The ancient building of St Mary's houses a living Christian community, which has been the spiritual heart of our town for nearly a thousand years.
Until relatively recently, Oxted was a small agricultural parish on the east-west road below the North Downs, with a scattering of manors and other big houses. Its population at the time of Domesday has been estimated at around 250. The 1801 census found 644 inhabitants, rising to 959 in 1831. It was only with the coming of the railway from London in 1887, tunnelling under the North Downs, that population growth really took off. At this time, a daughter church of St John’s was established in Hurst Green, becoming independent when the ecclesiastical parish was divided in 1964.
Until 2014, St Mary’s was part of a United Benefice with St Peter’s Tandridge. In 2014 we joined with St John’s Hurst Green and St George’s Crowhurst, to become the Oxted Team of Churches.
The first recorded Rector, Adam de Stratton, died in 1294. At that time the benefice came under the deanery of Ewell in the archdeaconry of Surrey and the diocese of Winchester. In the 1870s, the parish was transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, changing to that of Southwark in 1905. During the middle ages the gift of the living passed through a number of distinguished hands, including the powerful Cobhams of Starborough Castle, a family closely associated with Lingfield. In 1587, the Manor and Advowson were bought by Charles Hoskins, “citizen and merchant of London”, and for the next three centuries the church was very closely associated with his descendants at Barrow Green Court, as so many of the memorials both inside and outside the church testify. Since 1964 the Bishop of Southwark has been Patron of the Living. The Patron presents a person to be approved as Vicar of the Parish.
It is not clear why the church was built more than half a mile away from the original village of Oxted. There is no obvious evidence to support the suggestion of an earlier settlement around the church, which was wiped out in the Black Death, as occurred in some parishes. It does however seem quite probable that the circular mound on which it stands is an old pagan burial ground and place of worship.
The original building is lost in the mists of time. It has been claimed that an early inscription bore the date 1040 AD, but successive re-buildings have unfortunately removed almost all traces of the first Saxon structure. The only remaining signs appear to be at the base of the tower and in the nave. The Domesday Book simply stated, “At Ac-Stede [the Place of the Oaks] there is a Church”, and on this evidence the parish, like so many others, celebrated its novo centenary in 1986.
The church proper was built in the mid-12th century. Only the ground stage of the tower and portions of the nave walls remain from that original building. Later in the 12th century the aisles and the upper stages of the tower were added, and the chancel was rebuilt in the mid-13th century. The next two centuries saw the aisles widened and their main walls raised; new windows throughout the chancel, new arcades and heightened walls in the nave.
More information on the building can be found in this guide.