The Registers and Vicars of the Parish
Including the Parish of Blackheath and Chilworth
Wonersh was not a lucrative living for an incumbent. It was not well endowed since the lay-rector took all the tithes, though some evidently made the vicar an allowance. In 1589 the Convocation reported to Queen Elizabeth that there were scarce 600 benefices with a stipend sufficient to support a “learned clerk”. It appears from the Register however that we were fortunate to have a resident incumbent up to 1640. In the 17th C there was a shortage of clergymen, particularly qualified by education to preach and teach, and also the incomes of the majority of benefices was inadequate. Vicars of Wonersh were sometimes also vicar of the adjacent parish of St Marthas, a parish without any endowment, and it was the common practice to be vicar for more than one parish; this was known as plurality. More often than not the vicar appointed a curate to undertake his duties. Some lay rectors may have made an allowance to the vicar in order to attract a suitable priest as their nominee. The value of the living in 1724 was stated to the bishop to be £180 pa. In 1739 payment to some of the curates was said to be £26 yearly.
For the first two hundred years, until sometime before 1295, Wonersh was part of the parish of Shalford. After this date it was a parish in it's own right however we know nothing of the early Rectors (as the incumbents of the parish were entitled to be called), except the name of the last one, Richard de Rollying who died in 1306/7. For some 250 years after this the Rector was the Abbott of the Convent of St Mary of Bethlehem, Bishopsgate. In return for the Great Tithes they maintained the chancel and appointed the Vicar. Only the names and the dates of these early incumbents is known, which were:-
1307 Geffrey de Berton First under patronage of Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate.
1333 John de Wodeford
Register 1345-1366 lost
1367 William Brown
1388-96 John Appleton Exchanged for Chipsted 1396
1396-97 Henry Greene Exchanged from Chipsted
1396-98 Richard Wrask
1396-99 Thomas Cleming
Register 1415-1446 lost
1455 John Markewyke Resigned
1456-71 William Smith
1471 John Brown
Register 1492-1500 lost
1536 Robert Russell The last Vicar introduced by the Prior of St Mary’s
In 1536/7 Henry VIII instituted the dissolution of the monasteries and St Mary's was divested of their property, including the rectory of Wonersh which was subject of Impropriation by the crown. The Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir John Baldwin, acting for the crown as the first Lay Rector introduced John Fyrbe as Vicar in 1536.
The Royal Injunctions drawn up by Thomas Cromwell in 1538 required among other things that in every church there must be a large Bible in English for the people to read, extinguished lights that burnt before images, and also ordered the keeping of parish registers. Every incumbent was to keep a register of christenings, weddings and burials, and a suitable coffer or chest was to be provided for its safe keeping.
The Wonersh Register begins in March 1539, the beginning of the New Year. Note that the dates may be confusing, covering possibly two years as prior to 1751 Britain followed the Julian calendar; the church year began on 25th March and ended 24th March. The Gregorian calendar was introduced with a nine month year in 1751 which began on 25th March and ended on 31st December. Finally an adjustment was also required, so September had an additional 11 days. The original volume no doubt on paper no longer exists, but a copy was made on vellum in 1609. The Register in Wonersh is fairly complete up to 1640 when the national politics of the day caused an interruption.
Volume 1 of our existing Register starts with a transcript from the original entries. Gaps in entries may be due to decay of old pages rather than anything else. Whoever was the incumbent(s) during this period he would have been one of those who passed through all the changes in religion of the reigns of Edward VI and Mary. This record was fairly well kept and regular up to 1553 but with the accession of Queen Mary the entries become irregular. This may be due to old age, non residency or a dislike of the return to catholic ceremonies.. There was (in local records) some doubt about when John Charnock was instituted, however the Bishop’s Register at Winchester records this date as May 22nd 1554 (CCeD Record for his resignation).
CCEd Record His successor was John Holt (1557-1565) under the new advowson on Alice Polstead (Henry Weston acting on her behalf - hac vice). The Register has gaps from time to time when it is possible that there were periods when he was absent from the parish. It does not record his death, or that of his predecessor.
