Friday, 1 October 2010

St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh

The three spires of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral form a prominent part of the iconic skyline of Edinburgh, especially when looking west along Princes Street.


The Episcopal Church had been without a cathedral in Edinburgh since the division of the established church in 1689, when the ancient Cathedral of St Giles had come under the Ministry of the Established Presbyterian church. However, the aspiration to build one was only realised in the 19th century, when two wealthy spinster sisters, Barbara and Mary Walker, bequeathed their Drumsheugh Estates to fund the building on a site to the west of the New Town.

An architectural competition was held for the new Cathedral, which was won by Sir George Gilbert Scott, perhaps best known as the architect of St Pancras railway station. The foundation stone was laid in 1874 and the Cathedral completed in 1879, although the towers were added later. Scott considered this his best church.

The Church

The church is the largest ecclesiastical building in Scotland, and its three spires - the central spire over the crossing is 275ft high - form a prominent landmark in Edinburgh, although the church itself is actually tucked away, off the City's main thoroughfares in the western part of the New Town.

The design is essentially in Early English Gothic, with Decorated Gothic additions. The layout is conventional, with a nave with aisles separated by arcades of 6 bays, with large aisled transepts and an aisled chancel of 4 bays. The overall impression is of great space and size, with the dark exposed stonework giving it an air of mystery.

Fittings of interest include the pulpit and high altar Reredos, both designed by J Oldrid Scott (son of Sir George); a brass lectern in the form of the Pelican; and a huge hanging Rood, designed by Sir Robert Lorimer (1864–1929) to form part of the War Memorial; and the Millenium Window in the Resurrection Chapel (in the South Transept), designed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. There are also excellent encaustic-tile pavements in the Chancel, and fine Victorian ironwork screens, elaborately painted, in the Choir. Most notable, however, is the pew of the novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), brought here from St George's Episcopal Church, now located in the King Charles Chapel.

The Cathedral boasts a choir that sings daily. A song school was built for them to practice in, in 1885. Designed by J Oldrid Scott, it contains a wooden vaulted roof, painted blue and decorated with gold motifs, while the walls are covered with mural-style paintings by Phoebe Anna Traquair. This building is open to the public, on a limited basis, to view the murals - see website for information on visits.

Palmerston Place, Edinburgh EH12 5AW

St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh

St Giles is not the prettiest or most dramatic of cathedrals, but has a complex and interesting history and a striking setting on the Royal Mile.


There has been a place of worship on the site for around 900 years, and possibly longer, as there is a record of a parish church in Edinburgh in 854AD. A church on the present site was built in the 1120s in the Romanesque style. It was dedicated to St Andrew in 1243, but later rededicated to St Giles.

This church was later enlarged in the Gothic style, and the present choir, built between 1320 and 1380, is the main remnant of this building. Partially burned in 1385, it was repaired and further expanded during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Albany Aisle (1409) and the Preston Aisle (c. 1454) date from this later period. Private chapels were also inserted, and by the 16th century there were some 150 of them crowding the interior.

However, the church underwent major changes as a result of the ministry of the famous Scottish Reformation churchman, John Knox, who was Minister at St Giles 1559-1572. During this period the church was reorganised to reflect the Reformed style of worship, which included removing many of the chapels and much of the stained glass. Because of his Ministry, the church is regarded by many as the spiritual home of Presbyterianism. The building was also partitioned to enable other uses to take place, which over subsequent years including a police station, fire station school and coal store.

During the 17th century, the church experienced periods of Episcopal (Anglican) control, and was elevated to Cathedral status in 1635-38 and again in 1661-89. These episodes reflected tensions arising from King Charles’ plans to reintroduce episcopacy in Scotland: those opposed to the move signed a National Covenant and, by the end of the century, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland had become the Established church. Thereafter, St Giles ceased to be a Cathedral, although the name has stuck.

These tensions are well illustrated by two impressive tombs in the church: those of James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, who resisted the National Covenant, and who was executed in 1650; and his opponent, Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll, himself executed in 1661. Montrose was interred in the church after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660; his memorial dates from 1880. That to Argyll, in a similar style, dates from 1894.

The exterior was substantially restored in 1829, and from 1872 the partitions were removed and the interior opened up, with new stained glass windows inserted (all the glass dates from the 19th and 20th centuries). The major 20th century addition was the Thistle Chapel, built in 1911 for the Knights of the Thistle, Scotland's order of chivalry. It was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer in an elaborate 15th century high Gothic style.

The church

The church now dominates the central section of the Royal Mile, and its tower lantern is a prominent landmark. The exterior is impressive, but most of the interest lies inside. The interior is dark and cavernous, an effect magnified by the presence of double south aisles and numerous small chapels (also referred to as aisles), the arcade arches giving a forest-like appearance.

Although it has transepts, the addition of aisles and chapels give it an almost rectangular plan. The architecture is largely late Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic, although many of the windows date from the 19th century restorations.

Most impressive is the Thistle Chapel which, with its complex vaulted ceilings and elaborate woodwork, is a testament to early 20th century workmanship. The Chepman aisle houses Montrose’s impressive memorial, complete with life-sized alabaster effigy in full 16th century military garb. Argyll also has a life-size effigy, in Civilian dress, located in St Eloi’s aisle. The south Preston Aisle, which leads to the Thistle Chapel, dates from 1454 and was erected to contain a relic (an arm bone) of St Giles, although this was lost in the reformation around 1560.

The 15th century Albany Aisle is now dedicated to those who fell in the two World Wars, and includes memorials to the various Scottish Regiments. The church walls are covered in numerous other memorials, of varying quality and interest, predominantly from the 19th century.

High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1RE

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

St John the Evangelist, Newtimber

Surrounded by fields and just a scattering of houses, St John's has an idyllic setting, with fine views of the South Downs, close to the old moated manor house at Newtimber Place.

The church dates from the 13th century, but a rather severe Victorian restoration in 1875 by Carpenter and Ingelow resurfaced the walls, and renewed most of the windows. A watercolour in the nave shows the church before restoration. From the outside, the main feature is the pretty Gothick west tower, erected earlier in 1839, which replaced the original turret.

Inside, however, it still has the feel of an intimate village church, lit predominantly through tall lancets, some of which contain glass by Clayton & Bell. The base of the Jacobean pulpit has survived, along with two ancient carvings, now incorporated into the modern lectern; and a carved fragment of the mediaeval rood-beam, used as a shelf behind the font.

There are some interesting wall memorials: a poignant one to John Newnham who died aged just 12 "& near 6 months" in 1756, set in the small north transept chapel that was once housed the private pew of the Lords of the Manor at Newtimber; a grand wall memorial to a former Rector, John Osborne (d. 1774); and a series to the tragic family of Sydney Charles, Viscount Buxton (1853-1935), who lived at nearby Newtimber Place.

A Government minister under Asquith, Lord Buxton held various posts until becoming Governor General and High Commissioner to South Africa 1914-20. He is, however, perhaps best known as the President of the Board of Trade who had to defend the Government's policy on lifeboat regulations in the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic.

He was the first and last to hold his title, all his sons predeceasing him: his second son Kenneth died in 1894, aged 7; his eldest son, Charles Sydney Buxton, died in 1911 aged 29; and his youngest son, Lieutenant Denis Bertram Sydney Buxton, died in action at Passchendaele in 1917, aged just 19. Charles is commemorated both in a wall memorial (complete with a rather striking profile), and a stained glass window of St Francis, designed by Mary Brickdale (1872-1945). His half-brother Denis has a splendidly romantic carved wooden memorial with a gilded knight in armour, set above the pulpit.

More tragedy was to follow in 1923 when Lord Buxton's daughter, Doreen Fitzroy, died a few weeks after childbirth, aged 25. She is commemorated in the best monument in the church, a sculpture of a mother and child by Sir William Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1943). A nearby slate memorial commemorates Doreen's mother, the Viscount's second wife, Mildred Anne Smith (d. 1955).

