Friday, 29 May 2009

St Paul, Knightsbridge

St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, is one of those surprises that London specialises in: so close to the busy thoroughfares of Knightsbridge and Belgrave Square, so close to the touristy hot-spot of Hyde Park Corner, and yet unknown to most of those who pass by.

Perhaps that is to the benefit of those who do know about it: a church that is open on most days, its neo-Gothic splendour - and splendour is the right word here - providing an oasis of calm and tranquility in the midst of rushing madness.


The need for church here was becoming clearly evident in the early 19th century, as the development of the Belgravia and Knightsbridge areas started in earnest. The church was built mostly by private subscription: Thomas Cundy the younger was appointed architect, and the work was undertaken 1840-1843.

The church was perhaps the first in London to champion the principles of the Oxford Movement, which emphasised a return to the rituals and traditions of the Catholic church, and debates and controversy arising from this dominated the first 50 years of its life. The Chancel was lengthened in 1871-2 and again in 1892 by the well-known church architect G F Bodley, with the addition of a side chapel by the equally well-known A Blomfield in 1889.


The church itself is built in the Perpendicular Gothic style, of yellow brick with Bath stone dressings. It has a prominent (though to me, slightly incongruous) western clock tower.

The exterior is handsome enough, but rather plain. It does not prepare you at all for the interior: the first impression is one of a vast space - the nave is both wide and high - and of the unusual retention of large galleries, supported on cast-iron columns on the north, south and west sides. The Chancel is separated by a full and elaborate rood screen - the work of Bodley, as is the design of much of the rest of the lavish decorative scheme, including the East Window.

The theme of elaborate decoration continues unabated throughout the church: the walls have tiled panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ (by Daniel Bell) interspersed with painted stations of the Cross (by Gerald Moira), and statuary and paintings abound. My favourite is actually the ceiling, a wonderful structure supported by impressive wooden ceiling trusses. Unsurprisingly, it is a Grade-II* Listed Building.

The church is today centre of a very busy parish life. In its past, it has been associated with the great and the good, although these days it emphasises its inclusiveness. It has a rich tradition of music, and is also a venue for regular concerts.

Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 8SH Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Church of the Good Shepherd

Pevsner states in the Sussex volume of his Buildings of England series that Lullington church '..will not easily be forgotten'. Once visited, I am sure you will agree.

The church is one of those which has lost its village: what remains of this little hamlet is now at the bottom of the hill, half a mile away. Just a single house stands next door.

The easiest approach to the church is in fact from Alfriston, via the footpath which crosses the 'white bridge’ over the Cuckmere River. You continue straight ahead, cross the South Downs Way, walk up a short flight of steps to the right of Plonker’s Barn, and rise gently up the hill until the path enters a thickly wooded copse. Just beyond the copse is the little clearing where the church sits. There is a narrow, slippery brick path ahead to the adjacent lane, but it’s hard to find from the road.

Once there, it becomes clear that it is not just its remoteness that makes it special: this is Sussex’s smallest church, and may well be the smallest in England. Once rather larger, the church is said to have burned down in Cromwellian times, and the villagers rebuilt only the Chancel (and not even all of that) as their church. It seats just 20 people; services are held in the summer only, as there is neither heating nor lighting.

The exterior is of flint, with a red tiled roof and a weather-boarded and shingled bell turret. The extent of the original church can be traced on the ground. Inside, the details inside suggest a late 13th century or 14th century date, with Early English and trefoil lancet windows, and a small piscina. But it is the atmosphere you come here for, not the architecture, and that is very special indeed.

Lullington (off the Litlington to Wilmington lane), East Sussex, BN26 5QY

Saint Andrew, Alfriston

Alfriston is the largest, best preserved and most touristy of all the villages in the Cuckmere Valley. It’s little High Street is thronged by traffic and tourists all year round. The parish church of Saint Andrew, however, seems to stand aloof from all this: standing on a bluff in a loop of the Cuckmere River, it dominates the spacious village green.

It was built in 1360, in the plan of a Greek cross, the architecture presenting perfectly the change from Decorated Gothic to Perpendicular: there are windows of both types throughout the church. The crossing piers have unusual concave sides and matching capitals. The Easter Sepulchre, Piscina and Sedilia are elaborate and full of ogee arches and gables.

What surprises most visitors first time, however, is its size: for a small village, this is one big church, which has won it the epithet 'the Cathedral of the Downs’. Although memorials are few, it has some superb stained glass: a mediaeval figure of Saint Alphege high in the north transept, and one by Kempe (1912) in the south. The bells date from 1390 onwards and, because of the central crossing tower, are rung from the floor of the church.

Once outside, admire the view: next door, in the care of the National Trust, is the Old Priest’s House and gardens, worth a visit in its own right.

The Tye, Alfrsiton, East Sussex BN26 5TL

St Michael & All Angels, Berwick

Berwick is a surprising little village: in many ways it is no prettier, charming or attractive than dozens of other villages on the edge of the Sussex Downs. But its church draws big crowds every year, with a constant stream of visitors wending their way down the single little lane to St Michael’s.

What they find is a conventional building, dating from the 12th or 13th century, set in an attractive churchyard. The exterior is standard Sussex: flint walls, tiled roof and a shingled broach spire, all nearly hidden by an ancient yew.

Inside, a south aisle arch suggests a 13th or early 14th century century date, there’s a 14th century Decorated Gothic Easter Sepulchre in the chancel, and a primitive Saxon font at the west end.

But, if I’m honest, you won’t notice any of those, because what grabs the attention are the modern wall paintings and the astonishing north aisle arcade. The latter dates from a restoration in 1856, and its strange style - a Gothic arch on twin columns - was hated by Pevsner: 'illiterate and clumsy’ he states in the Buildings of England. The church guide calls it 'innovative’. It’s certainly different. Perhaps more successful is the idea of filling the large Victorian windows with clear glass: this lets light flood in, and the Sussex countryside provides a stunning vista.

And then there are the paintings: these date from 1942-3, in the midst of war, a bold idea of the then Bishop of Chichester. The idea was to revive the mediaeval tradition of wall paintings found so often in other Sussex churches, in the hope that others might follow.

Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell (part of the 'Bloomsbury Group’) were the artists, and the subjects were traditional biblical scenes, given modern and local twists: Christ is shown in Majesty while servicemen in World War II uniforms look on; the Nativity is acted out in a Sussex barn.

The colours are bright and fascinating, but whether you like them or not is a matter of taste. I’m not entirely convinced - the overall scheme hangs together well enough, but the plethora of colour on the architectural details is a bit too much for me. But there is only one way to decide, of course: go and have a look for yourself.

Berwick, near Polegate, East Sussex BN26 6SP

Alciston Church

Alciston is a Domesday Village whose name derives from the Anglo-Saxon “Aelfsige’s Tun” (Aelfsige’s Place). As well as several farms and a good pub, the Grade-I listed church is adjacent to a fine 14th century tithe barn and mediaeval dovecote.

The church dates back at least as far as the Norman period, but excavations have revealed remains of an Anglo-Saxon apse beneath the east end. The chancel was rebuilt in the 12th or 13th century and shortened in the 15th century - the remains of a third lancet window, chopped in half, are visible outside. The porch was added in the 15th century, though its outer doorway is a fine 13th century example of Early English Gothic. It was rebuilt in 1951.

Inside, the chancel has a single, small Norman window, but there are Early English lancets and a trefoil-headed lancet, as well as later Victorian additions. The chancel has a blocked priest’s door, visible inside and out. The exterior walls have a number of mediaeval scratch sundials - used to determine the times of the Mass. The impressive kingpost roof was rebuilt in 1898.

The fittings are spartan: there is a 15th century font, and an unusual free-standing organ (in need, apparently, of repair), an 18th century altar table and 16th century chair. But it’s still an atmospheric place in a wonderfully rural setting.

The Village, Aciston, East Sussex

St Mary, Selmeston

Selmeston is a tiny one-street village just off the A27, with a lovely little church. The village and church were mentioned in the Domesday Book, although most of what now remains of the latter dates from a Victorian restoration in 1867.