CCEd Record A more settled state comes with the institution of John Kytchen (1565-1585), again under the patronage of Alice Polstead. During his 20 years entries are regularly made, and he is the first vicar whose own burial is recorded , on March 11th 1585.
CCEd Record Thomas Taunton (1585-1595) is introduced by John Wolley Esq on behalf of his wife Elizabeth Polsted (More). He keeps the entries regularly during his 10 years, resigning in 1595 to take the benefice of Chobham.
CCEd Record Then comes John Sandforde (1595-1614), again introduced by Sir John Wolley on behalf of his wife. He is the first vicar who was married (not to be confused with another John Sandford who was Rector of Holy Trinity Guildford). It was in his incumbency that in 1609 the original Register was transcribed onto vellum into the present Volume 1. His handwriting appears in a few marginal notes. He is also perhaps the Master of Guildford Free School in 1580. It appears that he was resident in Wonersh, having 3 sons baptised in the church, and his burial is recorded on August 30th 1614.
CCEd Record The next vicar is John Street (1614-1629) Diocesan records indicating under patronage of Sir John Wolley (Sir John died 1596 so patronage at this time needs to be checked.) Sreet was also married and had one son baptised here. In 1629 he resigned and moved to the Rectory of East Clandon where he died in 1640.
CCEd Record After him came Stephen Geree (1629-164?) under patronage of George Duncombe (Duncomb). He is the first of whose antecedents and ecclesiastical views we have some knowledge, there being notes in the Register in his own hand: “Stephen Geree was born in Yorkshire, and at 17 years of age (1611) became a student at Magdalene Hall, took one degree in Arts and afterwards Holy Orders. In the time of the rebellion he was Minister at Wonersh near Guildford. In 1646 Stephen Geree, Minister of the Word, is commanded to the Assembly of divines to inquire as to his fitness to officiate the Cure of Abinger and what triall they have of his gifts and abilities pticularly,” (Wood, Athenar Oxonienses Vol.III p427). He was thus about 35 when he came to Wonersh, residing here until 1640. Between 1631 and 1640 there appear in the Register the names of 8 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. He was no doubt a puritan by conviction, though not uncompromisingly so. In 1635 he was one of the clergymen reported to Archbishop Laud’s Visitors (Sir Nathaniel Brent) at Kingston for refusing to read the King’s declaration for lawful sports on Sunday, marking him as a strict sabbatarian. Since he escaped the penalty of deprivation we may presume he had some plausible excuse or have afterwards complied. He must also have complied with the order to rail in the Communion Table. In 1630 Richard Meeres is recorded by CCEd as being licensed as curate.
In November1640 the Register suddenly becomes blank for nearly 30 years. This date is significant as it coincides with the assembly of the Long Parliament and the beginning of the 20 years when the puritans were in power. The next we hear of Stephen Geree is when the Rector of Holy Trinity in Guildford, Thomas Wall, is ejected by the Parliamentary Commissioners on a charge of “malignancy”; Geree was approved by them in 1645 as “a godly and orthodox divine”. It is probable however that he did not take up that appointment for in the same year he was seeking the more lucrative living of St Nicholas in Guildford, and in 1646 he was appointed to fatter benefice of Abinger where he died in 1664/5.
From 1640 to 1668 the Register is a blank except for a few baptisms. How the church in Wonersh was served during this time we do not know, and it is likely that there were times when the church was closed. During this time the Church of England was officially suppressed, the Bishops deprived of their authority and the Book of Common Prayer prohibited. It is clear from the epitaph to Henry Chennell d1672 that his contemporaries owed him a debt of gratitude for his churchmanship and conciliatory influence on disputes about religion. His life covered the period when there is no record of a vicar or minister at Wonersh, however he was evidently a staunch churchman and lover of the Prayer Book. This was a time of the Laudian dominance under Charles I, the Civil Wars, the triumph of the anti-church party, the Commonwealth and the Restoration. It is implied that Wonersh knew something of the discordant parties during those years.
