Although there has been a church at East Hoathly since the Middle Ages, the bulk of the present building dates only from the 19th century. The one old part is the tower. According to the Victoria County History, ours is one of a number of East Sussex churches which had towers added towards the end of the 15th century or possibly early in the 16th century under the aegis of the Pelham family, and had that family’s badge, the “Pelham Buckle”, carved in the stonework or worked into the window tracery. Architecturally, the church tower is an example of the Perpendicular style. The turret containing its spiral stair extends above the main tower roofline.
The Pelham family were for several centuries the leading family of our parish, and rose to become one of the leading families of the nation. (On the Pelhams, and on the story behind their buckle badge, see our history page.) In the case of our church tower, the Pelham buckle appears at either side of the west door, at the foot of the dripstone moulding (near the lower corners of the picture). It is complemented, within the spandrels (the triangular areas on either side of the arch), by carvings of the Lunsford coat of arms – a chevron between three boars’ heads. When the tower was built, the Lunsfords were another leading local family, living at Old Whyly.
One clue suggesting that the tower date is later rather than earlier lies in a will made by William Lunsford in 1529 and probated in 1531, which left
toward the making of the Steeple of my parish church of Hoathly aforesaid £13 sterling so that the parishioners wholly finish and make up the said steeple … and if the said sum of £13 will not finish the said Steeple then my executors to cause the said Steeple to be finished with the money that shall arise with the profits of my lands– it sounds as though the great families were happy to find the wherewithal, but the parishioners may have been dragging their feet about getting the actual work done.
Still visible on the right-hand side of the doorway is a slit in the stonework made by a bullet fired during a quarrel between 17th-century members of these two families – again, see the history page for details.
Before the 1850s, apart from the tower the Church consisted of a chancel, nave, south porch, and a transept containing the “Halland pews” (doubtless special places reserved for the Pelhams of Halland House).
The watercolour above (artist unknown, from the Sussex Archaeological Society’s Sharpe Collection) is believed to have been painted in 1797, and shows the Church as it then was, from the south-east. The copperplate engraving, of unknown date but before the 1850s, shows the Church from the opposite direction; although the tower is in the foreground, enough is visible behind to show that the building was very different from today.
We know that new pews and a gallery at the west end were installed in 1763. The diarist Thomas Turner in his entry for 20 September 1762 mentions a vestry meeting “to consult on proper ways to raise a sum of money to pay for new-pewing and beautifying the church etc.” (In the event, part of the money was borrowed from a charity but, it seems, never repaid.)
If this work put the church in good physical shape at the time, this did not last. A Bishop’s visitation in 1800 led to a letter complaining that the gallery was “very irregular”, and many repairs were needed to windows, floor, and so on. (The Bishop also pointed out that the parish registers ought to be entered up by the minister, not left to the parish clerk.)
Fifty years later the Church was seen as beyond repair. Except for the tower, it was completely demolished and rebuilt, with a longer nave, two side aisles, and a new chancel. The Church was reconsecrated by Bishop Gilbert in 1856.
One unexpected bonus from the demolition was finding the Norman pillar piscina, which had been used as mere building material in the foundations of the old church. (A piscina is a basin used in pre-Reformation churches for draining the water used to wash the Communion vessels.) The Victoria County History dates our piscina to the 11th or 12th century, and describes the carving as unusually richly ornamented. It now stands in the south-east corner of the sanctuary (the altar area).