Outside, the churchyard has a tumble of table-tombs, some leaning at precarious angles. A recent addition is a black marble memorial to the sinking of the RMS Mendi in 1917, a troopship carrying 823 troops of the 5th Battalion, South African Native Labour Corps, including Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase. The Mendi collided with the liner Darro in thick fog and sank in under 20 minutes, drowning the Chief and 670 men.

Church Lane, Newtimber, near Hassocks, West Sussex BN6 9BT

Monday, 26 July 2010

Holy Trinity, Poynings

Poynings is a leafy village, nestled under the South Downs, north of Brighton. Its grand mediaeval church was rebuilt all in one go in the late 14th century, resulting in a building of rare architectural uniformity for so small a village.


The Domesday survey of 1087 refers to a church in Poynings, and there is little doubt that there was once a a Saxon place of worship here. The Norman building, erected on an impressive mound, stood for 300 years until the reign of Edward III. But in 1389, Sir Michael de Poynings, Lord of the Manor, left 200 Marks in his will for the erection of a new church, giving us the building we see today.

Although the rebuilding incorporated much of the old fabric, the new church was built in an early Perpendicular style, overseen by Poynings' son Thomas. The unusual width of the south transept, sometimes called St Mary's Chapel, reflected the desire to include the founder's grave within its dimensions. A porch was erected over the grave of the founder's grandson, Thomas of Poynings, who died in 1430, his coat of arms carved on the gable.

The only major post-Reformation work were 17th century roof repairs, as evidenced by a tie beam, now in the south transept, and the addition of new furnishings. The Victorian restoration was unusually sensitive, with only the placing of a screen to the south transept and the insertion, in 1843, of the south transept window, which itself dates around 1643 and was brought from Chichester.

The building

From the outside, there is little anticipation of the grandeur inside: the walls are the usual flint, with stone dressings. The central tower is low and has small openings, and the churchyard crowds the building, hiding its dimensions.

The interior, however, is a dramatic space. The building plan is that of a Greek Cross, with nave and chancel of equal length, and generous transepts. The crossing itself dominates the whole, the steeply pointed arches springing from identical robust semi-octagonal responds. The windows are all two-light Perpendicular, except for a grand five-light East window and the later window in the south transept. The overall sense of space is rare, and gives some insight into what an unfurnished mediaeval church may have felt like.

Several windows have fragments of 15th century stained glass, the best being the east widows in the north transept, which depict the Annunciation, with the Archangel Gabriel in one light and the Virgin in the other. The detail is astonishingly well preserved - Mary stands in front of an urn with a rather elaborate lily growing from it.

Fittings and features of interest abound and include the triple sedilia and piscina in the chancel with ogee arches under square heads; the octagonal Perpendicular font with blank ogee arcading; the 14th century screen, now across the south transept; and altar rails dating from 1640, although the angel finials date from after World War II. These were carved by sculptor William Court, in memory of Anthony Stanislaus, an airman killed in combat. The carved pulpit is also Jacobean. The chancel contains two late 17th century family box pews, and the chancel steps include 13th century decorated encaustic tiles. The nave has indistinct wall paintings, with the Ten Commandments painted over earlier mediaeval pictures.

The south transept contains an old carved tie beam dated 1623 and bearing the name of Francis Killingbeck, a former rector who died in 1625. It is probable that he was responsible for repairs to the roof. On the transept floor are the remains of mediaeval tomb slabs, sadly now missing their brass fittings. They have been tentatively identified as those of Agnes de Rokesley (d. before 1346); Sir Michael de Poynings and his wife; Richard de Poynings, in full armour, who died in Spain in 1387; and an unknown couple from the 16th century. Opposite, the north transept is home to a beautiful four-wheeled funeral bier.

The Street, Poynings, West Sussex BN45 7AQ

Friday, 23 July 2010

St Ann, Manchester

St Ann's is Manchester's second oldest town church, and an excellent example of early 18th century English baroque architecture.


St Anne's was built 1709-1712, in the early days of Manchester's expansion, and designed to cater for the rapidly growing population. It was only the second church to be built in the then town after the original 15th century parish church (now the Cathedral). The funds for its construction were provided largely by Lady Ann Bland, and its consecration reflected both her name and that of the reigning Queen. From the start, the church had strong Whig and anti-Jacobite connections - in contrast to the High, Jacobite stance of the older church. John Wesley preached at St Ann's in 1733 and 1738, and the author and intellectual Thomas De Quincey was baptised here 1785.

The architect was probably John Barker, who chose the then fashionable Baroque style, possibly influenced by Wren's churches in London. The church was designed as a 'preaching box', with a west tower, a large galleried nave, and a small sanctuary, giving prominence to the central three-decker pulpit in front of the altar. As built, the tower was topped by a three-tiered cupola, which was removed in 1777 for safety reasons. This was replaced with a spire, which was also later removed on similar grounds.

In 1837 the church was renovated, with the original square piers of the nave arcade replaced by the present Tuscan columns. A more substantial renovation in 1887 by Alfred Waterhouse (architect of Manchester's City Hall) significantly reordered the church: he raised the chancel floor and moved the pulpit to the side, created the vestry and Lady Chapel, placed the choir stalls in their present position and inserted highly elaborate Baroque-style stained glass in the three East End windows. These were later matched by similar windows on the north and south walls.

The church survived damage from a number of incendiary bombs in World War II, but not from the blast by the IRA bomb in 1996, which blew out the windows. These have all now been repaired.

The church

The exterior is imposing and very Wren-like: the nave walls have two rows of round-headed windows, separated by coupled pilasters; the apse is richly decorated with tall fluted Corinthian pilaster and an entablature with a carved frieze; and the north door has a pedimented tetrastyle Corinthian doorcase with fluted columns. All this is executed in a distinctive purplish red sandstone. The area around the church is now pedestrianised and forms part of the city's main shopping area.

The interior is an impressive space, with the generous galleries supported by the Tuscan columns inserted in 1837. The east end is a symphony of panelled wood, lit through the strongly decorated stained glass. The fittings include the organ, which still contains elements of the 1730 original, and a painting of the Descent of Christ in the Lady Chapel, painted in the 16th century style of Annibale Carraci and brought from Italy early in the 20th century.

The church is happily open every day and provides a peaceful oasis in the centre of the city.

St. Ann Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester M2 7LF

Monday, 19 July 2010

St Mary, Storrington

St Mary’s stands at one end of a sprawling churchyard, a few minutes from the village’s main street. The site of a church since Saxon times, the present building is an amalgam of work from the Norman to Victorian periods.


The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and the original 11th century Norman nave now forms the north aisle, together with a Lady Chapel, formerly the chancel. A new nave was added in the 13th century, and from this date survive the arch at the east end of the north aisle, and an arch between the present Lady Chapel and chancel, as well as the windows of the north aisle. What is now the north arcade was rebuilt in Perpendicular Gothic style in the 15th century.

In 1731 the original shingled spire was struck by lightning, but repaired so badly that in 1745 it collapsed, bringing down part of the nave. The nave and tower were rebuilt in 1750, though the nave rebuilt in 1843, and again in 1876, when the present south aisle, with an arcade matching that of the north aisle, were added. The chancel was also extended eastwards at this time. The present chancel arch is Victorian: the original chancel arch now rests between the chancel and the vestry.

The church

The church is unusual for this part of Sussex, being built of stone with ashlar dressings, built rather than of flint. The plain but handsome west tower built in 1750 stands over the three gables of the church and aisles.

Inside, the interior is dominated by the nave arcades which, although 500 years apart in date, are happily well matched, with piers composed of four attached shafts. The 13th century arch in the north aisle is pointed but tapered slightly towards the imposts, giving a ‘horseshoe’ appearance.