The church is built of flint in the typical Sussex style, with a red-tiled roof and a tall bell-turret with tiled walls and a shingled spire.

Inside, the nave is dominated by the unusual wooden arcade, with octagonal wooden columns with curved braces rather than arches. These are 1867 replacements for the originals. The windows are also copies of the originals, the one in the chancel with glass by Kempe. On the floor is an attractive memorial ledger stone to Ann Cox (d. 1741), and in the chancel a 16th monument, used as an Easter Sepulchre. The interior has the following inscription:

Here lyeth Dam Beatris Bray
svm tyme the wyffe of Syr
Edward Bray and dawgter of
Raffe Sherley of Wyston
and Wyfe of Edward Elderton

Another memorial in the vestry floor has very strange wording indeed, almost a riddle: It reads:

Here lyeth ye body of Henry Rochester
Dyed May 28 1646
Apostrophe AD
This life that’s packt with ielovsles and fears
I love not. That’s beyond the lists of fears.
That life for me. For here I cannot breathe
my prayers ovt. There I shall have breath
to say Ovr Father that’s in heaven wth me
where chores of sancts and innocents there be
No sooner christened bvt possession
I took of the heavenlie habitation.

Strange indeed.

The Street, Selmeston, off the A27, East Sussex, BN26 6UD

All Saints, Westdean

The modern village of Westdean (or West Dean) near Seaford is a thickly wooded and hidden place, albeit well known to those hiking the South Downs Way, which passes through it. Few will know that the village was once surrounded by open Downland – the surrounding Friston Forest is a 20th century creation, and fewer still will know it was once important enough to be visited by both Alfred the Great (in 885) and Edward I in 1305.

But perhaps more will make the short detour to visit the charming and ancient church of All Saints. The exact age of the church is not known, but dates probably from the end of the Saxon period, around the time of the Norman Conquest. Subsequent additions date from the 13th and 14th centuries, right up to sensitive Victorian and modern restorations.

On walking up the lane towards it, the most notable feature of the little flint church is the broad, heavily buttressed west tower, with a half-hipped tiled spire, likened in the church guide to a monk’s cowl, its windows resembling a face. The lower part is Norman, the upper part 14th century, although the large Perpendicular window is Victorian. The porch is also Victorian, but is happily a gentle addition to the church.

Inside, the plan is simple: the tower room opens through a 14th century arch into a nave and chancel of equal height and width, with no chancel arch. On the north wall is a small Saxon window, the others being either 14th century Decorated or later Victorian replacements. The roof is modern but in keeping, and was rebuilt in 1984.

The church is quite remarkable for its range of fittings, both ancient and modern. On the north wall in the chancel are two Decorated Gothic canopies, the first (west) dating from the late 13th century and the second early one from the 14th century. They are, alas, missing their effigies, but almost certainly belonged to Sir John Heringod and his wife Isabella: he was Lord of the Manor and a member of Parliament for Sussex, and died c. 1325. To the east is the whimsical 17th century monument to Susanna Tirrey, the memorial tablet flanked by precocious cherubs holding a spade and upside-down torch.

Opposite is the large and impressive alabaster wall monument to William Thomas (d. 1639), a wealthy citizen of Lewes who bought the Manor of West Dean in 1611, and his wife: their kneeling figures face each other under an elaborate pediment, complete with flanking angels.

More modern monuments comprise bronze busts to commemorate the painter Sir Oswald Birley (d. 1952) by Clare Sheridan, and to Lord Waverley by Jacob Epstein, unveiled in 1960 by Harold Macmillan. The octagonal font at the west end is 14th century, as is the shell-like piscina in the chancel.

As you leave, the clergy house in front of you is worth a look: dating from the late 13th century, this lovely domestic dwelling is a rare survivor.

Westdean, near Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 4AL

St Michael the Archangel, Litlington

Litlington is a delightful village in the Cuckmere Valley, between Seaford and Eastbourne. Although still a farming community, it has long made an additional living out of tourism; its famous Tea Gardens are now over 100 years old, and it is a popular stop for those hiking the South Downs Way.

Its church is typical of the modest villages around these parts: a simple building with an unaisled nave and chancel, modest porch and a small, spired belfry. The main part of the nave and the chancel date from around 1150, with the western part of the nave (under the belfry), and the porch dating from the 14th century.

Inside the details are simple but attractive: the windows are a mixture of Norman round-headed lights, Early English lancets and trefoil ogee-headed lancets, with two larger Victorian Decorated windows in the nave: the rough-hewn beams of the kingpost roof may be original. A strange niche opposite the Norman south door - delightfully filled with flowers on my visit - may have been an aumbry.

The chancel has a 13th century sedilia and a 16th century Easter Sepulchre. At the west end, the early 16th century font still retains its original lead lining. Outside, the porch and northern buttresses below the belfry have 13th century mass dials. In the belfry, one of the bells dates from 1450, and was cast in the Whitechapel Bell foundry

Overall, this is the simplest of village churches: modest but delightful. I enjoyed my visit here, and will come again.

The Street, Litlington, East Sussex BN26 5RF

Sunday, 24 May 2009

St Leonard, Seaford

Seaford is very quiet as seaside towns go - there’s not even an amusement arcade on the seafront and, on my visit, only a few souls were braving the breeze on the promenade. But this is an ancient town - one of the original Cinque Ports - developed by the Normans after the Conquest to facilitate trade with Normandy.

The church was built in 1090, and enlarged in several stages during the mediaeval period. However, it suffered badly from French raids during the Hundred Years’ War, and the port declined sharply after the river Ouse changed its course in the late 16th century, so there were few funds to maintain the church.

It was not until the Victorian period that the railway brought renewed prosperity, and a significant rebuilding in 1861-2 delivered the building we see today - now a Grade I listed building.

The church is unusually hard to 'read’ architecturally, as a complex series of rebuildings have left fragments from several periods, and some formerly internal features are now outside. But essentially, it has a Norman Nave of two bays, with aisle arcades rebuilt in the Early English style some time the early 13th century, with an Early English Gothic clerestory. The north aisle has the remains of two small Norman windows.

The robust west tower is mostly late 15th century, but at ground level there are Norman arches on the south (exposed) and north (now in the vestry) with round arches with shafts and capitals either side, both with a small Norman clerestory window above and, on the south side, an Early English clerestory window above that: a clear indication that, for much of its life, the lower part of the structure was part of the nave. The West doorway is largely a Victorian reconstruction of a Norman original.

The tower itself opens through a 14th century arch into the nave - the ground floor room houses a number of memorials. The spacious crossing arches and apsed chancel are pure Victorian, the north chapel an early 20th century addition.

The most interesting features are found in the nave: the round piers have attractive capitals with stiff-leaf carving, except - notably - one 'Historiated’ capital, carved with scenes from the Bible (below). This is a great rarity, and though it is much weathered, the crucifixion with a weeping Mary and St John the Divine is most clear, with scant remains of Daniel in the lions’ den. (A guide shows older photographs which are rather clearer). Other scenes are now too vague to make out.

Other features of interest include an excellent sculpted panel of St Michael and the Dragon, dated around 1130, on the north arcade, and an excellent stained glass window by Kempe (1903) in the south aisle. A corbel on the south arcade features two grotesque faces, one upside down. Under the tower is an ancient tombstone, an anthropomorphic tomb chest and a case containing a 17th century King James bible and a copy of the Book of Common Prayer from 1686.

The interior has recently been re-floored in pale parquet and is bright and airy, and clearly has a busy parish life: on my visit, I was welcomed warmly by three cheerful pensioners, eager to show off their historic church.

Church Street, Seaford, East Sussex BN25 1HG

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Saint Andrew, Beddingham

Beddingham is today known best - and rather unfortunately - as being the junction (and a major source of congestion) on the A27 from Lewes to Eastbourne where it meets the A26 from Newhaven.

