St Leonard’s History
Built: 13th century – rebuilt 1870 – 71
Architect: rebuilt by Spencer
Listing: grade 2
The church is situated almost in the middle of Chelsham parish, with roads bridleways and footpaths radiating to the old manors and farms, Chelsham Court and Beddlestead to the south, Ledgers to the west, and Fairchildes and Fickleshole to the north.
There was a church here at Domesday, recorded in 1086. Parts of the chancel and south wall date from 1185 AD but most of the church was built about 1250 AD. The font dates from the 13th century and was restored, that is, the shafts were replaced, in the 19th century. Thousands of children of the parish have been baptised in this bowl during the last seven centuries. The oak chancel screen was carved in the 16th century, possibly by Flemish craftsmen; it has unfortunately been cut down to half its original height. It is claimed to be one of the two most interesting pieces of mediaeval screenwork in Surrey. The restored piscina in the south east corner of the nave indicates the use of a nave altar in earlier times. Great changes were made in the 19th century, after the building fell into a bad state of repair.
In 1871, John Henry Daniell, of Fairchildes, effected major restoration to the building. The roof was renewed and the tower raised and the old Sussex cap was replaced by a shingled spire. The screen between nave and chancel was torn down and part of the 16th century carving replaced. The solid oak panels were used to make a chest for storing linen. Later there were various gifts from the Daniell family; the vestries, the organ, the clock and the 19th and 20th century stained glass windows. In the north window of the chancel are some fragments of early glass believed to have been found beneath the sanctuary floor during the restoration.
The hatchment on the north wall of the nave is that of Thomas Kelly, who was brought up at Scottshall Farm, but walked to London when 14 years, worked for a bookseller and eventually began a business as printer and publisher. He became an Alderman of the City of London and Lord Mayor in 1836-7. He retained his interest in Chelsham, supported the curate, Richard Crampton Fell, who founded a parish school, and visited the church at times throughout his life. He is buried in the churchyard under a yew to the east side of the path.
The Dedication. St Leonard was a holy man born in France about 500 AD. He built a monastery in a forest and attracted others to serve God with him. He became renowned for his miracles, particularly in gaining the freedom of unjustly imprisoned men who appealed for his help. St Leonard is pictured in the window in the south wall of the chancel holding a prisoner’s manacles.