There is a brass to a former Rector, Henry Wilshaw (d. 1591) on the south chancel wall, and some imposing 19th century wall monuments, including one by the sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott to Sir Henry Hollis Bradford (1781-1816). A Lieutenant Colonel in the First Grenadier Foot Guards, Bradford died at La Vacherie, near Lilliere, on December 7. 1816, of wounds received at the Battle of Waterloo.

In the graveyard, in a small area enclosed by privet hedges, is the grave to the Jesuit Father George Tyrrell (1861-1909). Regarded by some as the foremost intellect among English Jesuits since the Reformation, he was an important Catholic theologian whose modernist views led him to be expelled from the Jesuits and excommunicated from the Catholic Church, although he is now more usually regarded as ahead of his time. The gravestone is an early work of the sculptor and stonecutter, Eric Gill.

Today the church is the centre of a busy Parish life, and on my visit I was treated to some fine change-ringing by local bell-ringers.

Church Street / School Lane, Storrington, West Sussex RH20 4LA

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

St Andrew, Jevington

Jevington has an impressive church for a small village, with a well preserved Saxon tower, set in a steep-sided valley running down through the South Downs to the sea.

The tower is obviously the earliest part: although later altered, the remains of the short, robust Saxon windows with Roman tiles as crude voussoirs, and the baluster shaft on the bell openings, are impressive. The date is less certain: the church guide claims 900-950, though others claim a mid to late 11th century date. Inside, the tower arch is also probably 11th century (the openings either side are Victorian).

There must have been a nave here when the tower was built, although the details of the present nave – for example the south porch – date from around 1200. The chancel was built around 1230, although the East Window is later in date, around 1300, on the cusp of the Early English – Decorated divide. The squints either side of the chancel arch were inserted during a Victorian restoration. The north aisle added later in the 13th century. This is unusual, with a central transverse arch, presumably added for strength. The north wall lancets are original in style but renewed, whereas the windows in the south nave wall date from around 1500. The heavy, dark roof is also from around this period, with alternating hammer-beams and kingposts.

The church has some unusual and interesting fittings. Most celebrated is the late Saxon sculpture on the north wall, showing Christ in a loin cloth, piercing a rather diminutive beast with a cross-topped lance, with Urnes-style interlacing at his feet. This may depict Psalm 91, verse 13: You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

The square font is 14th century in style, with corner pillars on the broad stem, and there is a 14th century piscina in the chancel. Various memorials are also of interest: in the south chancel, a large monument to Charles Rochester (d. 1758) has a bold portrait in a medallion, with his wife Leonora (d. 1756) standing just behind him. Opposite is a cartouche with pilasters and broken pediment to Robert Rochester (d.1723), two sons and a grandson.

On the south wall at the west end of the chancel are three brasses to the Markwick family; that to Elizabeth (d. 1608) was lost for over 90 years before being found in an antique shop. Opposite, a black marble tablet to a former Rector, Nathaniel Collier, depicts the date as 1691/2 – demonstrating the dispute over the start of the New Year (25th of March in the Julian calendar or 1st January in the Gregorian calendar) – not settled until 1752.

On leaving, go via the churchyard towards the village, through the fine, centrally hinged Tapsel Gate.

Church Lane, Jevington, Polegate, East Sussex BN26 5QE

St Peter, Folkington

Found at the end of a narrow lane and surrounded by dense woodland, Folkington’s diminutive church, with its intimate interior, nestles in the lower slopes of the South Downs. Its parish today is home to just 60 parishioners.

The church is a simple 13th century building with lancet windows, neither aisles nor chancel arch, and the familiar Sussex flint walls and red tiled roof. Part of the dark king-post roof, as well as the bell turret, may also be of this date. From the 15th century come two nave windows, as well as the attractive octagonal font, with a moulded bowl and panelled stem. The Victorians rebuilt the west wall and inserted the window with Y-tracery.

The nave contains a group of spacious and high 18th century box pews, the seating arranged to face the pulpit, which may be late 18th or early 19th century. The sanctuary contains a cartouche memorial to Lady Barbara Thomas, (d. 1697), with two putti, opposite one to her husband, Sir William Thomas, Bt. (d. 1720), surmounted by his coat of arms, an urn and two more veiled putti.

The inscription reads (in rather odd rhyme):

A right worthy Gentleman
Deservedly Remarkable
For his great Zeal for ye Publick good
For his generous Hospitality
For his strict Justice
And extensive Charity

Outside in the graveyard is the tombstone to Elizabeth David (1913-1992), the cookery writer who did so much to open British minds to continental food. It is carved with vegetables and a cooking pot. Over the wall, a wild garden contains two sculptural images of the Long Man of Wilmington; unlike the original, they stride defiantly forward, proudly displaying their manhood...

Folkington Road, Folkington, Polegate, East Sussex BN26 5SD

St Mary & St Peter, Wilmington

This interesting church was an unusual foundation, built both as village church and to serve the small community of Benedictine monks in the adjacent Priory, founded in the early 12th century.

The church itself has a Norman chancel; the monks would have used the latter (the parishioners restricted to the nave), which still preserves its Norman lancets and low ledges for seating the monks: originally, the floor would have been lower, so making the seating more practical.

The north transept chapel was added early in the 13th century, with the two-bay south aisle following slightly later. This was later partially blocked, but reopened during Victorian restoration. The chancel arch is also a 19th century replacement in the 13th century style.

The nave rebuilt with the fine roof, with kingposts and tie-beams inn the 14th century, and most of the windows renewed in the decorated style. The north porch was added in the 15th century, as well as the Perpendicular East Window.

The best furnishing is undoubtedly the Jacobean pulpit, dating from 1610, complete with a back panel and sounding board, topped off with a fine open-work obelisk. A puzzling, weathered carving set in the south chancel wall, brought in from outside in 1948, is thought to be 12th or 13th century and female (possibly a Madonna holding a diminutive Christ?), though Pevsner felt it more likely to be male. The viewer must decide.

Also of interest are the fluted frieze and steep pediment from an Elizabethan monument in the south aisle, said to have been to a member of the Culpeper family. Finally, in the north chapel is the ‘Bee and Butterfly window’, inserted in 2002 to replace an 18th version, destroyed by a fire. The window incorporates pieces from the original and depicts St Peter surrounded by butterflies and bees, above - appropriately enough - a Phoenix.

Outside, the great Yew tree by the porch is said to be 1,600 years old. Walk around to the churchyard extension for good views of the remains of the Priory Buildings, now part of a private house.

The Street, Wilmington, Polegate, East Sussex BN26 5SL

St Pancras, Arlington

St Pancras is a delightful church set in lush countryside in the Sussex Weald, with plenty of historical interest.


The nave is Saxon, with long-and-short work on three corners, and a window with Roman tiles used as crude voussoirs to form the arch. The north chapel was added around 1200, and the Early English Gothic tower and north aisle in the 13th, though the presence of the chapel arch indicates that an aisle must have been in place when the chapel was built. The chancel was rebuilt in the 14th century, and both the chancel arch and the two arches from the north chapel into the chancel date from this time. The fine king-post roof may also date from the 14th century. The tower arch was renewed in the 15th century, when the solid tower buttresses were added. Two Victorian restorations (in 1868 and 1892) were sensitive and restrained.

The church

The most striking feature of the church as you approach, is its squat tower with tall, shingled broach spire, which can be seen from some way away through the thickly wooded churchyard. From the outside, the Saxon remains on the corners of the nave, and the Saxon window, to the right of the porch, are clearly visible.

Inside, the interior is entirely whitewashed, save for patches of wall painting. The elegant Early English arcade has octagonal piers and leads the eye to an impressive chancel arch, though it is also worth looking up to the roof, picked out by the whitewash. The late 12th century arch from the north aisle to the north chapel has a half dog-tooth motif below the imposts. The windows include the Saxon round-headed window, Early English lancets and Decorated windows. The East Chancel window has particularly fine tracery of arches upon arches, and features head stops on the hood moulding which are said to be of Edward III and his wife, Eleanor.

