A short history of St Margaret's Church, Ockley
St Margaret’s Church has been continuously used for worship for over 700 years. It is first mentioned in records in 1291 but the present building dates from the early 1300s when the church was rebuilt. Parts of this building still remain; some of the windows in the south wall and roof timbers in the nave date from this time. The picturesque porch with its distinctive herring-bone brickwork was added in about 1600. The tower was rebuilt in 1700 and the magnificent peal of 6 bells, now reputedly the oldest complete peal in Surrey, were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and hung a year later in 1701. In 1873, the church underwent major restoration and enlargement with the addition of a north aisle, vestry, organ and extended chancel.
The list of Rectors goes back to 1308. One of the most notable was the Rev Henry Whitfield who in 1639, during the troubled religious times of Charles 1, led a party of puritans from Ockley and other parts of England to the New World. Their settlement became Guilford, Connecticut. Henry Whitfield’s house is the oldest surviving building in Connecticut and is now a State Museum devoted to the history of those early settlers.
The parish registers commence in 1539. Some of the more famous entries include the baptism of the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper in 1616 (and also the death of his father, the Rector of Ockley, later that same year). The composer Charles Villiers Stanford was married at St Margaret’s in 1878.
Many people come to seek out the church where their ancestors were baptised, married or buried. Some of our visitors travel a long way to do so being descendants of people who emigrated to Canada, Australia or New Zealand in the 19th Century, or of the earlier setters in America in the 17th century. The Steere Family Association, descendants of John Steere who emigrated to America in the mid-1600s, has always maintained close links with St Margaret’s Church.
St Margaret’s is a much loved church which for the last 700 years has been a symbol of stability in ever-changing times. It is hoped that it can continue to be so for future generations.