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The History of the Building

A Brief History

It is likely that people have worshipped on this site since the seventh century. Originally a wooden church would have stood where the Nave now stands. The stone and flint church mentioned in the Domesday Book comprised the Nave of the church you see today with its two Saxon windows visible high on the north side. South and North Aisles were built in the twelfth century and the stone tower was started then. The large Chancel was built in 1341 and a South Porch in 1380 with a priest’s room above it. The Slyfield Chapel was built in the mid fifteenth century and then joined to the South Porch. The North Aisle was rebuilt with three arcades in 1844 and the church reordered with the Sacristy and Sexton’s shed added in 1885. The small South Porch was added in 1913, the Choir Vestry in 1923 and the Church Room in 1979 forming the structure you see today. Much internal reordering has taken place and continues to meet changing ways in which the building is used1, 2.

p13 Church from SW Petrie.JPG

St Nicolas church painted by Petrie, around 1805

There are many fine stained glass windows and memorials in the church and it has associations with a number of famous people1, 3. Reviewing the list of incumbents we see such names as Samuel L’Isle (afterwards Bishop of St Asaph and briefly of Norwich), Samuel Cooke and Gerrard Andrewes DD also Dean of Canterbury. Samuel Cooke, who married Cassandra Leigh, was godfather to Jane Austen. Jane stayed with them in Bookham on a number of occasions and set several of her books based on places such as Bookham, Box Hill, Dorking and West Humble. Cassandra Cooke took great pleasure in the presence in the village of Fanny Burney who lived nearby

p1 Picture for front cover by Poole.JPG

The Chancel has a fine dedication tablet on the east wall south of the altar; it is one of the best examples of C14 lettering on stone in England. The Slyfields have a number of brasses dating from 1433 in the church. The Shiers, later owners of Slyfield House, are commemorated by both memorials and brasses. A number of owners of Polesden are buried in the church and churchyard including Col. Thomas Moore and his nephew William, Admiral Geary and Ronald Greville – husband of Margaret Greville. The descendants of Sir Charles Howard, Baron of Effingham, who commanded the English Fleet against the Spanish Armada, are well represented with memorials and a stained glass window. The east window of the Chancel contains six panels of fine C15 Flemish glass, installed in 1954 to replace the window damaged in World War II. An unusual willow tree memorial in the Chancel commemorates the Andrewes/Heberden family. William Heberden was Vicar then Rector for many years; his father was physician to King George III.

St Nicolas church painted by Poole


1.    St Nicolas Church, Great Bookham, Illustrated Guide

2.    A History of At Nicolas Church, Great Bookham by William Whitman

3.    1800 Great Bookham at the Time of Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and R. B. Sheridan

Our grateful thanks to John Adie & Bill Whitman for their work in producing this history

Building Timeline

Below is a timeline of changes made to the church building over the course of its history.  We are very grateful to John Adie for compiling this information.







After 675


Between 1042 & 1080












1300 - 1400
















c1700 - 1800








































ACTION (internal work inset)


Chertsey Abbey founded


20 houses in Bookham given to Chertsey Abbey


Churchyard set aside at cross-roads

 Wooden church built , 2 feet higher on south side

Stone and flint church built with nave and apse; small narrow high windows


Church at Great Bookham recorded in Domesday Book

South wall removed, narrow south aisle, heavy arcade pillars and round (Roman) arches

Work starts on thick tower walls

North wall pierced to make transitional arches, narrow north aisle. Old windows plastered over.

Tower cracks at north east corner.

North aisle shortened - two eastern arcades filled in


Wooden tower and shingle covered spire built. Four bells installed

Large Chancel built by John de Rutherwycke

South porch built with room over

Slyfield Chapel built, then joined to south porch

Buttresses on tower


Rood-loft in Chancel arch


Rood-loft removed and made into pews

Arch inserted between Chancel and Slyfield Chapel

Gable built into the North Aisle

East window of the Slyfield Chapel filled in


Gallery in rear of Nave

North Aisle rebuilt with three arcades by Carpenter


Chancel arch rebuilt


Two bells sold

Gallery and room over South Porch removed


East window in Slyfield Chapel unbricked and glazed

Sexton’s shed built on north side of tower by Butterfield

Priest’s Vestry (Sacristy) built

Sanctuary and Altar steps added. Nave floor levelled,

Box pews removed. Choir stalls and Nave pews added; vault under the Chancel was filled in.

Lychgate built


Victorian screen at Chancel arch

Outer porch added to South Door by Johnston.

Organ in Slyfield Chapel


War memorial to honour Bookham men killed in WW1

Choir Vestry added


Organ pipes moved to North Aisle


Victorian screen moved from Chancel to Tower arch


East window in Chancel


Church Room built (Nye, Saunders and Partners)


Upper book rests on choir stalls added


Pastoral Centre built (John Deal Practice)


AV screens and new (more efficient) lighting installed


Pews removed from the North Aisle

West Door made main entrance with glass inner door and glass screen installed between Tower and Nave

Reason for change


Erkenwald, first Abbot


No Church


Probably on site of present church



In Lordship of Abbot of Chertsey


Churches needed aisles


To build a tall tower


Processions, stations of the cross


Foundations would not support  a stone tower


Dedication stone


Space for non-worship activities, including weddings


Chapel for Slyfield burials



Separate laity from Mass





To light the pulpit



For musicians


To provide more space


Narrower and pointed


No longer in use


In memory of Lord Raglan


Storage and access to tower


Change in worship style



To commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign


Marks Queen Victoria’s death


In memory of Jane Mary Bird



World War I & subsequent wars


Cleared South Chapel for worship


Change in worship style


Replace war damage


For junior church and meetings


For meetings, incl. junior church

For audio visual presentations


Flexible area for fellowship

Improved welcome into church

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