... from the Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News archive

Visiting Local Churches No. 27

St Peter and St Paul, Albury

Set in Albury Park, where the gardens were originally designed by John Evelyn, this ancient church is half a mile from the village of Albury. Another church with the same name, built in red brick, lies at the southern end of the village, known as Western Street.

The ancient church was closed in 1842 for regular services as the other one opened but the move created a lot of dissension especially between Martin Tupper, a writer, who was called to the Bar, but never practised as a barrister, and Henry Drummond, owner of Albury Park. For many years the villagers tried to maintain the ancient church but major restorations and repair had to wait until 1974 when the Churches Preservation Trust took over the preservation of the building because of its outstanding historic appeal and architectural merit.

The ancient church was built around Saxon remains and had a tower added over the original chancel in 1140 AD, some of the Saxon windows remain in the tower to this day. The Cupola is C17th. The north porch is a very precious relic with its delicately carved barge-boards created in the C15th and still in good condition. It is one of the finest examples of its kind in Surrey. The north entrance door dates from 1240 AD, it has long strap hinges and a huge lockcase which takes a key over 12" long.

On the north wall (to your left as you enter) can be seen the remains of the typical Saxon herring-bone rubble construction; further along the same side, on the walls of the tower, there is a faded red indication of the consecration cross dating from the early 12th century or even earlier.

In the uncluttered area of the C13th south chapel and aisle there are several points of interest. The piscina in the far left corner is late C13th. and its presence indicates that at some time there was an altar at that point, this is confirmed by the oblong patch of tiles (circa 1300) immediately to the east of the piscina. For those interested in old floor brasses there is one in the aisle with Latin inscription to Sir John Weston who died 23rd November 1440. The font base too is a real antiquity, thought to have come from the Roman buildings on Farley Heath. The bowl however was removed and is in the "new" (1842) parish church of St Peter & St Paul.

The arches, the walls of the transept and the east window are also late C13th. The interior decoration of the transept and the tracery on the south window and its glass is all C19th.- part of the work carried out under the direction of Augustus Pugin, the Victorian architect who a few years later became well-known for his interior design of the Houses of Parliament. Pugin was commissioned by Henry Drummond, to re-design the transept as a family mortuary . The vivid stained glass was designed by W.Wailes. On the wall, above the south door, is a wall-painting which dates from 1480 ; it is of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers. For more than 200 years from the time of Oliver Cromwell this painting remained hidden behind a plaster covering. It was discovered by chance in 1884 when work of re-positioning a family monument was taking place. It was treated with a preservative five years later, and in 1978 was restored to its present condition by the Churches Preservation Trust. Some other major works carried out by the Trust during the last three decades include the restoration of the then roofless chancel and preservation, rather than a full restoration of the old walls.

Fortunately the church is open during most of the daylight hours throughout the year and occasional services are held in it.

A third church in Albury, just a short distance from the ancient one, has even stronger connections with Henry Drummond, the wealthy 19th century banker who owned Albury Park. Drummond was described by Carlyle as "a singular mixture of the saint, the wit, and the philosopher". He had been brought up in the Church of England and around 1823 attached himself to a small Caledonian chapel in Hatton Garden, London. Edward Irving was the priest and he had a group of fervent believers in the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Their belief was stimulated by a conference at Albury Park in 1826. Similar conferences and study groups were held annually at Advent at Albury. Groups and congregations came in being to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Eventually twelve men, including Henry Drummond, were called to be Apostles and thus was formed the community which became known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (sometimes called Irvingite) The title was intended to express their unity with all Christians in One Church of Christ. By 1835 Albury had become its spiritual centre and in 1840 Henry Drummond, built the Gothic style church, as an Apostles' Chapel and the spiritual and administrative centre for the new sect entirely at his own expense. The last service was held there in August 1950.

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Eric Burledon: published Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News May 2004