The fittings and furnishings are of great interest. The robust square font is a good example of 15th century Perpendicular Gothic panelling, and the chancel screen, though Victorian, is a good replica. The wall paintings with lettering left of the chancel arch are Elizabethan, but the flowers and crosses are 14th century. Also from the 14th century are the traces on the north (St Christopher) and south (St George) walls of the nave, though they are now too indistinct to make out their contents.

In the north chapel are several mediaeval grave slabs with crosses, and a niche containing an exceptionally rare 13th century pottery storage jar, found close by. The north aisle has an impressive wooden chest, and the sanctuary a very unusual 14th century piscina with ogees beneath a castellated top. The pulpit is 18th century, as are the arms of George III atop the tower arch.

A short walk from the churchyard south east brings you to the lovely Cuckmere River.

The Street, Arlington, Polegate, East Sussex BN26 6SE

Sunday, 4 July 2010

St Simon & St Jude, East Dean

Typically Sussex from the outside - flint walls, tiled roofs and a low tower - the first impression of East Dean’s interior is of modern restoration. However, a more careful inspection is rewarded with a wealth of historic detail.

The oldest part of the church is the low 11th century tower, which may predate the Conquest. This was originally part of a nave on the Saxon model, and shows signs of a former arch to the east for an apsidal chancel.

The present nave was added in the 12th century, and the chancel – which has a prominent inclination to the north - in the early 13th century. The nave was extended west in 1885 to include the bridge and organ, and again in 1961-2 to provide the bright modern baptistery.

Once inside, the nave to the west, including the baptistery, are light and bright, thanks to a wealth of windows with clear glass, all undertaken in a sympathetic modern Gothic style. The chancel arch is clearly modern, but the chancel walls shows the remains of a pair of now-blocked lancets to the north (with pointed heads) and to the south (with rounded rear-arches), next to another, larger pointed archway, which corresponds to a blocked 14th century trefoil headed window embedded in the wall outside. The 15th century east window is flanked by the shafts of earlier Early English lancet windows. There are yet more blocked arches in the wall between nave and tower.

The fittings are of particular interest: pride of place goes to a beautifully preserved Jacobean font, complete with sounding-board, with delicate carved decoration. Beneath the pulpit’s lectern an inscription dates the whole to 1623. There is an aumbry by the pulpit, opposite another opening covered by a modern grille.

By the door is a damaged stoup of an elaborate decorated design, an octagonal basin beneath a trefoiled head. Next to the tower door are the remains of a tombstone bearing the arms of the Bardolf family. Finally, the font, although modern, has been designed around fragments of the original 11th century font.

Gilberts Drive, East Dean, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN20 0DL

St Mary, Friston

Despite being next to the busy A259, Friston’s little flint-built church sits in a lovely spot, next to Friston pond, and from its graveyard are sweeping views down to East Dean.

The nave is thought to be mid-11th century, extended west in the early 12th century. The chancel and porch are 14th century, as are many of the windows and, possibly from the 14th or 15th centuries, the fine king-post roof. The only modern addition is the 19th century north transept.

The interior is intimate and charming: on the south wall, remains of a small round-headed window and door are thought to be Saxon or at least in the Saxon-Norman overlap, the present south door being Norman. The handsome west window is 14th century. The chancel arch is wide and low, and the tiny chancel has unusual blank arches to the north and south, both with a single trefoil-headed light, and a blank reredos arch to the east, beneath a 19th century double-lancet east window.

The fittings are of great interest. The nave contains two remounted brasses of Thomas Selwyn (d.1539) and his wife, but more splendid are the later Selwyn monuments, moved from the chancel recesses to the north transepts in the 19th century.

Sir Thomas Selwyn (d. 1613) and his wife are depicted kneeling, facing each other across a prayer desk, within an elaborate pillared and arched frame of alabaster. Below the children all face east, with three babes in swaddling clothes beneath the prayer desk - ‘like small French loaves’, according to Pevsner. That to Edward Selwyn (d.1704) is a simpler classical design, carrying a long Latin memorial.

In the porch, the east window surround has an unusual form of mediaeval graffiti, showing Christ on the Cross, and other marks, possibly showing a Gothic window. There are several aumbries, piscina and stoups, all 14th century, and an elegant bowl font, dated to around 1700.

Outside, just to complete the picturesque is a fine tapsel churchyard gate.

Crowlink Lane, Friston, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN20 0AU

Friday, 2 July 2010

St Michael, Lewes

Located right on the High Street in Lewes, yet strangely hidden, St Michael's is a fascinating amalgam from different periods, with a distinctive and rare round tower, with a tall shingled spire.


The church dates from the late 12th or early 13th century, the actual date a puzzle as the pointed arches indicate a 13th century, but the round tower is more typical of the 11th or 12th centuries. There are two others of similar design in Sussex. The list of rectors goes back to 1283.

The church was rebuilt in the 14th century with the addition of a south aisle, the arcade of which survives. However, the church suffered badly after the Reformation (Lewes being a fiercely Protestant town) and was semi-derelict by the 18th century.

This necessitated a significant rebuilding in 1748, in which a north arcade was added (or rebuilt) and the south arcade extended - unusually in wood - but in a vaguely matching style. A further rebuilding in 1884 extended the chancel, remodelled the interior and replaced three Georgian windows in the south wall with Gothic versions.

The church

The most distinctive external feature is the tower, now rendered, with a single pointed lancet window, and a later trefoil window above. The tower is adorned with a prominent sculpture of St Michael by Harry Phillips, erected in 1976. The 18th century frontage to High Street is an attractive example of square and knapped flintwork, with two doors, each surmounted by rounded windows, and the three Gothic windows inserted in 1884.

Inside, despite the dark and atmospheric interior, one can clearly identify the distinction between the original 14th century arcade of slender Gothic arches, and the 18th century wooden versions - painted a slightly odd chocolate colour. At the west end of the south aisle is an original lancet window, an equivalent on the north side now blocked and infilled with a Victorian wall painting of St Pancras.

The fittings are of extensive interest. Behind the attractive Victorian font are two brasses, relocated from the floor. The older brass, dated around 1430, is of a knight in full armour, now sadly headless, a lion at his feet. One heraldic shield survives. He may be a member of the extended de Warenne family (who built Lewes castle), possibly John Waryne, a member of the household of Henry IV. Adjacent is a half brass to John Braydforde, (d. 1457) a former rector of St Michael's. His brass has a wonderfully touching expression.

On the north wall, a 16th century classical style memorial to Sir Nicholas Pelham shows him and wife facing in prayer, their ten children as mourners below. He is famous for his defence of Seaford against a French force which had previously sacked Brighthelmstone (modern Brighton). A wonderful inscription on the monument has a play on his name:

His valr's proofe, his manlie virtues prayse;
Cannot be marshall'd in this narrow roome;
His brave exploit in great King Henry's dayes,
Among the worthye hath a worthier tombe.
What time the French sought to have sack't Seafoord,
This Pelham did repel them back aboord.

Opposite are the remains of the monument to George Goring, MP for Lewes, (d. 1601) and on the north wall a brass memorial records the life of Dr Gideon Mantell, (1790-1852), a local doctor, geologist and paleontologist. He discovered first the teeth and then a skeleton of an Iguanadon, now on show in the Natural History Museum, and is credited with helping inaugurate the scientific study of dinosaurs.

There are two paintings, one large 17th century canvas of the Descent from the Cross, possibly by Balucchi, and one of the Madonna and child, thought to be Spanish of 17th century. Finally, the reredos is by celebrated Victorian Gothic architect J L Pearson.

Through a door in the north wall, steep steps (formed from tomb slabs) lead up to the small but tranquil graveyard. A surprising space for the town centre, from the rear there are fine views of Lewes Castle's keep.


