Blechingley in 1835
BLECHINGLEY, a parish and town (formerly a market-town and borough) in the hundred of Tanridge, in the county of Surrey, twenty miles south of London. The parish comprehends 5,250 acres. Horne was formerly comprised in it, but was made a distinct parish in the reign of Queen Anne. The soil in the upper part of the parish, in which the town is situated, consists of chalk, stone, gravel, and sand ; the lower district is of clay. The town itself stands near the foot of the chalk-hills which run through the county. At the time of the Domesday Survey, the manor (called there Blachingelei) was in the possession of Richard de Tonbridge, earl of Clare. It seems, from the way in which the matter is there stated, that this earl united into one manor what had formerly been three. The whole had been worth £13 per annum in the time of the Confessor, afterwards £8, and to Richard was then worth £12, besides, that ‘his men’ held to the value of 73 shillings, 4 pence. It is probable that these ‘men,’ whose names are given, (Odin, Lemei, and Peter,) had privileges above the rest of the inhabitants, and that from among their descendants the burgesses were chosen to serve for this place in parliament when the Commons came to be summoned. This event took place in the 23rd of Edward III, since which date the town uninterruptedly sent members to the House of Commons, until the Reform Bill came into operation, when the borough was disfranchised. The bailiff of the manor was returning-officer, until it was determined by a resolution of the House of Commons in the reign of James I, that the bailiff had no concern in the election. After that the place continued to present the singularity of an election without a returning-officer, or rather without any person having an exclusive right to the office. When provisions, &c. were taken for the king’s house, this town and Horne were bound to furnish wood and coals, being on the borders of the woody country ; but for many years previously to 1616 they had been excused from this obligation, through the interest of the Earl of Nottingham, lord of the manor. They had been so long excused that, when called upon, the inhabitants were unwilling to execute the service : the matter was compromised by the Board of Green Cloth giving up the arrears, which were 100 loads of wood, and 30 loads of coal, on their undertaking to perform the service in future. A weekly market was formerly held here, but has long been discontinued. Two annual fairs are still held, on June 22nd and November 2nd ; to the latter (which, as well as the elective franchise, was granted by Edward I) great numbers of horses, hogs, and lean cattle are brought from Scotland and Wales. The number of houses amounted to 208 in 1831, when the population was 1,203, of whom 547 were females. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in agriculture.
A castle formerly existed at the western extremity of the town, on the brow of a hill. A piece of wall was still standing in Aubrey’s time (1673) ; but only the foundations can now be discovered. It is not well known when or by whom it was built; probably by Richard de Tonbridge : but it is certain that it belonged to his descendant, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester. This noble joined the disaffected barons in the reign of Henry III, and commanded a division of their forces at the battle of Lewes, in 1264. The kings forces destroyed his castle at Blechingley, in revenge of the active part he had taken in this contest. The ancient manor-house, called ‘Blechingley Place,’ stood in Brewer -street. Here resided Edward, duke of Buckingham, who was beheaded by Henry VIII. Some of his conversations here with his chancellor and Sir George Nevil were given in evidence on his trial. It has long been pulled down, with the exception of the porter’s lodge, which has been turned into a farm-house.
The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a large and handsome old building, in the early English style of architecture. It consists of a nave, with a south aisle and a double chancel, and a north transept called Ham Chapel. The nave is divided from the chancel by a pointed arch, and from the south aisle by clustered pillars supporting four pointed arches : the two chancels are separated by two similar arches. The south chancel is entirely occupied by a magnificent monument of the first Sir Robert Clayton and his lady, with their whole-length figures in white marble. Having been lord mayor of London, he is represented in the insignia of that office. He was father of the city at his death, and had been for thirty years one of its representatives in parliament. He raised himself from a very low condition of life, and died in 1707. Dryden has made his figure rather unenviably in his Absalom and Achitophel ; but the justice of the satire is in this instance disputed. The low square embattled tower contains eight bells, and was formerly surmounted by a lofty spire, which rose seventy feet above the battlements ; it was supposed to contain 200 loads of oak timber, and was covered with shingles. It was burnt down in 1606, and never since rebuilt. The church affords accommodation for 600 persons. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Winchester, with a net income of £881. Near the church there is a charity-school, founded in 1633 by Thomas Evans, for the instruction of twenty poor boys of the town. The founder endowed it with thirty acres of land in the adjoining parish of Nutfield, and a house and garden for the master were afterwards bequeathed by Mr. Bostock of Tanridge. The property produces something more than £20 a year, which continues to be appropriated according to the directions of the founder. There are eleven almshouses at Blechingley, and some small charitable donations for the benefit of the poor.