White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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St. Mary's Church, Purley, Berkshire -  Nash Ford PublishingPurley
St. Mary's Church

Although standing on an ancient site, Purley Church was completely rebuilt in 1870. Extensive enlargements added in 1983 include a multi-purpose hall and other facilities which cleverly open out directly from the nave arcading yet remain unobtrusive. They can be separated by curtains within and, without, are completely hidden from the main view of the building. Even, on the north side, the extension looks more like a small group of surroundings buildings than an actual attachment.

The building's great treasure is its finely carved Norman font, of 1150, mostly showing interlaced arcading but also including an interesting mustachioed mask, probably representing Christ. There is a less spectacular Norman arch re-inserted into the chancel, but it does contain some original studded carving of the same date. 

Only the brick tower survives in-situ from the earlier building. It is adorned by the coat of arms of Oliver St. John, Viscount Grandison,  showing that he had it erected in 1626 when his nephew, Sir John was lord of the manor at Purley Park. One of the bells it houses dates from only two years later. On the internal walls of the tower are some fine mural monuments transferred from the old church. Particularly of note are the superb classical Storer frieze and the small effigy of Anne Hyde and her child (1632). Anne was the first wife of Edward Hyde, who later became the 1st Earl of Clarendon, father of the Duchess of York and grandfather of both Queens Mary (II) and Anne. The lady was taken ill with small pox, at Reading, while travelling from London to her Wiltshire home and was removed, from there, to the home of Sir John St. John, her uncle, at Purley Park. She died there soon afterwards. There are also monuments to the Liebenroods of Purley Lodge (later of Prospect Park) and the Hawes of Purley Hall who gave the church its chalice in 1733.

The churchyard contains some interesting tomb chest monuments, several to the Sherwood family. The one to Thomas Canning, a 6th cousin of George Canning, the Prime Minister,  is a 'listed building'. Unfortunately, only two sides of its railings remain and have had to be protected by a wooden covering. 

This is not the official Purley Church website. Please do NOT mail me about use of the church. Visit the C of E's Church Near You website instead.

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