However, scattered about are the houses of the tiny village and, mercifully hidden from the roads by trees, is the substantial and interesting parish church, dedicated to St Andrew. The village dates to Saxon times (there are references to it in 801AD) and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The church itself has a Norman nave, although only a single, blocked window above the north arcade now remains as evidence: the two aisles and arcades were added around 1200, but were substantially rebuilt when the Chapel was added, sometime later in the 13th century or early in the 14th. The tower was added in 1541-59, the gift of one Thomas Goodwyn.

The south aisle has two round piers and one octagonal pier, all with plain capitals, but two also have interesting corbels, in the form of heads and - unusually - chalices (or possibly censers). There is a fragment of 13th wall painting on the easternmost arch, showing foliage and a female figure.

The north aisle is plain, and notable for its remarkably short piers. The Decorated clerestory windows are particularly interesting, of an unusual cinquefoil ogee design. The Chancel is lit be a magnificent decorated Gothic east window, with trefoil lancets to north and south, and the large tower window is a handsome Perpendicular design.

Furnishings are a little limited. Of most interest is a memorial in the north aisle, to the family of Sir Thomas Carr. He was Sheriff of Sussex in 1801, and knighted after giving an address of congratulation to George III, on his escape from an assassination attempt at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1800. (The King insisted calmly that the play should continue - and even fell asleep later in the performance!).

The font, with its elaborately carved cover, is Victorian, as is the porch and the chancel arch: parts of the aisles were also rebuilt in the 19th century. Back outside, the churchyard has fine views down the Ouse valley and northwards to the impressive Iron-Age known as The Caburn.

Beddingham, off the A26, near Lewes in East Sussex BN8 6JY

St Peter, West Firle

Firle - or West Firle as it is also known - is a perfectly preserved manorial village just south of Glyndebourne. The descendants of the mediaeval Lords of the Manor still live in the substantial country house of Firle Place, begun in the 16th century and now open to the public.

The church of St Peter is tucked away at the back of the village, and seems to be overlooked by the many visitors flocking to the house and the local pub. This is a pity, because it packs a lot of history into its walls.

The oldest part of the building, the north door, dates from around 1200, but otherwise most of the fabric - tower, nave and chancel - date from later in the 13th century. The aisles with their fine Decorated Gothic arcades and clerestory of cinquefoil windows were inserted in the 14th century, the porch in the 15th and finally the Vestry or Gage Chapel in the 16th.

The immediate impression on entering is one of spaciousness: the aisles are generous, and lit by Decorated Gothic windows, the east window of the south aisle containing original glass depicting the Trinity and two thurifers: one with the censer swung up, the other down!

The Gage Chapel is separated from the Chancel by a very fine two-bay arcade in the Perpendicular style, although it is hard to appreciate with the organ located in the first bay. Also in the Chancel is a 13th century piscina and two Early Gothic lancet windows: the east wall and window is a modern replacement.

However, it is the monuments for which the church is best known. These mostly relate to the Gage family and their ancestors. At the east end of the north aisle are three brasses. The centre one is of Bartholomew Bolney (d. 1476) and his wife Eleanor, whose daughter married William Gage in 1472. Either side are the brothers Thomas Gage (d. 1590), with his wife and children, and George Gage (d. 1569). In front of the chancel step are two more brasses, one to Mary Howard (d. 1638) in her funeral shroud, and one to Alice Levett, wife of the vicar of Firle, (d. 1676).

If this wasn't enough, the Gage Chapel (or vestry) contains both alabaster monuments and more brasses. The monuments were by Dutch sculptor Gerard Johnson, and the drawings for them - complete with the client's comments - are preserved at the Manor.

The most impressive is against the East wall, of Sir John Gage (d. 1556), who was Constable of the Tower and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under Henry VIII and Lord Chamberlain of Queen Mary. He and his wife are portrayed in marvellous, realistic life-sized effigies, which have survived in perfect condition (below right). They repay a close look to admire the astonishing detail in which they are carved.

The other two tombs, on the north walls, are similar, but topped by brasses rather than by effigies: one to Sir Edward Gage (d. 1569), son of Sir John; and John Gage (d. 1595) and his two wives, son of Sir Edward, who had the tombs erected.

It's hard for any other furnishings to compete with these monuments, but the John Piper window in the Gage chapel (1985) may interest aficionados of modern stained glass, and the bell-frame under the tower, and two mass dials scratched onto the north wall outside, are worth a look.

The Street, Firle, East Sussex, BN8 6LP

Monday, 11 May 2009

St Michael, Plumpton

Now surrounded by the modern campus of Plumpton Agricultural College, St Michael’s still manages to be a delightful little church, consisting of just nave, chancel and porch, with the most robust of towers capped by a shingle broach spire.

Mentioned in Domesday, the present nave is 12th century Norman. Around 1200 the tower was added, followed by the chancel later in the 13th century. The porch is rather later - 16th century. The east wall of the chancel was rebuilt in the 19th century, and the Decorated nave windows also date from this period. The other details are original, and include a small Norman window in the north nave wall, and the three lancets on the north and south walls of the chancel. On the west of the tower is a late 14th century Decorated window with two ogee lights above a door of the same period.

Furnishings are spartan, but the wall paintings are of interest: discovered relatively recently, they are best preserved in the opening of the Norman window and along the top of the north wall of the nave, where at the east end is a depiction, presumably of Christ, seated in the Heavenly Jerusalem. On the south wall are the even fainter remains of 16th and 17th century wall paintings.

The rough, square font is dated 1710, and sits on a 13th century base. On my visit – during the flower festival – it was topped with a dazzling arrangement of flowers. The choir stalls include recycled Jacobean pews.

Off B2116 Ditchling Road, Plumpton, BN7 3AE

St Martin, Westmeston

Nestling in an idyllic position under the South Downs and Ditchling Beacon, Westmeston is today a tiny village on the minor road from Hassocks to Lewes. Its church sits above a sharp bend in the road at the centre of the village, amidst a lovely churchyard which is maintained partly as a wildlife reserve, and with fine views of the Downs.

The Nave is Norman, and the simple round-arched north doorway through which you enter is original. The chancel was added in the 13th century, and the south aisle and arcade date from the 14th century – as do the bell turret and the wooden timbers of the porch, the latter sitting on a 17th century brick base. The south chapel – now the vestry – was the final addition, in the 15th century.

Unfortunately, the church suffered rather severely at the hands of the Victorian restorers, the most prominent reminder of which is the chancel arch. This replaced a smaller arch, either side and above which were discovered impressive wall paintings. Unfortunately, they were not preserved, but a print on the south wall shows what they looked like.

It has, however, a few interesting furnishings: a rare Norman chalk-stone font, a handsome Jacobean pulpit and a Kempe window at the west end. There are some interesting memorials which recall the hardships of life in the 1700s and 1800s: one to the Rev. William Henry Campion, the Rector, who died - astonishingly - in Milan, 'after a long and painful illness’ in 1821 at the age of 36; and even more poignantly, that of Mary, the wife of William Hampton, Rector of Ovingdean and his twin infant sons: Mary died in January 1729, aged 25 (presumably in or after childbirth); Ed(ward) died in March aged 3 months and Charles followed in May aged 5 months. You can almost feel his pain.

By way of lighter relief, the brightly coloured east window, by the Belgian glass painter Capronnier, was described in gloriously withering terms by Pevsner, in his Buildings of England, as being '…as terrible as only Continental mid 19th century glass can be’!

Off the B2116 Lewes Road, Westmeston, East Sussex BN6 8RH

St Margaret, Ditchling

Ditchling is an attractive little village, built on a cross-roads in the shadow of the South Downs, with narrow streets which would be lovely were it not for the volume of traffic. But standing above all this is the large and handsome church of St Margaret, situated on a rise above the village green, duck pond and next to the little museum.

The present church was built on the site of a Saxon church mentioned in the Domesday Book, the remains of which have been found in parts of the lower walls of the nave. The earliest dateable part of the church is the South Aisle, built by Cluniac monks from the Priory in Lewes in the 12th century, which suggests that the present Nave must have already have been there. The chancel dates from around 1260, the tower later on in the 13th century, and the south chapel – called the Abergavenny chapel – from the 14th century.