According to a man who came to know our Church shortly after the rebuilding, the work was not done well. Henry Topham Clements had been an Army captain (he participated in putting down the Indian Mutiny) before retiring to East Hoathly in 1861, where he became active as a layman in Church affairs. Clements’s notes for a book of memoirs were edited by a friend and printed in Uckfield, under the title Forty Years in a Sussex Village, shortly after his death in 1900. (Clements’s house was Belmont, north of the village.) Many passages in this website draw on Clements’s little book – the copperplate engraving above is reproduced from it. When he came to East Hoathly, Clements tells us, the church
was dreary to a degree. Inside, were the bare walls, no attempt at decoration, no font cover, and the windows and roof letting in the wind and rain. Outside, no gutters or rain-water pipes to carry off the water. There was no vestry, nor any building outside where to put the tools necessary for digging graves, or to keep the fuel for heating the Church. The heating apparatus … was imperfectly laid and gave no warmth, the boiler being cracked before it had been up six years …This was no fault of the Rector’s, who had evidently exhausted himself and his friends in attempts to raise adequate funds for the rebuilding. But, because the money collected was really not enough, no architect was employed. The work was entrusted to local contractors, who made some odd decisions. For instance, they used marble floor slabs that had been memorials to former Rectors in order to re-pave the tower floor. As a result, the feet of the bellringers soon began wearing them away. Nowadays, what remains is protected by carpet, but the result is that nobody can see them. It might have been more respectful, and added to the historical interest of our Church, if instead the slabs had been placed upright against the walls.
It was not until the last quarter of the 19th century that the Church fabric was put properly on its feet. During those years, about as much again was spent on upgrading and refurbishing the Church and its furnishings as the total spent on rebuilding in the 1850s.
In 1874 our organ was acquired, to replace the harmonium previously used for music. This meant that an organ-chamber had to be built, so the opportunity was taken to make a vestry adjoining it. The organ is by Bevington & Sons of Soho; it was altered and improved in 1899.
The names of organ stops are a kind of music in themselves. Some of ours are: Open Diapason, Claribel, Dulciana, and Flute Harmonique in the Great Organ register, and Bourdon, Double Diapason, Lieblich Gedeckt, Cor Anglais, and Vox Celeste in the Swell.
Plans are currently (2007) in hand to renovate the organ.
The year after the organ arrived, the church acquired its present clock.
The previous clock began life as the Halland House stable clock. When that house was demolished in the 18th century (see the history page) the clock was given to the Church. It had only an hour hand; it did not strike; and it had to be wound daily. A Mr Vine, living at least a mile from the Church, was paid one pound a year to come each day, climb the turret stairs, and wind the clock; he repaired it as best he could when it broke down. By about 1863 it was beyond Mr Vine’s ability to keep it going.
Capt. Clements set out to raise money to replace the clock, but gave up after a rebuff from the first person he approached: “We don’t want a striking clock. Why, the men will be leaving off work at half past four to listen for it to strike five!” Clements’s wry comment was “I did not at that time know the Sussex folk as well as I do now”.
However, the widow of General Kemp (an officer of the old, pre-Mutiny, East India Company army), who lived at Spring Lodge in East Hoathly, left money in her will for a new clock, as well as for a stained-glass window near her regular pew – the two-light window at the east end of the south aisle. (The Kemps’ son, also a soldier, was killed in the Indian Mutiny; there is a marble memorial to him on the chancel wall.) By chance, Mrs Kemp died at about the same time as the bells required repair, so clock and bells were dealt with together in 1875. The new clock was by Moores’ of Clerkenwell, London. Capt. Clements remarked that after 25 years, with regular servicing by the manufacturer, it had never gained or lost more than three minutes.
The year 1885 saw the creation of what is probably, for many visitors, the most striking component of the Church decoration. This is the mosaic in pre-Raphaelite style, covering the entire east wall of the chancel, and centring on the figures of the four Archangels: Gabriel, Uriel, Michael, and Raphael.
The mosaic was made by the glassmakers James Powell & Sons of Whitefriars, London. This company was Britain’s longest-running glass house, and according to at least one connoisseur by far the best. Later renamed Whitefriars Glass, when the factory finally ceased production in 1980 it was using the slogan “300 years of glass making”. In the late 19th century when they made our mosaic, the company were closely associated with distinguished artists of the time, including Edward Burne-Jones, William De Morgan, and William Morris.
The mosaic was commissioned in memory of the Rev. Frederick Borradaile and his wife Demetia, who lived at Hesmonds in East Hoathly, by their children.
After the death of the younger Rector Langdale in 1882, his friends and parishioners had subscribed to put up our lych-gate in his memory. Then in 1892 his children memorialized him further by donating our oak pulpit on its stone base; and at this time various other furnishings were donated. The wrought iron and copper screen was erected in front of the organ, new altar rails were provided, and several memorial windows were installed. All this work was dedicated in February 1893.
