St Lawrence, Chobham
Chobham became part of the Chertsey minster lands in 673AD and hence it is possible that a Saxon religious building stood on this spot before the current church. The Saxons tended to build their churches of whatever was available locally, for instance local sarsen (sandstone) and puddingstone (gravel naturally cemented together by iron deposits). However, it could have been made in the Saxon tradition using wood staves and hence nothing would survive to the present day. Saxon churches were generally fairly simple two cell structures. A rectangular nave - without aisles, and a smaller rectangular chancel which was narrower than the nave by about two nave wall thicknesses (Saxon churches typically having walls less than 1 metre thick). The nave and chancel appearing separate, joined only by a narrow archway.5 p378
During the half century following the Norman conquest, Saxon methods were discarded and the new continental style (Norman) of church building adopted. There was a very active programme of church building . The current stone-built church appears to have been built during this time; around 1080. Originally it was about half its current size. The nave was about 2/3rds it current length; there were no aisles or tower. Norman churches tended to be built on the site of the original Saxon church and an outline of the Saxon foundations can often be found under the floor of the nave of Norman churches.
The current church is constructed of sarsen (sandstone - much of which has a blue tinge and thus may not be local) and puddingstone (gravel naturally cemented together by iron deposits). Horsham sandstone tile is used for the lower courses of the roof.
Built c.1400 and is 16m high. The spire with its unusual herringbone leading was restored in 1955 and a weathervane made in the local forge was added. The four-faced clock was given in 1900 by the Vicar of that time.
The Church is entered through an obviously ancient outer wooden porch, rumoured to come from Chertsey Abbey after its suppression by Henry VIII in 1538.
There is a peal of eight bells - the oldest cast by William Culverden of London in 1520. The tenor bell weighs 500 kg. Until 1892, when an upper floor was inserted, the bells were rung from the ground.
Little of the wooden roof except the great beams is original. In 1866 the Norman north wall was removed and the North Aisle added to provide more seating. The alter at the east end, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was installed in 1957.
In 1552, during a period of protestant reform, interiors of churches were simplified, rood screens removed, and new pews and pulpits installed. The walls of churches were whitewashed to cover paintings or images.1 p140 In Compton, they have found medieval paintings under the whitewash; similar may be found in St Lawrence's?
People sometimes wonder how an estimated 8000 bodies could have been buried in the small churchyard. Early drawings show that up until the middle of the 19th century, graves in St Lawrence church were commonly marked with simple wooden head and footboards. Presumably, once these rotted away the ground was considered reusable. In 1892, the Reverend J Carter, vicar of Bisley, wrote "a large majority of those interred here (Bisley) have nothing beyond a green mound of earth to mark the spot where their bones are at rest. The prevailing fashion.. a few years ago was to put over the grave a wooden erection, consisting of an upright at the head and foot, with a board about 6 to 8 inches wide connecting them, which bore the inscription" 7 p48
The churchyard is no longer consecrated ground; burials nowadays being performed in the new graveyard on the other side of the High St. The churchyard wall is ancient and probable dates to the mid 18th century; probably having formerly only been railed in.3 p169
Illustrations of the Church
The earliest drawing of St Lawrence's that we have appears on the border of a map of the Brimshot estate, drawn by Henry Jones in 1797. A clock can be seen on the west face of the tower and a lynch gate at the entrance to the churchyard close by the White Hart.
The Minet library in Camberwell has some water colour paintings of the church dated 1800 and before the Victorian alterations. The North wall, as depicted, is pierced by three strange, square headed windows. The roof is tiled with old brick tiles although the three lower courses are of stone as they are on the South aisle roof. The churchyard is entered through a double lynch gate situated by the White Hart. There are no other openings in the wall shown, doubtless because of the market held in the street; the churchyard was still in use so there are no trees in it.2
Most of the images and description of the interior of St Lawrence's have been reproduced from one of two excellent leaflets that are on sale in the church.
1 A Thousand Years of the English Parish, Anthea Jones. The Windrush Press, 2000
2 Ceabba's Ham. Joy Mason.
3. Egham. Frederick Turner. 1926
5 A History of the English Parish. N Pounds. Cambridge University Press 2000.
7 Bisley Bits, Rev'd J Carter, 1892 - available from the Surrey Heath Museum.