The Register begins again in September 1668 and this may mark the re-inauguration of regular ministry. There is a break in the Register between 1671 – 1675. The next recorded institution of vicar was in 1684, however there was one vicar of whom all we know is one page from the end of Vol. 1 when a minute of a vestry meeting is signed by William Gale, Vicar. This was sometime before 1672. In 1671 a Thomas Quincie appears as “Minister” in a list of subscriptions “for or towards the redemption of English captives by Turkish pirates” (see also CCEd record as Curate), with which the 2nd Volume begins. In 1672 he is referred to at St Marthas as Curate, and in 1681 he was buried in Wonersh, so his ministry seems to cover the years 1671-1681. It has been conclude that he acted as deputy for a non-resident incumbent, possibly William Gale.
After the death of Thomas Quincie the parishioners took the unusual step of selecting a curate themselves. Richard Lewis, clerk, on the recommendation of the Churchwardens, was licensed by the Bishop of Winchester, to serve this cure of Wonersh, and he served as the curate from November 1681 to 1684. He kept the register carefully for nearly three years including his own marriage to Elizabeth Holiday of Great Street Bartholomew’s parish London, and the baptism of his daughter in 1683.
CCEd Record On September 1684 Thomas Bannaster was inducted as Vicar (1684-1718) under the patronage of Henry Duncombe of Albury. He was apparently (stated by Aubrey) paid an allowance by Mr Richard Webb who at that time had leased the impropriated tithes. This seems to imply that this voluntary subsidy rendered it possible to provide something like a living wage for he incumbent. He held the living for 34 years, being resident for that period and having four children. His burial is recorded on 25th May 1718. It was in this time that the new Lord of the Manor Richard Gwynne arrived on the scene.
Six months after his death, his son William Bannaster, at the age of 29, was inducted as vicar (1718-1755), again under the patronage on Henry Duncombe. He was a pluralist, and in 1721 became the rector of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s at Guildford. His epitaph on black marble is in the churchyard of Holy Trinity. It is probable that after this date he moved to Guildford working Wonersh with the help of a Curate (there is one mention of John Godfrey in this role; he was also master at Wonersh parish school 1722-25). These arrangements were not always acceptable to the parishioners of Wonersh as he apparently gave scant attention to Wonersh, clear from an extract from the Commissary Court Papers preserved at Southwark:-
1739. Presentment. Mr Bannister, Vicar of Wonersh, had not lived there for many years, and had not preached one sermon for two years; never had a licensed curate residing there, and several times had indigent mean persons for his curates. No afternoon service. Some of the curates had been allowed £26 yearly. Some had left without paying their debts.”
His marriage is noted, in a gratuitous entry 1740 to our Register, to Susan Lynn at St Mary’s Guildford. No doubt Bannaster’s interest centred around Guildford, however even at Holy Trinity things did not go well. On St George’s Day 1740 the central tower came crashing through the roof of the nave, a consequence of the pillars having been removed the year before in the name of repairs and alterations! The church became a ruin and remained so for 10 years. It was then demolished and a Georgian replacement built by 1763. It was on this style that the work at Wonersh took place some 30 years later, but thankfully the old church was not completely destroyed, as happened at Holy Trinity.
CCEd Records John Proctor is named as Curate in the Register in 1754 for his marriage , and in 1756 succeeds as Vicar (1756-1779), with George Sturt named as Patron. It is probable that he was a pluralist, and that he lived elsewhere, at least most of the time. He certainly held the vicarage of St Martha and used curates (including Jno.Hinde and T Davies (who was master at the parish school 1777) and David Morgan 1765 (CCEd Record)). His death is recorded in the register.
It is apparent that the Great Tithes were on the market at this time; in 1759 they were leased to Mr T Harris. There is evidence that some of the Wonersh parishioners investigate purchasing them (presumably to return them to their proper purpose), however in 1765 they were sold to Sir Fletcher Norton who became the resident Lay-Rector. He obtained Patronage in 1770.