Although the arches of the very modest south aisle arcade are simple and plain, the Early English Gothic in the Chancel is unusually rich: the single lancet windows all have shafts with stiff-leaf capitals, and have hoods with human heads at the ends, which may represent Henry III and Queen Eleanor. The crossing arches are later – around 1300 – but equally rich in style, with more stiff-leaf carving and clustered shafts. The chapel has Decorated Gothic windows, but again with shafts and hoods which may have been re-used from the chancel.

The main furnishing of note is the monument to Henry Poole (d. 1580), moved in 1863 from the North Transept to its present position in the Abergavenny Chapel. It originally had four shields, but one was knocked out to 'admit a stove pipe’ in Victorian times. Official vandalism is nothing new!

West Street, Ditchling, East Sussex BN6 8TB

St Peter, Rodmell

Half way along the Lewes to Newhaven road is the attractive little village of Rodmell, best known today for the Monk’s House, home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf until 1969 and now in the care of the National Trust. But it also has an ancient and interesting church, which is worth visiting if you are in the village.

From the outside, the church has the square tower, pyramidal cap and flint walls typical of this part of Sussex. The interior has a complex series of spaces, reflecting a building programme from the 12th to the 16th centuries, plus the inevitable Victorian restoration.

The nave, chancel and south chapel are from the 12th century, with the south aisle, tower and a small room (now the baptistery) at the west of the south aisle added around 1200.

Although the chancel arch is Victorian, the arcades are original: the south aisle arcade of two arches has a round pier with stiff-leaf carving on the capital, and corner corbels, one of which is in the form of a human head. The arcade between the chapel and chancel has a strikingly low pier, and again pointed arches. Puzzlingly, the arches either end of the south aisle are round headed, implying some later rebuilding of the arcades, or a mixing of styles. Windows include a mix of the round headed Norman style, single lancets and a fine 15th century perpendicular East window.

The furnishings are the equal of the architecture. The robust square font is 12th century, and has a Tudor cover. Beside it is a rare 14th or 15th century carved wooden screen, originally located between the chapel and chancel, with ogee arches and quatrefoils. In a small north aisle window (pictured above) is an exquisite fragment of 15th or early 16th century stained glass, depicting Christ being supported on the cross by God the Father.

The chancel floor has several well preserved 17th and 18th century memorials on the floor, complimented by colourful Victorian encaustic tiles.

Rodmell, East Sussex, BN7 3HF

St Nicholas, Iford

Iford is a small village in the Ouse Valley near Lewes, consisting of a single lane which loops off the Lewes to Newhaven road. Half way around is the surprisingly large and complex church of St Nicholas, dominated by an imposing central pyramidal tower.

Built just after the Norman Conquest, the nave and central tower date from around 1090, with the current chancel built slightly later, perhaps around 1100. In the late 12th century, a north aisle was added but subsequently removed, and the remains of the three-arched arcade can be seen inside and out. Around the same time, the pyramidal tower cap was added and, in the 13th century, a little north chapel off the chancel, which now serves as a vestry.

The interior is dark and atmospheric. It is dominated by the tall, Norman chancel arch, decorated with a roll and chevron motif, although the capitals are part of a Victorian restoration. The arches under the tower are all plain. The tower above contains three bells dated 1426, dedicated to Saints Margaret, Katherine and Botolph.

A low, wide arch in the chancel leads to the former north chapel, and has a corbel in the form of a head at the east end: the chancel itself has an unusual arrangement of three, round-headed arches under a single oculus window at the East end. At the west end is the font, from around 1200, lit by a single lancet above the original (and now blocked) west door of the first church. Next to the present south door hangs the Coat of Arms of George III, sternly warning the viewer to 'Fear God, Honor the King'. The intention is, however, rather undermined by the fact that the lion rampant resembles his cowardly counterpart from the Wizard of Oz.

Off Swanborough Hollow, Iford Village, East Sussex BN7 3EN

St Pancras, Kingston-near-Lewes

Kingston appears to most who travel through it to be a rather modern, suburban sort of place, but a wooden finger post sign 'to the 14th century church’ points along a lane of older houses and cottages, and St Pancras church.

The church itself has a nave and chancel but no aisles, and a rather small tower, all set in a verdant churchyard. Victorian restoration after a fire (from a lightning strike in 1865) has left the exterior looking rather neat, but the interior has the atmosphere of a much older church. It is, in fact, a mediaeval foundation, and executed in Decorated Gothic throughout, giving a date of the early 14th century.

It has a wide chancel arch, leading to a chancel where a slightly odd arrangement of windows, and evidence of a rebuilt south doorway, suggests there may have been some early rebuilding. The tower, with its pyramidal cap, is a mystery: its narrow proportions sit uncomfortably with the rest of the church, and suggest a possible earlier date.

The church has a few interesting fittings and furnishings, most notably its bells, three of which date from the 14th century – two, from around 1315, bear the mark of the London bell-founder Walter Wimbiss. The round moulded font is probably also original, and the churchyard has a rare centrally-pivoted “tapsel” gate, originally installed in 1729. Apparently, it can bear the weight of a coffin, should a funeral procession have to wait for the Vicar!

Finally, the chancel has a small but vividly coloured memorial window to Michael Scott (1907-1983) – an early campaigner for equal rights in South Africa and elsewhere.

The Street, Kingston, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 3PD

Thursday, 7 May 2009

St Andrew, Holborn

The tower of St Andrew’s church forms of the focal point of Holborn Circus, surrounded as it is by bland offices, with only the spire of the City Temple to provide relief.


The site has been used since Roman times, (remains were discovered during the 17th Century rebuilding), although exactly when the first church was erected is not certain. What is certain is that there was a church here by 951AD. At various times during the mediaeval period, the dedications were recorded as St Andrew Holburnestrate and, later, St Andrew de Holeburn. In 1348 the church was provided with a legacy by an armourer called John Thavie, which - clearly well invested - still supports it today.

The church was rebuilt in stone in the 15th century, the steeple from 1446-1468. Although it survived the Great Fire in 1666, the nave was in such poor condition that Wren rebuilt it in 1686-7. Only the tower survived from the earlier church, and Wren had this clad in white stone and added an upper storey in a more classical style, completed in 1704. Many of the furnishings come from the Foundling’s Hospital Chapel: the hospital itself was founded by Thomas Coram, who is buried in the church.

The church was gutted by fire during World War II, leaving just the walls and tower, but it was faithfully rebuilt to Wren’s plans and reopened in 1961. It is now a Guild church - ie without a parish, to serve the local working community. When Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s, part of the churchyard was taken and the bodies re-interred in the crypt. They were removed and re-interred in Ilford Cemetery in 2003, and there are now plans to develop this as a community space.

The church

The church interior is deceptively large compared with the impression gained from outside, and it is in fact Wren’s largest parish church. The incongruity of the Gothic architecture of the ground and first two floors of the tower is clear, as the rest is in Wren’s typically restrained Classical style. It is unusually light, thanks to the expansive round-headed windows, filled mostly with clear glass.

The main entrance now is from Holborn Viaduct, but a more interesting way in is through the west door: above and either side of this are the statues of two children (1696) from a local poor-house school.

Inside, the nave is broad, with a soaring barrel-vaulted roof carried on slender Corinithian columns, with gilded plasterwork everywhere. The aisles and west end all have galleries, although the immaculate condition of the woodwork testifies to their replacement after 1941.

The most impressive furnishing is the organ, donated by the composer Handel; like the pulpit and font, these came from the Foundling Hospital Chapel during the post-War restoration.

The sunken grounds of the church have attractive gardens with shrubs and seats, and are popular with lunch time office workers.

St. Andrews Vicarage St. Andrew Street, London EC4A 3AB

St Martin-within-Ludgate, London

One of Wren’s most impressive churches, St Martin’s is often overlooked by tourists rushing along Ludgate to visit St Paul’s Cathedral. It is remarkable for its range of 17th century fittings.


