A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Bisley is one of the smallest parishes in Surrey, though now one of the most famous. It is 4 miles north-west from Woking. It is bounded on the north and west by Chobham, on the east by Horsell, on the south by Woking and Pirbright. It contains 922 acres, and measures barely a mile from east to west and a mile and a quarter from north to south. It lies on the Bagshot Sands (Bracklesham Beds) with some strips of alluvial soil by the little streams which run down from the peat bogs of Chobham Ridges. Bisley Common is a large open space adjoining the open ground of Chobham and Pirbright.
The place has become notable as the home, since 1890, of the National Rifle Association, which, with the War Office, owns most of the land. The establishment and ranges for the great rifle-shooting competitions (fn. 1) are in Bisley parish, and are connected by a short branch railway with the main London and South Western Railway line at Brookwood station. The ranges, however, and the ground utilized extend into Chobham and Pirbright.
The Inclosure Act, inclosing common fields, was passed in 1836, but the final award was not made till 6 August 1858. (fn. 2)
Near the church of St. John the Baptist is an ancient holy well, called St. John's Well, where according to tradition the children used to be baptized. It has recently been protected a little by a wooden cover. Bisley Farm School, in connexion with the National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute children, was opened by Lord Shaftesbury in 1868. In 1873 the Shaftesbury School in connexion with the same charity was opened, and in 1874 a chapel for their joint use. About 300 boys are accommodated. The schools (National) were built in 1847, rebuilt in 1860, and taken over by a school board from 1893 to 1899. They are now again unprovided.
BISLEY was included within Chobham in the charter of Chertsey ascribed to 673, and is mentioned among the lands of the monastery in 967 when King Edgar confirmed their possessions to them. (fn. 3) No mention of it occurs in the Domesday Survey, (fn. 4) but in 1284 the hamlet of Bisley was held of the abbey of Chertsey by Geoffrey de Lucy, as parcel of the manor of Byfleet. (fn. 5) Geoffrey, son of Geoffrey de Lucy, conveyed Bisley with Byfleet to Henry de Leybourne in 1297. (fn. 6) Henry de Leybourne held Byfleet, and presumably Bisley, up to 1305. (fn. 7) Soon after it must have passed into the king's hands with Byfleet (q.v.), although some rent from land in Bisley remained due to the monastery, as the account of the possessions of Chertsey Abbey in the reign of Henry VIII includes the entry 'Waybragge and Bysteley 28s.' (fn. 8)
In 1298 while Leybourne was still in possession, he enfeoffed Hugh de Smerhulle of 54 acres of land, 2 acres of meadow, and 4 acres of wood in Bisley. (fn. 9) Hugh de Smerhulle in his turn enfeoffed Amice de Chabenham and Thomas her son of these lands in 1305, and in 1318 they granted them to John and Agnes Darderne, who in 1324 were ejected by the king's bailiff. At the instance, however, of Queen Isabella, to whom Bisley, as part of the manor of Byfleet, had been assigned in 1327, these lands were restored to John and Agnes Darderne in 1328. (fn. 10)
After Bisley, described as a hamlet and member or parcel of the manor of Byfleet, had passed with the latter into the possession of the Crown, it followed the history of this manor (q.v.) until the reign of James I. In 1620 a grant was made to Sir Edward Zouch of 'the customary tenements in Bisley, part of the manor of Byfleet,' and also of 'perquisites and profits of the courts of Bisley.' (fn. 11) This is the first reference which suggests that Bisley was recognized as an independent manor. Certainly as late as 1540 courts had been held at Byfleet for 'Byfleet with Bisley,' (fn. 12) but it is possible that the court baron of Bisley had really always been nominally distinct, and that on the occasion of the first independent grant of the manor its pleas and profits were separated from those of Byfleet in fact as well as in name. In its subsequent history, which is in no way connected with that of Byfleet, it is usually referred to as a manor and is held as such at present. The grant to Sir Edward Zouch included the manors of Woking, Chobham, and Bagshot. Henceforth the descent of Bisley is identical with that of these manors, and all are now in the possession of the Earl of Onslow. (fn. 13)
The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST is a small building consisting of a chancel 20 ft. 10 in. by 13 ft. 8 in., south vestry, nave 37 ft. 6 in. by 18 ft. 2 in., north aisle 6 ft. wide and a west porch of wood.
