The Reformation Years 1536-1756

This account of the history of our church acknowledges and has drawn heavily upon information provided in the following:-
 Wonersh History Society
Parishes: Wonersh - British History OnlineVictoria County History 1911.
 History of the Church by Revd A L Brown.
 The History of Antiquities of the
County of Surrey, Manning & Bray c1811 (Manning visited Wonersh 
just before the alterations 1793/4.)
 John Aubrey visited Wonersh circa 1690. Notes later published in “History of England” 1708.

The Incumbents of this Parish during this period (see also CCEd clergy database) are recorded as being-: 

1536 John Fyrbe  Under Patronage of Sir John Baldwyn, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
1554-56  John Charnock 
1557-65  John Holt 
565-85  Joseph Kytchen
1585-95 Thomas Taunton
1595-1614  John Sandforde
1614-29 John Streat
1629-46 Stephen Geree,MA
Register 1642-64 lost Civil War period
C1660-71  William Gale
1684-1718  Thomas Bannaster,BA
1718-55  William Bannaster,MA  Also Vicar Holy Trinity & St Mary’s 

Following the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536/7 the King’s Commissioners seized for the Crown the assets of the Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate, including the great (rectorial) tithes and patronage of Wonersh. Patronage rested in 1536 with the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir John Baldwin, and some 20 years later were in the hands of Alice Polstead (widow). The great (rectorial) tithes passed into the hands of the Duncombe family. In Wonersh these two properties then passed for two centuries (until 1765) through two distinct lines of succession.



Part of a painting circa  1710 showing the church largely unchanged from the beginning of the 16th century (except for the wall)


During the 16th Century the course of the Protestant Reformation took place. The various Injunctions of Thomas Cromwell as “Vicar-General” would have affected many aspects of church life including loss of any income associated with the chantry where masses for the dead would have been said. There was an end to Latin Mass. 


Wonersh Register starts in March 1539 providing a valuable source of information about our history.


During the reign of Edward VI Injunctions were issued ordering the destruction of all images, the removal of altars (to be replaced by movable tables) and the confiscation of anything the church contained beyond what was necessary for the conduct of services in accordance with the  Prayer Book of 1552 (The First English Prayer Book published in 1549, and Cranmer’s revision 1552). The church inventory from 1552 is still extant which includes the earliest record of three bells, plus a sacring or sanctus bell in the tower. These were no doubt confiscated by the Crown at this time, except for one bell for future use. Wonersh also lost the Calvary figures above the rood loft and other items of carving and sculpture. Queen Mary signalled a brief Catholic restoration, and she was followed by Queen Elizabeth I who established what became known as the Elizabethan Settlement and the Act of Uniformity. The Thirty Nine Articles, which is our basic statement of faith used today, was set out in 1571. 

The church in this Elizabethan time would have looked bare, stripped of most ornament. The oak screen in the chancel & south chapel arches remained even after the rood & rood loft were removed. The chancel would have contained nothing but a reading pew and communion table standing uncovered with ends facing east/west, with no altar rails. The pulpit was probably midway on the north wall of the nave. The seating would be wooden benches without backs, similar to those that exist at Dunsfold. There may have existed by this time a superior pew for the Lord of the Manor. There may have been the remains of ancient frescos, but these may have been whitewashed over with text from scripture painted. There may have been a Decalogue on the east wall of the chancel and the Royal Arms in some conspicuous position. No cross or symbol was permitted. 

There is an early 16th century altar tomb now in the north chapel which originally was positioned in the north east corner of the Tangley (south) chapel. It was moved from its original position in 1901 to under the arch adjacent to the chancel, and again into the base of the tower in 1988. The tomb is of Sussex marble but bears no effigy or inscription, and the sockets on the sides that once contained the many brass shields are now empty. This was evidently a person of consequence, probably the Lord from Great Tangley. In 1901 it was reported that the cassia in which the remains were embalmed still exuded from the marble in damp weather; this has not been observed subsequently. A spice jar was later excavated from nearby the tomb. In the floor of the chancel are two 16th c brasses and two brass plates in the sanctuary floor. 

By the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 the church was not under the authority of Rome, priests were called ministers and mass was the Lords Supper. The Authorised Version of the Bible, known as the King James Version, was published in 1611, bringing together previous translations. 

At the west end of the nave is a wall tablet which was originally in the Tangley Chapel; it is possible that this was the monument of John Caryll (d1612) of Great Tangley, the monument now stripped of its brass plate. 

During the reign of James 1 (1603-25) both Catholics and Separatists felt persecuted. These were the times when Visitations by the Commissioners were to be taken seriously, the effects of which were not escaped by the Vicar of Wonersh in 1635, who was evidently a staunch puritan. 

Life was hard with challenges including disease, conditions and wars; the population of England was in decline. The mid 14th to 18th centuries are called the “Little Ice Age” on account of the severity of the climate, especially the hard winters. In 1638-39 the Register shows nearly four times the average number of burials which indicates an outbreak of the plague. It was several years later in 1665 that the Great Plague of London took place, only subdued by the Great Fire a year later. 

