The name 'Purley' is supposed to mean 'Pear Tree Clearing' although this is not universally accepted. There used to be two villages in the parish, one for each manor. Westbury Farm stands on the site of the deserted medieval village of Purley Parva or 'Little Purley'. Its manor house was Purley Hall which is not completely within the parish: the boundaries of Purley, Sulham and Pangbourne, meet in the Dining Room. For many years, the hall was rented out to Warren Hastings, the disgraced Governor of India, while he awaited his trial. His unhappy time here was enlightened by his Indian menagerie that he kept about him! His ghost is still said to haunt the house. The place was originally called Hyde Hall after the Hyde family, from South Denchworth, who built it in 1609. It was the childhood home of the well-known 18th century socialite and party-animal, Frances, Viscountess Vane. She was the daughter of Francis Hawes, one of the directors of the South Sea Company, who lost the Hall when the infamous bubble exploded.
Purley Village was originally Purley Magna or 'Great Purley' and sits nearer the parish church and its own manor house, Purley Park. This manor was anciently held by the Huscarle family, who were probably descended from one of King Canute’s personal bodyguard, who were known as 'Huscarles'. The first of the family, Roland, certainly had a good Scandinavian name. After the death of Sir Thomas Huscarle in the 1350s, the manor passed to his widow, Lucy, and her new husband, Nicholas Carew. The couple liked Purley, but their descendants preferred Beddington Manor in Surrey, Lucy's paternal inheritance. Eventually Purley became the home to a younger branch of the family and upon the death of another Nicholas Carew in 1485, it became the property of his sister, Sanchea, and her husband, Sir John Iwardby from Farley Chamberlayne in Hampshire. Their eldest daughter and coheiress, Jane, married Sir John St. John, the Chamberlain to King Henry VII's mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond. Jane has a textual memorial (1553) in the parish church. The main St. John estate was at Lydiard Tregoze, near Swindon, in Wiltshire but, being convenient for both London and Windsor, Purley became a favoured second home. Indeed, the couple's grandson, Nicholas St. John, seems to have preferred Purley to his other houses, probably because his wife was a Blount from Mapldurham House, just across the River. Their son, Viscount Grandison, a rather over-enthusiastic Lord Deputy of Ireland, grew up at Purley during the 1560s and is believed to have financed the rebuilding of the church tower, which bears his arms, in 1626. The Viscount's nephew, John, the first St. John baronet, was lord of the manor at the time and seems to have resided at Purley Park on and off. He married Anne Leighton, a grandaughter of Sir Francis Knollys, and they became the great grandparents of the first Viscount Bolingbroke. They were staunch Royalists and three of their sons were killed during the Civil War, one at the 2nd Battle of Newbury.
It is Sir John's residence at the Park which explains the existence of the mural monument in the parish church to Anne, the first wife of Edward Hyde, who later became the 1st Earl of Clarendon and, by his second wife, the father of Anne Hyde, the first wife of James, Duke of York (later King James II) and mother of both Queens Mary (II) and Anne. An erroneous old story, often repeated, tells how she was brought up at Hyde Hall in Purley. However, her husband's family were the Wiltshire Hydes, who had nothing to do with the Berkshire Hydes from Denchworth and Purley. His wife, on the other hand, was the niece of Sir John St. John. She was apparently taken ill with small pox, at Reading, while travelling from London to Wiltshire and was removed to her uncle’s house at Purley Park. There, she died and she was subsequently buried in Purley Church. Although standing on an ancient site, apart from the tower, the church was completely rebuilt in Victorian times. Extensive enlargements in 1983 include a multi-purpose hall and other facilities which cleverly open out directly from the nave arcading, yet remain unobtrusive both inside and out. The building's great treasure is its superbly carved Norman font.
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