November 2012: Newdigate Church & Its Carvings – Jane Lilley

Jane gave us a fascinating talk about an ancient Surrey church and its changing fortunes. Newdigate was a poor parish, but its church is a story of triumph over adversity. It began as a timber chapel around 1150, but by 1525 had become much as it is today – a stone church with one of the finest timber towers in the county.

The interior was altered in the Reformation and the Civil War, but by 1800 was in a poor state – the Victorians saved it; box pews were replaced and a new organ installed. In the 1890s a Mrs Janson formed a wood carving class for men and boys who over the years, provided a rood screen, pews and other fittings, all superbly carved in the Arts and Crafts Style. They continued their work through to the 1930s.
A major crisis arose in 1910. The tower was found to be nearing collapse. Without consulting anyone the rector commissioned repairs costing £1400, a huge sum, expected the villagers to pay it and scorned their efforts to raise the money. The rector was replaced by Rev Bird who rescued the situation. Eventually the tower was saved.
In 1980 the village faced another challenge. The oak shingles on spire had to be replaced. Local men learnt how to make them and eventually produced over 50,000 shingles from local oak to do the job. The surplus timber made a new lych-gate. This was the latest chapter in a remarkable story of a village and its determination to preserve its church.