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History of St. Nicholas Church  -  Peper Harow

The church is dedicated to St. Nicholas and has been a parish church since before 1301. St. Nicolas was a real person but all the stories concerning him are purely legendary. He was Bishop of Myra in the 4th century and he has always been regarded as the patron saint of spinsters, children, sailors and scholars. He even came to be regarded as the patron saint of robbers from an alleged adventure with thieves whom he compelled to restore some stolen goods to their rightful owners.

 

It was Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, 668-690, who began to divide England to dioceses and parishes, but this was done very gradually and not completed until long after his day. Originally the monks at Oxenford served this church before they moved to Waverley Abbey after some disastrous floods at Oxenford when some monks and cattle were drowned. There is an interesting list of rectors of Peper Harow on the wall near the vestry door. Among them is Michael Haydock who contrived to remain rector after the execution of Charles I and throughout the Commonwealth. Dr. Manning, the historian, who wrote the history of Surrey, died in 1801 and was not only rector of Peper Harow but also vicar of Godalming and canon of Lincoln. His signature is in the marriage registers.

 

The registers of baptisms, marriages and burials date from 1697. Before this date they were kept in the old rectory on the north side of the church. This rectory was destroyed by fire in 1697 when Dr. Mead was rector. The church registers are now kept in the 17th-century safe in the vestry. It is interesting to see the parish records which recalled that clothing, blankets, flannel, medicine and even brandy were distributed to the poor of the parish long before what is now known as the Welfare State. Boots cost six shillings and there is a record of the purchase of one gallon of brandy for 15 shillings and sixpence. Every girl "on going out to work" was given 10 shillings by the Church.

 

Note the old chest in the vestry dated 1634 with the letters R.W. carved on the lid. It belonged to Robert Wood, a former rector.

 

In the chancel there is a brass to Joan Brocas, 1487, kneeling in prayer in her widows veil and mantle. The first husband was John Adderley, Lord Mayor of London a generation before Dick Whittington. Her second husband was William Brocas, Lord of Peper Harow.

 

Another attractive memorial is to Elizabeth Wood, 1621, in a peaked bodice and high collar. She was the daughter of the rector at the time.

 

There are is a brass inscription to Henry and Jane Smith, 1635, who lived at Peper Harow and were happily married for 48 years.

 

On the north wall of the chancel, outlined in marble, is a portrait of Christopher Tonstall, "a faithful pastor of this place" in Stuart times. In the centre of the chancel floor there is a memorial stone to Bridget wife of Robert Holdsworth who died in 1724. Note the curious inscription in verse. On the chancel wall there is a memorial to Thomas Brodrick, Vice Admiral of the Reds, in the days when the British Navy was divided into three squadrons, Red, White and Blue. He was a distinguished eighteenth century sailor.

 

As a lieutenant, he commanded the storming party when Admiral Vernon captured Porto Bello, one of the few successes in the war, in 1739. Later in the Seven Years War Thomas Brodrick was sent to the Mediterranean with reinforcements for Admiral Byng. Later when Admiral Byng was brought home under arrest and made the scapegoat for the government's failure at Minorca, Admiral Brodrick was a member of the court martial which sentenced the unfortunate Admiral Byng to death for what was not his fault. Admiral Byng was shot on the quarterdeck of his own ship in Portsmouth Harbour "pour encourager les autres", as Voltaire put it.

 

The recumbent figure in marble in the nave is the fourth Earl of Midleton who, in 1844, commissioned Augustus Welby Pugin (whose other designs include the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower, perhaps better known as 'Big Ben') to add to the architecture of the church's interior.

 

The churchyard contains an ancient yew tree which, according to a dendrochronological study, is approximately 700 years old. It was the wood from such trees which was used to make the famous English long-bows which we read about in history.

 

The church was restored in 1877 and the old pews were replaced. Originally there was a gallery at the west end but this was removed in 1877 to make room for the  organ.

 

Note the plain Norman doorway to the church and the old sundial, the dial of which was sadly recently stolen, from the South wall.

 

A Phoenix from the Ashes:

 

On the night of December 24th 2007, after the Christmas Midnight Mass, disaster struck the church. A fire broke out sometime early on Christmas morning and rapidly spread through the building. According to the BBC news, about 50 firefighters were called out to the blaze which caused extensive damage: The tower, the nave and its roof were gutted and church contents, including the three original bells and the organ, were destroyed. Luckily the Midleton Chapel and the chancel escaped serious damage.

Over the next few years St Nicholas' Church was lovingly restored and it is now back in full service with a beautifully restored interior.

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Grateful thanks to Tim Hepple for permission to use the above information which is taken from the following site, where further information can be found. http://www.peperharow.info/home.htm

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