The Old Saxon Church, Albury
The approach to the redundant church of St Peter and St Paul is through the grounds of Albury Park. The building dates from Saxon and Norman times. The interior is uncluttered and light with a flagstone floor. The door dates from the 13th century, a well-preserved painting of St Christopher dates from the 15th, and there is a brass of John Weston who died in 1440.
In 1819, Henry Drummond, the banker purchased the Albury Park estate and engaged Augustus Pugin to convert the house to the Gothic style.
He appointed Hugh McNeile as the Rector of Albury in 1822 having heard him preach at the Percy Chapel in London.
During the 1820’s, Drummond’s involvement with the Irvingites and the foundation of the Catholic Apostolic Church in the 1830’s had a deleterious effect on the relationship between Drummond and the Rector. In 1831, McNeile published a series of his sermons on miracles countering many of the basic beliefs of the Catholic Apostolic faith.
Although the majority of the Albury residents had been moved away, they still worshipped at the parish church close by the mansion. In 1820, the seventeenth century spire was demolished and replaced with the cupola which you now see.
Ten years later, the fabric of the church had deteriorated further and required substantial repairs. The churchyard was almost full and could no longer meet local needs.
Henry Drummond was building a new Catholic Apostolic Church on the boundary of the Estate, and offered to close the Saxon church and replace it with a new church in Weston Street, now Albury. Whether the rift between Drummond and McNeile contributed to this decision must remain a matter of conjecture.
The closure of the church
Opposition to the proposed closure of the church was led by Martin Tupper, author of the book “Proverbial Philosophy”. He was resident in Albury House and by 1840, the Bishop of Winchester asked him to stop his public pleas and refrain from writing newspaper articles against the closure of the Parish Church. However, one source states that Bishop Sumner objected to the change so much that he “declined to consecrate the new building for some time after its completion”.
The closure of the Old Church enabled Drummond to commission Pugin in 1839 to design a mortuary chapel in the South Transept. This is lavishly decorated, with stained glass, painted walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, a wonderful example of the Victorians’ taste for richness and colour. He also undertook the necessary repairs. However, by the 1880’s, the roof was in such poor repair that the Rector, Robert James Dundas requested its removal.
The Church is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust and open daily. Services are held there at Easter, midsummer and Christmas.