|St Mary the Virgin Churchyard and Glebe Fields||Merton|
The medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, now flint faced, was rebuilt a number of times over the centuries but retains some Norman elements, an early C13th chancel and C15th porch. There are medieval fragments within the doorway facing the vicarage. Among the worshippers here were Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. The suburban development of Merton Park took place from the 1870s initially by John Innes, who was buried here in 1904. The churchyard has a rural atmosphere and some fine trees including yew, copper beech, horse chestnut, and lime. There are numerous monuments to local dignitaries, including those of John Innes, William Rutlish and Edward Rayne of Raynes Park. A gate in the churchyard leads to Glebe Fields.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
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The church dates from pre-Norman times and marks the site of the old village of Merton. Within its churchyard is a Norman archway of c.1175 originally from Merton Priory of the Augustinians, which was founded in 1114 by Gilbert, Sheriff of Surrey, who was also responsible for rebuilding St Mary's Church between 1114-1125. The Priory was situated in the area of Station Road and was demolished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries; the doorway was discovered in 1914 during excavations and was erected by St Mary's Church in 1935.
Among the worshippers here were Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton when they lived in Merton Place, and the church contains hatchments of Nelson and also Sir William Hamilton. Rear Admiral Isaac Smith (d.1831), was buried here, whose great nephew later donated land for a commemorative garden and a church on the anniversary of Nelson's death in 1805. Smith was the cousin of Captain James Cook's wife Elizabeth and sailed with Cook on a number of journeys between 1770 and 1775; in 1770 he was the first European to set foot in Australia when Cook landed at Botany Bay. Smith retired due to ill-health having contracted hepatitis in 1794, and was promoted to the post of Rear Admiral. He inherited Merton Abbey from his brother-in-law and in his will left a sum of £700 to St Mary's, the interest from which was to support the poor of the parish. His memorial in the churchyard was financed by Elizabeth Cook.
Among the other significant memorials in the churchyard is the table tomb of John Innes (d.1904), who came to Merton in 1867 and lived at the Manor House until he died in 1904; a stained glass window in the church also commemorates him. As Chairman of the Rutlish Trust, Innes was instrumental in the establishment of Rutlish School in 1895, now situated on the former site of the John Innes Horticultural Institution. William Rutlish (d.1687), who was appointed Charles II's court embroiderer in 1661 and owned property in Merton, left a bequest for apprenticing poor children, which led to Rutlish Science School being founded.
A gate from the churchyard leads to Glebe Fields, shown as meadowland in Thomas Milne's Map of 1800. It remained undeveloped when the Merton Park estate was laid out in the late C19th. The site of the hedge marking the division between two fields remains as a bank and ditch and a row of horse chestnut trees.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Ian Yarham, Dave Dawson, Martin Boyle, Rebecca Holliday 'Nature Conservation in Merton' Ecology Handbook 29, London Ecology Unit 1998; W B Chamberlain 'Reminiscences of Old Merton', Mitchell Hughes and Clarke, 1925.