There were significant changes in the religious life of the village during the 19th century. There has already been mention made of the change of status at St. James. By 1811, Frensham, Seale and Elstead had been separated from Farnham for civil purposes, but they were still linked for ecclesiastical. The tithes of Farnham and its dependent chapelries were habitually let out by the Archdeacons for a term of 3 lives, with fines on renewal, and the right of nomination of a Curate. In 1840, Bishop Sumner introduced a Bill in the Lords to anticipate the calling in of the leases, and to restore the tithe money to the parishes, but it was opposed and withdrawn.
St James’ Church in the 20th Century
There was a period of controversy between Archdeacon Utterton of Farnham and several interested Laymen concerning the application of the tithes to the endowment of the parishes. An Order in Council was finally made on the 29th November 1865, by which the tithe rent charges in Frensham, Seale, Elstead and Bentley, formerly held by the Archdeaconry of Surrey were given over to endow the several Churches as the leases by which they had been rented out fell in.
There were some additions to the Church, as if to celebrate the new status of the parish. In 1871-72 a Vestry and Organ Chamber were added on the south side of the Chancel and a South Aisle and South Porch were built. New seating was installed and a new Pulpit, carved by a Miss Cornwall. The new organ was installed in 1875 by a Birmingham firm of organ builders at a cost of £180. The Font had a somewhat chequered history during the course of the 19th Century. In 1811, Manning and Bray described the Font in the Church as being cylindrical and of sandstone. This mysteriously disappeared. Bishop Sumner gave the Church a new Font in 1845, but before that the Rev. J. R. Charlesworth, Rector from 1854 to 1904, had heard that children were baptised from a china basin on the Communion Table.
The Rev. Charlesworth, who was obviously a notable figure in village life in the 19th Century, is recorded as a frequent visitor to the fledgling school. He was of the opinion that the barrel-shaped sandstone Font at St. Martha’s was the same one which Manning and Bray had described as being in Elstead Church. It was very similar to the one in Thursley Church, which perhaps would support this idea. Born in 1821, the Rev. J. R. Charlesworth was 33 when he first came to Elstead. He died 27th September 1904, aged 83, after working in Elstead for 50 years and is buried in the Churchyard.
There is an interesting insight into Church life in Elstead immediately before he arrived contained in notes made in front of the Burial Register for 1849 by John Ryland, the last “perpetual curate” appointment.
In November 1849 the Churchyard was planted with limes and a cedar tree, from the proceeds of the collection taken at the Service of Thanksgiving for the removal of the cholera epidemic.
On November 27th 1849, the Church Green was planted, through the kindness of John Cornwall junior. Three days later, the pathway was curbed and posts were erected along Church Lane.
In October 1850, two lamps were obtained for the Church by subscription. In 1851 the hole at the east end of the school was filled up and two yews were planted in the Churchyard in November.
In 1852, the year began with the presentation of a Lending Library of 57 volumes by W. Ewart M.P. Also the hole on the west side of the school house -which seems to have been surrounded by holes! – was filled in with 250 loads of earth. This year also saw the beginning of the public subscription for the organ which was eventually installed in 1875. In 1853 there was “a walk around the Churchyard to the school gates”, for what purpose it is not quite clear.
The Churchyard was enclosed by a paling fence with different farms responsible for their own portion or “panel” to keep it in good repair. “Owners” of the fence on the north side had made a stone wall for their portion, and in 1863, the other “owners” agreed to do the same. In February 1865, the Bishop of Winchester consecrated some “waste land” taken into the cemetery as the pressures on the Churchyard were fairly constant. In July 1894, as space was getting short once again, it was decided to purchase more ground. Enquiries were made about the possibility of purchasing from Col. Rushbrook “an acre of land in the field near the road on the side of the path opposite the Schools shrubbery and playground”.
In a drawing of the Church of approximately 1820 viewed from the north, there are no trees around the boundaries of the Churchyard. There are 12 graves of Stovolds near the Churchyard wall, and numerous graves of the Legg family.
About the year 1819, the Surrey Mission had introduced the preaching of the Gospel in their style to Elstead. A congregation of protestant dissenters was formed, and in 1834, they organised into a Church of 15 members with the Rev. Hillyard as Pastor. The congregation was chiefly made up of farm labourers, and those in humble circumstances. From 1834 – 1845 worship was conducted in a room hired from the British School. On September 9th 1845 the Little Napson estate was bought from Mr. Joseph Sturdy for £550. The money was lent by Mrs. Sarah Legg, and the property was surrendered to her in the first instance with a view to a mortgage. Mrs Legg was a widow, of Peperharow and she lent the £550 at 4% per annum. The property consisted of:
a small parcel of land called Little Napson of ½ acre with appurtenanes.
the east end of the garden adjoining the dwelling house, late of Nathaniel Marchant.
one parcel of land, late of waste soil enclosed in front of the dwelling house late of the Rev. George West.
The Rev. S. Hillyard “closed his labours here” on February 23rd 1840 and was succeeded by the Rev. John Moss. The numbers in the Church had by this time risen to 41 and in 1837, a Wormley Branch of the Congregational Church had been formed, with five members transferred from Godalming.
Mr. Dixon of Godalming was the architect for the new Chapel building, and on May 9th 1845 the contract for £395 was given to Hills of Arundel.
The foundation stone was laid on June 3rd 1845 by Mrs. Legg of Royal Farm. The scene was graphically described by the local paper – “An immense tent was erected on the site which was most tastefully decorated by some of the young ladies of the village with scriptural devices and ornamental flower work. After the ceremony nearly 300 persons sat down to tea, which, being concluded, the meeting was addressed by several of the neighbouring ministers. Our beautifu1 village presented a most animated appearance, and, the day being remarkably fine, the whole passed off most pleasantly.”