There has been a church on the site since 1174, and it was rebuilt in 1437. However, the tower was struck by lightning in 1561, and worse was to come in the Great Fire in 1666, when the church was completely gutted.

However, work on rebuilding was well under way by 1680 and completed in 1703, and shows Wren’s amazing genius for making the most of a restricted site. The parish was amalgamated in 1890 with those of St Mary Magdalene Old Fish Street and St Gregory by St Paul’s, and acquired a number of furnishings from those churches. Further re-ordering in 1894 gave the present layout, and the church escaped relatively unscathed in World War II.

The church was the venue for the marriage in 1643 of one William Penn, father of the founder of Pennsylvania.

The church

The façade on Ludgate is in a restrained Classical style, but impressive in scale. The tower is a prominent landmark, surmounted by a tall, lead-black spire. It is entered through a vestibule on the south side, which lies under a south gallery.

The interior is immediately a surprise, being much larger and loftier than one expects. The plan is a Greek cross within a square, with four Corinthian columns at each corner of the cross. The furnishings are outstanding: the chancel contains its original reredos, but the beautifully carved pews, pulpit and font are also original, all dating from around 1680.

Also of interest are a church bell, a 16th century memorial brass from the earlier church, a handsome late 18th century chest, and a 17th century bread shelf from St Mary Magdalene, where the wealthy would leave bread for poorer members of the congregation. The church has a number of paintings, one a copy of a Raphael from around 1720, the others Victorian, as is the glass.

The font under the organ gallery is inscribed in Greek: NIYON ANEMHMA MH MONAN OYIN, translated (apparently...) as 'cleanse my sin not only my face’. This palindrome (ie reading the same backwards and forwards) is found in several English and European churches.

40 Ludgate Hill, London EC4M 7DE

St Botolph's-without-Bishopsgate, London

St Botolph without Bishopsgate is a familiar landmark to those using Liverpool Street Station, (it’s just two minutes’ walk away) and one of several churches dedicated to this East Anglian Saint in London.


The foundations of the original Saxon church were uncovered when the present building was erected, which was referred to in 1212 as ‘Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate’ - remarkably similar to the modern name. In 1247 the priory of St Mary of Bethlehem was founded just north of the church, the buildings of which became the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics after the reformation.

Although the church survived the Great Fire in 1666, it had become ruinous by the early 18th century and the present church was built in 1725-9 to the designs of James Gould (or Gold), under the supervision of his son-in-law, the well-known architect George Dance the Elder (1695-1768). It was altered by Michael Meredith in 1821 to include a dome over the centre of the nave, to provide more light, with restorations to repair damage resulting from World War II and the IRA bomb in 1993.

Famous parishioners included: the actor and contemporary of Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn (who also founded Dulwich College); the poet John Keats, who was baptised in the existing font; and Sir Paul Pindar (d. 1650), James I’s Ambassador to Turkey, the façade of whose Bishopsgate house is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The church

The building is Classical in style, of red brick with stone detailing, mostly on the quoins and around the windows. The handsome Baroque tower is, unusually, at the East End on Bishopsgate, and is easily its best external feature: it sits above a pediment with Doric pilasters, which frames the East window, and then rises in stages to a small cupola, topped off by an urn.

Inside, the nave consists of a barrel vault on tall Corinthian columns, with a short chancel, with galleries above both aisles. The centre of the vault is pierced mid-way by Meredith’s dome of 1821, which has a fully glazed drum, providing a welcome pool of light in its centre (it must have been very dingy before).

The decorative scheme in whites, pale blues, highlighted with subtle gilding, is restrained but pleasing on the eye, and doubtless benefits from the restoration after the IRA Bishopsgate bomb in 1993. There are relatively few monuments of special historical interest, except the font in which Keats was baptised in 1795, although some of the more modern furnishings are attractive. The church has an impressive peal of 8 bells, all dating from 1782.

Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL

All Saints, Fulham

All Saints church is the ancient parish church of Fulham, located close to Fulham Palace, one of the mediaeval retreats of the Bishops of London.

It’s easily missed by traffic streaming past onto Putney Bridge, but this church and nearby Bishop’s Park are real oases from the hustle and bustle of London life.


There has been a church on the site for around 900 years: 'Fulanham’ is mentioned in a document dated around 704AD, although there is no mention of a church in the Domesday Book. However, a church is mentioned in 1154, and the list of vicars goes back to 1242.

The church tower was rebuilt in 1440, but there are few details about the rest of the church, other than its dedication to All Saints in 1445. It was, however, regularly flooded, and despite repairs and enlargement in 1840, it was decided to demolish it and rebuild it again, retaining only the tower. The architect was Sir Arthur Blomfield, (best known for Southwark Cathedral) and the new church was consecrated in 1881.

The church

The tower remains the most dominant feature of the exterior: nearly 100ft high, it is built of Kentish ragstone with diagonal buttresses and a turret. The large West window probably dates from the 1840 restoration. The church behind is also of ragstone with Bath Stone dressings, in the Perpendicular Gothic style. Inside, the nave of five bays is spacious, with both north and south aisles, and leads to a chancel of three bays. There is a south Lady Chapel and an organ chamber on the north.

The church is entered through a porch on the north west, which contains a 14th Century door, a window with fragments of mediaeval glass from the original church, and a memorial to Elizabeth Limpney (1691- 1694).

Inside, the nave immediately impresses with its height. However, the glory of All Saints is its rich collection of 16th-18th Century memorials and monuments, mostly saved from the earlier church. Space doesn’t permit a full description here, but they include several to Bishops of London and some wealthy parishioners from the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Three monuments, however, are worth especial mention. The first is to the south (left) of the chancel, of Lady Margaret Legh (d. 1603), upright and wearing a widow’s hood, with two of her deceased infant children: she holds one, tightly bound in swaddling clothes, looking like a mummy: to her left is another infant, similarly bound but bolt upright.

The second memorial, in the south aisle (and easy to overlook), is a rare diamond shaped Flemish brass to Margaret Svanders, wife of Gerard Hornebolt (d.1529). He, with his son and daughter, were Flemish painters who came from Ghent to the court of Henry VIII and founded the English school of miniature painting.

Finally, on the floor by the north west door is a memorial to Humphrey Henchman, (1592-1675), Bishop of London in 1666 during the Great Fire. He owned the property around St Paul’s Cathedral - including many properties let to booksellers. Even though their premises and stock were burned in the fire, he insisted that they continue to pay rent on their ruined properties. Although normal for the time, his harsh stance nevertheless saw him brought before the Courts, but he avoided conviction thanks to Parliamentary privilege.

Other furnishings of note include two fonts, one a primitive mediaeval tub font, the other an octagonal Gothic design of 1622; some handsome Jacobean rails in the sanctuary; and the west window, which contains some 17th century heraldic glass. The glass elsewhere is Victorian, and the chancel has some attractive encaustic tiles. The churchyard around is also an attractive place to wander, with many interesting tombs, including those of several more Bishops.

Today, the church has an inclusive, Liberal Catholic tradition, and a busy parish life with a great many groups and activities.

Bishops Park, Fulham, London SW6 3LA

Saint Mary, Putney

St Mary’s is the old parish church of Putney, and is a distinctive local landmark, located at the south end of Putney bridge.


The parish dates back to at least 1292, although there may have been a church here earlier. But the most important historical period was during the English Civil War, when the headquarters of Cromwell’s army was briefly located at Putney. In 1647, meetings of the Army Council were held in the Chancel of the church.

These discussions - known as the 'Putney Debates’ - covered subjects connected with the future government of the country. Although their contemporary impact was modest, some view them as foreshadowing modern Parliamentary democracy, and they may have influenced the American Declaration of Independence and the subsequent US Constitution.

The church

The church today is a mixture of styles from over the centuries: the most distinctive external feature is the tower, which dates from the mid 15th century, as do some of the arcades in the nave. However, the church was substantially rebuilt in 1836, when the nave was widened, and new aisles built in yellow brick. The windows also date from this period, albeit in a Perpendicular Gothic style in keeping with the nave arcade.

