Visiting Local Churches No. 21

St. Nicholas, Alfold

The footpath approach to the church is past two picturesque tile-hung cottages - a perfect setting for a church, much of which structure dates from the 13th century.

St Nicholas has a solid appearance with its huge roof. Once inside the building its antiquity is more obvious; it is almost square with three aisles whose breadth together is nearly equal to the church's length; the Norman font (circa 1080) is one of the finest and best preserved in Surrey; the remarkable 14th century oak timbering and the spire and bell tower supported on massive pillars of wood hewn out of the great oaks of the Wealdon Forest - a vast forest between the North and South Downs.

The three bells in the tower have for 90 years been chimed only, they have worn thin and are in danger of cracking. They date from 1625, 1631 and 1714 - an appeal was launched in 2003 for funds to refurbish the old bells and add three more. The first official record of the church is found in the reign of Henry III (1215 - 1272). A charter of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, was granted to one John Fitz-Geffrey giving the right of presentation to the Living, he died in 1256 but it is known that the church was in existence long before then.

The first Norman church, circa 1100, consisted of a nave and chancel; the South Aisle was added in 1200 and the North in 1280. Sadly this latter aisle was destroyed by fire in the 16th century and was not rebuilt until 1842. The Rector at that time, the Rev.John Sparkes, was the driving force behind the 1842 restoration which uncovered three ancient arches in a state of perfect preservation in the walled up area on the north side. John Sparkes had an eye for discoveries he also located the old communion table top, a beautiful single slab of polished Sussex marble containing fossils of freshwater winkles and a small silver chalice hallmarked 1570 hidden in the earth under the chancel floor. Even the pews are old; the most distinctive ones date from the 14th and 15th century and the Jacobean pulpit and sounding box are most beautifully carved. The arch over the chancel like most of the timbering dates from 1320, but the screen is C19th but with wood from a 5th century screen incorporated.

The Royal Coat of Arms, (George IV) now hanging on the south wall of the nave, is believed to be at least 170 years old. It was carefully restored in 1995 and re-hung in its present position.

The outline of the East window dates back to 1320, as do the five window openings in the south aisle; the glasswork however was imported from Normandy and constructed about 1850. In the chancel wall is a perpendicular style window which dates back to 1450. Another example of superb craftsmanship in wood can be seen near the North door. It is a large box known as a Churchwardens' Chest, designed to hold church records. It bears an inscription to the two wardens of 1687. Its original contents threw light on local and church history of the earlier years. Among the papers was an 1823 Act of Parliament, requiring marriages to be conducted only in churches or approved chapels between 8 and 12 noon, except by Special Licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anyone "knowingly and wilfully so offending , and being lawfully convicted and adjudged guilty" was "transported for a space of Fourteen Years according to the laws for the Transportation of Felons". Pretty harsh treatment for civil marriages!

More old woodwork can be seen in the doors of St Nicholas' two porches, they date from around 1230, however restoration work has been needed over the years so some of the wood is newer. In the churchyard, is the grave of Jean Carre, the man who in 1567 introduced Lorraine glass for glazing to this country. Carre obtained a licence to manufacture the type of glazing glass being produced in France. Within 50 years this type of glass making died out as coal firing replaced wood as fuel for firing.

The old village stocks, one of the very few complete sets in Surrey - another set can be seen outside St James' Church, Abinger - are sited just below the churchyard.

The name Alfold derives from the Saxon word Ald (or old) and Fold, meaning an enclosure for animals, in this case in the great Wealdon Forest. The village does not feature in the Domesday Survey, which took place about twenty years before the building of the Alfold church in 1100. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many Alfold houses were used as hiding places for huge kegs of brandy and other contraband brought from France by smugglers . Those who helped these fearsome law breakers always received a present of spirits for their trouble. Few resisted the smugglers as nearly all the villagers were compliant.

See more at British History Online A History of the County of Surrey vol III H E Malden 1911

Eric Burleston from Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News October 2003

Other local churches ... >