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History - St Nicholas Church Compton

'The Charm of Old Surrey' by H M Alderman refers to it as 'the most interesting church in the county' and 'unique and worth making a pilgrimage to'. It is also referred to as

"Surrey's flagship Norman Church " by Simon Jenkins, in England's Thousand Best Churches.


The oldest parts (the tower and chancel arch) predate the Norman Conquest (1066), while the Normans built the nave and chancel. In the late twelfth century, the extraordinary and unique two-storey sanctuary was built, into the existing structure of the chancel. The timber balustrade to the upper sanctuary chapel, from about 1180, is said to be the oldest decorative timberwork surviving in Britain. About the same time, the nave was greatly enlarged, with new aisles. The font dates from the same period.


There are several examples of ancient graffiti:

Two Norman knights, the most prominent of which is situated next to the pulpit, have scratched their self-portraits in the body of the church and these are believed to date no later than 1140 when their distinctive helmet style was changed. The second knight has scratched his picture on the pillar by the main entrance, though this is less visible.

A mysterious set of inter-locking circles can also be found near the pulpit.

In the wall near to the staircase leading to the upper chancel, Henry de Guildford's name can be seen scratched into the wall and this dates from the 14th Century.

Outside, on the southern wall, there is a 'scratch dial' - a medieval type of sundial that would have been used to mark the service times, a small stick being inserted into the central hole for use as a gnomon.


In the middle ages, all wall surfaces would have been painted, but all that remains of the original paintwork is the patterning above the chancel arch depicting steps up to heaven (Jacob's Ladder perhaps)?


In the 17th century, the church was fitted out with a new pulpit, communion rails and altar table. The clock has a 17th century mechanism and an oak face that was reproduced in 1952 by Henry Stedman to replace the original. A number of changes have taken place over the years and these are largely evident from outside. Look for changes in windows and bricked in doors, such as the image on the upper right.  In 1929, a square cell was discovered in the North wall, which is thought to have been home to an anchorite.


An Anchorite or Anchoress would have voluntarily lived within this confined space, from the date of their incarceration to their death, being fed via a small gap and eventually being buried, often underneath the cell itself. The Anchorite spent most of his life in prayer and became a valuable source of spiritual guidance for villagers.  During building work at the church, a number of skeletons were found in this area, including that of a person with vibrant red hair. These are thought to be the remains of these loyal individuals.


There have also been a number of modern additions. In 1931, these included an altar cross and candlesticks, the Cliff Hodges memorial window in 1950, and a processional cross in 1983. In 1984, St Nicholas Church made it onto our TV screens when the Rogation Day Service was broadcast live. The list of Rectors near the entrance makes interesting reading with the first being Michael de Polstede in 1189.




Database of Baptisms Database of Burials Burials Watts Cemetery

1935 Pathe News Clip

Boy Bishop enthroned at Compton, nr. Guildford

Large files, may take 2-3 minutes to download. Contains names and dates from mid 1600's to end of 1800's

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