St Lawrence, Chobham
This ancient Church dates from 1080 and is dedicated to St Lawrence who was martyred for his faith in Rome in 257. Here for more than 900 years Christians have worshipped. It stands in the high ground in the village centre, surrounded by its old churchyard.
Photo: David Stokes
Our area became part of the Chertsey minster lands in 673AD and hence it is probable that a Saxon religious building stood on this spot before the current church. The Saxons tended to build their churches of whatever was available locally – sarsen sandstone and puddingstone (gravel naturally cemented together by iron deposits). However, it could have been made in the Saxon tradition using wood staves and hence nothing would survive to the present day. Saxon churches were generally fairly simple two-cell structures. A rectangular nave – without aisles, and a much smaller rectangular chancel. That excavated at Tuesley had a nave 6.4m long and 4.3 m wide and a chancel 3.4m in length. 3 The nave and chancel appearing separate, joined only by a narrow archway.5 p378
During the half century following the Norman conquest, Saxon methods were discarded and the new continental style (Norman) of church building adopted. Nationally there was a very active programme of church building . The current stone-built church appears to have been built during this time; around 1080. There was almost certainly a chancel; the nave was about 2/3rds it current length; there were no aisles or tower. Norman churches tended to be built on the site of the original Saxon church and an outline of the Saxon foundations can often be found under the floor of the nave of Norman churches.
It appears not to have been a full blown church but only a chapel since it did not have a burial ground or a vicar – priests would have come out from Chertsey Abbey to take services and perform baptisms. Nevertheless a stone-built chapel of that size was quite impressive in its day; and a church or a chapel of any size not that common. Domesday, in 1086, lists one chapel and one church in the vill of Chobham (the church may have been that at Ash 4 Vol 2 p xxxi, 6 ) and only one other church or chapel (a church in Byfleet) in the whole of the Godley Hundred – the area stretching from the Thames in the east and north to the Blackwater in the west.
Only heads of households attended church and there were about 40 heads of households in the vill of Chobham. Joy Mason wrote “…. which leads one to wonder why the church was so large. The answer is that it served a dual purpose. (The nave) was a community centre where the village elders could meet and discuss parish affairs; markets were sometimes held in the nave and all manner of social activities, some pretty bawdy I would imagine. The chancel was reserved for the religious life of the parish and was usually separated from the nave by a rood screen. The congregation in Chobham was still using the chancel as late as 1725, as is shown by the following memorandum from the parish register of that year.
Memorandum, dated Feb. 15th. 1725
‘Whereas the Rev. William Oades vicar of the parish has given twenty shillings towards the ceiling of our chancel. We do acknowledge that his said gift is voluntary contribution out of a regard to his neighbours who have seats in or near the said chancel that they may be kept warm in the time of divine service and so that this house of God may be more beautiful.
Witness unto our hands and name H. Beauchamp (lay impropriator) Arthur Searle and Henry Rogers, Churchwardens.
H. Beauchamp was Lord of the Manor of Aden (Chobham House).”
The Statute of Exeter in 1287 defined the respective obligations of rector and parishioners. The parishioners were responsible for the upkeep of the nave and tower; the rector for the chancel.5 p48 Therefore, the Rev. Oades was probably contributing reluctantly because he knew that the repair of the chancel was really the lay impropriator’s responsibility.
The chapel having no burial ground, the dead of the parish had to be carried to Chertsey for burial. The Abbey would not willingly change the arrangement since they were able to charge a tax for burials at Chertsey. Understandably the people got fed up and petitioned the Pope (Honorius III 1216-1227) for permission to bury their dead in a graveyard surrounding the church. At about 1217, the sub-deacon of Salisbury Cathedral who was a visitor to the Pope and came to be called ‘Master Thomas of Chobham’, presents the villagers case at a court of the bishop of Winchester. 4 Vol 1, 74 Their request was granted and the ground around the church consecrated (we do not know if adjacent buildings had to be demolished to achieve this or whether the church stood in its own grounds).
In the court records of the dispute, Thomas of Chobham is referred to as the ‘rector of Chobham’. If this was not a mistake and he was really the rector then he could claim the great tithes that normally went to the Abbey; it is difficult to imagine the Abbot approving this. Is it possible that either the Pope or the Bishop appointed him to this post over the head of the Abbot of Chertsey?
As compensation for Chertsey Abbey’s loss of burial fees, and perhaps tithe, the parish had to give 20 shillings and 6 pounds of bees wax to the Abbey annually, but in 1230 Thomas of Chobham again argued Chobham’s case and this was reduced to 10 shillings and 6lb of wax. 4 Vol 1, 75 A later attempt to reduce this further failed. 4 Vol1, 76
A huge landmark had been reached; with a graveyard and a ‘rector’, St Lawrence’s could at last claim to be a church rather than just a chapel.
