Main Index

A trip to West Sussex

The 16th October, a Monday morning and I got up early as I had an appointment with a fellow ChurchCrawler Tom in Sussex. Why can't I get up and out of the house like this when I go to work? I was heading for the M4 at Bath by 0750, and the weather seemed set fair. High up near Bath and again at Hungerford there was fog, but not too bad. I plunged south to Winchester, turned off the A34 towards Petersfield and drove in the clouds or so it seemed. Signposts suddenly appeared, as did bends in the road, which if it were not for my electronic mate Tim navigating may have been more of a surprise. Rendezvous point South Harting at 1030, I got there at 1001.

St Mary & St Gabriel, SOUTH HARTING

The church emerged from the mists as I got near to the top of the little High Street. This is supposed to be in the South Downs, a group of hills, but I had not yet seen a hill. I was to discover is a large church by local standards. The fog swirled around the apex of the crossing steeple which oddly has a tiled south face. On this side too ruins of a chapel. Cobwebs were picked out clearly by the water droplets in the mist.

The interior was rather gloomy - the fog wasn't helping here either - but the chancel perverseley seemed to be better lit and has the most amazing Elizabethan roof. Also of note is the Victorian spiral staircase in the north transept which hopefully will not be swept away in the plans which the parish have for meeting rooms etc. although this extension will be in the most prominent of positions externally, facing towards the top of the High Street.

The monuments in the south transept hint of former splendour as well as a previous setting for all. None seem to be in theri original format and a couple seem to have been outside at some stage - perhaps in the chapel.

Tom arrived at 1014 and we were then greeted (or made to jump) by the loud bongs on the bells by the clock striking the quarter-hour. I liked his approach as we did not linger as I had "seen it all". I left my car outside for the day as Tom guided me to his personal choice of splendours for the day which I was to adjust ever so slightly. He also knew of a childhood ambition I needed to satisfy.......

 St Mary, NORTH MARDEN
has to be the antithesis of Harting, a Norman single cell building with rounded end, a south porch and a small bell turret. It has an ugly farmyard for company and a narrow path to the churchyard which was very cobwebby for someone of my height.
And that is it, probably much restored details-wise, and the only addition being the overlarge C13 piscina which breaks up the rhythm of the apse. Sounds dull, well yes it is dull as architecture, but this was to be a day of feelings, emotion, as these churches get "under the skin". This was really the first of many.
St Michael, UP MARDEN

is much larger, and a building which seems to have something from every time despite being nearly entirely C13. I am not making sense I feel, but that's just it - the church feels organic, unrestored - yet it has been restored but when needed rather than all at once, repaired, made do and mend. It appears to have a bell turret at the west end of the nave - but no, this is the remains of an actual west tower, or a tower which was never finished.

 
Inside all is whitened and there is a sense of just having enough seating for what is required, the benches arranged in all sorts of order, a pew here a bench there a chair here - nothing really matches. A faded St Christopher can be seen on the north wall, and there is a jarring Victorian stone Perp pulpit, jarring in its perfectness rather than not fitting in here. Then there is the biggest puzzle, the failing pointed chancel arch has been reinforced by partly filling in with a Saxon chancel arch........the explanation seems to be that it came from the demolished church at West Marden, already disused in the late C16. No stained glass, no electricity, but lots of flowers. And outside the mists were beginning to clear.  
St Peter, EAST MARDEN

is everything that Up Marden is not i.e. restored, gone over, and rather anaethestised. Pretty setting, a long single cell EE church which did not detain us long. The best bit is the Organ, from St James Palace and reputedly much played by Prince Albert.

The picture also shows the village well, making a nice group with the church.