The nave is probably that of a 12th-century building, but no details of that or even of the two following centuries are left; in the south wall is a 15th-century inserted window, which is almost the only old feature remaining. The present chancel is modern; the former one was of brick and timber of 15th-century origin, but fell into a dilapidated state and the arch into it from the nave was closed up. In 1872 the present chancel was built and the church enlarged by the addition of the north aisle.
A tradition still remains in the village that the time for elevating the Host at High Mass was dependent upon the moment at which a sunbeam shining through a south window reached a particular spot on the north side of the nave.
The chancel is of brick and is lighted by three eastern lancets and two in the north wall. The chancel arch is modern of two orders of which the inner is carried by corbel shafts. The north arcade of the nave is of two bays, the middle pillar being circular with a moulded capital, and the pointed arches are of two chamfered orders. West of the arcade is a modern lancet window. Of the two south windows the first is a modern one of three lights and tracery under a pointed head; the second is a 15th-century window of three trefoiled lights under a square head, the middle light being wider than the others; it has modern mullions and sill. Between the windows is a small trefoiled niche formerly a piscina, which was found at the restoration of the church beneath the ruins of the chancel. The west doorway is modern, of 13th-century style. The north aisle has a single-light window at each end and two two-light windows in the side wall.
The walling of the south wall of the nave is of conglomerate and of the west wall of roughly squared blocks of Heath stone. The roof of the nave is old, with plain collar beams which were formerly plastered. Over the west end is an old bell-turret covered with modern boarding, including the upper half of the west gable; the vertical face of the turret is seen inside the nave with its old timbers; it is capped by a modern wood spire covered with oak shingles.
The west porch probably dates from the 14th century; its sides are open, with five square bays divided by hollow-chamfered mullions; the entrance has a pointed arch formed by two solid pieces of wood with hollow-chamfered edges; the barge-board of the gable over is foiled with rounded points, the middle foil being of ogee shape.
There are three bells; the oldest, which is the second, has this inscription in capitals on the shoulder: '+ Fraternitas fecit me in honore beate Mareie'; it is said to have been brought from the abbey of Chertsey, to which Bisley formerly belonged, and was probably cast early in the 14th century. The treble is by Thomas Swaine 1781 and the tenor by William Eldridge 1710.
The first book of the registers is a vellum copy beginning in 1561 and contains baptisms to 1672, burials to 1669, and marriages to 1670; also some briefs for 1661 and tithe rents of 1625; the second book has baptisms from 1673 to 1755, marriages 1673 to 1753, and burials from 1673 to 1757; the third contains burials from 1678 to 1812; the fourth has marriages from 1754 to 1807; the fifth, baptisms and burials 1760 to 1806, whence all three are continued in the later books; there are also a few loose sheets with accounts of 1673 and from 1682 to 1773.
The site of the church is about half a mile east of the village in an isolated position. The churchyard is small and surrounds the buildings; there are several large trees on its boundaries, and near the porch is a yew-tree.
The church of Bisley was in the possession of the abbey of Chertsey before 1284, as in that year Geoffrey de Lucy was patron and held it of the abbey. (fn. 14) Later the church came into the king's hands, probably at the same time as did the hamlet of Bisley. Presentations by the king or by the Prince of Wales date from the year 1346. (fn. 15) A pension of 31b. of wax and an annual rent of 18d. remained due to the monastery from the church of Bisley. (fn. 16)
In 1620 the grant to Sir Edward Zouch of the manor of Bisley included the advowson, rectory, and church, and, in addition, the 18d. rent to Chertsey Monastery, (fn. 17) which at the Dissolution had been surrendered to the Crown. The rectory and advowson remained in the hands of the lord of the manor until the latter half of the 18th century, since when the patronage appears to have changed hands. Henry Foster held it in 1800, the trustees of John Thornton in 1810, (fn. 18) and in 1889 the trustees of Mrs. P. Smith. It is at present in the gift of trustees.
Smith's Charity is distributed as in other Surrey parishes. In 1506 Isabella Campion of Bisley left Brachmead in Chobham for the repairs of Bisley Church. (fn. 19) In 1711 the Rev. Andrew Lamont, D.D., rector of Bisley, left £100 to be invested in land for the benefit of the poor of Bisley. The land is known as Queen Lane. The Dead Hill estate, producing about £16 a year for the poor, was left at an unknown time. (fn. 20)