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Our Parish Church in History

Pagan East Hoathly

Sussex, the land of the South Saxons, was the smallest of the seven kingdoms (the Heptarchy) into which England was divided in the Dark Ages, and it was also the last corner of the country to become Christian. Sussex was still pagan almost a century after Augustine brought Christianity to Canterbury.

Indeed, East Hoathly is known to have contained a site of pagan worship: a local name still bears witness to the fact. Whyly, north-west of the village, nowadays refers to a large house (in modern times called “Old Whyly”); but the name Whyly derives from an Old English phrase meaning “temple clearing”, or “shrine clearing” – implying a heathen shrine. We know nothing in detail about the pagan rituals at Whyly; comparison with better-known sites suggests that they will have involved human sacrifice, and other activities better left undiscussed here.

The coming of St Wilfrid

Sussex was converted to the Christian faith some time in the 680s, by St Wilfrid. Wilfrid was bishop of York; at the Synod of Whitby in 664, when England was faced with the choice between Roman and Celtic versions of Christianity, Wilfrid had been the spokesman for the Roman side (which of course won the debate). In consequence of a quarrel with the king of Northumbria, though, he found himself ejected from his see. He came as a missionary to the South Saxons.

At this time, we are told by the Venerable Bede, there was such famine in Sussex that groups of inhabitants would link hands and throw themselves off cliffs or drown themselves in the sea rather than face slow death by starvation.

Wilfrid solved the practical problem of famine by teaching the South Saxons how to use nets to fish in the sea. At the same time, he preached the Gospel, with its injunction that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. No more human sacrifice.

Wilfrid’s success as a missionary was helped by the fact that the king and queen of Sussex had both already been baptized elsewhere. (Queen Eafa had been a princess in Christian Mercia.)

Bede offers us a pious story about the happy consequences of the mass conversion. Drought had reigned in Sussex for three years, but

on the very day on which the people received the baptism of faith, a gentle but ample rain fell; the earth revived, the fields once more became green, and a happy and fruitful season followed.

Wilfrid founded his bishopric at Selsey. (After the Norman Conquest, the new rulers wanted sees to be in urban centres where the authorities could keep an eye on things. So in 1075 our bishopric moved to Chichester, where it has remained. It would have had to move from Selsey eventually; Wilfrid’s church is now under the sea.)

Here we see Wilfrid in a window at Chichester Cathedral, with his net full of fish. The seal is because “Selsey” comes from the Old English for “seal island”. (Perhaps the artist was also thinking about Padda the pet seal in Rudyard Kipling’s Sussex children’s stories – but Padda was only a piece of twentieth-century whimsy.)

Not long after Wilfrid had begun his mission to the South Saxons, in 685, the Kingdom of Sussex was conquered by Cædwalla, who was about to become King of Wessex; Cædwalla killed the Sussex king Æthelwalh, and Sussex was absorbed into the larger kingdom. Cædwalla was a bloodthirsty man and a pagan. If he refused to recognize the land grants Æthelwalh had made to Wilfrid, the mission would be over. But in the event, Cædwalla confirmed the grants Wilfrid had received, and added more land; Wilfrid and his helpers were able to go on Christianizing Sussex. (Thirteen centuries later, here we still are Sunday after Sunday in consequence.)

Below, we see a picture of this crucial event in the history of our Church, part of a mural by Lambert Barnard commissioned by Bishop Robert Sherburne in the early sixteenth century and located in the south transept of Chichester Cathedral. On the left is Wilfrid with his followers; on the right the new king. Wilfrid is saying (on the blue scroll) Da servis dei locum habitationis propter deum, Give the servants of God a place to live for the sake of God (or it could mean …a place to live close to God). Cædwalla replies by touching a book with the inscription Fiat sicut petitur, Let the request be granted.

When the South Saxons had finally accepted Christianity, they became so loyal to the faith that the land became known as “Selig Sussex”, holy Sussex. (In later centuries the phrase was misunderstood as “Silly Sussex”.)

