Monday, 11 May 2009

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

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