From 1639 Parliament struggled with Catholic King Charles (1625-49) with the English Civil wars ending in victory for the Parliamentarians. Puritan rule followed as Oliver Cromwell took control 1653-58. Life in Wonersh did not escape the turmoil of this period; the Wonersh Register became blank in November 1640 for some 30 years. Bishops were deprived of their authority, use of the prayer book prohibited and the CofE officially suppressed. There were times when the church was closed. Royalist gentry were heavily fined, possibly being one explanation for the demise of the Caryll family in Wonersh. 

It was not until 1660 with the restoration of Charles II that some normality returned to life in England. Members of the new parliament were mostly Anglicans and so hostile to puritans. They passed a series of laws excluding puritans, known as Dissenters, from church and public office. After a number of revisions, the Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1662. There was no vicar or minister for Wonersh; however it is clear from the epitaph to Henry Cheynell that the parish owed him a debt of gratitude for his exemplary churchmanship and conciliatory influence on disputes about religion during this period. It was not until 1668 that regular ministry was resumed and 1684 when the next vicar was formally instituted. 

There is a CCEd record of the licensing of a schoolmaster Daniel Wickham in 1636. In 1683 the executors of Henry Chennell used his bequest of 1671 to set up a Trust and appoint Samuel Wickens, Clerk in Holy Orders, to be the headmaster of the small school. This was followed by a further bequest by Richard Gwynne Lord of the Manor in 1701 of a further annuity for children to be taught by the same schoolmaster. His 17th C raised tomb is in the south corner of the south chapel. Teaching took place in the north chapel, now used as a vestry. At the visitation of the Bishop of Winchester Dr Richard Willis circa 1725 there were 700 children in the parish with just 20 at the school; at this time the curate John Godfrey was teaching reading with 4 also being taught to write. There were apparently 2 or 3 other small schools in the parish run by “poor women” who taught reading and needlework. He was succeeded as headmaster in 1725 by Cornelius Jeal, and in 1777 by T Davies (also a curate at Wonersh). 

About 1690 the church was visited by John Aubrey who described the church as “large and handsome” as recorded in the later publications. He also records that “Wonersh has been a village of great note for its clothing manufacture, but has been in its waining condition above three score years.” This decline may account for the ex-Guild Chapel (north) being in a state of disrepair at the beginning of the 18th century. 

In the Church Magazine dated March 1949 it is recorded in an article "Our Church" that "The clock on the tower bears the date 1698 and has long been defunct."  A clock is shown on the painting circa 1710 and also on the engraving circa 1751, so it clearly dates to this time. The clock face with remnants of blue paint was removed in 1966. No records have yet been found of the mechanism; however it would probably have been one of the earliest examples of a pendulum clock with the earliest grandfather clock dating to 1680. 

The Georgian era started in 1714. 

For nearly two hundred years since the reformation Wonersh had just one bell; however in 1727 the tower was supplied with a new peal of five bells. The tenor bore the inscription “Messieures John Carringham Henry Denyer James Weale Mark Frost Churchwardens. Richard Phelps made me 1727”. The other four simply had “R Phelps fecit 1727”. The name of the absentee vicar is a notable omission from the inscription. From 1727 the bells were rung from the ground floor of the tower which was open through to the north chapel, as can be seen by the wear on the chalk stone surface around the arch. 

Around this period the priest’s door in the north chapel was filled in and a new door cut in the tower north wall. This would have been for the use of the Lord of the Manor rather than the villagers, whose entrance was in the south west corner of the south aisle. 




Engraving showing the church after 1751,
but before the porch 
added to the tower in 1769.

Note the eastern half of the sacristry roof.


In 1751 the old four-sided shingled spire was taken down and the tower increased in height by one battlemented top storey, which bears a badly worn inscription on the east wall (above the clock):- "Gabriel ....... and Abraham  Churchwardens 1751".
The wardens at this time were  
Abraham Higlat and Gabriel Ireland (SHC WON/18/2). This was no doubt to strengthen the tower and provide a belfry for the new ring of bells. It may be coincidence that the vicar at this time was William Bannaster who was also vicar of Holy Trinity in Guildford, where ill-considered work on the church had resulted in the tower collapsing a few years earlier. There are timbers from the original 13th C wooden spire still in the belfry. This picture also probably shows a clock (as also does the painting circa 1710).






1827 Painting of an earlier etching

It was common practice of the Reformation period to have texts written upon plain walls and during the 1901 restoration traces of two texts were discovered on the nave north wall: neither text was in a condition that could be preserved. The earlier text was partly hidden by the gallery. The other text was Micah Ch 6 verse 8“What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God”.

Prior to 1751 Britain followed the Julian calendar; the church year began on 25th March and ended 24th March. The Gregorian calendar, in use in Europe since 1582, was introduced in Britain in 1751 with a nine month year which began on 25th March and ended on 31st December. Finally an adjustment was also required, so September had an additional 11 days.