Towards the end of the eighteenth century some ministers associated with George Whitfield preached in a little building that had been prepared for them in this village.
Amongst those who afterwards rendered occasional service were Matthew Wilks, Rowland Hill, Thomas Jackson of Stockwell, and John Sibree of Frome. Other ministers preached more regularly. At first the attendance was encouraging, but later the congregation declined and the chapel was closed.
In 1816 another effort was made to evangelise the village, and on November 27 in that year a little chapel was opened by Revs. Rowland Hill, E. J. Jones, and R. Stodhart.
Shortly afterwards Rev. Thomas Williams, formerly of Trowbridge, accepted an invitation to supply the pulpit for twelve months, during which time the place became so crowded that the necessity was strongly felt for erecting a new chapel.
A good site was procured, and with the strong recommendation of such men as those we have mentioned, with Dr. Collyer, Thomas Lewis of Islington, and indeed all the neighbouring ministers, the case for Mitcham was laid before the public.
On April 28, 1819, a commodious chapel called Zion Chapel was opened. It was built to accommodate 300 persons, but provision was made for a gallery which would seat an additional 200. The opening services were conducted by Revs. G. Mudie, Dr. Collyer,and Thomas Jackson. The Evangelical Magazine tells us that the attendance was numerous and respectable, and the collections liberal, but a debt of over £700 remained.
Mr. Williams did not remain long after the opening of the new chapel. In September, 1820, he accepted an invitation to become co-pastor with Rev. Timothy East at Birmingham.
On January 17, 1821, a church was formed by Rev. Samuel Hackett of London; and Hoxton students ministered to the little fellowship till July, 1823, when one of their number, Rev. John Varty, was ordained pastor.
John Varty was a Londoner, born November 29, 1798. He remained at Mitcham fifteen years, and in 1839 removed to Fareham, where he ministered for twenty-three years. He afterwards held a pastorate at Aston Tirrold, Berks, and after a short residence at Northampton died rather suddenly in London, April 16, 1873.
Thomas Kennerley, of Burton-on-Trent, was the next minister. He, too, was born in the great city, and as a youth attended Surrey Chapel. He studied for the ministry at Newport Pagnell, and on leaving settled at Burton. Soon after his removal to Mitcham a front gallery was erected, and on Sunday, January 12, 1840, the chapel was reopened. Two years later a large room was built for the Sunday school and with a view to establishing a day school.
In 1854 Mr. Thomas Pratt, a deacon of the church, bequeathed £20 per annum for the support of the ministry, and £90 per annum for the support of day schools. A British school was opened on July 20, 1857, in which 200 boys and girls received instruction.
During Mr. Kennerley’s pastorate at Mitcham he was for some years one of the joint secretaries of the Surrey Mission. In 1856 failing health compelled him to resign. For a time he preached at Eltham, but was never again strong. He lived for a while in retirement at Gravesend, and died July 12, 1870.
A few months after Mr. Kennerley’s resignation Rev. George Stewart, of Hastings, accepted the vacant charge. He remained till 1862, when he removed to Newcastle-on-Tyne. He has since held pastorates at Glasgow, Kilburn, Reading, and Bexhill, and now lives retired at Woodford Green.
Mr. Stewart was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Orr. He was born in 1823 at Annandale, near Kilmarnock, and was educated for the law. He was making con- siderable headway in his profession, but removing to Glasgow, under the influence of Dr. Morrison and Dr. Guthrie, he gave up his career to enter the ministry. After a course at Edinburgh University he settled at Ayr in 1852, and then removed to Mitcham, where he was recognised June 23, 1863.
For six years and a half Mr. Orr exercised a faithful and helpful ministry at Mitcham. In 1869 he removed to Poole, and four years later to Windsor, where he laboured for twenty years. He died at Crouch End September 30, 1895, in the seventy-first year of his age.
In 1870 Rev. George William Joyce, a student of Hackney College, accepted the pastorate. He remained two years and removed to Tavistock in Devon.
The next minister was Rev. J.F. Poulter, B.A. Mr. Poulter was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. For twenty-six years he had laboured at Wellingborough. Mr. Poulter’s pastorate at Mitcham extended from June 20, 1872 to December 27, 1874. He has not sought another charge, and is spending the evening of his long life at Wimbledon.
In 1875 Mr. H. W. Mote, of Hackney College, accepted the vacant pulpit. His recognition took place on August 3, but he was not ordained until October, 1876. Mr. Mote only remained another year. He resigned in 1877, and was followed by Rev. W. H. Belchem, whose pastorate was also short, lasting from October, 1877, to June 29, 1879.
In 1880 Rev. Robert Richman accepted an invitation to the vacant charge and commenced his ministry on August 1.
Mr. Richman found a membership of only thirty, but it has since largely increased. The neighbouring population is rapidly growing, and there is every reason to expect for the church a prosperous future. In 1886 the chapel was refurnished and decorated. For some years there had been friction between the church and the day school, but at last the trouble was settled, the church receiving £10 a year for the use of the school-room. Now the school has a reputation for efficiency and good work which is acknowledged by all religious parties.
The tomb of Rev. Ingram Cobbin, M.A., author of a once popular Bible Commentary, who died in 1851, is in the burial ground adjoining the church.