Grantley years

The Grantley Years 1756-1901

This account of the history of our church acknowledges and has drawn heavily upon information provided in the following:-
 Wonersh History Society
Parishes: Wonersh - British History OnlineVictoria County History 1911.
 History of the Church by Revd A L Brown.
 The History of Antiquities of Surrey, Manning & Bray 1811 (Manning visited Wonersh Church shortly before the alterations of 1793/4.)
 Some documents may be seen at the Surrey History Service.

The Incumbents of this Parish  during this period (see also CCEd clergy database) are recorded as being-:

1756-1778  John Proctor Also Vicar of St Martha’s
1779-1803  James Hill, MA.,LL.D Also Rector of Puttenham & Vicar St Martha’s.
1803-06 James Fielding Also Vicar of Cranleigh & St Marthas
1806-52 William Hodgson Cole,MA  Also Rector of West Clandon & St Marthas.
1852-92 Elihu Edmond Body,MA
1892-98 Joseph Beckett Sherrin,MA
1898-1906  Philip Cunningham

The 17th C saw a general decline in the spiritual wellbeing of England generally, but this was reversed towards the end of the 18th C with the inspiration of spiritual awakening by Wesley and the origins of Methodism

In 1756 a new vicar, John Proctor, took over. In the same year Grace Norton, wife of Fletcher Norton, inherited the Chapple estate, including Wonersh House. In 1765 Fletcher Norton purchased the rights of the Lay Rector of the parish, and in 1770 those of Lord of the Manor and Patron. So the church became under the growing influence of the Grantley Family for the next century or more. After appropriating the village green for their own use they built a high wall around the house circa 1775 thus blocking off for common people access to the church through the old lytch-gate. A plan of the church dated 1781 shows a square pew as Fletcher Norton’s seat in the nave adjacent to the chancel arch;  behind it in the chancel was another square pew for his servants. The 1st Lord Grantley died in 1789. 

Church_1760ac601b111a120981022f3dfab181b6When the weavers of Wonersh fell on hard times in the 16th C the north chapel fell steadily into disrepair and by the early 18th C was in a state of dilapidation. At some date before 1779 it was being used as a vestry; the priest’s door into the north chapel had been blocked off sometime before this. About this time the arches of the tower were also filled in with lath & plaster partitions and a doorway cut through the north wall of the tower with a small brick porch built outside (which is reputed to have born the date 1769) which cut off the lower part of the lancet window above. The whole church floor was about 18ins lower than it is at present. Note that pieces of carved stone of the north chapel priest’s door were discovered in the rebuilding of 1901 and were incorporated into the inner north wall of the tower; this has caused some confusion in later records! 

In 1779 Lord Grantley introduced James Hill as vicar, he was the Rector of Putenham and worked Wonersh in plurality together with St Martha. It appears that he may have been responsible for the structural transformation of the parish church during his incumbency;  he died in 1803. 

 A plan of the church dated 1781 shows that in keeping with earlier ideas the pulpit was the focus of worship and on the north side of the nave stood a three-decker pulpit; one step up for the clerk’s desk three more to the reading desk and six more to the pulpit. The south aisle ran the whole length of the church but there is no indication of an arch at the entrance to the (Tangley) Chancel; it opened to the nave by three arches. The entrance to the church was by a door in the south west corner of the nave and there was a porch. The arch between the nave and tower was walled up, as were those between the tower and north chapel and between north chapel and chancel. 

Shortly before the alterations that took place in 1793/4 Owen Manning, vicar of Godalming, visited Wonersh church and this is carefully recorded in the reference document  Manning & Bray “The History of Antiquities in Surrey” published by White in 1809. He records the church as it was before rebuilding without reference at the time of his visit to any dilapidation; however Manning died before publication and the subsequent text by Bray makes reference to the church “being much gone into decay, a  Brief was obtained for taking down and rebuilding it. It was, however, found that some part of it, with the tower, were sufficiently strong to stand, and therefore only part was taken down and rebuilt in 1793”, and refers to the rebuilding. There was a vague legend that there was a fire, but this is not supported by evidence and thought to be unlikely. 

Manning recorded in the section on Wonersh (pp.108-116) “The steeple, a small embattled tower, on the North side of the Church, 13 feet 3 inches square in the inside, had formerly a shingled spire on it; but the spire being gone in ruin, was taken down in 1751, and the upper part repaired with brickwork. It had five bells in it and a clock”. The sixth bell, a gift by the 2nd Lord Grantley, was not added until 1804. Also recorded is the cost of £600 for rebuilding, of which £320 was collected by church brief and the remaining £280 was raised by the Bridgham Trust by leasing Bridgham Farm. 