Cædwalla confirming land grants to St Wilfrid – from the Lambert Barnard mural in Chichester Cathedral

The beginning of our church

We do not know when a church was first built at East Hoathly. Very little is known about the early history of our village. It is not mentioned in Domesday Book – our sister parish of Chiddingly is one of very few places in this part of Sussex to be recorded there. Our area was in the heart of the Sussex “Weald” or forest, and it must have counted as extremely remote in the early Middle Ages. Domesday Book focused chiefly on land that was usable for agriculture. Perhaps a mere clearing in the woods had too little tax-gathering potential to interest King William’s commissioners. (The name “Hoathly” derives from Old English hath-leah, heathery clearing.)

One consequence of the obscurity of the early history is that, if our church was given a dedication when it was founded, we do not know what it was. Most churches are dedicated to a saint or other sacred entity – Heathfield has St Richard’s, Uckfield has Holy Cross Church, and so on. Our church is simply “East Hoathly Parish Church”. (This distinction, if it is a distinction, is shared with our sister church at Chiddingly, but there is only one other parish without a known dedication in the Diocese of Chichester.)

We have a list of past Rectors, with dates. It begins with “Robert de Terring”, 1287. But the list is unlikely to be complete for the early period. It continues with Philip de Vere, 1289, and then John de Horton, 1365. Even at a period before compulsory retirement ages, it is not easy to believe that the same man could have held the living for 76 years. Doubtless there were Rectors between Philip de Vere and John de Horton, and also earlier Rectors before Robert de Terring.

Indeed, one piece of evidence suggests that the church must have been founded earlier. Although the oldest part of the present building goes back only to about 1500, the piscina by the altar (see our building and contents page) is dated by the style of the carving to the 11th or 12th century.

The main period of parish-church foundation in Sussex was shortly before and shortly after the Norman Conquest. Most parish churches which existed in the later Middle Ages had already been founded by the death of William the Conqueror. The piscina fits in with that. But we shall never know anything exact under this heading.

Footnotes to events

If “history” means great historical events, of course our Church has none – in a remote Sussex village you would not expect it. Apart from changes to the building, dealt with on our building and contents page, what actually happened here down the centuries was what happens week in, week out today: worship of God, according to the customs of the respective period, and associated social activities.

But now and again our Church is linked by some tiny footnote to larger national events. Most people enjoy finding connexions between familiar local places and famous historical themes, so it would be a pity not to include these links in what follows.

The earliest date for which the record mentions anything specific other than a Rector’s name was 1303, when one Henry de Garland endowed a chantry at our Church. Before the Reformation, a chantry was an arrangement under which a wealthy man provided money, the income from which paid a priest to say masses for his soul in perpetuity after he died. But, by 1321, Henry had become Dean of Chichester Cathedral, and transferred the chantry to its Lady Chapel – so it never took effect at East Hoathly.

Gossip about Templars

Slightly juicier is a piece of gossip relating to a nasty piece of mediaeval power politics, the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1308.

The Knights Templar were one of the crusading orders of chivalry, who became effective rulers of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem that was established after the success of the Third Crusade. The Order drew its income from landholdings in various places in Europe, including several in Sussex. At the beginning of the 14th century, King Philip IV of France decided to suppress the Order. Things had gone disastrously in the Holy Land: after Saracens overthrew the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, finally withdrew in 1301. The best guess about King Philip’s motive is that he wanted the glory of leading a new Crusade himself: abolishing the Templars and seizing their property would give him the resources and infrastructure to do it. So he accused the Order of heresy and abominable secret practices. The accusations were pure fiction; but French Templars were tortured until they admitted guilt, and if they defended themselves or their Order this was deemed to aggravate the offence – there was no escape. (Jacques de Molay was eventually burned at the stake at Paris in 1314. In the picture we see King Philip inspecting his victims.)

Philip put the Pope, Clement V, in an awkward position. Jacques de Molay happened to be a Frenchman, but the Templars were subordinate to the Pope. No one country’s king had the right to decide their fate – but Philip had. So, to preserve the appearance of authority, Pope Clement adopted Philip’s action as his own, and required kings throughout Christendom to follow suit. Edward II of England did not believe the accusations against the Templars, and none were tortured here; but he was not in a position to disobey the Pope’s instructions, so evidence had to be assembled to make a case against the Templars.