Although the stained glass windows, which memorialize various parishioners, are modern rather than mediaeval, they are a particularly good collection. Capt. Clements felt that “few country churches possess a finer set of windows”. Most were made in the 1880s and 1890s by Shrigley & Hunt of Lancaster – the exception being the one paid for by Mrs Kemp’s bequest mentioned above, which is by Clayton & Bell of Regent Street, London. The east window, seen in the picture above surrounded by the Archangels Mosaic, depicts the Call of the Apostles and was erected in 1883 in memory of Charles Stuart Rickett.
In 1901 the Clergy Vestry and the oak screen in the east arch of the tower were erected in memory of Capt. Clements. At this time, too, box pews were replaced by the present bench pews. The black and white photograph shows the church interior just before removal of the box pews. (Today, the Clergy Vestry is used not only for church purposes but also for meetings of East Hoathly with Halland Parish Council.)
In 1990 the nave and chancel were seriously affected by subsidence caused by ground water. When repairs were undertaken, traces were found of an early crypt, and of a tunnel entrance. It is interesting to note that there was a village tradition about a tunnel between the Church and Halland House. Readers must judge the plausibility of this for themselves: the two are half a mile apart.
Originally our churchyard was surrounded by a post-and-rail fence. Maintaining this fence was the responsibility of parish landowners, with the length of fence proportional to the area of land owned. The lengths were marked off by initials carved on the posts. These “church marks” gave their name to Church Marks Lane, on which the Church stands.
The earliest gravestone is that of the Rev. Haworth, who died in 1718. This was originally not in the churchyard but in the floor of the tower.
The graves of the diarist Thomas Turner (see the History page) and members of his family are at the north-east corner of the Church, near the Rectory.
Gravestones of an unusual style were produced by the stonemason Jonathan Harmer, who lived nearby at Heathfield in the early 19th century. These have terra cotta bas-reliefs set into the stone. Our churchyard has two Harmer stones, and a modern imitation made by a local potter.
In 1890 the then Rector decided to permit cast-iron grave markers without the normal fee payable for erecting gravestones. There are now three of these markers (originally painted white) in the churchyard, though not in their original positions.
Two areas have been set aside for wildlife conservation. Over the years two species of orchid have appeared – the early purple and the lesser spotted; there are many varieties of heather and wild flowers. Fauna regularly seen include moths and butterflies, notably the burnet moth and the yellow brimstone and meadow brown butterflies, together with slow-worms and grass snakes.
Those wishing to visit graves might be interested in a paperback book, In Loving Memory, compiled by Jane Seabrook at the request of a former Rector. This contains a comprehensive catalogue of the graves and memorial inscriptions in the churchyard and inside the church, with location maps and in some cases brief notes on the deceased. Copies of In Loving Memory are available for sale from the author, tel. (01825) 840263.
To mark the Millennium, Wealden District Council devised a Parish Map Project, designed to record the various societies and activities of Wealden parishes. In East Hoathly the Parish Council asked Mrs Peggy Cottingham to lead this effort, and the decision was taken to create a new set of church kneelers with appropriate designs. These are in regular use today. On the right are shown Mrs Hilary Osman and her daughter Amy working on the C. of E. Parish School kneeler during summer 1999. (Amy Osman is a former pupil of the school.)
The lower illustration shows three of
the finished kneelers,
celebrating the Recorder Group, the Tennis Club,
and the Scallywags Pre-School Group.
Mrs Marianne Randall, then one of our churchwardens and heavily involved in the kneeler project, also painted a Millennium Map, recording some of the properties which are part of the Conservation Area at the heart of East Hoathly with Halland parish. (The Millennium Map has since been taken out of the parish.)
The same team later embroidered long kneelers for the use of the congregation when at the sanctuary rail taking communion, with designs commemorating Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, together with a beautifully-decorated two-person kneeler for use at weddings. These new kneelers were dedicated in May 2007.
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