(Image: Charlesdrakew. The ruined Bedham School and Chapel near Petworth, West Sussex)
Take a stroll through Bedham Copse near Petworth, in West Sussex, and you may stumble upon an unusual set of ruins nestled amid the tranquil woodland. The roofless Victorian abandonment has the look of a chapel, though once served a dual purpose for the community of Bedham, a tiny hamlet in the civil parish of Wisborough Green.
The hamlet itself is little more than a farm and several houses on the verdant ridge of the Weald, an area that lies between the distinctive chalk hills of the North and South Downs. During Victorian times the Church of England and local landowners built a small schoolhouse here in order to give local children an elementary education. The one room schoolhouse was built in the style of a country chapel, and church services were held there each Sunday.
According to Bepton Ranger: “Built in 1880, the church was built by William Townley Mitford â the Member of Parliament for Midhurst â and dedicated to Saint Michael and All Angels. Back in the 1870s religious morals and education were considered vital for the rural communities in the Sussex Weald, and many buildings were erected to serve as both schoolrooms and places of worship.”
Bedham’s Wikipedia page states that “at the end of the school week the chairs were turned to face the east and ink pots removed from the desks.” Sunday services were conducted by the Rector of Fittleworth, a nearby village in the District of Chichester. He was, it’s said, accompanied by a local lady on the harmonium.
During the week, when Bedham School was busy educating the local youth, a curtain was used to separate infant classes from seniors. At its height the school is said to have employed three teachers and served around 60 pupils.
But by the end of World War One the building was reportedly falling into disrepair and ceased operating as a school in 1925. It remained in limited use as a chapel but was completely abandoned by 1959. Left to fall into dereliction, the old schoolhouse would become the intriguing ruin we see today.
But despite its abandoned condition, the decorative stone and brick shell of Bedham School and Chapel, long since devoid of its roof, appears to be well maintained. The ruin is now a well known landmark of the surrounding woodland, connecting past to present in the timeline of one small English hamlet.
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