St Mary, STOUGHTON
appeared to be back in the fog but was actually being covered like we were when we approached with choking smoke from the neighbouring garden's bonfire. The church was locked but according to the apologetic sign only because of rewiring in progress - workmen nowhere to be seen though! This looked interesting from outside so it was a disappointment for me and I mentally added it to a list to revisit.
We adjourned to the village pub for lunch. The food was not the usual fayre, and was enjoyed by us both along with some excellent ale.
St Mary, FUNTINGDON
 
was not on Tom's itinary but I persuaded him to stop! Here too is a large medieval church heavily restored by the Victorians, but with real aplomb! It is sad the architect is not recorded as the chancel and its arcades are high quality work. The glass too in the east triple lancets is wonderful quality work of (d)1865. Part of the north aisle is currently demolished as the village is building a complex of community rooms onto the western end of the aisle.  
St Andrew, WEST STOKE
is uncommonly photogenic, consisting of a nave and lower chancel with low south porch tower, all rather restored sadly but with the most splendid and touching "kneelers" monument of 1635. Husband (Adrian Stoughton) and wife kneel facing each other with a family group below. They had 16 children, two sons and five daughters are shown and named below, four of the girls carrying skulls showing they pre-deceased the parents. The remaining children died in infancy meaning only the two sons and one daughter survived the parents.  
Priory Church of St Mary & St Blaise, BOXGROVE
 
has been on my list to visit for over 40 years and it did not disappoint. The first thing you see is the gaunt ruin of the Guest House, which along with the frontageentrance to the vanished chapter house is the only remaining parts of the domestic buildings. The large (for Sussex) priory church has lost most of its Norman nave and S aisle, but the north wall of the nave with blank arcade and much of the south arcade still stands. What survives as the church in use today is the east two bays of the nave and aisle, the crossing, transepts and the sensational EE choir and aisles. It is in fact smaller than it appeared in photos to me and is close to prefection in my eyes. I could have spent two hours here easily - perhaps we were here an hour or so, Tom waiting patiently as I adsorbed the building into my mind.

 

St Mary, UP WALTHAM

 

In a day of contrasts it was a return to the humble for the next church. It stands in a field, probably Norman, nave and lower apsidal chancel, south porch. Again zero architecture but great atmosphere. Flowers everywhere, and sadly (?) now with electricity; Nairn - BoE - found only candles. Just installed this year in September (to much fanfare in the porch) the Millenium Window at the west end of nave, Tom and I agreed that whatever it cost it was a disappointing result. Largely plain glass with some butterflies, swallows and flower transfers stuck on (or that's how it appeared). I forget the artist, she is unlikely to get a commission from us I can tell you though! I liked the piscina in the apse, a hollowed-out Norman capital.

Church (Dedication Unknown),BURTON

  Tom was enboldened with me there to drive up the private drive to seek out a church he had never been to before. It was well worth the trespass. A small nave and chancel with turret, the door opening to reveal a delightful interior packed with interesting features.

 
Three major monuments, two with brasses under canopies, the third with a diminutive effigy of a LADY (I came over all "Little Britain" then......sorry). On the window splay behind the monument on the north wall is a wall painting showing a female martyr crucified upside down; the wall opposite has a large mural of the Royal Arms of Charles 1st 1636. Perp screen, painted tympanum and all seemingly unrestored. 
St James, SELHAM
 
a late Saxon, early Norman two-celled church with a later transeptal south chapel rebuilt as a Victorian aisle. Despite this age there is little of interest - EXCEPT that is for the chancel arch. I felt his must surely have come from elsewhere - Chichester? But it seems not. It has two absurdly large and over-ornamented Saxon capitals, that on the south with serpents treated like interlace work.  
St Andrew, DIDLING
With light beginning to fail we hurtled onwards to reach Tom's last intended target. Against the escarpment of the South Downs, this is another church which seems to have just evolved. The recent repainting of the exterior is a little harsh but step inside and the church embraces the senses. (And yes smell too, thanks to the Harvest loaves still on display!). The pews are stained black, but parts must be C13. Ancient roof beams and battered font (filled with water!) contrast with the more upmarket Communion Rails and three sided Jacobean pulpit.  
Back to South Harting and I could see the hills! 12 churches, 11 open, the 12th shut with regret. A knowledgable and entertaining guide too made the day, and two new churches for him too was I hope some reward for his kind guidance and transportation.

page created 27th October 2005