The church is normally open during weekdays until 5pm. The church is part of the united benefice that includes St Anne's and St Thomas a Beckett in Cliffe. There is a Sunday Mass at St Michael's at 10.30am.

High Street, Lewes, BN7 1UW

St John sub Castro, Lewes

St John-sub-Castro - or St John's-under-the-Castle - is a large early Victorian church just to the north of Lewes castle, which incorporates 11th century elements from a previous building, and has a lovely, hidden graveyard.


The first church on this site (actually slightly north of the present church) was erected at least as early as the 11th century, and possibly before. Details of this church are sketchy - almost literally - as what is known of it comes from drawings and descriptions made before it was rebuilt.

These show a traditional Sussex church, with elements from the 12th-14th centuries and a tower, and which lost its chancel some time around the reformation.

The present church was designed by George Cheesman, part of a family business based in Brighton, and completed in 1839. This incorporates some Anglo-Saxon elements from the fabric of the earlier church. An apsed chancel was added by Philip Currey in 1883.

The church

Cheesman's design is neo-Gothic in style, of flint with red brick detailing, and tall windows with broad transoms, decorated with trefoil headed arches. The axis runs north-south, with the ritual east end to the north.

The most prominent - and best - feature is the beefy castellated tower at the west end, which dominates the view along Abinger Place. Pevsner was unkind about the window tracery, but as a whole, the building works well enough. The spacious interior has galleries on iron columns on three sides.

Of most interest, however, are the relics from the earlier church, set into the walls either side of the apse at the east end. On one side is a late Anglo-Saxon doorway, with three demi-shafts supporting an arch with three matching roll mouldings, and unusual, wide square marble abaci which cut across all three. In place of a door, a mediaeval tombstone slab decorated with a cross design is set into the wall.

On the opposite side, next to the churchyard footpath, is an archway which may have been set in the old church's chancel - there is some debate about whether it was the chancel arch proper or not. Again, in place of a door is another ancient cross tomb slab, of similar design to that on the other side.

The arch is inscribed in Latin: CLAUDITUR HIC MILES DANORUM REGIA PROLES MANGUS NOME EI MANGNE NOTA Þ GENIEI DEPONENS / MANGNUM SE MORIBUS INDUIT AGNUM Þ PETE Þ VITA FIT PARVULUS / ARNACORITA. This refers to a warrior of Royal Danish lineage, Magnus, who became an anchorite at the church.

Anchorites were an extreme type of hermit, who were literally sealed up in a cell attached to a church. Through a window onto the chancel they could participate in services, as well as being fed and watered. They usually stayed there until death.

The churchyard itself is also worth a look; it is a wonderfully hidden space; semi-derelict, surprisingly large and heavily wooded.

Church Row, Lewes, BN7 2PU

Sunday, 27 June 2010

St Nicholas, Pevensey

Most people visiting Pevensey get no further than the castle, but its mediaeval church is also very attractive and well worth a visit.


Although there is some architectural evidence of late 12th century work, the present chancel dates from the reign of King John 1200-1216, at the time the castle was being expanded, with the nave built a little later.

As Pevensey declined as a port, the church fell into disrepair, and the chancel was walled off from the nave in the 17th century, to be used for sheltering cattle, storing coals and hiding contraband brandy for smugglers! Restored tastefully in 1875-1900 under George Gilbert Scott Jnr, it remains an excellent and complete example of the Early English Gothic style.

The Church

From the outside, the church is built largely of flint, the most notable feature being the attractive tower, of three stages: Scott rebuilt the second stage and added the third, but kept the broach spire design of the original. The north chapel (built on the site of an early chapel) is also Scott's work.

On entering into the nave, the most striking feature are the wonderful arcades of double-chamfered arches, which rest on piers which alternate between octagonal and a clustered quatrefoil designs. There are five bays to the south, and three to the north, leading to a heavily buttressed tower arch. With the exception of the west window, all are lancets, including those of the tall clerestory. All is roofed off by a fine king-post roof.

The chancel is entered through a fine, tall Gothic arch of the purest form, with elaborately carved stiff-leaf capitals, which date it to around 1230. The chancel is almost as long as the nave, and has three elegant lancets at the East End, with another two lancets paired on the south wall, with attractive shafts and mouldings on the inside.

Fittings of interest include a 13th century stone coffin lid with a cross design in the south aisle, the crude Norman font, but most impressive is the alabaster monument to John Wheatley (d. 1616), which includes an effigy lying on his side. he contributed to £40 to the fitting out of a ship from Pevensey to fight the Spanish Armada. Two piers also have niches for statues, doubtless disposed of during the Reformation.

Church Lane, Pevensey, East Sussex BN24 5LD

Thursday, 24 June 2010

St James, Birdham

Birdham is a well-kept Sussex village, perhaps best known for Birdham Pool, once a tidal mill but now part marina and part nature reserve. But this is a tale of a church and a tree.

The church first. Dedicated to St James, it looks very attractive from the outside, situated next to a small, immaculately kept village green and a generous wooded churchyard. It dates almost entirely from the 14th century, save for the tower, erected in 1545, and the chancel, which was replaced in the rather severe Victorian restoration of 1882.

This severity is rather apparent on entering: the only features of particular historic interest are the 14th century chancel arch, and the impressive tower arch of 1545. Pevsner regards the latter as a puzzle, as the clustered shafts look earlier (c. 14th century) and appear too small for the Perpendicular arch above; he speculates that a smaller tower may have been projected, or built and replaced. The west window is also Perpendicular, and a nice feature. The tower contains two bells, one 14th century and one from 1695.

The only fittings of especial interest are some mediaeval 'pilgrim crosses', carved like graffiti on the outside of south door arch, and the east window, by artist Michael Farrar Bell and dedicated in 1978. It depicts James and John in their boat with Jesus and their father Zebedee, as described in the Gospel of Mark. Cameos in the background depict agriculture, Chichester Cathedral and a yacht in Birdham Pool.

Outside the porch, however, is a treasure from the natural world: a Macrocarpa tree, its trunk twisted into the most incredible form, looking for all the world like a strange being. It is possibly the most amazing tree I have ever seen.

Church Lane, Birdham, Chichester, West Sussex P20 7SP

St Mary the Virgin, Apuldram

Apuldram is a delightful place with a delightful name, from the Old English apulder (apple) and hamm (enclosure), a testimony to the soil, ideal for apple cultivation. It has an equally delightful church, once a chapel of ease of Bosham.

Dating from around 1100, the church was substantially rebuilt in the 13th century, when a south aisle was added, and gained its porch in the 1400s. Among the five 19th century restorations, that of 1845 by J Butler, architect to Chichester cathedral, was particularly sensitive to the interior, and revealed the squint and rood-loft stairs (now fronted by the pulpit). Later work in 1877 by Lacy W Ridge was less sensitive, with a roof in pine and the little bell turret, although the whole has seasoned well with time.

The approach from the nearby lane is by a long footpath, with fields, meadows and trees, to a wooded churchyard, planted with roses. The exterior is classic Sussex: knapped flint walls, with Caen stone dressings, a red tiled roof, and shingled turret.

The porch leads into the south aisle, with three bays of classic Early English Gothic, double chamfered arches resting on round piers with round abaci and massive square bases. The nave and chancel are undivided, but eyes are drawn to the chancel. This is a simply beautiful 13th Century composition: triple lancet windows with moulded heads, Purbeck marble shafts and wall arcading fill the East wall, with matching compositions in the north and south walls. The result is surprisingly sophisticated for so small a church, described by Pevsner as ‘rich and austere at the same time’.

The church’s fittings are almost the equal of the architecture. Pride of place is fought for by the beautifully preserved 15th century wooden screen in the south aisle, of six bays of cinquefoiled ogee arches with quatrefoils in the spandrels; and the 14th century pavement of encaustic tiles on the lower chancel step, a rare survivor anywhere and even more remarkable in so small a church.