An interesting feature is the Bishop West chapel, which dates from the 16th century. This was moved from the south side to the present north side in the 1836 rebuilding. Though whitewashed, it has attractive fan vaulting, with bosses of the Bishop’s Coat of Arms.

However, the present internal appearance of the church dates from 1973, when it was severely damaged by an arson attack. Rebuilding was not completed until 1982. As part of this work, the opportunity was taken to re-orientate the church through 90 degrees, so the altar is now on the former north wall, and the pews have been replaced by modern chairs. The resulting space now feels very contemporary, despite the essentially mediaeval and 19th century structure around it. On the south wall is a small room displaying the history of Putney Debates.

To the south of the church is the Brewer centre, a recent addition which includes community space and, on the ground floor, a modern cafe, which serves light meals and snacks. This also allows entry into the church when the main direct entrance is closed.

St Mary’s is part of the busy (and large) parish of Putney which also includes All Saints church on Putney Common. Worship at St Mary’s is inclusive, using a modern language Eucharist, with a quieter service in the evenings.

Putney High Street, London SW15 1SN

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Sherborne Abbey

Sherborne is a wonderful little town, and well worth a day trip from London (or anywhere else, for that matter). It is famous for its schools, and having not one, but two, castles. But for me, the Abbey is the main event. It is one of the most impressive non-Cathedral churches in the UK and built on a cathedral-like scale, having been at various times both a Cathedral and an Abbey.


Sherborne has a long history, dating back to Saxon times. A See was created here in 705, when King Ine divided the See of Winchester and appointed his relative Aldhelm, the abbot of Malmesbury, as its first bishop. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, two Kings of Wessex are buried in the church: Ethelbald (d. 860) and Ethelbert (d. 866), two older brothers of Alfred the Great. The see was divided up in 909 when the dioceses of Wells, Crediton (forerunner of Exeter) and Ramsbury were created, although Sherborne was later merged with Ramsbury.

After the Conquest, the See of Sherborne was moved to Old Sarum (and later to Salisbury), and the church settled down to what should have been a quieter life as a Benedictine Abbey. But in the 15th century, the church was the scene of a great dispute between the townspeople and the monks of the Abbey.

As was common in those days, the townspeople worshipped in the Nave of the Abbey, with the Chancel reserved for the monks. From the 14th century, a separate church, dedicated to All Hallows, was built as an extension immediately to the west of the nave to house the growing population of the town.

Late in the 14th century, the monks began rebuilding the Abbey in the new Perpendicular Gothic style. By 1437, new Perpendicular vaults had been erected over the north transept and the choir, new windows inserted, and a new tower completed. But the chancel was only half rebuilt when a serious argument between the monks and the townspeople came to a head.

The argument started when the monks repositioned the font in the nave, at the same time narrowing a door into the nave from the church of All Hallows. The townspeople objected to the changes and wanted them reversed: when the monks refused, they reacted with perfect pique: they erected their own font in All Hallows, and rang the church bells at times calculated to cause the monks annoyance, during their Divine Offices.

The matter was adjudicated in 1437 by Bishop Neville of Salisbury, who essentially suggested restoring things to how they had been, as well as curtailing the bell-ringing. But this did not pacify the now enraged townspeople, who rioted and burned the church. (The scorch marks can still be seen in the crossing and choir walls).

The townspeople were made to pay for its rebuilding, and pay handsomely: it was rebuilt in the best Perpendicular style, with the nave vault finally completed towards the end of the 15th Century. However, the parishioners had the last laugh: At the Dissolution, the monks were expelled and the Abbey became their parish church, and over the years was adapted with the addition of galleries and box pews. There was also no longer any need for All Hallows, which was demolished and the materials sold off; its scant remains are visible at the west end of the present church.

By the mid 19th century, Sherborne was in need of major restoration, which was carried out with unusual sensitivity by R C Carpenter and William Slater from 1850-58, with further work on the tower by R H Carpenter in 1884. Further restorations of the roof and glass were carried out in 1878-81.

The interior

Essentially, most of what can be seen today dates from the rebuilding of the 15th century, although beneath this, much of the Norman fabric and the original ground plan remain. The crossing is entirely Norman work, as is the porch, with a Lady Chapel surviving from the 13th century. A Saxon doorway survives at the west end in the north aisle, and the Norman doorway - complete with the controversial narrowing - at the west end of the south aisle.

But what grabs the attention is the rebuilt nave and choir, in the finest Perpendicular Gothic: and what really grab one's attention are the fan vaults. These are truly spectacular, and support the shallowest of arches (so much so that they have needed much subsequent reinforcing: the choir is the earliest surviving large-scale fan vault to have been built, and its design was rather over ambitious). The nave and choir vaults are about 50 years apart in date, but both are decorated with the most elaborate of ribs and bosses - each carved with a different theme.

It is also worth noting the irregularities of the nave: the nave piers of the arcade do not correspond to the clerestory windows above, suggesting that the original Norman arches were faced in the perpendicular style, but the rest of nave rebuilt from the clerestory upwards.

The church has furnishings worthy of a cathedral as well: there is notable stained glass by Pugin and the firm of Clayton & Bell, alongside some mediaeval fragments in St Katherine’s Chapel; several impressive tombs and memorials, most notably to Sir John Horsey (d. 1546) and his son (d. 1564), both in full armour; and the huge, confident classical monument to John Digby (d. 1698) and his two wives in the south transept.

The choir has some exceptional carved misericords, with themes such as a wife beating her husband and a master beating a boy. More modern is the beautiful Reredos in the Lady Chapel by Laurence Whistler.

The Abbey has the usual shop, located in the Close, and a vibrant active church life, with an impressive choir and a regular programme of evening concerts, in addition to a visiting programme for children and, of course, a regular programme of services.

But the joy of the Abbey also rests in its setting, with its grounds nestling in the heart of this attractive little town.

Abbey Close, The Parish Office, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3LQ

Saint John, Cardiff

St John’s is the principal church in Cardiff City Centre, and in many ways its mother church, since its Cathedral is several miles out in the suburb of Llandaff. It is the oldest building in the city centre (apart from parts of the castle), and the only significant survivor from the pre-industrial mediaeval town.


The precise origins of the church are unclear, except that it is of Norman foundation, established as a chapel of ease to the parish church of St Mary’s, itself built shortly after the Norman Conquest. It is first mentioned in documents dated 1180. The chapel served the needs of the nearby castle, with which it has retained close links over the centuries.

The church was substantially rebuilt in the mid -15th Century, following severe damage done during Owain Glyndwr’s sack of the city in 1404. This included a new nave in the Perpendicular style, with a wooden barrel-vaulted roof, completed in 1443, and a handsome 130ft tower, in the ‘Somerset’ Perpendicular style, completed in 1473 and paid for by Lady Isabella Neville, daughter of Warwick ‘the Kingmaker’.

The church became the parish church in 1607 when St Mary’s was destroyed in a disastrous flood. It was also involved in the religious debates of the 17th century, when it briefly became a centre of non-Conformity during the Puritan revolution. As Cardiff grew during the 19th century, it became clear that it needed to be expanded, with the addition of new north and south aisles and an enlarged chancel, between 1886 and 1897.

The church

The tower dominates the view along Church Street from St Mary’s Street to the west, where its handsome proportions and elaborate crown, with four corner lanterns, can be fully appreciated. It rises in three stages from the west door, with an attractive perpendicular Gothic window dominating the lower stage, and tall lancet bell openings with delicate tracery above. The crown, with its lanterns, is regarded as one of the best in the UK, with more pinnacles than any other save for that of Wrexham. It is a pity that the buildings of modern Cardiff don’t permit a better view. The tower is opened for visitors on selected days through the year - see website for details.

After this magnificence, the interior is, on first sight, rather plain: the 15th century arcades are spacious and lofty, in typical Perpendicular style, but the lack of a clerestory makes it a little gloomy. The 19th century arcades add volume, but little of interest, and the eye is drawn instead to the spacious Chancel, separated by an impressive Victorian wooden screen. There are chapels to the north and south, and a rather plain modern extension at the south-west end of the south aisle, added in 1975 to provide a vestry.

