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