At the west end of the south aisle, a mediaeval bench survives, with poppyheads originally of fleur-de-lis design, behind the 12th century font, decorated with Romanesque arcading. Piscinas survive in chancel and south aisle. Finally, the porch windows have a scratch sun-dial and interesting graffiti on the jambs, including a merchant’s mark, a “weathervane cockerel”, scroll-work and lettering.

The whole experience is a delight: on my visit, on a perfect warm June day, I ate a picnic lunch in the shade of the churchyard trees, before taking the footpath the short distance down to the sea wall of the Fishbourne Channel.

Apuldram, Appledram Lane South, Chichester PO20 7EG

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Cathedral Church of St Woolos, Newport

Set high on Stow Hill and commanding fine views over Newport, the Cathedral of St Woolos (Welsh: St Gwynllyw) is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Monmouth. Incorporating fabric spanning over 1,000 years, it has a rich and fascinating history.


The exact origins of the church are shrouded in legend, but the first church is said to have been built around 500AD by Gwynllyw, a local Lord. He fell in love with Gwladys, daughter of the King Brychan (modern Brecon) but, having been refused her hand in marriage, he abducted her. Evidently she still married him and, over time, Gwynllyw was converted to Christianity both by Gwladys and their pious son Cadog (later St Cadog). Gwynllyw then built a religious settlement or Clas on the site of the present cathedral - chosen, again according to legend, after an angel in a dream told him to build a church where he found a white ox with a black spot on its head.

This original 6th century building would have been made of wood and wattle-and-daub, but the site was revered sufficiently for the Saxons to build a later stone church on the site of the present St Mary’s Chapel, possibly in the 10th century. The remains of this church constitute the oldest part of the present building.

In 1080 a new church with a nave and lean-to aisles was built by the Normans, immediately east of the Saxon building. The earlier church was probably by this time a ruin, as the Norman west door pierced its east wall. Around 1200, the Saxon chapel was restored and the walls raised, with narrow lancet windows inserted above arched tomb niches.

The church was badly damaged in 1402 by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr, but later in the 1400s substantially enlarged and repaired, mostly by Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII. The north aisle was enlarged and fine Perpendicular Gothic windows were inserted, followed later on by a similar enlargement of the south aisle, and a double-height south porch with a priest’s house on the first floor. Finally, the tower was added towards the end of the 15th century, and included a statue of Jasper Tudor, as Governor of Newport 1485-95.

The church’s history then shows a period of steady decline: much damaged during the Civil War, by the early 19th century St Mary’s Chapel had become a charnel house, and the nave had effectively become a chapel, with a singing gallery on the site of the rood screen, cutting off the nave from the chancel.

Restoration began in 1818 with the repair of St Mary’s Chapel, which then became the main entrance of the church. An extensive further restoration in 1853 replaced the south porch and the two 15th century south aisle windows with three new ones; restored the Norman font and 15th century chancel; and removed the singing gallery and inserted a new chancel arch.

The next phase of building resulted from the decision in 1921 to create a new Diocese of Monmouth. After much deliberation, St Woolos was chosen to be the new Cathedral, a process finally completed in 1949. However, it was clear that the original chancel was too small for its function as cathedral, so an new East End was built in 1961-2 by the eminent architect ADR Caroe, decorated with a mural and new rose window designed by the artist John Piper.

The church

The church is today entered through the 15th century tower, into the 13th century St Mary’s chapel. This includes the restored Norman font, with green men on each corner. The effigies in the tomb recesses are unfortunately horribly mutilated and decayed (and, sadly, rather fenced off by modern central heating pipes), although that of Sir John Morgan (d. 1491) and his wife Janet has some better preserved elements. The low window on the right has a mediaeval rose inserted into what is probably an original Saxon window. Stonework on the lower left and right sides also remains from the pre-Conquest church.

Eyes are, however, drawn forwards to the Norman door, one of the Cathedral’s treasures. The columns are very unusual, and are likely to be Roman, sourced from the settlement at Caerleon. The capitals are also unusual; they are of Composite design, but incorporate Norman humanistic sculpture (depicting praying men and birds). The capitals may therefore have been Roman, with the Norman work carved into them when the church was built. The arch itself has bands of bold zig-zag, billet and chevron decoration.

The nave is instantly recognisable as Norman work, with five bays of rounded arches on round piers with scalloped cushion capitals. Both arcades have empty windows which once formed the clerestory, but became internal when the aisles were raised. On the left by the chancel arch, the door to the long-vanished rood-loft can be seen.

The north aisle is bright and wide, the Tudor windows filled with clear glass; the south aisle is narrower, and a line of corbels indicates the height of the original aisle. At the east end, a tall modern Gothic arch leads onto St Luke’s chapel, a modern addition despite its appearance. At the west end is the impressive classical-style tomb of Sir Walter Herbert of St Julians, (d. 1568), albeit with the effigy badly mutilated. It is a rare Renaissance survivor in Wales.

Beyond the chancel arch, the modern chancel provides a literally bright contrast, with its clean lines and modern wooden furnishings, although some of the windows – including the small ‘Leper’s Window’ on the north side - were kept from the original chancel. The eye is drawn to Piper’s huge bold mural, which depicts the creation, its outline recalling the Norman architecture elsewhere. Critics vary on how well the old and new fuse, but it certainly adds a new and bold dimension to a building which already reflected a variety of historical styles.

Before you leave, it is also worth looking down, for the floor is paved with interesting memorial stones, dating from 1653 onwards.


The church is a 10 minute walk up Stow Hill from Newport City Centre, and is open most days for private prayer and visitors. As well as being a cathedral, it has a large and populous parish, and services are held daily – see website for details. The church has a small shop in the south porch.

On my visit, I was made very welcome indeed by a small group of very friendly and helpful ladies, with wonderful organ music playing in the background.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Parish Church of St Mary & St Gabriel, South Harting

South Harting nestles on the north face of the South Downs, a sheltered, wooded spot, with a traditional village centre and two pubs. Its large church dominates the village, sitting high on a ridge at one end of the main street, with nave, chancel, transepts and a copper-clad broach spire. It is best known for its fine Elizabethan monuments and chancel roof, and the war memorial in the churchyard by Eric Gill.

Mainly dating from the early 14th century, the church suffered a major fire in 1576, and the subsequent Elizabethan restoration provided a new chancel arch as well as new roofs. In 1610 a chapel was added by the Caryll family, but was subsequently abandoned and now lies in ruins.

The interior is dark but spacious, and the Gothic arches of the nave, aisles and crossing could perhaps best be described as ‘muscular’. The later Elizabethan chancel arch sits beneath the remains of the original pointed arch, with its dog-tooth decoration still visible. The Early English Gothic east end window is a Victorian replacement (and its below the original plain lancet) but the transept windows are an essay in Decorated Gothic.

The chancel roof is worth a special look – dating from the post 1576 rebuilding, it is both inventive and decorative in its own right, a complex mix of wall posts, tie beams, pendants, bosses and collar beams. In the north transept, there is a competing Victorian example of woodworking ingenuity, in the form of a magnificent wooden spiral tower staircase.

The monuments are also largely Elizabethan. Three coloured effigies of the Cowper family, dating from around 1600, are located in the south transept. They comprise a kneeling effigy of a John Cowper of Ditcham, and recumbent effigies of his son John (d. 1586) and his wife, all resplendent in full Elizabethan costume.

Next to them is the badly weathered effigy of Sir Richard Caryll (d. 1616), originally located in the chapel outside, but brought inside in 1956 after it became ruinous. In the chancel is a rather plain arched tomb recess, containing the 17th century memorials to the Ford family.

