It was beginning to get dark when we arrived at this beautiful church, however a man sweeping leaves from the church path allowed me in to photograph the interior. Sadly the pictures of the stained glass weren't great due to the low light levels outside.
The church was originally built in the early 12th century, and is included in a list in the year 1121 of those churches given to the Priory of St Pancras in Lewes.
The most striking feature of this church is the round tower, there are only two others in Sussex, namely St Michael's, Lewes and Southease. It has been suggested that the reason for the round towers is that flint was plentiful and dressed or cut stone for the quoins needed for a square tower was expensive and scarce. The tower, surmounted by a wooden shingled octagonal spire is topped by a wind vane in the shape of a large gilded fish. Its origin is not known, but it replaced an earlier one shaped like a flag or pennant. The fish was certainly on the tower in 1882, and Rudyard Kipling mentioned it in his poem "Sussex" in 1902 when he wrote:
"where windy Piddinghoe's begilded dolphin veers"
presumably some poetic licence being enjoyed here as the fish is nothing like a dolphin, more a salmon or trout! Interestingly Alciston church also has a fish on the spire.
The tower contains three bells, these were last restored to use when they were re-hung in 1982. Two of the bells were cast in the 13th or early 14th century. All three were re-cast in 1713. The treble and second are without inscriptions, while the tenor is inscribed:
"IOHN SMITH IOHN x BLONDVN x CW x SK x1713"
The original building was much smaller than that seen today; consisting of a flint tower and nave without the aisles or chancel. It is probably the expansion began in the middle of the 12th century. First openings were made in the north wall of the nave and rounded Norman arches, lined with chalk blocks, were formed. The same process was followed on the south, although an extra bay was included and gothic style arches were employed (just coming into fashion in the latter part of the 12th century). Thus North and south aisles were added to the nave. In later times the the south aisle was demolished, although it was rebuilt in the general restoration of 1882.
The chancel's earliest elements are 13th century, particularly the chancel arch and the central section of the east wall. The round window, or oculus, and the deeply recessed lancet windows feature on the east wall. The glass in the chancel was executed by Messrs. Powell of Whitefriars, London. In particular the gable window is composed in Pre-Raphaelite style.
North and south chancel aisles were built at the same time as the rest of the chancel but suffered later demolition. Extensive restoration of the arches in the chancel was necessary when the chancel aisles were rebuilt in 1882.
By the late 19th century the church was in a poor condition, and it was decided to restore the building to its previous size and layout. The church was closed for some months. The foundations of the old aisles were discovered. On their completion a porch was added. Much other stonework needed replacement and Caen stone was used internally and Bath stone externally. The tower was re-pointed and the spire re-shingled. The nave was partly and the chancel completely re-roofed.
The font is 13th century and during the 1882 work was moved from the west end of the nave to its present position in the south aisle. It is carved from green sandstone known as Eastbourne rock. The cover was given by the Sunday School in 1905.
The organ also dates from the 1882 restoration and is made by Mr Brown of Deal in Kent and was completely overhauled in 1983.
The modern window shown below is in the west end wall of the north aisle. It was donated in 1983 in memory of Dr Elizabeth Holmes who lived in the village for some years. It was designed by Marguerite Douglas-Thompson, of Lewes and its theme is the movement from darkness to light around a jewel like centre.
The remaining stained glass windows were installed in the restoration of 1882. Those in the north show events in the life of Jesus.
The windows in the south aisle depict the twelve apostles. These two sets of windows were made in Newcastle by Messrs. Wailes and Strang.
The glass in the chancel was executed by Messrs. Powell of Whitefriars, London. In particular the gable window is composed in Pre-Raphaelite style.
The church registers are kept in the County Records Office in Lewes and date from 1540 (baptisms), 1555 (marriages) and 1592 (burials).
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