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Chilworth

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History


St Martha's Church

Gunpowder manufacture in Chilworth was so important that the factory was sought out in World War I by a Zeppelin that actually missed it and killed only a swan.  More dangerous to the mill during its history were the frequent explosions from its own manufacture of gunpowder! There were several serious incidents, one in 1763, rocking the neighbourhood and bringing the tower of St Martha's crashing down.  In February 1901 there was the last great disaster which claimed the lives of six workers and the works closed for good in 1920 after it was destroyed by fire.

The village grew in size as a working-class hamlet and  the parliamentarian William Cobbett said of Chilworth in 1822 "This valley...one of the choicest retreats of man, perverted to the making of gunpowder and banknotes".  The paper and gunpowder industries were accommodated close to each other both using the facilities of the Tillingbourne river for their trade.   Unfortunately they were not the best of neighbours as smoke or any such debris in the air meant difficulties for the paper manufacturers!  The paper workers moved out eventually to Old Woking and the gunpowder workers moved out too when demand fell after the First World War.  Storage magazines were tucked inside great U-shaped mounds which can still be spotted; then there are the Chilworth mounds too which are rolls of corrugated iron filled with earth.  

The Norman walls of St Martha were damaged by a powder-works explosion leaving it in ruins by 1845, but Woodyer almost rebuilt the church in 1848-50 using the old materials where possible.  It is now a simple cruciform Burgate-stone building incorporating details from the old church such as the late 12th century pointed crossing arches.   The 12th century tub-shaped font with 19th century decoration came from Hambledon. 

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