Visiting Local Churches No.23

St. Margaret's, Warnham

Although not mentioned in Domesday Book, it is known that the benefice of Warnham church was given by William de Braose to Rusper Nunnery before 1204. There were further references to it at Pope Nicholas' valuation in 1291.

Wills, as early as 1505, describe the church as being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but when the dedication changed to St Margaret is not known. The patronage of the Rusper Nunnery lasted until 1537 when it was vested in the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury who retained it until 1866 when C. T. Lucas of Warnham Court acquired the advowson which is still with the family.

Parish records can be traced back to 1558 and are like so many old church records are now deposited with the Diocesan Record Office at Chichester.

This large church today is a mixture of architectural styles, the earliest from the 14th century, comprising part of the north wall, the Caryll chapel, part of the chancel walls and part of the north and south arcades. The tower, unusually situated at one side of the building, and south chapel were added in the early part of the 16th century.

In 1847 a great deal of work took place including an increase in the length of the nave, which meant a rebuild of the west front. A singing gallery over the chancel arch and a gallery pew over the north aisle were removed and a new western gallery erected at the same time. Further work in 1885/6 involved building the west porch and extending the chancel eastwards. Also at that time much window tracery was renewed.

Warnham church has a large number of memorials. It has had associations with the Caryll family and later with the Shelley family. Percy Shelley, the poet, was born at Field Place, Warnham in August 1792 and was baptised in St Margaret's on 7th September 1792. Copies of the baptismal sheet recording the event are on display in a glass case on the south side of the nave. There are memorials to earlier members of the Shelley family in the Caryll chapel.

More unusually on display in the glass case in the south aisle are a tuning fork and glasses of the choirmaster of Victorian times and some coins found during the excavation work in 1885/6.

The Lucas family of Warnham Court have been great benefactors to the church and even today a member of that family is a churchwarden of St. Margaret's church.

The North aisle has a C14th arcade of four bays, however, the westernmost column is a 19th century structure, but the moulded octagonal capital appears to be of a much earlier period. Most of the masonry on this side is 14th century; the windows are replacements, but in the original style. The Caryll chapel, at the end of the North aisle, was restored in 1925 and refurnished in memory of the Rev. Richard Bowcott, Vicar from 1882-1921. The north wall bears a memorial to Sir John Caryll (died July 1613) and his wife. Among the kneeling figures are four sons and five daughters of the Caryll's all in dress of the late Elizabethan period.

The chancel is almost entirely a Victorian rebuild and contains no ancient features. There are however, several wall memorial tablets to members of the Lucas family. The plaque recording the restoration of the church and the building of the chancel can be seen below the memorial of coloured marble to Charles Thomas Lucas (1820-95) on the south wall.

Moving towards the tower from the nave you enter it by an early 16th century arch over which hangs a painted Royal Arms erected by parishioners in 1811 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the accession of King George IV. The north west pier, facing the nave, holds war and military memorials.

The chapel of Our Lady of Pity and The Trinity, also known as the Field Place Chapel was partially built from money left in 1524 by Richard Mitchell of Field Place. It is now used as a vestry and organ chamber. On its north wall is a list of vicars from 1247 to 1961. Earlier records relating to Warnham are on a painted board over the C16th arch leading to the south aisle. The board is awkwardly sited to be easily read but it is known to deal with the history of Warnham and Rusper. Below the board hangs a cutlass in a scabbard. Little is known of its origin and why it was hung in the church. The Purbeck marble square-bowl font is 12th century The base is modern and one side has been extensively repaired.

The eight bells have special significance for the bellringers who have held many county records for various changes - strange names like Kent Treble Bob Major and Canterbury Pleasure Major!

Eric Burleston - published in Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News, December 2002

Other local churches ... >