Bletchingley, Surrey, St Mary's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Ornate Clayton monument (1705)
In the south wall is a lancet window and quatrefoil opening sometimes called a Hermit's Squint. This quatrefoil once connected to a hermit cell where a man named Brother Roger dwelt in the 13th century. The squint was probably not built to allow Brother Roger a view of the altar, but rather so that pilgrims could converse with the hermit and ask his advice. Court records show that in 1233 Henry III gave one quarter of wheat (a bushel) every eight weeks to a Brother Roger of 'Blecingel', which may well have been Bletchingley. Brother Roger is thought to have been one of the first Franciscans in England.
The pulpit is Jacobean, the gift of Robert Holman of Pendell, and the Pendell arms are carved on it with the date 1630. The hourglass stand and bracket are also Jacobean, one of very few left in Surrey. Near the pulpit is a portrait of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as a curate of Bletchingley from 1965-1967. The nave corbels are fascinating, carved with medieval symbols including two Green Men, and a three-faced symbol representing the Trinity.
Tucked away in the north aisle, out of site, are a series of interesting memorial brasses. The oldest of these brasses dates to 1470 and shows an unmarried woman, her marital status shown by the fact that her hair is uncoiffed. A more impressive brass is that of Thomas Warde and his wife Joan, under the tower. Warde was a wealthy tanner who lived at nearby Little Pendhill and died in 1541. By the pulpit is a brass of a priest in vestments, possibly a 15th century rector named Hugh Hextall, chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham and rector from 1451 until his death in 1476. Hextall remodelled the church around 1460, adding the south arcade and south chapel windows.
One of the most interesting memorials in the church is one of the most recent. In the north aisle is a plaque to Commander Wilfred Dunderale, a naval officer who played a leading role in capturing a German 'Enigma' machine during WWII. Author Ian Fleming used Dunderale as inspiration for his fictional secret agent James Bond. In the north aisle is a nicely crafted memorial to Thomas Northey (1685-1753), a London apothecary.
The Disputed Election Affair
Even earlier is a tablet to Nathaniel Harris (1569-1625) who served as rector from 1609-1625. Harris was private chaplain to Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, but is best remembered for his role in a controversial election in 1624. At that time Bletchingley was still a Rotten Borough, so when an election was called, 15 burgesses met and elected Sir Myles Fleetwood and John Hayward. The following Sunday the manor bailiff announced in church that a new meeting including all the burgesses and all the rest of the village inhabitants would meet on the Monday to hold a new vote. Rector Harris added his voice to the furor by preaching on the Biblical text 'The chief priests and elders sought false witnesses'. The next day thirty burgesses met and elected Sir Myles Fleetwood again, but this time the second MP named was Henry Lovell. Then the House of Commons stepped in; Lovell was sent to the Tower of London, and as for Harris, he was forced to ask for pardon before the Commons, and apologise to his congregation from his own pulpit.
But it is without doubt another Clayton memorial that deserves special mention. Almost the entire east wall of the south transept is occupied by a huge memorial to Sir Robert Clayton, erected during his lifetime in 1705 in honour of his wife Martha. This excellent piece of Queen Anne craftsmanship was created by Richard Crutcher and is set within wrought-iron railings the same age as the memorial. It is one of the finest early 18th century memorials in Surrey, perhaps in the whole of south-east England.
Clayton was born in Northamptonshire, the son of a carpenter, but he acquired a fortune as a Scrivener (bill discounter) in the City of London, essentially a practice of taking on debts at a discount and then either making back the money on interest or foreclosing if the debtor could not pay. Clayton made huge amounts of money after foreclosing on Mardon, a property owned by the Evelyn family in Godstone, and the Peterborough property in Bletchingley. These and other successful deals made him the largest landowner in the area, and his monument reflects that wealth. It is a staggering, ornate affair, with life-sized statues of the couple upon a base, their costumes gilded and further gilding on a scroll listing their various virtues, beneath a large broken pediment and coat of arms.
The south transept was once the chapel of SS Margaret and Catherine, rebuilt by Hugh Hextall, and the Clayton memorial stands on the site of the original chapel altar.
To the east of the porch is a gravestone carved with crossbones. Local tradition suggests that a pirate is buried here but the crossbones was often used by Freemasons, and was also a symbol of human mortality.
Address: High Street, Church Lane, Bletchingley, Surrey, England, RH1 4PD
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On Church Lane, on the north side of the High Street. Parking along the lane. Usually open daylight hours.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Nearest Accommodation to Bletchingley:
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Visitor Information Point
72A High Street
Tel: 01732 865368
Fax: 01732 866749