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

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