Visiting Local Churches No. 15

St Nicolas, Cranleigh

You can just about see the pyramid-shaped tower ofthis old church through the branches of the magnificent Lebanon cedar planted by the Rector after return from his honey-moon in the Holy Land in 1850.

The first St.Nicolas' church was built c.1170. The building has seen many changes since then; the first church occupied the area of the present nave and was enlarged during the 12th century by the addition of side aisles and the tower. About 1340 the chancel was built. In those days Cranleigh was a tiny hamlet in a clearing of the great forest of the Weald - an area popular with early Plantagenet Kings with several local families playing a part in the affairs of state.

Like Abinger's church, Cranleigh's was a casualty in World War 2, a flying bomb exploded very nearby destroying the Church Room and the Infant School as well as creating severe damage to the church. One noticeable effect of the war-damage repairs was the replacement of all but three of the windows with plain glass. This has been particularly effective in the fine East window revealing the natural beauty of the surrounding trees.

St Nicolas church is full of interest; the font dates from the 12th century, but the stone carving is a later copy and the window behind it is a reminder of various patrons and benefactors of the living including Kings Edward IV and Henry VII.

The Tower has an impressive pattern of beams and rafters and now houses a complete peal of eight bells. The lower window is dated 1350. As you walk up the centre of the church you will see two pillars, the left-hand one surmounted with a statue of StJohn and the other, on the right, a statue of the patron saint of the church at Cranleigh - St Nicolas. Now glance up at the trussed-rafter roof with its massive tie-beams and then as you reach the end of the nave you will see the unusual lectern with its heavily strapped pediment and the supporting column carved in the shape of a twisted stem. It is thought to be Dutch or German in origin and dates from the 16th century.

The chancel underwent extensive restoration work during 1840 and 1868, a time when other major alterations also took place.

There are several memorials of interest. The reconstruction in 1876-77 was carried out by architect T E C Streatfield, a memorial window to him can be seen in the tower and on the south wall of the chancel there is a brass plate commemorating Joane, first wife of the Rev. George Steere, the rector during the period of the Civil War who founded and endowed the village school, which still flourishes today. Another memorial is in the west window of the north aisle, it shows Jesus in the carpenter's shop - an apt reminder of a major benefactor of the church, Mrs Ellen Jansen, who, together with school master, Henry Hackwood, started the wood-carving classes for local youths. Among works resulting are the wood carvings of angels on the choir stalls, the poppy heads on the front pews and the symbolic designs on the bench ends. These carvings were dedicated to Henry Hackwood, the school teacher who shared the teaching of the youths with Mrs Jansen.

Of the many gravestones which formerly were situated in the nave that of William de Newdigate who died in 1377 is the oldest. This is now under the tower on the south side. The Coat of Arms of Newdigate, three lion's paws, are evident on the gravestone. However, the observant visitor studying the oldest glass in the church (north east window of the north aisle) will see the Arms again but back-to-front! During 1877 restorations the window glass was reset wrong way round.

The present altar was made from a single piece of 4" thick oak by local craftsman, David Cramp, who also constructed the lych gates. A candlestick and cross were added in 1975 to commemorate 800 years of worship in St.Peter's As part of these special celebrations a specially bound lectern edition of the New English Bible was commissioned (in a special Bible box), it contains the signatures of most residents of Newdigate in that year. Also 120 kneelers were made by a team of parishioners, they were based on eight different designs; the signatures of all the embroiderers were inscribed in the lectern bible.

With a pair of binoculars directed at the roof of the nave you can see all the names of the sixty people who redecorated the church interior in 1977.

The Church is open every weekday morning.

Eric Burleton - from Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News, March 2003

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