Visiting Local Churches No. 22

St Peter's, Slinfold

The Street, Slinfold, W. Sussex,RH13 0RR

Slinfold still looks a real English village with its cottages and the parish church of set serenely in its centre. This charming village is under a mile from Stane Street, the famous Roman road. It was the second station, or resting place, for Roman travellers on their way between Chichester and London; the third being Dorking and the last Merton on the outskirts of the capital.

The first church in Slinfold was built in 1230, it comprised a nave and north aisle and a small chapel and a massive shingled tower. That church was rebuilt in the 15th century with new walls. In 1859, the Parochial Church Council, faced with repair costs to the old church exceeding those for building a new church chose destruction of the old. Victorians did not appear to treasure ancient buildings as this generation does and as a result very few items of the C15th church were incorporated into the new one. However, the rector at that time, the Rev. Vincent, did record in sketches and water colours many views inside and outside of the old church. These pictures now hang in the vestry of the present church. A 1537 memorial to Richard Bradbrydge which came from the old church does survive. He founded the nearby village of Broadbridge Heath, which took his name.

The new church cost £3,700 and was completed in 1861. Various gifts of bells, stained glass, a carved oak pulpit, an organ and a reredos (removed in 1961) helped to equip the new building. The new church had a stone spire but by 1969 this had become unstable after years of repairs and it was replaced by the present tower.

In the porch the list of rectors confirms St.Peter's early history, the first recorded name is in 1400; much later - 1711 - the name of Thomas Manningham appears. He was a well-known botanist as well as a priest and was responsible for stocking the rectory garden with many very rare plants. Years after his departure visitors, interested in botany, would call just to see one or two of the garden's rarities.

The huge and varied collection of kneelers in the church started in 1977 when the rector's wife formed a group of needleworkers with the purpose of replacing the old worn ones. There are now 170 of them, all different designs; they feature seasons of the year, Sussex landmarks, commemoration of a special occasion, a beauty spot or just a pleasant design. The lamb or sheep on the end of the kneelers, are symbols of Slinfold.

Stephen Langton, the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207 and the first signatory on the Magna Carta, was born "in his own manor of Slynford" in 1150 and was buried in 1228 at St.Martha's on the Hill, Guildford. Langton spent the first seven years of his archbishopric in Pontigny, France, his appointment being resisted by King John. It was altogether a stormy period in Langton's life being suspended by The Pope from his functions in 1215 but reinstated 1218.

Sometime after Stephen Langton "The Legend of the Slinfold Bell" was born. The most plausible version of this story tells of a bell, destined for St. Peter's Church, Slinfold, which fell off a wagon into a bog by the roadside, about a mile from the church. The legend goes that while attempting to salvage the bell from the bog a witch appeared on the scene offering to use her powers to retrieve the bell with her team of white oxen. A rope or chain was fixed to the oxen and to the visible part of the bell and the witch warned the crowd, which by now had gathered to watch the recovery, that if anyone spoke during the operation the bell would be lost forever. The oxen heaved and as the bell rose to the surface someone in the crowd shouted "Hurrah" and the bell slipped back into the bog for ever! But that was not quite the last of the legend for in 1971 a dowser with his metal rods who had heard the story, and a member of the Treasure Hunters Association tried to locate the bell. The dowser claimed success and went as far as giving the dimensions of the sunken bell which he said he could detect below the surface of the bog. However, the metal detector of the treasure hunter did not record any sign of metal in the same spot. After much talk of future recovery by the dowser and the making a film of it nothing more was heard except some very well orchestrated publicity which appeared in newspapers and on the radio!

Slinfold is a name with a Saxon derivation Slynd meaning the side of a hill or slope and Folde, land cultivated in an enclosure, usually after removal of timber and underwood. Among its many visitors it is said that King Edward 11 came here on his return from Battle Abbey on 3rd September 1324.

Among its well known families are the Cowpers, Blounts, Bradbridges, Husseys and Churchers. There is a memorial tablet to Katherine Blount 1617 in the church.

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Eric Burleston - From Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News November 2003

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