Construction of Charlwood church was started in 1080, early Norman period. The original church consisted of a nave without aisles, a squat tower without a crossing and a rounded apse beyond. The nave and tower base still survive on the north side of the church.
Around 1280 the church was enlarged by adding a south aisle, which terminated at the western edge of the tower and was used as a side chapel as beyond the present pulpit is a well preserved piscina. The two light window by the pulpit is a rare example of plate tracery.
Here is a view looking east through the tower arch.
The new chapel allowed the main entrance to the church to be through the south wall, the massive wooden door is contemporary with these alterations, as is the top hinge, made from locally forged iron. Around 1310 a window was cut into the Norman north wall by the tower, and some twenty years later the Norman apse beyond the tower was replaced by a larger chancel.
The church gained its current shape in 1480 when a chantry chapel was built onto the east of the 13th century south aisle and arches were cut into the north wall to open up the building. The Norman west door and window above (which contains fragments of mediaeval glass) were rebuilt and a porch added to the south door which still contains the remains of a holy water stoup.
The only work done to the building after the Reformation was the heightening of the tower, which contains six bells, three of which date from the 1660s. The pulpit too dates from about that time and is a mix of Tudor and Jacobean work. In 1716 a gallery was erected for musicians.
By 1858 the church was in a very poor condition, and fortunately for us the village was too poor to commission a Victorian reconstruction. They were however able to purchase an organ which required the internal layout to be altered to accommodate it. The musicians gallery was removed, the nave and chancel were relocated from the north to the south and the old chancel was made into a vestry. As the pulpit was in the only position which enabled the priest to see the whole congregation, the pews to the front and east were arranged to face each other, giving a collegiate appearance.
This is the arrangement which survives today. The two photographs show the nave and chancel (former south aisle), first looking east and secondly west.
Here is the Victorian organ occupying the former chancel in the old arrangement.
The wall paintings on the south wall are of national importance. The wall paintings were uncovered in the nineteenth century and have faded badly though sensitive restoration in 1993 has prevented them disappearing completely.
The first picture has been electronically corrected for perspective distortion, which has made the window look weird, however it has flattened the painting to allow comparison with the reproduction which hangs on the west wall.
The strip cartoon to the left of the window tells the life of Margaret of Anticoch and was painted in the 13th century when the new aisle was built. To the right of the window are (above) St Nicholas and the butcher and (below) The three living and the tree dead. It is believed these are contemporary with the St Margaret images, between 1300 and 1350.
The image of St Nicholas depicts his miraculous resuscitation of three scholars who had been cut up and salted for pork. The pork butcher and his wife are visible to the left, with St Nicholas to the right. Above the scholars the hand of God emerges from a starry cloud.
The lower painting depicts a story taken from a mediaeval French "moralite" "Li trois mors et li trois vifs", written in c.1290. The poem relates how three noble youths hunting in a forest are intercepted by three hideous spectres, images of Death, from whom they receive a lecture on the vanity of human happiness and grandeur. The skeletons say "As you are, we were; as we are, you will be".
The subject is found in churches in various parts of England and was much in use at the time of the Black Death. The Charlwood painting is unique in showing the princes mounted.
In the 15th century the paintings on the right hand wall were covered in limewash and a large new painting of the martyrdom of St Edmund was superimposed. Edmund, born 841, was King of the East Angles. In a great battle against the Danes in 869 he was captured, tied to a tree, and shot with arrows till his body was "like a thistle covered with prickles". Edmund was soon revered as a martyr, and his body was enshrined at Bury St Edmunds.
In the painting there is now no sign of St Edmund, only the archer remains. A clue to the date of the painting is the fact that the archer's shoes are of a type that remained in fashion until the 1480s.
The chancel screen is the only sizeable piece of mediaeval woodwork in Surrey and is of fine workmanship. It was part of the chantry chapel erected by Nicholas Saunder for masses to be said for his father Richard. The family owned several properties in the village but their wealth was not directly the result of the iron trade which boomed at the time and during which most of the older village houses were built. Nicholas died in 1553 and his memorial brass is on the south wall of the chancel. The beautiful freize surmounting the screen is connected with the chantry, with its coats of arms and RS initials, but must have adorned some other structure as it in three parts which are clearly separated from each other whereas the vine lead scroll beneath is continuous.
The freize was carefully repainted in 1973.
Here are panels of the large three panel window in the south wall - my favourite glass in the building. The westernmost one depicts the patron saint of the church, St Nicholas, whilst the Virgin Mary takes centre stage with St George to her left. To see the rest of the stained glass in the church click here or on one of the images below.
Here is a view of the west end of the church, showing the two west windows and the south porch attached to the former south aisle (now the nave).
The final picture from the north east shows the 1330 chancel in front of the current chancel (former chantry chapel), the heightened tower and the original nave.
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