Churches of Albury

Albury’s original Parish Church (St Peter and St Paul) was situated near Albury Manor House in what is now called Albury Park. Drummond’s idea for the parish was that it would have a new Parish Church a mile away from the Park in the resited Albury village and a separate Catholic Apostolic church in sight of his mansion. The Old Saxon Church would be closed, but would be repaired and its thirteenth century south transept would be transformed into a mortuary chapel for the Drummond family.

However, his determination was not unchallenged. A body of opinion grew in Albury that challenged the appropriateness of depriving the village of its old Parish Church and graveyard. Although virtually all the villagers had moved out of the Park, the Old Church’s closure still affected them. It was conveniently equidistant between Little London and the new village growing in Weston Street, where most villagers had been relocated, and it remained a focus for them. Additionally, the old resentments of the forced move out of the Park still flowed deeply and these were reinforced by the closure of the church; but the challenge to Drummond did not come from the labouring people and journeymen who had moved from the Park.

In 1840 Martin F. Tupper, D.C.L., F.R.S., who lived in Albury House, got up a protest in favour of the old parish church and a Petition based on the protest to the Lord Bishop of Winchester, Albury’s Diocesan Bishop. Martin Tupper is best known for his book “Proverbial Philosophy”, which carried his moralistic injunctions into thousands of homes in Britain and perhaps even more in America.

He was a household name and a prolific poet and author whose interest in antiquity and archaeology sustained much of his writing. Books such as his treatise on the archaeology of Farley Green and his romance, “Stephan Langton” demonstrate his commitment to Albury and its beautiful countryside. However, his attempt to challenge Drummond’s scheme through Church channels met with indifference. Tupper complained to Sydenham Malthus, son of the famous economist and philosopher, that Mr Cole, the Rural Dean, whom he described as “an easy creature”, considered that the offer of a new church for an old one “was such a capital idea that it never entered his head that any sane person would object”. His claim that the parishioners and their children had an inalienable right to retain their eight hundred year Parish Church and burial ground fared no better at higher levels. In August 1840 the Bishop of Winchester “exhorted” Tupper “to refrain from public protests or newspaper publication as generating useless heartburnings”. Thus, opposition to the new St Peter and St Paul’s evaporated and Drummond’s scheme received the public endorsement of the Church.

It says much for the character of both Martin Tupper and Henry Drummond that their amicable personal relations seemed to survive this profound difference of opinion. In his preface to “Stephan Langton”, written nineteen years after these events, Tupper acknowledged that “Mr Drummond let me have the run of his famous historical library in Albury” during its preparations.

In spite of the opposition, Henry Drummond put his new plan into effect. He engaged the twenty seven year old Augustus Welby Pugin as architect for the new mortuary chapel in the Old Saxon Church. It was he who was responsible for the design of its elaborate glowing red, blue and gold interior that visitors see today.

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, son of Auguste Charles Pugin and Catherine Welby, was born near Bedford Square in London in 1812. Auguste Charles Pugin died when his son was 20, having lived to see the beginnings of his offspring’s illustrious and influential architectural career. For both new churches, Drummond appointed as architect, William McIntosh Brookes who at that time had a number of commissions in the Winchester Diocese in which Albury then found itself. Brookes had been admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1822 and had done work in Peterhouse, Cambridge and had built the Town Gaol in Cambridge in the next few years. His first major ecclesiastical work was repair work on St Michael’s, Wood Street, London, and in 1835 he was engaged to build Dorking Church. This was completed in 1837, only to be demolished thirty six years later and replaced by the St Martin’s church we see there today. Brookes was working in London on St Ann and St Agnes’ Church, Gresham Street when he was invited to undertake the building of the two Albury Churches. The two new churches were, in architectural terms, to refer back to the medieval orthodox style of building. Drummond, characteristically, had decided views about the style of his two new churches, and Brookes was a competent interpreter of them.

Brookes began to build the Catholic Apostolic Church near Sherbourne and to draw plans for the new Parish Church. The Catholic Apostolic Church was to be in the Gothic style, and Brookes’ design for it was an early example of the Gothic revival that was to play such a significant part in English church architecture later in the century. He completed the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1840. It is a remarkable example of the Gothic style set in idyllic surroundings, and it immediately achieved Drummond’s aim of establishing for the young Apostolic Church a distinctive and distinguished focus.

In the speed with which these three interlinked projects were launched we can detect the conviction, confidence and determination that was part of Drummond’s character.

For the new Parish Church he had selected a sloping site, “Rudge’s field”, to the south of the main settlement of the new Albury. It commanded a superb view to the west down the Tillingbourne valley and the new church site overlooked the whole village. It was a perfect setting for a new church that was to be the centre of the community. The new Parish Church was to be completely different to the Gothic Apostolic church, but still tied to the purer forms of earlier times. It would be appropriate for it to look to another, perhaps earlier, mediaeval style, and this was to be the Norman, or Romanesque, style. Drummond was the initiator and inspiration of the whole project and both new churches were to be built at his expense. There is no doubt that he, rather than Brookes, determined the style of the Parish Church.

His choice for it of the Romanesque style is the subject of a widely known legend that has been fostered by repetition in church as well as architectural circles.

Drummond is said to have travelled in France in the early part of the century and whilst there was impressed by the 12th century Eglise Saint-Pierre in Thaon, near Caen. This church was a little younger than the Old Saxon Church in Albury, having been begun in 1050’s, although later extended and altered, its integrity of historical and religious references so impressed him that he determined to copy it in Albury.