It must have been clear, to Templars and to those who had dealings with them, that bad-mouthing the Order would now be a good career move. And so we find, for instance, that a Sussex Templar, Richard de Kocfeld

said that John de Borne, confessor to Earl Warenne, said that he had ruined his soul by joining the Order, while he further related that Walter, Rector of Hoathly, had told him that he had heard that a certain Templar had said there was one article of the oath of admission which he could never reveal to any living creature.

It would not stand up in a modern law-court. But in the 14th century it helped to do the business.

(It should be said that we cannot know that “Hoathly” was our parish rather than West Hoathly – neither now has a record of a Walter at that period. And no, King Philip never had his Crusade. The Pope transferred the Templars’ property to another Order, not to him. And in 1314 Philip died.)

Pelhams and Lunsfords

The two great families of our parish, for centuries, were the Pelhams of Halland and the Lunsfords of Whyly. As discussed on our building and contents page, both families are represented heraldically in the stonework of the oldest part of the Church.

The Pelhams were lords of the manor of Laughton, which included our parish – so, under the mediaeval manorial system, they owned the land of the village, or most of it. They traced their descent to Sir John de Pelham, who as a young man distinguished himself at the Battle of Poitiers (1356) in the Hundred Years’ War. He participated in capturing the French King, Jean II. This was said to be the origin of the Pelham badge, a pair of buckles. The story ran that older knights divided up the king’s kit between them, and then realized that young Pelham had got nothing: “Give the lad the sword buckles”, someone said, and after that the Pelhams used a pair of buckles with broken thongs as their badge.

It should be said that some historians believe this was all a romantic invention of later times. Whether or not, the Pelham buckle is widely seen in Sussex. The Pelhams displayed buckles alone, as on our tower doorway, or they placed a buckle at either side of their shield of three pelicans, or they combined the buckles with the pelicans on the shield – the inn-sign of the Pelham Arms inn on Lewes High Street does both of these.

The original seat of the Pelhams was Laughton Place. In 1557 Sir Nicholas Pelham bought land in our parish from a family called Hall (Halland is “Hall’s Land”); one writer suggests that the Pelhams saw it as healthier to move away from the low-lying, damp environs of Laughton Place. His son Sir Thomas Pelham built the house, moving in by 1595 – a datestone with that date has been incorporated into the farmhouse, Halland Park Farm, now on the site. (Sir Thomas became one of the first baronets, when James I created that novel title.) Tax records for 1662 imply that Halland House was the grandest house in the Rape of Pevensey.

(In fact, though the house was named after Halland in our parish, it was exactly on the parish boundary between us and Laughton – the line ran through the front door. At one time there was a question about which parish was responsible for a live-in servant there who had fallen on hard times, and it turned out that his room, and indeed his bed, were in both parishes. The poor-law officers took legal advice, and in the end the head end of the bed decided which parish got him.)

Halland House from the north-west – S.H. Grimm, 1783

The Lunsfords were originally a Battle family, which along some lines of descent counted Plantagenet kings among their ancestors. William Lunsford came to live at Whyly some time in the 15th century, and married Cecily, daughter of Sir John Pelham – this must have been the son of the hero of Poitiers: the younger Sir John was an influential figure at the court of Henry IV.

Our Church doorway displays the Lunsfords’ shield of a chevron between boars’ heads – shown here in their correct colours of gold on blue.

We know that William Lunsford was keenly concerned with the fate of his immortal soul. His will, dated 1529 and probated in 1531, specified:

I will that my executors have, or cause to be said or sung, a trental of masses [that is, a set of thirty masses] for my soul the day of my burying if there may be gotten so many priests, and if there lack of a trental the same day, then to have so many masses as lacketh to be said for my soul before the month-day. Item I will that a trental of masses be said for me at Scala Coeli [a chapel at Westminster, much in demand with seekers of indulgences because it had a special link to the Pope] … Item I will that my executors find and assign a priest to sing or say masses for my soul one whole year incontinent [i.e. immediately] after my decease …

– this must have been one of the last occasions when a chantry was created, just a few years before the Reformation ended masses for the souls of the dead.

