Pyrford & Wisley Churches

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August, 2021

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Following a visit to Wisley Gardens recently, we stopped at the village of Wisley to look in the church.

It was built in 1150 and there is a maintained medieval track running from Byfleet through Wisley to St Nicholas’ Church in Pyrford, the same parish. Although Wisley church has been altered and restored, structurally, it is a building of one period i.e. without additional aisles, chapels or towers but with later roofs, seating, porch, bellcote and vestry.

There was a drastic restoration in 1872 when the whole western half was reconstructed in neo-Norman style. Three of the original twelve consecration crosses can still be seen. Beside the vestry door appears the name of The Black Prince who had a hunting lodge in Byfleet at the time.

As we stepped into the church we saw, opposite the main door, the Royal Arms of George. You can still see small flints in the chalk stone embedded in the Chancel Arch. The niches on either side of the Arch looked as though they had been used as side altars.

The East window and the nave north and south were inserted in 1627 and were of late Gothic style. A late, wrought iron hour glass bracket is fixed on the wall near the pulpit. Furnishings are fairly modern apart from one pew dating 1630.

There are traces of frescoes on the south wall. A large barge board can be found in the porch and a Larsen stone stands outside which was found in the Bagshot area. The headstones are interesting and there is one in the north corner, largely illegible, commemorating John Choat who died in 1879 and his wife Hannah 1890 bearing the inscription ‘Her Children and her Children’s Children, numbering 160, shall rise up and call her blessed’.

While looking around inside the church we were joined by a cyclist who asked if we had visited Pyrford Church as it was in the same parish and very interesting.

Thinking Pyrford would be a small village similar to Wisley we almost gave up trying to find it as it turned out to have a much larger population. However, we seemed destined to locate it. Trying to find the road leading home we suddenly found it and were glad we did because of the frescoes inside.

The Norman church of St Nicholas, built around AD1140 at Pyrford is one of the oldest churches in Surrey and stands, again, as a complete building of one period. Axe marks left by the Norman masons can be seen on the chancel arch. The bell-turret and porch outside the north door are Tudor additions.

We were stunned by the amazing, original red ochre frescoes that were discovered during renovations in 1869 and 1967. They are from two periods, illustrating scenes from Christ’s passion and pilgrims setting off for Spain. Included are figures not to be seen elsewhere in England except in the Romanesque church carvings in Herefordshire and Kent. There are two sets of drawings from different periods.

John Donne poet and churchman lived for a time in Pyrford and would have worshipped here.

The circular hilltop churchyard of St Nicholas Church is indicative of an early settlement.
The mysterious Pyrford Stone can be found further up the hill at the corner of Upshott Lane and is thought to be prehistoric – a relic of pagan worship, transferred to Christian use as it is incised with a cross. This sarsen block stood in a grass patch where three roads now meet. It was uprooted during road widening in 1976 and replaced in its present position a few feet from the verge.

Like many other standing stones, it is reputed to move around midnight!

Since the 1950s after woods were felled to make way for new roads and houses, many landmarks have vanished, although some remain to be cherished as visible reminders of a long and varied history.

Caroline Hutchings

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