St Lawrence, Chobham

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Sketch of St Lawrence during 20th century

Artist unknown

Chobham became part of the Chertsey minster lands in 673AD and hence it is possible 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, for instance local 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 smaller rectangular chancel which was narrower than the nave by about two nave wall thicknesses (Saxon churches typically having walls less than 1 metre thick).  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.  There was  a very  active programme of church building . The current stone-built church appears to have been built during this time; around 1080.  Originally it was about half its current size.  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.

The old old south wall and door.

Photo: Val & John Halloway

The current church is constructed of sarsen (sandstone – much of which has a blue tinge and thus may not be local) and puddingstone (gravel naturally cemented together by iron deposits).  Horsham sandstone tile is  used for the lower courses of the roof.

The Tower

Built c.1400 and is 16m high.  The spire with its unusual herringbone leading was restored in 1955 and a weathervane made in the local forge was added.  The four-faced clock was given in 1900 by the Vicar of that time.

The Porch

The Church is entered through an obviously ancient outer wooden porch, rumoured to come from Chertsey Abbey after its suppression by Henry VIII in 1538.

The Bells

There is a peal of eight bells – the oldest cast by William Culverden of London in 1520.  The tenor bell weighs 500 kg.  Until 1892, when an upper floor was inserted, the bells were rung from the ground.

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Plan of St Lawrence’s, showing sequence of build

From: Victoria County History of Surrey


The Entrance

Font.GIF (53910 bytes) The chest dates from c. 1250.  All local documents were kept here, and three locks ensured that no one could remove papers without the knowledge of the other key holders.   The Choir stalls and organ were moved to their present position in 1954 when the organ was modernised.  The choir stalls are a memorial to the Jerram family, three of whom were vicars 1810-1880.The octagonal wooden font dates from the 16th century.  There are only three wooden fonts of this age in the country.   The cover is of a later date – but is mentioned in an inventory of 1712.  The small piece of green marble at the base comes from St. Columba’s Bay, Iona.

The Nave

Little of the wooden roof except the great beams is original.  In 1866 the Norman north wall was removed and the North Aisle added to provide more seating.  The alter at the east end, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was installed in 1957.

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War Memorial Screen

Nearly every house in the village subscribed to the cost of the screen which commemorates those killed in the two World Wars.  It was installed in 1950.   Note the three signs of St Lawrence on the red shields and the Guildford Diocesan Arms over the doorway.

Pew End.GIF (53547 bytes)Oak pews were given as thank offerings or memorials.  The carved plaques record work and hobbies.  The one illustrated is in memory of a 16 year old farm boy who became a drummer boy and was killed on his first day in France in the First World War.

South Aisle and Lady Chapel

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The original small windows high up in the south wall.

The church was extended to the south and the original wall on the south side was pierced in about 1100 and the pure chalk pillars and arches inserted.

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The odd elbow beams in the roof of the south aisle

The two niches over the arches are the original Norman windows of 1080.   The lady chapel was built at about this time and the ‘elbow beams’ in the roof are unique. The chapel was restored to its original use in 1951.



The Chancel

The Norman church probably finished at the present chancel step and the chancel itself was built more than once, the last time in 1898.

Beneath the marble stone at the foot of the sanctuary step was buried Archbishop Heath who proclaimed Elizabeth I Queen in 1558.  His story is told on a plaque by the clergy stall.

High Alter 2.GIF (60773 bytes)The Windows

The stained glass windows in the Lady chapel and the North aisle were given as memorials at the beginning if this century.  The main East window was given in 1961 – it depicts Christ ascended.

The PulpitPulpit.GIF (64270 bytes)

The oak pulpit was carved by an amateur class of Chobham teenage boys in a shed behind the shop opposite the church in 1893.

The fine brass lectern was given as a memorial in 1928.

In 1552, during a period of protestant reform, interiors of churches were simplified, rood screens removed, and new pews and pulpits installed.  The walls of churches were whitewashed to cover paintings or images.1 p140  In Compton, they have found medieval paintings under the whitewash; similar may be found in St Lawrence’s?

The Outside

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 commonly 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

The churchyard is no longer consecrated ground; burials nowadays being performed in the new graveyard on the other side of the High St.  The churchyard wall is ancient and probable dates to the mid 18th century; probably having formerly only been railed in.3 p169

Illustrations of the Church

View from SW in 1797 – as appears on the border of a map of the Brimshot estate, drawn by Henry Jones.

Map kindly lent by John End

The earliest drawing of St Lawrence’s that we have appears on the border of a map of the Brimshot estate, drawn by Henry Jones in 1797.  A clock can be seen on the west face of the tower and a lynch gate at the entrance to the churchyard close by the White Hart.

The Minet library in Camberwell has some water colour paintings of the church dated 1800 and before the Victorian alterations. The North wall, as depicted, is pierced by three strange, square headed windows. The roof is tiled with old brick tiles although the three lower courses are of stone as they are on the South aisle roof. The churchyard is entered through a double lynch gate situated by the White Hart. There are no other openings in the wall shown, doubtless because of the market held in the street; the churchyard was still in use so there are no trees in it.2

View from NE – 1824.

Note the wooden bench grave markers between the tower and the lynch gate and how few gravestones – they had not yet come into fashion.  This watercolour was completed before the north aisle extension was built and also shows the the old chancel, and rectangular windows throughout – nothing very Norman here.

Watercolour by J Hassell 1824, original held by the Surrey History Centre


View from NW.  Before 1827

This sketch shows beautifully the lynch gate with the double stocks.  Sketched before the north aisle extension

Artist: Charles Cracklow. From ‘Views of the Churches and Chapels of Ease in the County of Surrey, 1827’

Painting believed to be about 1850 – the church still has the old chancel and clock.

 Ray Turner, of New Zealand, who supplied the image states “probably by Ann Waymouth or her brother John Blackman might have been the artist; Ann in 1845 or earlier or John before his emigration in 1870”

Photo courtesy of Ray Turner

Lithograph View from SE, circa 1899.

Sketched before the four-face clock was installed in the tower but after the new chancel was built.  Even at this late date wooden grave markers are more common than headstones

Artist unknown, image courtesy of the Surrey History Centre SHC 3-192


Most of the images and description of the interior of St Lawrence’s have been reproduced from one of two excellent leaflets that are on sale in the church.

1    A Thousand Years of the English Parish, Anthea Jones.  The Windrush Press, 2000

2    Ceabba’s Ham. Joy Mason.

3.    Egham. Frederick Turner.  1926

5    A History of the English Parish.  N Pounds.  Cambridge University Press 2000.

7    Bisley Bits, Rev’d J Carter, 1892 – available from the Surrey Heath Museum.