Fletcher Norton, as the new Patron, in 1779 introduced (CCEd Record) Dr James Hill as vicar (1779-1803). He was the Rector of Puttenham and then held Wonersh, together with St Marthas, in plurality. He continued to live in Puttenham where he died in 1803. Though non-resident he appears to have given a fair share of time to Wonersh and he also employed curates (CCEd Records indicate Henry Hill licenced in 1789). In 1791 he recorded that the church was “in a ruinous state and no divine service performed therein.” He presided over the structural changes that took place to Wonersh church in 1793/4, finding it in a state of dilapidation and leaving it as a well built specimen of a Georgian conventicler with every trace of its antiquity destroyed or concealed. It is not clear if this action was his own or that of the Lay-Rector.
The living was presented to Revd James Fielding (1803-1806) by William 2nd Lord Grantley. He was the rector of Cranleigh (since 1765) and held the two benefices, together with St Martha’s, in plurality until he resigned both in 1806. His marriage to Mary Mansell is recorded in 1806. He may have been non resident, however after he resigned he came to live in Wonersh, living in the cottage on the site of the Vicarage in the Street until his death in 1818.
Lord Grantley then presented Revd William Hodgson Cole as vicar (1806-1852) , holding the office for 46 years. At the time of his appointment he was master of Guildford Grammar School . He was also vicar of St Marthas, and in 1822 also took on Rector of West Clandon, and was domestic Chaplain to the Duke of Gloucester. He fulfilled these duties mostly single handed only taking on a curate (H Wright) in the last two years of his life. However between 1820 -1824 the name of Revd John Carr appears in the Register as “Minister” but never Curate and he apparently lived in the “vickaradge”, the site of which is not known, perhaps swallowed up in the formation of Wonersh Park.. Revd Carr died in 1825, he and his wife Jane have tombstones in the north chapel. Francis John Cole (perhaps William’s son??) is identified as curate in CCEd records 1827. Revd William Cole relinquished the mastership of Guildford School in 1819 and came to live in Wonersh, occupying the Dower House and then the old cottage on the site of the old Rectory. His vicarate covered the period of great revival in the Church of England in the first half of the 19th Century. In 1806 the Evangelical movement was strong and the reactionary traditionalist Oxford Movement (Tractarians) started in 1833. He was evidently a person of faith who exercised good stewardship of the parish. There exists a copy of a sermon he gave in 1826 entitled “The Claims of the Established Church” which gives account of a pre-Tractarian churchman of sober temperament He founded the National School at Norley Common in 1842, so called because of the impetus and assistance given by the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. The school was placed at Norley Common, towards Shamley Green and close to the geographical centre of the parish. Revd Cole died at the age of 82, his wife Mary has a tombstone in the north chapel and he is buried in the churchyard.
Revd Elihu Edmund Body (1852-1892) was inducted 1852 under the patronage of David Stow, of Glasgow, Merchant, presumably someone who had leased the tithes from the 3rd Lord Grantley. He was previously a school master, being ordained priest in 1846 as Chaplain of the Grammar School Clapham. He was not a pluralist and held the office for the next 39 years. He resigned at the age of 75 in 1892 and died in St Leonards-on-Sea in 1899, and is buried in the churchyard at Shamley Green. It was during his incumbency that the churchyard in St John the Baptist was closed and the extension at Shamley Green opened. He was instrument in the foundation and erection of the church of Christ Church, Shamley Green in 1864. From 1872 he was assisted by a succession of curates until Shamley Green became a parish in its own right in 1881. He was also instrument in the provision of Lawnsmead Infants School. He has a memorial in Wonersh nave, just below that of his first wife who died in 1855 at the age of 27. He lost a 2 year old daughter and within days a 4 day old daughter, and then four weeks later his wife died (of dysentery?). They are buried in the churchyard. Shortly after this in 1856, possibly as a result of the (lack of) sanitary arrangements at the house, a new vicarage was built in its place. Revd Body remarried later on; there is a stained glass window in his memory from his widow in the centre south nave. An only surviving son went on to gain a distinction at Cambridge and become a Professor in the General Theological Seminary in New York.