There can be no doubt about the similarities between parts of the Thaon church and Brookes’ version in Albury, but it seems possible, at least, that Drummond may have come across the distinctive Norman church through architectural contacts rather than through a chance sighting of it during his French journeyings. The overall appearance of the Thaon church strengthens this view; its ground-plan differs so much from the new St Peter and St Paul’s that it is inconceivable that the Albury church is merely a poor imitation of the other. Having said that, some relationship between the two churches seems firmly established.

Drawings of the Thaon church appeared in a book published in Britain in 1826-28. One drawing of its tower, in particular, suggests that this was the origin of the link between it and St Peter and St Paul’s. ‘Specimens of Architectural Antiquities in Normandy’ was written by J. Britton, M. Le Keux and Auguste Pugin, and Pugin’s drawings of the church, done in 1818, appeared in it as examples of the classic Romanesque style. Amongst these was a detailed drawing of the tower which is almost precisely reflected in some aspects of St Peter and St Paul’s.

The book was doubtlessly well known in the architectural drawing offices of the time and the contemporary search for doctrinal and physical integrity in church architecture may well have drawn additional attention to it. It may be very significant that whilst Drummond was planning the new St Peter and St Paul’s, he was working on the Drummond memorial chapel in the Old Church with Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Augustus Welby was not only the greatest advocate of the architectural integrity movement, he was also Auguste Charles Pugin’s only son. Could Augustus have influenced Drummond’s choice of the Thaon pattern for the new Parish Church by drawing attention to his father’s book?

The Thaon church is dedicated to St Peter. Its origin goes back to the eleventh century when the Lord of Cruelly, with the Cathedral of Bayeux started to build the church. The foundation of its tower were built in 1050 to 1070. Twenty years later the choir was built and the nave was added in the early twelfth century. Much further work was done in the Gothic era and the eighteenth century and its pure Norman character was to some degree overwritten. In 1840 the wide side aisles were demolished and its appearance was quite changed. In the same year the church was made redundant. It is a curious coincidence that as the old Thaon Church was made redundant, the new St Peter and St Paul’s in Albury, which had just been inspired by it, was being built.

The putative model or inspiration for St Peter and St Paul in Albury, the old church at Thaon still stands, looked after by Les Amis de la Vieille Eglise de Thaon.

Work began on the new Parish Church in November 1839, before the completion of the other. Its steeply sloping site, Rudge’s field, was leveled by building an embankment on which the church was to be set. The building’s height and predominantly vertical lines and tall tower made the most of the elevation of the field and, combined with its beautiful western prospect down the wooded Tillingbourne valley, rendered it quite exceptional.

According to the old tradition linking the Thaon church with St Peter and St Paul’s, the new Parish Church’s red brick is said to have been a disappointment, not to say a shock, to Henry Drummond, who expected to see it built in stone. However, familiarity and its rich russet colour, standing against the green of its surrounding fields and trees now seem to render it a rich and pleasing part of the landscape.

The appearance of the new church above the village, no doubt excited curiosity, and perhaps admiration, but further resentment followed. In October 1841 a Parish Vestry meeting decided to seek a faculty to transfer the altar, Norman font, bells, pews and ornaments from the Old Parish Church to Drummond’s new Parish Church. This clearing of the moveable items from the Old Church was popularly seen as its despoliation. The emotional attack on the transfer of furnishings was further stimulated by the realisation that the new changes would also bring the closure of the traditional graveyard and the potential separation of future family graves from those of their forebears. However, Martin Tupper’s protest campaign of fourteen months before had run its course and had failed in the face of hierarchical indifference, so the momentum towards the new church continued and the transfers from the Old Church took place.

When the new Albury Parish Church finally opened in 1841 perhaps the greatest immediate surprise for parishioners was the contrast between its ornamented exterior and the large and plain interior. The contrast between the lightness and the openness of the new church, with its six tall plain-glass windows in the nave and the large east and west windows, and the dark intimacy of the Old Saxon Church must have been a startling modernism in the eyes of many parishioners. However, the unimpeded and clear view of the altar from all parts of the church was, perhaps, the greatest change. This emphasis on the visibility of the altar and the celebrant to all worshippers was consistent with contemporary doctrinal thinking in the Church and a dominant factor on church design at the time. The introduction of the old Norman font, the Old Church pews, the seventeenth century bells and ornaments brought from the Old Church may have provided some familiarity, but for the parishioners of Albury, there could not have been a greater contrast than between their old and new Parish Churches.

On 19 October 1842 Bishop Sumner, of Winchester, consecrated the new Parish Church and burial ground following the petition of the new Rector, the Reverend John Hooper.  The transept and apse were added in 1868 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, and the north chapel created as a Second World War memorial by neo-gothicist Sir Edward Maufe, designer of Guildford Cathedral.

There were now three church buldings in Albury. The fourth was added in 1930 when a 19th century Barn was given by Clara Courtney-Wells to be converted into a church as a memorial to her husband.  This Church is known as St Michael’s Church, aka the Barn Church.

The Old Saxon Church

The Catholic Apostolic Church

The New Parish Church

Martin F. Tupper

Augustus Pugin

Drummond Memorial Chapel

The church at Thaon

St Peter and St Paul before additions

St Peter and St Paul Interior pre-1935

St Peter and St Paul Interior

Bishop Sumner

Any donations to help in the upkeep of these historic buildings are very much appreciated

St Peter and St Paul, Albury

St Michael (aka Barn Church), Farley Green

Old Saxon Church, Albury PARK

Take a look inside each building to learn more about the architecture and interior

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St Peter & St Paul’s Church (Albury Parish Church)
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