 1834 when their only son John died; he had studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and was training for law in Lincoln`s Inn.

John was succeeded by the Revd William Moore (1838-59), who was largely a non-resident, tending to leave affairs in the hands of the Revd J Johnson, his curate. He also changed his name to Moore-Brabazon during his incumbency.

An Order-in-Council dated 8 August 1845 transferred with effect from 1 January 1846 the diocesan responsibility for the churches forming the archdeaconry of St Albans, including Sarratt, from London to a reconstituted Rochester diocese, covering a vast area around the capital north and south of the Thames. The archdeaconry was sub-divided and Sarratt was a founder parish of the new rural deanery of Watford.

William Upton`s survey of Hertfordshire churches in 1847-48 revealed that Sunday attendance at Holy Cross was 50, while the character of its ministry was described as `worldly and useless`. The vicar, the Revd W J Moore, was aged 35 and non-resident. On 30 March 1851 a unique national census was taken of places of religious worship. Overall church attendance was shown to be extremely disappointing for the Church of England in general. Sarratt was no exception. Two services were held, the morning attendance being 55 (average 60) and the afternoon service 98 (average 80). Sunday scholars numbered 50 and 40 respectively. The capacity of the church was 202, of which 100 were free sittings.

A casual visit to Sarratt by one Samuel Ryley of Shropshire was to have profound and long-lasting effects for Holy Cross. He was so taken up by the beauty of the place that he later purchased the advowson and promptly presented his son Edward as rector in 1859. Edward had been educated at Trinity College, Oxford, made a deacon in 1853 and priest a year later, serving for six years as curate of Plaxtol, Kent. When his father died aged 89 on 1st January 1882, he was buried in the churchyard and Edward inherited the right of presentation.

Edward epitomised the new vigour and sense of responsibility of many Anglican clergy. His appointment was a milestone. On arrival he found the church building to be in `a most dilapidated and deplorable state`. Although some parishioners were in favour of building a new church on Sarratt Green (despite there being no available site) and leaving the old church as a mortuary chapel, Edward had different ideas.

He had the leaking roof temporarily repaired and then sought the expert help of the famous architect Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), who had first sketched churches as a boy and worshipped in Holy Cross when he attended his uncle`s preparatory school at Latimer (1826-1827). Scott, whose father, a vicar, had been head of a family with strong evangelical beliefs, recommended some major building alterations but kept to the original details as much as possible, retaining the old massive structure and introducing nothing tawdry or florid.

Having made these alterations, Edward Ryley turned to removing the plaster ceiling to expose the old timber roof (which was repaired), inserting nine new windows, adding new open oak seats, and restoring the walls (which had been coloured a deep red). He also underpinned the whole church, which simply rested on the ground. The whole restoration cost £1,400 and the church officially could accommodate 216 people (the population of Sarratt in 1861 was 736). The reopening service took place on Friday, 15th June 1866, led by the Bishop of Rochester. For more information about the structure of the building, go to the building tour.

Diocesan responsibility changed again on 30 April 1877 when, along with most of the churches of Hertfordshire and Essex, Sarratt became part of a new diocese of St Albans.

Edward Ryley died on 23 February 1912.