Our History

Chiddingfold is a small and beautiful village centred around the Green, the Pond, the Parish Church of St. Mary and the Crown Inn, with the A283 passing through it.  In bygone days the main highway in this area was from Guildford to Chichester (via Shalford, Hambledon Hurst, Chiddingfold, Lurgashall and Midhurst).

The parish of some 3,500 people and 1,200 dwellings extends over 10 square miles with a boundary of 19½ miles forming the Surrey/West Sussex border to the south. It is one of the largest parishes hereabouts and one with a distinct place in our long national history.

The Britons or Celts had some kind of settlement here or periodically visited this part of the Weald on the North West edge of the Andredesweald forest. There is no evidence of Christianity in Roman Surrey which was divided in Saxon times into districts called Hundreds; that is when a settlement became 100 families strong it sent out 10 freeholders or heads of families called “tithings” into the woodland areas or wild. They established “folds” or enclosures and under the headman or tithingman administered the affairs of such communities. Originally in the Hundred of Godalming, Chiddingfold later had division into three tithings – Chiddingfold Magna, Pockford or Chiddingfold Parva, and Sittinghurst.

The name of Chiddingfold “Chadynge’s fold”, “Chiddingefoulde”, is derived from the Saxon, probably meaning the fold (enclosure for animals) “in the hollow”. It may therefore be presumed that some very primitive form of village existed here before the Norman Conquest.

Any remains of a former wooden Church on the present site, thought to date back to c978 AD, with or without a wooden tower structure, are contained in the four quoins of the present nave of the stone church built c1190 in local Bargate stone with some tile and ironstone.Chiddingfold prospered, population increased, trade centred around agriculture, wool and cloth making, glass making, iron founding and in more recent times walking stick manufacture.

The Church building was extended in 1230/1260, 1330, 1450, 17th century, with a large restoration in 1869 and more in the 20th century to accommodate a growing church and congregations, the Christian outreach to its community and an increase to three Churchyards with the Old Ground burials around the Church in four layers deep. The upkeep of the present 4¼ acres is a large responsibility but a haven for wild life, flora and fauna.

Interesting features of the present building are the loftiness of its pillars, its extensions out from the nave to north and south aisles with formerly clerestory windows, a west tower (15/17c) extended in 1869 housing a bell tower with an active ring of 8 bells plus the former 1489 bell now used as a minute bell, a chiming clock with two faces surmounted by a gilded cockerel weathervane.  In 2015 a quinquennial inspection revealed significant deterioration of the roofs and in 2017 the church and lych gate were completely reroofed using handmade tiles and re-used and new Horsham stone.  This was the largest project undertaken since the re-ordering of 1869.  Click here to celebrate the journey of this work.

There is a unique lancet window with 427 uncut pieces of Chiddingfold stained glass (1226 – 1612) from the 11 glasshouse sites in the parish worked by the Flemish glassmakers whose names are recorded on a marble tablet below the window. 

The Chapel has a beautiful modern stained glass window incorporating lenses looking
out to the community across the Village Green provided for the Millennium 2000.

There is also other stained glass of interest, four panels of Dutch glass in the Chantry Chapel and Victorian glass by Whitefriars and Warrington.

The former Musician’s Gallery at the West End later housed our first grind organ and then gave place to use as ground floor and heating chamber space with a mezzanine floor as Choir Vestry and above it the ringing chamber for the bells. The former gallery for the Earls Winterton, with its own outside entrance in the North aisle and a lovely Wheel Window above similarly gave way to the present organ chamber. Two funeral hatchments of the Winterton family are mounted on the west wall.

There are interesting wall plaques of notable families and one to Sir William Bragg OM KBE who had his country residence here and who invented a prototype of the iron lung to assist in particular a local resident of that time. He was an internationally renowned physicist and scientist. There are 3 fine brass chandeliers 1796 and earlier, and within the Sanctuary two piscinas dated 1230 and 1260, the earlier with its original wooden shelf nearly 800 years old. The East Window has an interesting and surprising naval inscription and the five windows of the Chancel with the Priest’s door are a notable architectural feature, the westernmost window being a Lychnoscope formerly with a shutter.

The Long History of Rectors in Chiddingfold

A Rector’s board in the North aisle records all the incumbents from 1150 (saints and sinners!) and includes 1596 Dr. Robert Tighe DD a translator of the Authorised Version of the Bible, 1760 Owing Manning, Surrey historian and 1913 Dr. Reginald Somerset Ward DD awarded his Lambeth doctorate by the Archbishop of Canterbury at his death bed.

The names also include an imposter, one charged with heresy, one who was committed to the Tower of London after 5 days here and deprived, and more than one who left the parish unserviced.  The present Rector has contributed two significant events to the church history – initially as the first female Rector in 2003 as Rev Sarah Crowle and then with a second entry on the board when she married in the church in 2004 and became Rev Sarah Brough.

The Church has ancient and modern communion vessels, Victorian and Modern vestments, some of which have been beautifully embroidered by local people who have also made fine kneelers for the main seating of the church. The church records date from 1562 and are in frequent use for research and helping enquirers from all over the world to trace ancestors and build their family trees. The records and artefacts are often on public display during special events such as Heritage Weekends or Open Days.  Click the link if you want to find out how to trace your ancestors.

The church on this site has served the local community for some 850 years and parts of the present building have witnessed many historic events in the fortunes of the Church, State and Village. Visitors will see examples of ancient art and industry venerated for its age and associations, but the living, witnessing and worshipping church to the Glory of God is its past and present generations of people.

Our heritage and contemporary additions serve, with our thriving Church of England School, an active Christian community of all ages. We look back with interest and pride but more so we look forward from the active present to the outreach in mission with our ecumenical partners to the un-churched in the community, and our service within our community.

Many dedicated volunteers within the church ensure that the heritage of this historic place is kept alive for this and future generations - to find out more about caring for our church or the work of The Friends of St Mary's Church click the links.

The faith will continue to be kept by clergy and laity, ministering together, and many more chapters will be written to add to our parish records of village and church as the years pass and the responsibility is handed on with confidence to the growing Church Family of young and old.

More of the history of the Church is written in a book “A guide to the parish church of Saint Mary’s Chiddingfold” by Alan Bott.