Most of the interest lies in its furnishings, the best of which are found in the north Lady Chapel, also known as the Herbert Chapel. This is screened on two sides by elegant late Perpendicular wooden screens, of late 15th or early 16th century date, and in-filled with later panels from the reigns of Queen Mary and Charles I. These contain medallions with grotesque figures.

Dominating the north wall of the Chapel is the church’s finest monument, to the brothers Sir William Herbert (c.1548-1609), keeper of Cardiff Castle, and Sir John Herbert (c.1550-1617), Secretary to both Elizabeth I and James I. Unusually, the two men lie side by side, Sir William in his armour and Sir John in a long lawyer’s gown. Their ages on the tomb are somewhat inflated: Sir John’s age is given as 84, and that of Sir William as 76.

On the south side, is a Chapel dedicated to the Order of St John. The chapel is fronted by a fine carved Jacobean bench, acting as a communion rail, and has an impressive reredos by Comper, a memorial to Lord Kitchener. At the west end, the first floor interior of the tower is worth a look for its impressive collection of 17th-19th century memorial plaques.

The Chancel is notable for the two arches on the south side which, dating from 1213-1239, are the oldest identifiable part of the present church. The Great East window contains fine glass by Comper, depicting the risen Christ, flanked by the Virgin and Saints. The principal other feature is the reredos (1892), designed by the architect John Pritchard, which contains an unusual central panel of carved and gilded figures by Sir William Goscombe John. These represent Old and New Testament figures, chosen to reflect the growth of the sacramental tradition.

The church really is at the centre of the City, but seems overlooked by the majority of people rushing past. Instead, it offers a haven of peace and tranquillity and, during services, some excellent church music. Its tea-shop (Weds-Sat) also offers more earthly refreshment for shoppers in the form of tea, coffee, sandwiches and home-made cakes.

St. John Street, Cardiff CF10 1GJ

Saint Michael and All Angels, Southwick

Southwick is now firmly part of the suburban sprawl running from Brighton and Shoreham, and is known to most people for the power station that dominates the far side of Shoreham Harbour. But there was a community here in Saxon times, and its church is surprisingly ancient.

In fact, the walk from the station crosses the Green, an attractive and villagey stretch of tree-lined common which splits Southwick into two halves. There are some handsome cottages surrounded by well appointed semi-detached suburban homes, and a rather less appealing row of post-war shops.

St Michael and All Angels was, until the 18th century, dedicated to St Margaret, and sits among a very pretty churchyard, thickly studded with trees. Although there was probably a church here in Saxon times, it was first recorded in 1086. In 1206 the right to appoint the rector was granted to the Templars, and then to the Hospitallers, although much of the early mediaeval period was taken up with disputes over these rights with the monks of Sele Priory.

The ownership passed from Sele Priory to Magdelene College at the Dissolution, and patronage thereafter passed to the Crown until the 20th century. Fire in the 19th Century damaged the nave and an unexploded bomb (and the subsequent excavation to remove it) damaged the tower in 1941.

The church itself is built of flint, and is essentially in three parts: the tower, nave and chancel. The tower is by far the most impressive part: its foundations and lower walls are said to be Saxon, although it mostly dates from the late 12th and 13th centuries.

It is an attractive composition, with paired round-headed arches with narrow openings surmounted by paired gothic lancets and, above that, a shingle broach spire. The west door is also attractive, but a modern addition: the tower was carefully taken down and faithfully rebuilt in 1950 after the bomb damage, with vestries built either side.

The chancel is mostly 13th century, with two original lancets, framed by a 14th century chancel arch. There are two round headed arches to the south, although the central column probably dates from the Victorian rebuilding. A 14th wooden screen with narrow lancets also survives in the south aisle.

The nave burned down in the 1830s and was rebuilt with narrow lean-to aisles in 1834, with round-headed arcades and lancet windows. Pevsner’s Buildings of England described the nave as a ‘loveless cover for pew-space’, which I think is a bit harsh, although there’s no doubt it doesn’t match the quality of the tower.

The furnishings – other than the south aisle screen - are limited in interest to what appears to be a mediaeval aumbry, some 18th and 19th century tombs and memorials, and a sturdy, square font, probably from the 13th century.

The church is today the centre of large and busy parish, and has a vibrant church life, with services daily through the week.

Church Lane, Southwick, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex BN42 4GD

Saint Mary, Washington

No, this isn’t in the USA, but a small village in Sussex, just north of Worthing.

Tucked away and bypassed by both the A24 and the A283, the village is signposted off the nearby 'Washington roundabout’ where these two busy main roads cross. Once in the village, the atmosphere is completely different: sylvan, peaceful, with a large country pub, rows of cottages and an attractive mediaeval church.

The village is bisected by the South Downs Way, and so is a popular stop with walkers, especially since it only a mile from the impressive Iron Age hill-fort of Chanctonbury Ring.

St Mary’s church dates from at least 1146, although the present building was rather heavily restored in 1866 by the architect G M Hills: only the Perpendicular tower (late 15th or early 16th century) and the early Gothic north nave arcade (from around 1200, and partially rebuilt later in the 13th century) survive intact. In Hill’s ‘restoration’, the north aisle was widened and the south aisle added, and both nave and chancel rebuilt.

The result is a rather neat looking church, with flint walls outside and ashlar within: the outside looks older thanks to the patina of lichens and moss, and the heavy roof of Horsham Slate over the aisles. Inside, the church is dark, but the well preserved Perpendicular font is attractive and dates from the 15th century. All other furnishings are Victorian or later. The wooden barrel vault ceiling in the chancel is interestingly decorated, however, and the bell tower, entered beneath its imposing Tudor arch, is full of interesting memorabilia and framed cartoons celebrating bell-ringing: the church has an active group of bell ringers, one of whom is apparently 96 years old!

The church is very much part of this little community, and as well as a regular Sunday service, (with Sunday School for children), remains open during daylight hours for visitors – although, as always, it’s best to check opening arrangements ahead, if making a special visit.

The Street, Washington Village, Worthing, West Sussex RH20 4AS

St Kyneburgha, Castor

The village of Castor, sandwiched between the suburbs of modern Peterborough and the A1 is a quiet and peaceful place today, with streets of neat stone houses, a few pubs and a church. But it has had a long and eventful history from the Roman period onwards, and this is reflected in the quality and historical importance of its church.


In Roman times, the whole area was an important industrial site, making 'Castor Ware’ pottery, adjacent to the Roman road of Ermine Street, which ran from London to Lincoln and York. Nearby was the Roman town of Durobrivae, but at Castor a huge palace was built - the second largest in Britain - equipped with baths and all sorts of other conveniences. Some of the remains can be found around the churchyard - the adjacent school is built on the site of the baths. The palace formed a convenient stopping off point for visiting Emperors on their way around the province of Brittania.

The palace was inhabited from around 250AD until 450AD, before being abandoned. In 650AD, Kyneburgha, widowed daughter of King Penda of Mercia, founded a Saxon convent among the ruins. Kyneburgha herself is the source of an interesting miracle: it is said she was being chased by two men intent on raping her. As she ran, the contents of her basket spilled out and instantly grew into trees and bushes which caught the pursuers in their branches. Another legend also has her being chased by a thief, but a path unrolled before her to help her escape, and flowers sprang up from where she placed her feet.

Historically, St Kyneburgha was the convent’s first abbess and she and her sister St Kyniswitha were buried in the church. However, the church was attacked by Vikings some time between 850 and 1000, and in the 11th century their remains were moved to Peterborough.

The church survived, but was largely rebuilt in the Norman period and dedicated in 1124. Around 1220 it was extended with a south aisle and a new chancel, and around 1260 the south transept was replaced by a large chapel with an east aisle, and in the early 1300s a north aisle was added. A broach spire was added to the tower around 1350, and the nave clerestories - and the famous angels decorating the ceiling - were inserted in the mid-15th Century.

