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In medieval days the Parish of Godstone stretched for eleven miles along the Roman Road from Marden Park in the north to Felbridge in the south. At no point was it more than two miles wide. During the 19th century Felbridge, then Blindley Heath, became separate parishes. Today St Nicholas church, St Stephens at South Godstone and St John’s at Blindley Heath form the United Benefice of Godstone, South Godstone and Blindley Heath.
The church of St Nicholas lies half a mile from the village of Godstone, which may originally have been a farm, Goda’s Ton. The church was part of the Saxon village of Wolcnested, also Wachelsted, later Walkingstead. The name probably means wolcan ‘to roll or full’, and sted ‘a place’, possibly referring to the fulling of wool with Fullers Earth, found in the neighbourhood when wool was the main industry. In 950 Byrhtric, a wealthy thegn, left land at Stratton to the Minster [mother church]. The Domesday Book records that Count Eustace held Walkingstead but there is no mention of a church. This could mean the Minster was destroyed during the Norman advance.
The Normans built a church where St Nicholas church stands today. The ground was higher than at Stratton and on the main road, after the old Roman road had sunk beneath the marshy land where Godstone now stands.
View towards Church Lane
Nothing is known about the earliest church on the site except that it had typical Norman chevron moulding around the round-headed doors. Some original stones can still be seen in the rebuilt west doorway.
This church, it seems, was replaced by an early 13th century building consisting of a chancel and aisleless nave of about the same length as at present. A tower was added later in the same century. The base of this tower still stands although it was faced with stone during Gilbert Scott’s restoration – see below.
Detail on West Door
In 1846 it was reported at a Vestry Meeting there was ‘a deficiency of church sittings’ and a north aisle was added to the building. A few years later a south transept was ‘tucked in’ beside the tower but only lasted until Gilbert Scott’s 13th century style restoration in 1870-71, when the south transept and south wall were removed and a south aisle added. The original doorway was replaced in the south wall. The west door was rebuilt as were the chancel, chancel arch and east window. There is almost nothing of the 13th century church now visible except inside the base of the tower. The original steeple was replaced. The most recent major work was reshingling the spite, which was completed in 2015, which not only makes the church wind and watertight again but will also restore its beauty and enhance the many distant views of this heritage building. The shingles are like tiles but are split or “cleft” from oak logs and should last 100 years
The foundations of the nave are said to be 12th century and the roof of the nave was rebuilt in the 15th century.
The Nave towards the Altar
The font, also 15th century, was abandoned in the churchyard during the 18th century, replaced by an elegant but strange pedestal font, rather like a birth-bath. The 15th century font was reinstated by Gilbert Scott and continues to be used for baptisms.
The choir vestry was added in 1912. In more recent years toilet and washing up facilities were added alongside the choir vestry, but these need updating to provide wheelchair access, and this work is part of our next major project.
The original six bells were cast in 1777, with the exception of the treble case in 1871. In 1915 the peal was recast and re-hung with two new bells.
The organ was installed in 1919 by Sir Bernard Greenwell of Marden Park, originally one of the two manors of Godstone, in memory of his father, Sir Walpole Greenwell.
The Communion plate includes a chalice dated 1748, with a replica made in 1848; a flagon letter-dated 1794; a paten dated 1748 and a spoon of the 17th century.
The C15 Font
There are several monuments of interest in the church, notably in the Evelyn chapel, where a black and white marble altar tomb supports the full-length figures of Sir John Evelyn and his wife Dame Tomasin, dated 1664.
Nearby are other tablets and brasses to the Evelyn family who lived at Marden, Leigh Place and Felbridge. They carried on a gunpowder industry at Leigh Mill. The Diarist came of this family. There are also brasses to George Holman and his wife.
Detail on the Evelyn Family Tomb
Under the tower is the Macleay chapel dominated by a marble effigy of Barbara Macleay, wife of Sir George Macleay. Several members of the Macleay family were noted natural scientists particularly in the field of entomology. Such was the esteem in which the Macleays were held in the world of the natural sciences, a variey of fauna and flora carry the Macleay name notably the Macleaya cordata and the Macleay's Swallowtail. Several wall paintings in the chapel, until recently painted over, reflect this assocation.
Wall Painting featuring the Macleay's Swallowtail
Almost all of the windows date from the 19th century. However, to mark the new millennium, the villagers of Godstone gifted a glorious new glass window depicting the village past and present.
Kneelers depicting local scenes were embroidered by members of the parish in 1972. These were added to in the year 2000, worked by members of the WI to mark the Millennium.
Detail from the Millennium Window
John Trenchman ‘the pirate’ is buried outside the south door. His stone is marked with skull and crossbones. Trenchman was a notorious local smuggler who in the mid 1600s ran contraband between the south coast and Croydon. He died in the Fox and Hounds Inn after being ambushed on Tilburstow Hill, south of Godstone.
In the churchyard a sarsen stone marks the grave of Edmund Seyfang Taylor(1853-1908) ‘Walker Miles’ – pioneer of rambling and rambling associations. 'Walker Miles' wrote many guidebooks for ramblers and his considerable work saved many public pathways from neglect or obstruction.
The 'Pirate Grave'
The lychgate was erected in memory of the Reverend Gerard Hoare, his grandfather and two uncles, Rectors of Godstone for more than 100 years – 1821-1930. The lychgate was restored in 1978 to mark the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Canon K G Hoare – Rector 1955-1965.
The right of presentation to the living was held under King John by Reginald de Lucie, probably brother of Richard de Lucie, Justiciar of England. In 1178 he granted half the tithe of the church to the Abbey of Lesnes, founded by Richard.
The recently restored lychgate
The other half passed through his brother-in-law, Odo de Dammartin, to Tandridge Priory, presented alternately until their dissolution in 1526 and 1537. Both halves eventually came into the hands of Henry Hoare of Mitcham. Today the patronage is held jointly by the Bishop of Southwark and Mr Timothy Goad.
The list of Vicars and Rectors goes back to 1304 and Registers to 1662. Old registers are lodged with the Surrey RO.
At the SW corner of the churchyard are almshouses, St Mary’s Homes, consisting of a chapel and eight houses - designed by Gilbert Scott, who lived north of the village at Rooks Nest (later Streete Court school) and built in 1872 by Mrs Augusta Hunt in memory of her daughter, Mabel.
Revised by D Jones 2013
St Mary's Homes