Tuesday, 19 May 2009

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

No comments:

Post a Comment