Thomas of Chobham almost certainly continued to live in one of the grand houses of Salisbury Cathedral Close. But by 1274/7, Chobham appears to have glebe lands and a resident vicar, ‘Peter de Ecclesia of Chabeham’. 4 1958 806
In 1331, Abbot John de Rutherwyk, formally defined the many pieces of land at the disposal of Chobham’s vicars. 4 Vol 1, 77 , and again in 1427 4 Vol 1, 78 So our earliest resident vicars were primarily farmers, only doing a bit of ‘vicaring’ on the side.
Click on ‘Vicars and Vicarages’ in the top of the left margin to find out more about Chobham’s vicars.
The dead continued to be buried in the graveyard for six hundred years, from 1215—1857, and many thousands must be lying there, although quite a few paid to be buried within the church itself.
People sometimes wonder how an estimated 8000 bodies could have been buried in the small churchyard. Early drawings show that up until the middle of the 19th century, graves in St Lawrence church were marked with simple wooden head and footboards. Presumably, once these rotted away the ground was considered reusable. In 1892, the Reverend J Carter, vicar of Bisley, wrote “a large majority of those interred here (Bisley) have nothing beyond a green mound of earth to mark the spot where their bones are at rest. The prevailing fashion.. a few years ago was to put over the grave a wooden erection, consisting of an upright at the head and foot, with a board about 6 to 8 inches wide connecting them, which bore the inscription” 7 p48
In order to boost the sale of wool, a law was passed in 1684 ordering that all the dead be buried in wool and in wool lined coffins. An affidavit that this had been done was entered with each burial register, but not all complied and they were fined. In 1689 the register records that Anne wife of Anthony Thomas (of Chobham Place) was buried in linen. She is the only one thus recorded.
In 1537 Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Chertsey Abbey and its lands, including the parish of Chobham, passed into Royal hands.
The advowson (the right to select and present a priest to the benefice whenever a vacancy arose) had little if any monetary value. In 1620 the advowson was granted with the Manor to Sir Edward Zouch,81 and it remained in the possession of the lord of the manor until 1752,82 when some of the Onslow property was sold, including the advowsons of Chobham and Bisley. They passed together for a time 83 , Henry Forster presenting in 1800, the Thornton family in 1810 and 1833.84 The Tringham family then bought the advowson and became vicars.
St Saviours, Valley End
In the 19th century, throughout the country, many new churches were built to accommodate the rapidly growing population. St Saviours, Valley End was built and its parochial parish created for in 1868, it appears that the parish of Valley End was carved out of the parishes of Chobham and Windlesham and was formed into an ecclesiastical parish separate from Chobham and Windlesham. The living was in the gift of the Bishop of Winchester. 3 , p 415 onwards
Holy Trinity, West End
In 1842 a chapel was built at West End. The chapel was enlarged its current size in 1890. Holy Trinity was built on the common land at Streets Heath and the regulations required that all land taken from the common should be enclosed by a substantial bank and ditch – which Holy Trinity still has. Miss Tringham, who held the advowson of Chobham then became the advowson holder of both parishes. 3
In 1895 the parish of Chobham was split into two and the ‘West End’ became a parish in its own right.
St John’s Bisley
This beautiful old church stands on in isolation on top of a hill just north-east of Bisley village.
St John’s – Bisley
Photo: David Stokes
The site may be very ancient, the nearby St John’s well may have religious overtones dating back to Roman times. It is possible that the original religious building on this site was not constructed to serve the community but was intended as a shrine for visitors to the well.
The old walls of the church are very interesting. They include blue sandstone (which is not local), thin tile (which may be reused from an earlier roman building?) and iron-slag (not just the more common puddingstone) which may indicate nearby iron working.
Southern wall of St John’s Bisley
Photo: David Stokes
In 1923 the practice of selling advowsons was finally ended. The right to appoint our local vicars now lies with the head of the local diocese, the Bishop of Guildford. This arrangement means that a pragmatic wide-area view can be taken; for instance, ecclesiastical parishes and churches can be combined under one vicar, as were Valley End and Chobham.
1 A Thousand Years of the English Parish, Anthea Jones.
The Windrush Press, 2000
2 Chertsey Cartulary
3 The Victoria History of the County of Surrey. Ed H.E. Malden
4 Surrey Record Society, Chertsey Cartulary
5 A History of the English Parish. N Pounds. Cambridge University Press 2000.
6 Ash was the first chapel in the Chobham vill to attain the status of church. Pope Alexander III bull of 1176 describes Chobham as being a chapel and Ash as a church.
7 Bisley Bits, Rev’d J Cater, 1892 – available from the Surrey Heath Museum.81 Pat. 18 Jas. I, pt. vi, m.1.
82 Feet of F. Div. Co. Hil. 16 & 17 Chas. II; Inst. Bks. P.R.O.
83 Pat. 33 Chas. II, pt. ix, no. 6, m. 22-3;
Pat. 22 Geo. II, pt. iii, no. 14; Close, 26 Geo. II, pt. iii, m. 9.
84 Inst. Bks. P.R.O
Italicised text is extracted from Joy Mason’s book “CEABBA’S HAM; THE STORY OF CHOBHAM”.