The parish church of Berwick has stood for over 1000 years on this site. This is the view of the present church from the south. It was built about the middle of the 12th century. The one remaining church bell, dated 1626, bears the inscription "William Thomas, Anthony Jordan, Henry Wilmer made mee." A small ship's bell, inscribed 1781, was purchased from a wreck at Seaford in 1811. Note: Owing to a shortage of funds to repair the steeple, Berwick church sold one of its bells to Alfriston Church in 1811.
Bishop Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1957 was keen to forge a close association between the church and the Arts, and was keen for the present generations of artists to add contributions to the historic legacy of the past. Wall painting is a long tradition in Sussex churches, and St Michael's provided an opportunity to re-introduce the practice. Many of the building's windows had been destroyed by wartime bombs and the Bishop decided to replace them with plain glass and wall paintings rather than expensive leaded glass which stood the risk of being damaged again. His foresight proved itself because later a flying bomb removed the chancel roof, half the nave roof and the side windows!
A friend of the Bishop, Sir Charles Reilly, a famous architect, suggested Duncan Grant should be asked to paint the murals. At the time he was living with Vanesssa Bell and her children, Quentin and Angelica, at Charleston, and old farmhouse near Firle Beacon and close to Berwick. Duncan agreed the commission and produced a scheme for the complete decoration of the church in which Vanessa B ell and Quentin and Angelica would all cooperate.
Work on the murals started in 1941 after some dissent from local people and was completed in 1942. They are painted on plaster board, enabling the artists to paint in their own studio in Charleston. They were fixed to the walls of the church in January 1943 and were dedicated by the bishop in October 1943. Further murals were added later.
Here is the view from the nave towards the chancel arch. The vivid paintings which characterise this church are much in evidence. To the left of the arch are kneeling figures of a soldier (Douglas Hemming, killed at Caen in 1944), a kneeling sailor (Mr Weller) and an airman (Mr Humphry). To the right is the Bishop of Chichester with the Rector of Berwick (The Rev. George Mitchell) as Chaplain. On the chancel screen are depicted the Four Seasons, Dawn and Sunset by Duncan Grant.
The figures of Mary and St John below the crucified Christ on top of the screen were given by Alban Roe in memory of his mother. These figures were originally in the chapel of the Duxhurst Estate, founded by Lady Henry Somerset for the care of inebriated ladies. Albert Roe was chaplain there from 1922-1928.
This is the painting on the wall over the chancel arch, Christ in Glory by Duncan Grant. All images of the murals have been electronically corrected for perspective distortion.
Below is the painting of the nativity on the north wall of the nave by Vanessa Bell. The barn depicted is a Sussex barn at Tilton, in the background is Mount Caburn near Lewes, and a Pyecombe Crook, a Southdown lamb and Sussex trug are included. Two local shepherds were asked to model as well as the artists' gardener, the son of their housekeeper and two sons of the shepherds.
The south wall has this depiction of The Annunciation by Vanessa Bell. Angelica Bell and her friend Chattie Salaman were used as models for this picture.
Here is the east window which is memory of Rev. Edward Boys Elmann M.A. Oxon, Curate of Berwick 1838-1844, Vicar of Wartling 1844-1846 and Rector of Berwick 1846-1906 and died 22nd February 1906 aged 90.
Here are the chancel windows depicting St Wilfrid, St Richard of Chichester and St Dunstan all in memory of John Walker M.A. Oxon, Priest, who was Rector of Littlington 1895-1902 and son in law of Edward Ellman (mentioned above) who died on 4th December 1909 aged 70. I particularly like the colouring in St Dunstan's robes.
This window depicting Dorcas and Phoebe is in the eastern end of the south transept, where a Lady Chapel has been consecrated as a memorial to the late Rev. Albert Roe, Rector of Berwick from 1928-1934. The window is in memory of Georgina Frances Ellman, wife of Edward Ellman (mentioned above in respect of the east window) who died 21 November 1896 aged 79.
The font is very ancient, it belonged to the "Conquest" Church (making it over 900 years old), and was not moved when materials of that church were used on the newer building. The 12th century pillar is shaped to the font, which is so far in the wall that the priest must baptise facing west.
In 1986 an appeal was launched to raise money for a new organ. During 1987 the organ was constructed and installed in the base of the tower by John Makes from Polegate, who cleverly incorporated woodwork and pipes from other old organs, thus ensuring the instrument fitted its surroundings.
The pulpit is strikingly painted. Originally there were three panels by Vanessa Bell depicting three Archangels. There were destroyed by vandals in 1962 but replaced by flower and fruit pictures by Duncan Grant to designs by Angelica Bell.
This final photo is of the north side of the church.
Information on this page was retrieved from information on display in the church and from the excellent church guide available in the church.
Visitors to this album since June 2003
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