History of St Katharine's Church

Extracts from Professor David Smither's History Of Knockholt

In 1849, Mr Albert Way discovered some documents in a library by the church in Reigate. They were inscribed in Latin, reading in English as: One of the books of the Public Library of Reigate, in the County of Surrey; the gift of Will Jordan of Gatwick Esq., 7th June 1701.

They had been compiled by Stephen Birchington, a monk of Canterbury, about 1350. This was a finding of great significance for among the entries was one relating to the foundation of Knockholt Church by Ralph Scot, called "a chapel at Ocolte". This wonderful record, made only 70 years after the event, was reported by The Rev Arthur Hussey in his book Churches of Kent, Sussex and Surrey (1852), he gave both the Latin and an English translation. He wrote that:

The writing of the MS having partially become very indistinct. In one instance the baptismal name of a person introduced is too much defaced to be ascertained.

His translation ran as follows:

Founding of Knockholt Church

In the times of the King of the English, Henry III, son of King John who reigned in England fifty six years and twenty days, there was a certain Ralph Soct abiding in the parish of Chelsfield near the royal highway lying between Farnborough and Halsted, where is the cross called Scot's Crouch. Which Ralph indeed removed himself from that place to Ocolte, by buying there lands and sundry possessions, and by constructing there a certain mansion, called The Hall. On which account that place is called Scots Ocolte.

And because the aforesaid Ralph and others inhabiting the said place for hearing divine services wandering to Chevening and elsewhere in all directions from their Parish Church of Orpington; and because through the distance of the place from the said Parish Church many perils of souls befel there, they and Ralph Scot and a certain Her...Goldsmyth, inspired by God, as is believed, in a green space at Ocolte called Hareleap, whereon festivals took place a common assemblage of laity by those inhabiting the said place, caused to be erected out of their own goods a certain chapel in honour of St Katharine, virgin; the first stone being laid by the said Ralph in the foundation of his own chapel.

After the completion of the said chapel, this Ralph Scot, out of the lands he had acquired, out of a moderate sized close near the cemetery for the house of the chaplain there, and also out of a certain croft of his, situate opposite the said chapel for the erection of buildings for the collection of tithes to be stored therein, freely endowed the same chapel, and gave to be possessed in perpetual alms. Afterwards the same Ralph Scot procured the said chapel, on the ninth day of May AD 1281 (9 of K Edward I) in the time of brother Robert Kilwardely, then Archbishop of Canterbury, by his licence to be consecrated and dedicated to the honour of St Katharine the Virgin, notwithstanding the appeal of the Rector of Orpington interposed in this matter to the apostolic see as he alleges.

In 1929 Dick Birchenough, who ran the Estate Office at Chevening for Lord Stanhope, sent a copy of a poem with no author's name on it to Eva Smithers. This poem entitled Knockkolt Church is as follows:-

T'was in the time of Henry Third
The son of bad King John,
That one Ralph Scot did mount his horse
And ride from Orpington

For Ralph had quite made up his mind,
To seek another place
Where he a mansion might set up,
So trotted at fair pace.

And up, and up, the road did wind,
For sure some hundred feet,
But as he reached the top he found
The place he hoped to meet.

It was a cutting in a wood,
And Ocolte rightly named,
As truly oaks in plenty grew,
For beeches t'is now famed.

So Ralph did here put up his Hall,
And friends, and followers too,
A home did make in Ocolte woods,
And this they ne'er did rue.

But poor Ralph Scot was sore perplexed,
For Church there ne'er was one,
The people strayed to Chevening far,
Or down to Orpington.

So Ralph, with friends a Chapel built
Way down on Hareleap Green,
T'was where the festivals were held,
And sport was often seen.

The good Rector of Orpington,
This did not greatly please,
But Ralph did ne'er his anger fear,
If he his mind could ease.

So Ocolte Church and Chaplin's house,
with glebe just o'er the way,
By good Ralph Scot were free endowed,
And stand there till this day.

Further information (not from Professor Smither)

During the Thirteenth Century there seems to have been an increase in settlement along the ridge of the North Downs, for a number of churches there date from the latter years of the period. The ownership of lands in Ockholte, Latinised Acolta, is recorded in various deeds from 1197 onwards - twenty-six different spellings are known - but we are able to date the building of the church and the emergence of Knockholt as an independent parish from the evidence of a document of 1350, rediscovered in Reigate library in 1849. This records how Ralph Scot of Chelsfield bought land in Ocolte and moved to his newly built hall there in the times of Henry III, which must have been before 1272. He and his people "wandering to Chevening and elsewhere in all directions from their Parish Church of Orpington, and because through the distance of the place from the said Parish Church many perils of souls befell" a meeting of all the laity was held, and under the leadership of Ralph Scot, Harvey Goldsmith, and others a chapel was built in a clearing in the woodlands 'out of their own goods'. A house for a chaplain, tithebarn, and giebeland for his support, were provided to be possessed in perpetual alms.

The Rector of Orpington objected to his loss of dignity and income, and appealed to Rome. Such appeals abroad on anything which could be considered ecclesiastical matters were a constant source of trouble and expense for many centuries, until Henry VIII by the Statute of Praemunire forbad "the carrying of causes out of the realm". However, it has come back with a vengeance in recent years. In spite of this appeal, on 9th May 1281, by licence from Robert Kilwardely, Archbishop of Canterbury, the building was consecrated and dedicated to St Katharine the Virgin. The Rector of Orpington had the right of choosing the chaplain, who became a 'perpetual curate', with the same rights as a rector; that one third of the tithes still went to Orpington. Not until 1866 did Knockholt became a Rectory in its own right; the patronage (nomination of a new rector) went to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.

Much of the original building probably still exists in the simple rectangular walls, with no separate chancel, in a map of 1596 a spire was indicated, and a squat tower and broached steeple is shown in a drawing of 1801. In 1840 the steeple was replaced by a clock tower. If the early drawing is accurate the present tower is further west than the original, where a porch was shown, although there are no obvious traces of the change to be seen now. If this occurred it could have been during repairs after a fire in 1858, or in 1863. A significant enlargement was made when the North Aisle was added in 1881. In 1998 glass screens were put in so that an area at the west end of this aisle could be used separately.