Wednesday, 6 May 2009

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

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