The church

Pevsner called St Kyneburgha “the most important Norman parish church in the county (of Huntingdonshire)”, and indeed the first thing to strike any visitor is the tower: the exterior is carved in the Romanesque style with extraordinary richness, with two rows of arcades, fish-scale decoration on the surface and two corbelled friezes above. It is the equal of any cathedral.

The exterior also has a priest’s doorway into the chancel, above which is an inscription recording the dedication of the church on the 17 April 1124 (or possibly May 1114, depending on which expert you follow!). Above the entrance to the porch is a Saxon carving of Christ in Majesty, and inside is an elaborate Norman doorway with a heavy wooden door dating from 1372.

Inside, it’s hard to know where to start first: the tower crossing is the obvious place, for here the great Norman arches (1100-1110) have a series of fantastic carved corbels, showing a 'Green Man’ (with foliage growing from his mouth), hunting scenes, men fighting dragons, lions and other beasts, a bird fighting a serpent and the legend of St Kyneburgha. The scenes are wonderfully vivid and dynamic - definitely Norman, but with stylistic elements from the pre-conquest period.

In the south aisle is the base of a Saxon cross and at the east end the altar of St Kyneswitha, below an elaborate stone screen of 1330. Next to this is an 8th or 9th Century Saxon carving of an apostle under arcading, part of the original shrine of St Kyneburgha. At the other end of the aisle is a well-preserved 14th century painting of St Catherine, complete with her wheel and the execution of the philosophers she had converted.

The chancel is also of interest: it contains windows from virtually every period from Early English to Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic, as well as fine Norman and Gothic piscinas and the tomb of Vergilus, an early Rector, c. 1228.

Last, but definitely not least, the other glory of the church is to be found by looking up: the roofs of the Nave and aisles are decorated with 66 huge figures of angels playing instruments, which date from the 15th century and are vividly painted. (See above)

Church Hill, Castor Village, Peterborough PE5 7AY

York Cathedral

York Minster styles itself as the 'largest mediaeval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe’, although Cologne also claims the title. Although, personally, I don’t think it’s a particularly atmospheric church for its age - there’s not a lot of interest at ground level in the nave and crossing - it is a huge and impressive architecturally. The most interesting parts are the nearly 2,000 years history preserved and on display in its crypts, and its enormous collection of original mediaeval stained glass - unrivalled in Britain, and of world importance.

In other words - look up and look down!


York has a very long Christian history indeed. A diocese was established and based in the Roman city of Eboracum in 314AD, although the first church on the site was built in wood for King Edwin of Northumbria in 627AD. This was rebuilt in stone and dedicated to St Peter in 637AD by King Oswald. Although the history is obscure during the Viking period, when the city was renamed Jarvik, it was rebuilt several times again before the Norman conquest in 1066. The Danes destroyed it in a raid in 1075, and a fully Romanesque church was built by the Normans in 1080, completed in 1154.

The ascendency of York as an Archbishopric led to the Cathedral being rebuilt from the 13th Century onwards on a vast scale and in the new Gothic style, in a complex sequence that has left substantial elements from all three main periods of mediaeval Gothic architecture: Early English of 1220 in the transepts, from around 1220; Decorated Gothic in the Nave and Chapter House from 1280-1350; and Perpendicular in the Chancel from 1361-1472.

The tower collapsed in 1407, and a new one was completed in 1420, and the western towers added between 1433 and 1472. The church is therefore unusual in being almost entirely mediaeval in its structure, with the restorations of the Victorians and later being relatively restrained - largely repairs from fire damage, including the most recent fire in 1984 which destroyed the roof of the south transept.

The church suffered badly in the Reformation, especially in destruction of its tombs, although the glass survived remarkably intact. Work to underpin the cathedral in the 1970s led to the discovery of substantial Roman, Viking and early mediaeval remains under the cathedral’s crypt, and much of this is now visible as a separate tour.

The Church

The best place to start is the Nave, although the entrance is normally through the South Transept. One of the widest mediaeval naves in Europe, it is a perfect exampel of the elaborate Decorated Gothic style. The west window is one of the most impressive anywhere: it is known as the 'Heart of Workshire’ because of its heart-shaped tracery and dates from 1338. At ground level, the nave is relatively plain, but the glory of York is the stained glass, mostly mediaeval. This is best observed on a sunny day, as much of it is very dark (and large areas are in need of further restoration). Notable on the south wall of the nave is the Jesse Window from 1310.

The Transepts are perfect examples of the early English Gothic style, particularly the window in the north transept, whose five enormous lancets are known as the Five Sisters’ Window. The delicate grey-green glass, known as grisaille dates from 1260 and is the oldest glass in the cathedral. Opposite, the great rose window in the south transept dates from 1500, and celebrates the union of the houses of York and Lancaster at the end of the Wars of the Roses. The elaborate tomb of Archbishop Walter de Grey, who began the rebuilding in 1220, is in St Michael’s chapel in the South Transept, and is the best preserved mediaeval tomb in the cathedral.

The crossing (1420) contains wonderful tracery in the vault. The elaborate screen separating the crossing from the Choir dates from the 15th century, and depicts fifteen kings of England from William I to Henry VI. The tower can be climbed from an entrance in the south transept, for excellent views over York.

Finally, the Chancel, containing the Choir and Sanctuary are in the grand Perpendicular Gothic style, and include two more half-size transepts (actually, better appreciated from the outside). The interior of the choir and its wooden stalls are, alas 19th Century replacements after a fire 1829. But all eyes are drawn to the huge East Window, completed in 1408, and the largest single expanse of mediaeval glass in the world - famuosly, the size of a tennis court. It depicts scenes from the beginning and end of the world, from the books of Genesis and Revelations.

At ground level, the chancel aisles contain most of the tombs in the cathedral. The only Royal tomb is at the entrance to the north aisle, and belongs to Prince William of Hatfield, son of Edward III. Unusually, although he died as an infant, he is depicted as a young boy in full armour. Half way along the north aisle is the St William Window of 1422, one of the best examples of 15th century glass painting in the Cathedral, depicting St William - a 12th century Archibishop of York. Further around the aisles are a wide range of memorials, mostly from the Tudor and early Stuart periods.

The Undercroft

This is a separate tour and is accessed from the corner of the South transept by the main entrance. As well as the Treasury, it includes views (in-situ) of the archaeology unearthed in the 1970s, including remains of a Roman fortress, Viking, Norman and early mediaeval remains and carvings, probably from the earlier Minsters. It also contains a small chapel, the resting place of St William of York.

Minster Yard, York, North Yorkshire YO1 7JA

All Saints, Pavement, York

All Saints is one of York’s finest churches, and contains a wealth of interesting furnishings, along with impressive mediaeval glass.

Tradition states that the first All Saints was built here in 685AD for St Cuthbert, and a church certainly existed here in mediaeval times. However, the present church dates from the late 14th century, and has in its Perpendicular Gothic lines an architectural unity rare in this city of ancient churches. It was a Guild church, and shields from some of the Guilds are located at the end of the pews.

From the outside, the most distinctive feature is its octagonal tower, dating from around 1400, surmounted with one of the finest lanterns in the country. This really was a lantern in mediaeval times: a light was kept burning here to guide travellers into York, and inside the church are two of the huge and rather crude lenses used to focus the light.

The interior is spacious, if rather truncated: the original chancel was demolished to make way for a market in 1782. The attractive blue panelled nave ceiling dates from the 15th century, but it is the fittings and furnishings that provide the interest.

Chief of these is the glass: the three East windows are all by Kempe, and the West window dates from around 1370, and was brought from St Saviour’s in 1957. The series of panels depicting the Passion is claimed to be unique, and is certainly rare.

Other items of interest include an Anglo-Danish grave cover from the 10th century; an elegant 17th century pulpit dated 1634, from which John Wesley (1703-1791), the co-founder of the Methodist church, preached; a 15th century lectern; the aforementioned lantern lenses; a Lord Mayors’ Board (34 of them are buried here); and replicas of the helmet, sword and gauntlets of Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, who was executed in The Pavement in 1572 for leading a rebellion against Elizabeth I.

High Ousegate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 8RZ