Standing just over two miles to the east of the small town of Petworth, in West Sussex, is an English hamlet on lands that hide a haunting ruin of a building and the story of how it came to be vacant, and almost vanished.The name of this hamlet is Bedham, and on its lands there once stood a farm, a number of houses scattered among the trees, and a school, Victorian by design.
The woodland on Flexham Park marks the western border of this hamlet. To the north there stands a wild forest known as “The Mens,” south of which is the Canadian Army HQ known as Hawkhurst Court, used during World War Two.
Back in those days, the Hawkhurst Court was used as a school before it was closed and converted into private housing during the 1980s.
In the midst of this green woodlands, there barely stands a church. Its history began in 1880 with a man named William Townley Mitford. A Victorian Conservative Party politician by vocation, William is tagged as the man behind this Victorian church that is erected in honor of Saint Michael and All Angels.
But besides serving as a church, this structure was also used as a school. To quote baldexplorer.com, “Long before the days of modern thinking, transportation and social media, a place of worship was the hub of the community.” During Sundays, the school became a church. All of the school materials were removed, and the chairs were turned so that they faced east.
Then came the rector of the small village of Fittleworth to hold the service. He was always accompanied by a lady who played the melodeon. The rest of the weekdays, the building took its regular role of a schoolhouse.
Back in the days, there were around 60 pupils–the younger pupils were children to the local charcoal burners–and no more than three teachers to take care of them. The interesting thing about this school is that it educated both children and adults. A mere curtain separated the groups.
The whole area of Bedham has a rich history. It was here that famous English composer Edward Elgar found his home and solace.
It was here that four of his masterpieces were born. According to a number of researchers, a local legend served as the foundation for Elgar’s inspiration. This legend talks about a group of trees that were once a living people, Spanish monks to be exact. These monks were involved in an impious ceremony, the legend says, and punished for it when they got hit by lightning.
This enchanted forests surround Bedham school and church. But over the years, the need for a school as well as a chapel slowly faded until it was no more. The end, according to some researchers, came around 1925.
It was at that point in history that the school completely shut its doors. The building, however, kept its use as a chapel for a few more decades until it was abandoned in 1959. Since then the structure kept decaying until it became the ghostly shell that it is today.
Even though it is roofless, the Bedham School & Chapel is a respectable monument, and photographers and painters and wayfarers all come to visit and be inspired by the surrounds woodland, its legends and past.