Other fittings of note include the 13th century font and various hatchments. Outside, the remains of the Caryll Chapel can be seen between the South Transept and Chancel; its vault contains 11 members of the Caryll family who died of smallpox between 1601 and 1613. On the other side of the chancel is the fine, tall war memorial by Eric Gill, decorated with delicate relief carvings. More prosaically, as you leave the churchyard, take a look at the village stocks, recently restored!

The Street, South Harting, near Petersfield, Sussex GU31 5QB

St George, Trotton

Trotton is located on the busy A272 between Petersfield and Midhurst, amidst glorious countryside, the road still crossing the River Rother on the Grade-I listed 16th century bridge.

Just around the bend from the bridge, Trotton’s church is hidden behind a bank and rows of trees. It has an Early English tower, plainly plastered with single lancets and a shingled broach spire. The rest is early Decorated Gothic from the early 1300s; except for the Victorian east window, all its windows are original. It looks much like any other Sussex village church.

Inside, however, is another matter. The first surprise is the space: a single, rather barn-like expanse without aisles or a chancel arch, although it has a splendid original roof with tie-beams, purlins and arched braces.

The second surprise comes by looking west; the walls at the west end of the church, and the adjacent north and south walls, are covered in 14th century wall paintings of astonishing boldness. Best preserved are those on the west wall: a judgement theme of an almost cartoon-like arrangement depicts Christ in the centre, above Moses holding the Ten Commandments. To the right, a clothed Spiritual Man, in an attitude of prayer, is surrounded by oval panels depicting the seven acts of mercy (clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, tending the sick, receiving the stranger, visiting the prisoner, and burying the dead). To the left, a more faded naked Carnal Man is surrounded by similar panels, this time depicting the more familiar seven deadly sins (pride, gluttony, anger, avarice, lust, sloth and envy).

On the north wall, four rather faded armoured figures bear the Camoys Arms on their surcoats, and helms bearing the Camoys crest of a large plume. One of the figures holds a dog by a lead, perhaps indicating that this was intended as a hunting scene. Opposite, St Christopher carries the Christ child, depicted twice (one early 14th century, the other, better preserved, of around 1400). The other images are of the donors (the Poynings and Camoys) surrounded by various heraldic devices.

As if the wall paintings were not enough, the mediaeval riches continue, for Trotton contains two of the best memorial brasses in England. On the aisle floor, a full-length brass to Margaret, Lady Camoys (d. 1310) is the oldest such female brass in England. It shows has her in a full length gown and wimple, a small dog sleeping at her feet. Indents show that the brass once had a canopy and eight shields outside the figure, and a further nine shields within.

In front of the altar, a large 9ft-long tomb chest, its sides carved with shields and quatrefoils, is topped by one of the most magnificent and best preserved brasses in existence. It shows Thomas, Lord Camoys (d. 1421, though the tomb says 1419 – an error?) and his wife, holding hands, he in full 15th century plate-armour sporting the Order of the Garter, she with crespine head-dress, mantle, sideless cote-hardie, and kirtle.

He stands on a lion, while at her feet is the small gowned male figure, probably of her stepson Richard, father of Hugh, second baron. They stand under a sumptuous double-canopy of Ogee aches, with three (originally four) shields above.

Lord Thomas is best known for commanding the left wing of the English Army at the Battle of Agincourt. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1415. He married twice, and is shown here with Lady Elizabeth Mortimer. She was formerly married to Sir Henry Percy, better known as “Harry Hotspur”, and was immortalised as “Gentle Kate” in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1.

Other tombs include the remains of a splendidly carved 15th-century table-tomb set in the south wall; the table-tomb of Sir Roger Lewknor (d. c. 1478) in the north-east corner of the chancel, its sides decorated with repeated trefoiled niches, under swags; and, in the southeast corner, the table tomb of Anthony Foster (d. 1643), with plain pilasters.

Other features of note, besides many later wall monuments, are the delicate and unusual 17th Communion Rails, and a rather plain tub font.

Trotton, on the A272 between Petersfield and Midhurst

St James, Selham

Selham is almost perfect Sussex, nestling in the lush valley of the River Rother, midway between Petworth and Midhurst.

Its church is equally delightful. Set in an attractive churchyard, it consists of a small nave and chancel, with a south chapel.

Its history is a little obscure: it is not mentioned in Domesday, but the nave and chancel were clearly built very early in the Norman period, at the end of the 11th century. A south chapel was added in the 14th century, but largely rebuilt in the 19th. It once has a west tower, demolished in the 18th century and replaced with the current (and slightly twee) bell-cote during the Victorian restoration.

The actual age of the church has always been a puzzle: the proportions of the doorways, walls and nave suggest a Saxon origin, but the chancel in particular has lovely herringbone masonry, characteristic of Norman work, as well as a Norman tub-style font. But the greatest mystery of all is Selham’s real treasure, its chancel arch.

Narrow in the Saxon tradition, the arch itself has plain roll mouldings in the Norman style. The arch is supported by attached columns, above which are capitals, than abaci and then imposts. Each element is carved in different designs, incorporating both Saxon and Norman styles. The north capital has a crude Composite design, with coiled stems and semi palmettes. Above this, the abacus has Saxon-style interlace, and the impost on top has roll moulding facing and interlinked palmettes in the Norman tradition.

The south capital is the most fascinating, with marvellous reptilian figures in the Viking style: one fish-like animal spews foliage, whereas a second snake-like has a knotted body and devours its own tail while also spewing forth more foliage. Above this, the abacus has stylised foliage, and the impost has Saxon roll decoration emerging from a strange, looped snake-like beast.

Architectural historians have argued how all this came about, and whether it dates before or after 1066. Could different pieces, possibly of different dates and intended originally for other work, have been put together to make the arch? Or does it simply represent Saxon masons working in the Norman period and incorporating new designs? The truth is that we will never know, but can only marvel at the unique and fascinating result.

The church still has regular services, twice a month.

Selham, Petworth, GU28 0PW south of the A272

Friday, 4 June 2010

St Mary the Virgin, Littlehampton

Littlehampton's parish church is a 20th century building built in a traditional style, and sits in a lovely tree-filled churchyard in the centre of the town.


There has been a church on the site since around 1110, which later (18th century) pictures show as a familiar Sussex amalgam of Norman and Gothic styles, with a tower and short spire. By the early 1820s, the building was in need of serious repair and was also too small for the expanding town, so a new church was begun in 1826, preserving some of the original elements, to designs by George Draper.

However, after a century of use, this 'new' church had itself become too small for the needs of the parish, and in the 1930s plans were drawn up to remodel and substantially enlarge the church, by the architect W.H. Randoll Blacker. He used much of the 1826 structure, encased in modern brick, but also added significant extensions of his own. It was completed in 1935-7, and it is this which we see today.

The church

The exterior style is essentially a very plain, 20th century take on Neo-Gothic, executed in brick with stone dressings. The nave windows have Y-tracery with distinctive broad transoms which contain carved shields.

The tower is also very plain, but contains the clock-face from the Victorian church, as well as a 14th-century window from the mediaeval church set on the west side. (Interestingly, the listing regards this window as coming from the 1826 church, but pictures of the earlier church show exactly the same window in the mediaeval predecessor).

The interior is surprisingly spacious, with a broad nave, galleried aisles and transepts, and a west organ gallery. The chancel terminates in an apse which has its own westward arch.

Although the architectural style is predominantly Gothic, the main fittings (pulpit, gallery balustrades and chancel screen) are in a Classical 18th century style which, with the clear glass and pale walls, give it a more 18th century feel.

There are some other fittings of interest. The font, with marble columns, decorated with cherubs and fleur-de-lis, is from Draper's church. Memorials from the earlier churches line the gallery walls and there are several fragments of the Victorian stained glass inserted in the later windows.

The floor at the west end also incorporates memorial floor slabs from the mediaeval church, some dating back to the 1720s, and some piscinas and stoups, presumably from the mediaeval church, can also be found.

