Friday, 1 March 2013

St Nicholas, Compton (Guildford)

The parish church of St Nicholas in Compton has the double honour of being Surrey’s best Norman church, and of possessing England’s only two-storeyed sanctuary. It is well worth a visit.

The lower part of the tower and the corners of the nave date from the earlier Saxon church. The Norman work is in two phases: the chancel arch and chancel date from 1080-1100, and the aisles with their solid, rounded arcades, together with the upper sanctuary, date from 1160-80. The only major later addition was the upper part of the tower with its shingle broached spire, in the late 13th or 14th centuries. The porch is Victorian.

Inside, the whitewash reveals a wealth of Norman decoration. The chancel arch has fine dogtooth carving, and the capitals of the arcade piers have scalloped and crude foliage designs. The east nave wall has the remains of an unusual 15th century painted decoration, of stepped cubes in perspective, instead of the usual Judgement.

The chancel is a gem: the lower sanctuary is framed by an exquisite arch with roll mouldings, saw-tooth and dog-tooth ornament. The balustrade of the lower sanctuary is Jacobean, c. 1620 (as are the fine pulpit and screen), but this is outshone by the Romanesque balustrade of the upper sanctuary: this is original Norman work (c. 1180), making it the oldest architectural timberwork in situ in England. Squints to the north and south chancel walls may relate to anchorite cells: that on the south side may have been a chantry chapel. An ancient wooden staircase joins the two sanctuaries.

The fittings and fixtures are  equally rich: the north aisle and lower sanctuary have 14th and 15th century tomb recesses, and piscinas and aumbries abound. The chancel arch has rare Crusader graffiti, a 12th century image of a knight with a pointed helmet, with crosses and intersecting circles. The east window has 13th century stained glass of the Virgin and Child, and in the nave floor are brasses to the Thomas Genning and his family (d. 1508), though sadly with some of the images missing.

The church has no fewer than four services on a Sunday. After your visit, the nearby Watts Cemetery Chapel provides a striking contrast of Arts and Crafts workmanship.
The Street, Compton, Guildford, Surrey GU3 1EG

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