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 Glynd┼Ár, 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