The Lunsfords’ home Whyly as it is today

Roaring Lunsford

Best known of the Lunsfords was the hot-headed Sir Thomas Lunsford (1611–1653), who left his mark on our church in the most literal sense. He was convicted in 1632 of poaching Pelham deer, and fined the enormous sums for those days of £1000 to the King and £750 to Sir Thomas Pelham. (There seems to have been pre-existing bad blood between the two, which led Pelham to press for the strongest possible penalties.) Next year Lunsford tried to take out his resentment by shooting Sir Thomas Pelham as he came out of church. He missed – but a slit made by the bullet is still visible in the stonework on the south side of the west doorway, already described above. It is a theatrically neat arrangement: here are the Lunsford arms, there the Pelham buckles, and this is the mark of the bullet used by the former to try to kill the latter!

Lunsford was arrested for attempted murder, but managed to escape from Newgate Prison to the Continent. (His father was convicted of conspiring with him to murder Pelham, and died in the Fleet Prison.) Sir Thomas stayed abroad for many years, fighting in the French service (the Thirty Years War was devastating Germany and adjacent countries at the time); meanwhile he was convicted in absentia, fined £8000, and outlawed. But as the Civil War loomed in England he secured a royal pardon by putting his military abilities at the disposal of Charles I. He was even briefly made Governor of the Tower of London, and he campaigned at length on the Royalist side in the war. He became known as “Roaring Lunsford”.

(There was clearly little love lost between Lunsfords and Pelhams, so it was less awkward than it might have been that the Pelhams were for Parliament. When the Pelhams arrived at our church on the day of the shooting, their family party had actually included Anthony Stapley, one of the men who was to sign Charles I’s death warrant in 1648.)

Sir Thomas Lunsford seems to have epitomized the “dashing cavalier”. Some have suggested that he and two of his brothers were the men that Alexandre Dumas had in mind as the originals of the Three Musketeers.

When the Royalist cause was lost the Lunsfords sold up and emigrated to Virginia. Old Whyly was rebuilt by new owners in the 18th century. (It now functions as a country house hotel.)

A word of explanation is needed for why the Lunsfords’ old house, Whyly, is nowadays called Old Whyly. Long after the Lunsfords had left, the Whyly Estate belonged a family called Campbell-Johnstone, who built themselves a new and larger house on another part of the estate at Easons Green, completed in 1902, which they called New Whyly. Mr Campbell-Johnstone was both Churchwarden and Treasurer for our Church for many years.

In the 20th century New Whyly had a succession of owners – prior to the D-Day invasion it was requisitioned for use by the Canadian Army. Since 1971 it has been the Pilgrim Hall Christian Trust, a 52-bedroom hotel and conference centre, with a throughput of some 13,000 people a year representing churches, Christian teaching organizations, and international missionary societies. The current director of Pilgrim Hall is Michael Lee, one of our present Churchwardens.

The Reformation in Sussex

Discussing the Pelhams and the Lunsfords has got us ahead of ourselves. We introduced them in connexion with the building of our church tower, some time about 1500. Let’s now take the story forward from there.

If East Hoathly was never at the centre of history, history certainly brushed very close during the religious struggles of the 16th and 17th centuries. Everyone in Sussex knows about the ten Protestant martyrs burned in Lewes marketplace in June 1557. Lewes is only seven miles south-west of our village. One of the victims was Richard Woodman, an ironmaster of Warbleton, five miles to our east; another was the Rector of Hellingly, even closer to the south-east.

