The skeleton at Epsom chapel

by Sylvia Brown


The small branch at Epsom in Surrey quickly expanded in the early 1960s when many prominent Church leaders and executives moved in. Along with office missionaries, they were responsible for administering the chapel building programme from the new area offices at Haredon House, North Cheam.[i] The branch met upstairs in the Co-op hall. It was typical of rented premises at the time - cold and drafty, and used for dancing and drinking on Saturday nights, often requiring a cleanup on Sunday mornings. The building supervisor’s daughter remembered Apostle Nathan Eldon Tanner and his wife Sally as regular attenders while he was West European Area President. In cold weather Sally would sit in church wearing a fur coat, hat and gloves. She had an umbrella which she would unfurl if it started to rain and she was underneath a leak in the roof.[ii]

Ground breaking for their much needed chapel took place on 31st March 1962.[iii] The building supervisor was Ray Fisher, a general building contractor from Utah. After a site-hut was built, work was progressing well. One day everything was brought to a sudden halt. While helping to dig a drainage trench, twelve-year-old Tai Biesinger turned up a human skull![iv] Others quickly came to uncover the remainder of the grave, but their well-meaning clumsy efforts negated some vital clues.[v]

Pathologist Dr. David Haler, M.B., D.C.P., wrote:

On Thursday 16th August, 1962, in the course of my professional duties I was called upon by H.M. Coroner for East Surrey to examine a skull which had been delivered to Sutton police station by a civilian.”[vi]

The skull had been severely damaged by a blow from Tai’s pick, but Dr. Haler was able to identify it as being of ancient date. Along with archeologists he hurriedly visited the site to conduct a rescue excavation and properly record the find. Dr. Haler concluded “that this is an inhumation of a young, active male of a Jutish type.[vii] He was estimated to be in his twenties and around six foot tall. The left foot had been roughly cut away before death but was not found in the grave. This was conjectured to have been the cause of death.

Three iron artefacts were found with the skeleton: a spearhead, fragments of a small knife, and a shield-boss or handle of an unusual “sugar loaf” type.[viii] Other material had been damaged or removed without notifying the authorities.[ix]


Along with the manner of burial, the items helped to identify the deceased as coming from the Anglo-Saxon period, mid to late 7th century.[x] The iron goods were donated to the Guildford Museum where they remain, but the whereabouts of the skeletal remains is unknown. They may have been re-interred in a nearby churchyard but no record has survived. The building project was closed for a couple of weeks while a more thorough search could be made to see if there were other graves or artefacts but nothing further was discovered. Saxon burials had been found in the nearby fields of what was formerly Priest Hill Farm, and in various sites in Ewell Village. [xi]

Soon the excitement died down and normal building work resumed. One year later on the weekend of 27th to 29th September 1963 the chapel was ready to be showcased and occupied. The Branch had become a Ward. The keys of the building were presented to Bishop Rodney Fullwood during the Sunday services in a day of happiness and thanksgiving.

[i] History of the British Area Office, CR675_1_f0001, p. 18.

[ii] Email from Anne Fisher Stam to the author 3 May 2021.

[iii] ‘British Area Ground Breaking, Epsom Chapel, London Stake’, The Builder, Vol. 2 No 5 (1962) p. 9.

[iv] Ray Fisher, Building Supervisor, “Reports from the Projects – Epsom, England,” The Builder, Vol. 3 No. 1 (1963) p. 27.

[v] The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 43, 1963, pp. 294-296.

[vi] Surrey History Centre,130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6ND. Dr. David Haler, “Report/Opinion,” 20 August, 1962, Reference 322/6C

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 43, 1963, pp. 294-296.

[ix] Surrey Historic Environment

[x] Ray Fisher, Building Supervisor, “Reports from the Projects – Epsom, England,” The Builder, Vol. 3 No. 1 (1963) p. 27.

[xi] [xi] The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 43, 1963, pp. 294-296.