Friday, 3 July 2009

St Mary, Udimore

Udimore is one of those small English villages strung out along a road, with no real centre, which is so easy to drive through. But just off the busy B2089 is the lovely church of St Mary, situated in an idyllic spot next to a farm and to a duck pond (which actually had a family of ducks on it when I visited).

Udimore is recorded in the Domesday Book, and there was an important lodge here in mediaeval times, in which both Edward I and Edward III stayed - Edwards III’s Queen, Eleanor, is said to have watched the English fleet from Udimore before the Battle of Winchelsea (against a Castilian fleet) on 29 August 1350.

Historically, the church nave was originally 12th century Norman, to which a south aisle was added around 1200, with the chancel added slightly later and the tower slightly later still, around 1230. The aisle was lost at some later period and the whole church was heavily restored in 1896.

From the outside, the church looks impressively large: the tower is robust and squat, and barely higher than the tall nave and chancel roofs. The walls on both north and south sides of the nave betray a series of alterations, with blocked arches abounding. On entering the church, it is clear that it once had a south aisle of three bays, in the Early English Gothic style, on round columns with stiff-leaf capitals, dating from the very beginning of the 13th century: these are best preserved in the central bay, which now forms the south 'porch’, although there is no internal door or wall.

It is not clear when the aisle was demolished, but may have been around the time of the Black Death. The porch was added during the 19th century, using a 15th century door, and the north wall nave lancets are also 19th century. The south nave windows are 15th century, although heavily restored, and probably came from the original south aisle wall.

The chancel is entered through a beautifully proportioned (and very pointed) arch, and now we find ourselves firmly in the 13th century. The chancel is indeed textbook Early English Gothic: there are lancets in the north and south walls, and a triple lancet composition at the east end. The westernmost lancet on the south wall was originally lower, to allow people outside the church to watch the mass: the sill was raised in line with the others in Victorian times - the alteration is clearly visible on the outside.

The church has some interesting fittings: in the chancel is a small wooden font, covered in plaster to make it look like stone: an edict at the Reformation forbade the use of wooden vessels, and this is an unusually late example (early 18th century) of a stone 'forgery' designed to hide the fact!

The Jacobean period is represented by a fine bench seat in the porch, and there is a particularly grand coat of arms of George III, erected by two churchwardens in 1772. The pulpit and font are both Victorian. Back outside, the churchyard contains some interesting graves, including a number of anthropomorphic 'bodystones’.

Udimore, just off the B2089, near Rye. TN31 6BB

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