Woodman had complained to the Warbleton Rector about the latter’s weathercock attitude. Under Protestant King Edward VI, the Rector had been a vehement Protestant, but under Mary he had turned his coat and was equally strong for Catholicism. The Rector had Woodman thrown into prison; after release he continued to speak his mind, and fled to Flanders to escape another arrest. But Woodman could not abide exile, sneaked home after three weeks – and was denounced to the authorities by his own father and brother, who owed him money. He was examined by the Bishop, who knew him as a decent man. The Bishop invited him to dinner, and tried to persuade Woodman to say what the authorities required to hear – but in the end the Bishop concluded “I see it is but folly to talk with you”, and to the bonfire Woodman had to go.

Even to an East Hoathly yokel who rarely left his village, Warbleton or Hellingly are only “round the corner”. It must have been a terrifying time.

The picture shows the bonfire procession held in Lewes each 5th November, commemorating not just the Guy Fawkes plot but also the Lewes Martyrs. Many Sussex towns and villages have Bonfire Societies, which organize processions, bonfires, and fireworks in the days leading up to 5th November. East Hoathly has an active Carnival Society (see our groups and activities page); but our Carnival is held a week later, adjacent to Armistice Day, as a commemoration of the dead of two World Wars rather than a sectarian festival.

The Stripping of the Altars

At first, when Henry VIII split from Rome, things in Sussex had gone quietly. In 1535 the king’s commissioner Richard Layton came down to organize the dissolution of the monasteries: he went about a nasty job in an outstandingly nasty way, accusing the inmates of the religious houses of all kinds of foul behaviour in a fashion that was obviously exaggerated and reckless of the truth. But, unlike in some other parts, in Sussex there was no rioting or armed opposition. We know from the records of Star Chamber that the same period saw armed riots in East Hoathly opposing land enclosures, but Henry VIII’s religious changes aroused no comparable reaction. Sussex people did not much care about abolition of the Pope’s authority, though they minded more when church services were modified in a Protestant direction. Was it all going to be just a passing phase? The Vicar of Ticehurst told his flock to carry on offering candles, and to avoid keeping Protestant Bibles – this Reformation business would blow over in a few years. It didn’t.

In many areas, a major blow came with the suppression of chantries in 1548. We have seen that the perpetual chantry once destined for East Hoathly by Henry de Garland never materialized here, and what William Lunsford created in his will was only a temporary chantry (an “obit”). But, where long-term chantries did exist, they often mattered to the community. A chantry priest’s official task was praying for the soul of the departed, but in practice he would assist the parish priest and, in particular, would commonly serve as village schoolmaster. Sussex, though, was an exception. Here, chantry priests had little to do with education.

What will have made an impact on people as much here as elsewhere was the “stripping of the altars”. The carved reredoses backing altars were thrown down, stained glass windows were defaced, priestly vestments were cut up for carpets, and so forth. The picture shows part of a rood screen where the saints’ faces and names have been scratched out. (This one happens to be at a church in Oxfordshire, but similar things were happening everywhere.) And in 1552–3, church plate was seized for Edward VI’s coffers. A church was left with the bare minimum needed for communion: one chalice and one paten. As the Victoria County History puts it

A sharp line [was] set between art and religion, and a blow given to ceremonial splendour from which the services of the Church of England only began to recover in the middle of the 19th century.

And then Mary came to the throne, and doctrines which had been forbidden became compulsory; compulsory, forbidden. Get it straight or the bonfire is waiting! And another five years, and it was all change again under Elizabeth. Good Queen Bess may not have wanted windows into men’s souls, but she wanted conformity in outward things. Once more the altars that had just been restored under Mary were thrown out, the stained-glass windows re-defaced. The crucifix in Chichester Cathedral was carried out and burned in the marketplace. In rural Sussex, part of the problem may have been that people could not easily keep track of what was in and what was out. A Battle man made a will in December 1558 leaving bequests to three monasteries recently restored under Mary, evidently unaware that a month into Elizabeth’s reign this was not at all Religiously Correct.

Sussex tended to lean towards Catholicism. The Bishop of Chichester in 1564 wrote to the Privy Council about the level of loyalty in the county:

Sussex … is free from all violent attempts either to afflict the godly or to disturb the established good order of this Realm. Notwithstanding, I doubt of secret practices which perhaps might break out into open violence …

He drew up lists of loyal and disloyal gentry. Among the J.P.’s, John Lunsford of East Hoathly was safely Protestant, but a larger number (beginning with Sir Edward Gage of Firle) were suspected or open Catholics. Among non-Justice gentlemen, two Pelhams were both listed on the loyal side.