For over two years after 1791 no Divine Service could be held. The marriage register of this time records that for three years 25 couples were married at St. Martha's Chapel as Wonersh church was “in a ruinous state” and could not be solemnised. Baptisms however went on as usual. It is plausible conjecture that the decay was the eastern part of the chancel and roof which may have collapsed. The responsibility for keeping the chancel in repair rested with the Lay Rector and not the parishioners. 

A series of design projects began in 1781. There is a plan dated 1781 of “Intended Improvements”, with two other later plans. These may have been drawn up for “His Lordship” (Fletcher Norton became Lord Grantley in 1782) but there is no indication that any rebuilding was contemplated. The first design for a new church was evidently inspired by the newly built (1763) church of Holy Trinity, Guildford, and bears a resemblance to the church which totally replaced the ancient building at Shalford in 1789.  A second design for a plain rectangular brick structure was described as “mean and graceless”. Fortunately a less austere design was adopted, probably for lack of funds. 

Church 17945610cb75b808317195ebd726810045In the course of rebuilding 1793/4 most of the exterior was taken down, with the exception of the tower, the north walls of the nave and north chapel, and the side walls of the western and southern part of the chancel. The south aisle was demolished. A good sized square nave in brick was built in the plain style of the period (the south wall some 8ft narrower than where the south wall of the south aisle previously stood), and the dividing arches between the nave and south aisle demolished (one segment of a column survives, kept in the tower base). A good many of the oak timbers of the 15th C roof were worked into the new nave roof. 

The eastern part of the chancel was destroyed (east of the side chapel walls) and a high pitched roof was constructed across the side chapels and chancel at right angles to the nave, with a small apse in the centre as a sanctuary. The small deal table used as the altar is still used elsewhere in the church today. The north chapel was being used by this time as a vestry. It was clad in brick with a single round headed window to match the mausoleum on the southerly side. Gothic style was not appreciated and plain was the theme of the time. Internally every vestige of ancient gothic masonry was as far as possible pared off or concealed. The screen between the nave and chancel (as observed just prior by Manning) was removed and the doorways blocked off. Low flat plastered ceilings were also placed throughout the church. 

The nave was arranged in the style of a meeting house, with a broad wooden gallery covering about one third of the nave against the west wall, box pews in rows and a triple tier pulpit against the north wall. Preaching would have been a priority with the focus on the pulpit. 



Pictures by kind permission of SHC & John Thorpe, from a collection by his father





Triple decker pulpit, box pews & font, circa 1828.
Note the Achievement of Arms.

View from chancel west, showing nave gallery
 & Lord of the Manor’s pew
(with chimney & fireplace).

Apse & Communion Rail.
Note the simple deal table
as the altar.







The old font, discarded in 1900.
Inscribed:- W C Cole Vicar and J Sparkes, E Chitty Churchwardens. 1812

View south from what is now the Lady Chapel.
Note the tower and chancel arches blocked off,
and the fire & chimney.

This was used as the vestry.

The Grantley Mausoleum.
View looking north, note that there is no
access from the church. & the partition wall.

Now used as the vestry.


 The south chapel was pulled down and replaced on the same foundations by a brick mausoleum for the Grantley family (said to have been designed by their butler!). It was completely walled off from the church with the only entrance being from the churchyard. Underneath the floor were the family vaults, and when these were subsequently filled the coffins were deposited above ground. The chancel arches to north and south chapels were filled in with lath & plaster partitions, using the 15th century parclose screens as stud framework. 



Etching circa 1823 - C T Cracklow,
Views of Surrey Churches



It is thought that the Royal Shield of George III was put in the church at the turn of the century to commemorate the restoration. This display of loyalty to the crown may also have been made in response to world events.  (Timeline)

Lord Grantley exercised his manorial right to have a seat in the chancel. His pew became a grand affair built of oak surmounted by curtains for privacy. It extended from the nave into the chancel with a fireplace and chimney located just behind the northern arch. He apparently gave much value to access to the pew through the newly cut door in the tower, through to the vestry and into the chancel, rather than joining the common folk whose entrance to the church was now from the west nave. This was a feature of the estate property which was included in the sale particulars when it was sold in 1884. 

Over the previous eight centuries all the inhabitants of the parish had been buried in the churchyard. With all the “breaking” and "re-breaking” of the land the level had steadily risen and no doubt for this reason the entire floor of the church was raised by about 18ins. Most of the gravestones were apparently obliterated in the levelling of the graveyard, with only a few remaining, the oldest gravestone remaining dated 1742. 