Assistant curates in this period were Edward Pigott (1872-3), Thomas Edwin Hamer (1874-6), John Gardner (1876-82) and James Staffurth. In 1883 Revd Thomas William Ward, and his wife, arrived as assistant Curate, who did something to wake up the parish. The church Magazine started in 1884. He introduced a choir and many other improvements to the appearance of the church. He saw a need to extend or reorder the church, and also a need to increase the capacity of the parish school. In 1890 Lawnsmead School for infants was opened in Wonersh.
The Grantley estates were sold off in 1884 and the Great Tithes were purchased by George Cubitt, later Lord Ashcombe. The 5th Lord Grantley was however still Patron in 1892 and he evidently did not find it easy to find a replacement as the income was no more than £120 per year. It was however accepted by Revd Joseph Beckett Sherrin MA (1892-98). He immediately introduced regular weekly services, something which had not been undertaken for many years. 1893 saw the opening of St Martin’s Blackheath, though it is evident that Wonersh did not have much to do with the establishment of the fellowship. In 1898 he left for the vicarage of Chidham in Sussex.
In the few months between incumbents the parish was in the hands of Revd William Clarke who had come to live in Ashlands; during this time the earliest Register of Services was started; The Bishop’s chair was given by his wife in his memory. The new patron by this time was Lord Ashcombe who introduced Revd Philip Cunningham (1898-1906). During his incumbency the church building was completely restored. He instituted Morning & Evening prayer, possibly the first time daily worship had taken place at Wonersh. In 1900 Wonersh acquired once more its own churchyard near Blackheath. In 1906 he resigned the vicarage to become Rector of Cranleigh where he remained until 1928.
Lord Ashcroft presented the Patronage of Wonersh to Selwyn College Cambridge, and in 1906 the introduced their first nomination Revd Algernon Leslie Brown as vicar (1906-1947). He was a Don at Selwyn College and was a scholarly liturgiologist Much of this account of the parish is based upon his record of the History of the Wonersh Church circa 1940. There is a brass in his memory in the floor of the chancel dated 1950. Lord Ashcroft also restored the Great Tithes to Wonersh and Blackheath, thus bringing to an end the role of Lay-Rector.
Selwyn College remain our Patron to this day and they have played a helpful role in our parish. In 1947 they introduced Revd Robert Saville Brown (1947-53), and then Revd Hugh Anthony (1953-80).
Our recent vicars of Wonersh were/are:
1981 - 1990 Rev. Tom Farrell.
1990 - 1996 Rev. Malcolm Williams.
1996 - 2006 Rev. Jeff Wattley.
2006 - 2010 Rev. Ian Scott-Thompson
2010 - Rev. Debbie Sellin
St Martin's Church, Blackheath
St Martin’s Chapel Blackheath was established almost entirely due to the efforts of Sir William Roberts-Austen. In the early days the services were conducted by lay-readers with the assistance of Frederick Elsley. Curates-in-Charge were :-
1901 - 1905 J R Spittal
1905 - 1907 C T Tapsfield
C M Wheeler
1913 - 1916 F C Frewer
- 1919 M Peart
A J C Young
A C Hawkes
H C Wright
1923 - 1924 S Wilson Ruscoe
1928 - 1946 Rev Herbert Frederick Poole
A scheme was launched in 1928 uniting Blackheath with Chilworth, comprising portions of the parishes of Wonersh, Shalford and St Martha’s, into a separate Church District. After a trial period it was decided to continue the scheme and aim to make the District into a Parish. An Endowment Fund was set up with a view to raising the £300pa income to enable the parish to be formed. The fund was completed in 1937 and the new Parish of Blackheath and Chilworth was consecrated by the Bishop of Guildford on 25th September 1937. The vicars, now resident in the Parish, were:-
1946 - 1961 Rev. E O Ware
1961 - 1969 Rev. D A Box.
1969 - 1979 Rev. D Hedges.
1979 - 1998 Rev. Eric Gibbons.
In 1998, under a pastoral re-organisation, Blackheath was rejoined with Wonersh to form the Parish of Wonersh with Blackheath, sharing the Wonersh ministry team.