The church received particular praise from Nikolaus Pevsner in his Sussex volume of The Buildings of England: he stated that the interaction of the fittings and space 'gives one a lot of respect for the designer'. Praise indeed. The building is Listed at Grade II.

Today, the church the centre of an active parish life, with a daily act of worship. The church is a member of the 'Forward in Faith' grouping.

Church Street, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN17 5EN

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Parish Churchof St Peter and St John the Baptist, Wivelsfield

Tucked away on a dead-end lane a mile away from the modern village that bears its name, Wivelsfield’s church is a delightful amalgam of building from different periods.


Wivelsfield is first recorded as a village in an 8th century Anglo-Saxon charter as Wifelesfelda, and a church may have existed from around this date. There was certainly a church here before the Norman conquest, as the old Saxon North doorway testifies.

The church was first expanded in the 13th century, with an enlarged chancel, the south arcade of two bays and a south chapel. During the 14th century, the nave was extended westwards and the 15th century saw the south aisle wall rebuilt (c. 1500), along with a porch and the addition of the tower. A gallery was inserted in the west of the nave in 1716. Thus it remained until the Victorians removed the gallery and added the north aisle in 1869, thankfully preserving the Saxon doorway by incorporating it in the new north wall. They also added the porch and extended the chancel, incorporating the original East Window in the east end of the north aisle.

The church

The most striking features on entering the churchyard are firstly a large yew on the left – supposedly over a thousand years old – and the original Saxon doorway. This is – in typical Saxon style – tall and narrow, with a carved arch of two orders, carved with simple reeding decoration.

The modern entrance is via the south porch, but before entering, take a look at the 14th century west doorway, and then the main south window of the tower: the arch has two carved label stops, on the left an owl and on the right a man playing a rather large wind instrument. Sadly, they are rather eroded. The church guide implies they may have been using Celtic imagery here, with the owl for wisdom and the music for joy and praise.

Inside, the south arcade of the nave is in classic Early English style, and the south chapel has a distinctive single lancet window with wide splays. The north arcade and aisle are clearly Victorian, but the east window of the north aisle, a triple lancet under an arch, is the former east window, re-set. The chancel and south chapel have piscinas and the chancel has what may be an Easter Sepulchre, with a small attractive stained glass window depicting St John the Baptist (now lit from the vestry behind).

The furnishings include a plain Victorian font and a pulpit. The base of the pulpit is taken from the original Jacobean sounding board, turned upside down.

Church Lane, Wivelsfield, RH17 7RD

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Clapham, West Sussex

Clapham is a one-lane village nestling in the south face of the South Downs, just north west of Worthing. Its pretty and historic church is found up a gravel lane to the north of the village, surrounded by Clapham Wood, and is chiefly known for its impressive brass memorials and what is claimed to be the oldest ring of three bells in Great Britain.


Although the manor dates back to Norman times and possibly earlier, the present church is basically a replacement begun around the end of the 12th century and early into the 13th century. There is a continuous list of Rectors from 1257 to the present day, and the dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary is recorded in 1405.

The nave dates from the late 12th century and is partly in the transitional style, but otherwise most dates from the 13th century, with additions in the 15th, including the present west door and a now-blocked north door. The shingled spire was replaced with the current roof in 1790, and the architect Sir Gilbert Scott undertook an extensive but sensitive restoration in 1873-4. In 1910, during work on the nave, a skull was found under the western pillar of the north arcade. It was replaced in its original resting place.

The Church

The church consists of a nave with north and south aisles, a chancel, and a squat tower, barely higher than the nave, at the western end of the north aisle. The exterior walls are made entirely of flint.

Inside, the difference between the earlier north and south aisles is immediately apparent: the north, of two bays, is Transitional in style, with round piers, stiff-leaf carving on the capitals and pointed arches. The three-bay south aisle is pure Early English Gothic, with simple capitals. A fragment of a blocked Norman window in the north arcade indicates that this must have been the original north wall before the aisle and arcade were inserted.

The three lancets in the west wall were reinserted by Scott, based on remnants found when removing a later and larger window which lit a gallery, which he also removed. The windows in the south and north aisles are essentially 15th century. The south aisle also has a small, low window at the east end which, by tradition, is a leper window, to enable those with the disease to follow services from outside. A local farm was a leper colony in mediaeval times, and a path from it to the church was known locally as ‘the leper path’.

Scott largely rebuilt the chancel, and in doing so reinserted the original lancets (for which sufficient evidence remained within the walls). The east window is 15th century. But the joy of the chancel is its memorials, in both stone and brass, to the Shelley family – distant relatives of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Most impressive is the complete floor brass to John Shelley (d. 1526) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John de Michelgrove, in front of the communion rail. It has beautifully preserved 3ft high effigies, albeit in a rather simplistic style, heraldic shields and a representation of the Trinity, with God the Father seated behind a crucified Christ and a dove. Brass rubbing can be arranged on payment of a fee.

On the south wall are two more sets of brasses to the Shelley family: John Shelley (d. 1550) and his wife Mary Fitzwilliam, and their twelve children; and another to his son, John, shown kneeling in armour with his wife, son and daughter. Opposite is a recessed tomb, with carved figures of Sir William Shelley (d. 1548) and his wife Alice, and their fourteen children – seven sons and seven daughters, one of whom is shown as a nun. Sir William was a judge and is shown in legal costume, with a hood, and entertained Henry VIII at nearby Michelgrove House (sadly demolished in the 1870s).

The east wall of the chancel is decorated with tiles by William Morris, in place of a reredos. More figures in a similar style are stencilled in the window recesses. Other furnishings of note include some attractive brass chancel gates, a brass eagle lectern and a heavily carved pulpit, all late Victorian.

The tower contains a ring of three bells, named Jacobus, Catekina and Katerina Margarita. It is thought they were cast in Arundel around 1350, by Alan Rous, the son of one Nicholas le Rous, who moved there in the 1290s.

The church is now part of the larger parish which includes Findon and Patching.

The Street, Clapham Village, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3UU

St John the Divine, Patching

Patching village sits just above a gap in the South Downs, north west of Worthing, and above the glorious sweep of road known as ‘Longfurlong’, now part of the A280. The village has some picture-postcard thatched cottages, and a mediaeval church, dedicated to St John.


The village and church are first mentioned in the Saxon period in 948AD, and again in the Domesday survey, but the present building dates from around 1200. There is an unbroken list of Vicars from 1282 to the present day.

The sequence of building in the church presents something of a mystery, as the fine arches beneath the tower (and the odd orientation of the nave) suggest that this may have been intended as the original crossing. The church was renovated in 1835, 1856 and especially in 1889, when the spire, porch and vestry were added, as well as its rededication to St John the Divine.

The Church

From the outside, the church is typical Sussex: flint walls, stone dressings and a tall, shingled spire, and Early English Gothic lancet windows throughout. Inside, the nave is wide and barn-like, with a magnificent, original roof. But what catches the eye is that the chancel arch of off-centre, with the nave apparently pushed to the left.

Just before the chancel arch to the left is an archway to what is now the north transept, but is actually beneath the tower, and there are also arches to the east and west, all with shafts in classic 13th century style.

The chancel is entered through an impressive Victorian screen, and has two lancets in the East End with a small Oriel window above, and a fine piscina with stiff-leaf capitals. The carved reredos is a modern addition.

Furnishings include a very fine octagonal 15th century font, with quatrefoil panels enclosing rosettes, and a 19th century pulpit incorporating 16th century arabesque panels. On the floor beneath the tower is a fine 18th century memorial, to Mary (d. 1737) and Robert Bushby (1739). Their epitaphs read:

Here Lyes beneath
A Lass deprived of Life
A tender Mother
And a Loveing wife

A faithfull friend
A Father dear
A loveing husband
That lyeth here”

The modern parish includes the nearby church of Clapham and the larger church of Findon, up the Longfurlong road. The church is a Grade I listed building.

The Street, Patching Village, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3XF