Vicars did not reside in Wonersh; however Assistant Ministers or Curates are recorded living in the “vickaradge”, which possibly was in what is now Wonersh Park. In 1819 Revd Hodgson Cole came to live in the Dower House, purchased by Lord Grantley and renamed the Parsonage. After 1829 he moved to a house in The Street on the site of the Old Rectory. He was vicar for some 46 years until 1852. 

There had been a charity school in Wonersh since 1683. It is recorded in 1760 that the parish school continued to be taught in the north chapel, then used as a vestry, under Mr William Simmonds until his death in 1838. Even at the end of 1830 when there were some 40 boys, 16 girls and 6 infants at the school, conditions in the vestry were described as “low and out of repair”. The only heating was a fireplace and chimney which had been inserted in a corner (see the drawing of this period above). The vicar, Revd Cole, was a master at Guildford Grammar School, retaining the post for 13 years after his arrival in 1806. The population of Shamley Green was rising rapidly and in 1840 he informed the “National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church” that he had persuaded the gentry in the neighbourhood to assist in the establishment of a national School (SHC doc WON/15/15 - 53). The Earl of Onslow provided the land at Norley Common, roughly in the geometric centre of the parish. The new building was constructed for 160 pupils and opened in 1843, with a charge of 1 penny for those not subsidised by the Chennell or Gwynne charities. Some 20 children walked daily to and from Blackheath and other distant villages in the parish. 

In 1846 “heating apparatus “was installed, the cost of £46 16/6d paid over a period of 12 years by the Bridgham Trust. 

On the death of Revd Cole in 1852 the new vicar was Revd Elihu Body; he held office for 39 years. There is a sad memorial in the nave  which records the death of the wife and two infant children of the vicar in 1855. They died within two months of each other apparently from dysentery. Living conditions in the vicarage were evidently poor and it was demolished shortly afterwards. 

The churchyard at Wonersh was closed for burials in 1861 and a new churchyard opened at Shamley Green. Burials for the parish took place here until 1900 when a new Parish Cemetery was opened near Blackheath.

As a result of growing population, Sunday worship took place in one of the school rooms from 1860 until the consecration of Shamley Green Church in 1864. 

In 1870 the Education Act put elementary education on a national footing. Around 1870 infants were taught in the reading room of Lawnsmead Terrace (the words “Reading Room” can still be seen on the building) and in 1890 Lawnsmead Infants School was built largely at the instigation of the vicar (Elihu Body) for 100 children (SHC doc WON/15/1-14). The first headmistress was Mrs Green  The school closed in 1924 and its pupils transferred to Shamley Green, Bramley and Shalford schools. The National School at Norley Common was enlarged in 1884.  In 1890 schooling became compulsory in provided schools, with a grant per pupil. The Act of 1902 abolished School Boards and made County & Borough Councils responsible for voluntary schools, signalling the end of an era. 

These were exciting times for the church, and sleepy Wonersh will not have been insulated from the influence of the evangelical Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect, and later by the high church Anglicans of the Tractarians (Oxford Movement). There was clearly dissatisfaction with worship for working people in the parish church, as the United Reform fellowship built up from 1860, with the foundation stone for the new URC church being laid in 1880. This was also the period when the Liberal Club was built in the village for working people. 

The churchyard was closed for burials in 1861, and a new graveyard opened at Shamley Green the same year. A new church was built at Shamley Green 1864 and Shamley Green became a Parish in its own right in 1881, formed out of part of the Parish of Wonersh. It continued as the churchyard for Wonersh until 1900 when a new cemetery site was consecrated near Blackheath between Barnett and Derry’s Hills. Similarly a new church was built at Blackheath in 1893; however it remained part of the Parish of Wonersh for the time being. 

A description of Wonersh 1870-72 may be seen in the Imperial Gazetteer of England

In 1883 a period of fresh parochial activity began with the arrival as assistant curate of Revd T W Ward who, with the help of his wife and family, did something over the next 9 years to wake the parish up. The interior was painted and the parish magazine was started in 1884. 

The 5th Lord Grantley sold his Surrey properties in 1884 and this introduced far reaching changes to Wonersh. Revd Body resigned in 1892 and Lord Grantley, who was still patron, introduced Revd J B Sherrin. He held office for 5 years and was followed by Revd Philip Cunningham (1898-1906). During his incumbency the church building was completely restored. 

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