St Mary's Church (grade II listed)
Cudham & Downe joint benefice
Both churches have been here for over 700 years, and are Grade II* listed. Yet they are more than just historic buildings. If our churches were merely ancient buildings which needed to be cared for, they would be little more than museums. There is certainly a historical element to our existence here - but we are here as a Church which lives in the present and looks to the future. As the Bible tells us, the Church is primarily not a building but a body of people - people who relate together as the Body of Christ. The Church is a living organism, and lives to reflect that we believe in and serve a living God who is concerned about our lives today.
St Mary's church history
In 1291 Prior Henry built a chapel in the Manor of Orpington at a cost of £61.0.11d. it is possible it was on the site of the present Church. The steeple must have been built by the 16th century because an inventory refers to three bells. Two were made by William Dawe of London (1385-1418) one unknown maker in 1511.
The windows date from 15th or early 16th century. The early English Lancet window (1200-1300) left of main door (viewed from inside) is all that remains of the original building. The East Window was destroyed by bomb damage in WW11. The new window is the work of Miss Evie Hone the famous Irish artist. Crucified Christ shown between his mother and St John.
The stained glass panel on the north wall is a copy made by Freda Coleborn of one in Dijon Cathedral. The original is now in the V and A. On the south wall of the nave is "Tree of Jesse" by Keith Coleborn and was given by Mary Knox-Johnston in memory of her husband David. South Wall Sanctuary By Keith Coleborn – Mr & Mrs Knox-Johnston of the Rookery gave the window in thanksgiving and commemoration of their son Robin’s solo non-stop voyage around the world in his yacht “Suhaili” in 1969.
The font was probably locally made and dates from early 15th century.
In 1606 a glass maker originally from Murano, near Venice (Giacomo Verzillini) paid £20 for his family brass memorial originally placed in the chancel covering their grave in the crypt below. It was damaged in WW11, was repaired and placed in the rear of the Church in 1978.
On the south wall of the chancel are Lubbock family (of High Elms) memorials - the family worshipped here.
Sir John Lubbock 1803 – 1865 2nd of that name was a banker, astronomer and the 1st Vice Chancellor of the University of London. His son, Sir John Lubbock 1834-1913 was the first Lord Avebury an eminent figure of his day. He was a businessman, political, educationalist, scientist and founder of the Bank Holiday legislation. He was a close friend of Charles Darwin and upset by criticism of Charles Darwin’s theories from the pulpit here that he left Downe Church for Farnborough Church.
In 1871 under the incumbency of Charles Ffinden many alterations were made here. He did away with the box pews and raised the floor and installed the present pews. In 1990 work commenced on the installation of a new heating system. They discovered the floor was not supported and the whole aisle floor had to be rebuilt to a depth of two metres. The broken remains of inscriptions were found which had covered the coffins, now disintegrated. One fragment refers to John Bederenden, a citizen of London, an MP and a draper who died in 1445. In 1976 the parish was incorporated with Cudham in a united benefice.
Charles Darwin’s memorial is the sundial. There are family members of Charles Darwin buried in the churchyard. Some west of the path, and his wife Emma (daughter of Josiah Wedgwood) and his brother are buried in the east part of the churchyard bordering High Elms Road. Charles Darwin himself is buried in Westminster Abbey.
The tombstone left of the path leading from the road is a headstone to James Fontaine (a Minister) - it says "Thursday saw him cheerful and grateful for health" but by Saturday he was a "pale corpse".