A copy of the document of dedication read at the foundation service was put in a bottle under the foundation stone, together with a silver shilling, sixpence and fourpenny piece of the reign of Queen Victoria and a halfpenny of George III.
The new Chapel was erected on a piece of waste land, but the estate as purchased from Joseph Sturdy contained properties already. Firstly there was the house and premises occupied by the Rev. Edward Bromfield who had by this time succeeded the Rev. Moss as Minister. Secondly, there were four cottages, occupied by James Chitty, William Reffold, Robert Heath, and Luke Heath respectively. Lastly there was the School Room adjoining the dwelling house of the Rev. Bromfield which was used as a place of worship prior to the building of the Chapel, and also a British Day School and Sunday School.
The new Chapel was opened for public worship on April 10th 1846. Pew seats were charged at the rate of 1/- or 6d per sitting per quarter. Friends of the Sabbath School purchased alphabets by which to instruct the little ones in the “Look and Say” system. These were shown to Church members and applauded.
In 1857 a Church opened at Tilford. To avoid a clash of times, services at Elstead and Tilford were on alternate Sabbath mornings and afternoons.
On August 1st 1859, the Rev. Bromfield died, and the following year, the Rev. A. Heal was called to the Elstead Ministry. The Surrey Mission paid him £90 a year and the Church at Elstead was responsible for the rent and taxes on his house.
On the 1st December 1865, a Miss Robinson of Guildford, and many from the army at Aldershot came to Elstead and held a Temperance Service. Of the 400 present 40 signed the pledge, and a Temperance Society was formed in the Village. It had a band and initially 45 members. The Band of Hope met in the School Room every Wednesday.
In 1866 a new Minister, Mr. Simeon Leete, took over. The state of the Church was very discouraging, with much division and poorly attended services. By the following year, things had improved slightly and weekly offerings were now started instead of pew rents, which improved the financial situation.
By 1867 the debt on the purchase of the estate and the building of the Chapel totalled £800, on which interest was being charged at the rate of £36 per annum. It was decided that the Church could not carry on with this debt, and the support of the Minister. A praiseworthy resolve was made to extinguish the debt by the end of the year. Various means of doing this were calculated. The common land belonging to the estate was sold to a Mr. Trismer in 1868. The four cottages were sold by auction at the “Golden Fleece” to Mr. Stovell. This raised a total of £430. £120 was raised from among the congregation themselves. Mr. Appleton promised to contribute £5O if the congregation gave £5O. £250 was raised by appeal to wealthy Christian friends in the County and elsewhere. It was announced that “cheques and postal orders on Godalming or stamps will be received by Thomas G. Appleton, Esq., of Elstead, Treasurer of the Fund”.
Finally, there was the Bazaar. This was no ordinary Bazaar. It lasted three days, and raised a total of £94. 19s. 7¼d. It was advertised widely as “a Bazaar in aid of the extinction of the debt upon the Chapel”, and “the assistance of kind Christian friends” was “earnestly requested” for “contributions of articles of utility, such as used clothing etc. suitable for an agricultural population, as well as those of an ornamental kind”. Mrs. and Miss Appleton of Elstead Mills, were the appointed recipients of all donations, and by Good Friday 1869, the 24th anniversary of the Church, a special service was held to celebrate the extinction of the debt.
An examination of the names of subscribers to the Chapel, and Church Members of the period together with names on the graves in the burial ground, yields many of the well known families in the Village both then and since. The Appleton family, owners of the Mill, were prominent Church supporters. The infant son of Jesse Blackman was buried on February 16th 1850. In 1858, on November 16th, Moses Swansbury, aged 2 years, son of George Swanshury, commonly called George Larke, was buried in the same grave as James Luke. These, we are told, were “very poor people” and no charge was made. The Budds, the Caesars, the Chitty’s and the Larby’s all figure in the records.
The high point of 1869, with the debt paid off, and all “set fair” was not to last, however, In December 1871, the Surrey Mission Society decided that they could not continue to employ Pastor Leete, and as the Church could not support him, he resigned in August of the following year. The last services were held in the Chapel on October 6th 1872.
Cleal in “Congregationalism in Surrey”, suggests that the difficulties of the Church were increased “by the removal of a local industry”, i.e. the worsted mill, which finally closed in 1881. This is extremely plausible, especially when one considers that the Appleton family, the mill owners, were among the staunchest pillars of the Church. Their loss must have been a sad blow to a small community. The agricultural depression of the 1870’s and resulting poverty among farm labourers may have been another contributing factor.
The Church did not close entirely. For some time it was under the oversight of the Church of Farnham. Around 1890, the Congregational Church at Godalming, took over responsibility and Elstead gained strength again as an out-station of this Church.
One regular attender at the Chapel during this period had been something of an infant prodigy.! By 1881, Miss Nelly Wateridge and her Father had settled in Elstead. Nelly, aged 15, had toured halls between Petersfield and Southampton, giving two-hour long recitations. “The Prodigal Son” and “Closing Scenes of the Life of Christ”, accompanied by her Father, operating a “very powerful phantasmagoria lantern” using “oxy-calcium light” to project hand painted lantern slides. Nelly lectured at the “independent Chapel” as the Church was then called and accompanied the Choir on the harmonium while her Father manipulated the triplexion lantern! The following Christmas, 1883, saw her reciting the “Story of Jane Conquest” at the prize-giving of St. James Church Sunday School, and in the same year, she gave an “interesting lecture” accompanied by “dissolving slides” at Milford. She eventually married a Mr. Chalcroft who in partnership with Mr. Bovington, ran the smithy on the Green. The descendants of the redoubtable Nelly still live in the village.