Thursday, 28 May 2009

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

No comments:

Post a Comment