A few years later, in 1569, an Archbishop’s Visitation found that

They have yet in the diocese in many places images hidden up and other popish ornaments, ready to set up the mass again within 24 hours’ warning; as in the town of Battle and in the parish of Lindfield …

In Battle,

when a preacher doth come and speak anything against the pope’s doctrine they will not abide but get them out of the church …

This kind of grumbling semi-disaffection became harder after 1570. That year, the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, and declared that the English people no longer owed her allegiance. This meant that Catholicism now amounted to high treason. You had to be seriously brave to stick with it. And then in the 1580s, rumours grew about the pending invasion plan which we know as the Armada. Particularly down here near the south coast, persecution of Roman Catholics stepped up a gear. A Battle man, Thomas Pilcher, had trained as a priest in France and come back to work in England; in 1587 he was detected and given the appalling punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering. Next year, Armada year, Edward Shelley of Bentley got the same just for sheltering a priest.

The Puritans

About the same time, an opposite religious movement appeared. Some established clergy had grown smug and lazy; keen churchpeople reacted by becoming puritans. Puritanism eventually gave rise to what we nowadays call the Nonconformist churches, but at first it was a new way of being a member of the Church of England. Puritans disliked ritual and hierarchy; they questioned the need for bishops.

At our eastern end of Sussex, puritanism became specially strong. One index of it is the many strange names which crop up in baptism registers in the first half of the 17th century. Instead of traditional Tom, Dick, or Harry, we find children named Safety-on-high Snatt of Uckfield; Fly-fornication Richardson of Waldron; Be-thankful; Zealous; Perform-thy-vows …

The puritans placed new emphasis on keeping Sundays holy. Sabbath-breaking cases become prominent in the records of the Lewes Archdeaconry court – though sometimes the moral principles seem askew to 21st-century eyes. Lambert Combert of Slaugham was prosecuted “for beating his wife on the 29 June last, being sabbath day, in time of divine service”.

It is interesting to notice that one of the undertakings of clergymen in those days seems to have been to help equip the local soldiery. In 1612 we find the incumbents of East Hoathly, Chiddingly, and Hellingly providing a musket between them.

After Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarians prevailed in the Civil War, the puritan tendency had the upper hand. Parliament established the Westminster Assembly of Divines (pictured) in 1642 to reform the Church of England along presbyterian lines. East Hoathly’s Rector, Benjamin Pickering, was one of three members representing Sussex; their leader was Dr Francis Cheynell, Rector of Petworth and in practice though not in name bishop of the diocese. One duty of the Assembly was to decide which incumbents had been doing their job diligently enough to be allowed to retain their livings. Many were thrown out – sometimes deservedly, but in other cases, it seems, as an underhand deal. Dr Cheynell appears to have conspired with another Assembly member (not our Rector) to eject John Large, Rector of Rotherfield, “not on account of his bad living but because of his good living” – they wanted to get their hands on the handsome income of that benefice. Large was in fact a diligent minister; but his defence was not heard. One accusation was that he kept up an old custom at weddings of breaking a cake over the bride’s head; Large thought the custom inoffensive. Who today would disagree?

Dr Cheynell got his come-uppance after the monarchy was restored in 1660. Under Charles II the Church moved back in a Catholic direction. All incumbents had to sign up to a new Act of Uniformity, by a date in 1662. In Sussex many refused, and about one in four of all incumbents resigned or were ejected from their livings. Dr Cheynell was one.

This was what pushed Nonconformists into splitting off as separate denominations – though attendance at Church of England services was compulsory, and probably many people showed up occasionally in their parish church for the law’s sake before attending a conventicle in a private house. In East Hoathly, though, folk were orthodox. In 1676 the Bishop of London was asked to organize a census of the number of adults in each Sussex parish who were “popish recusants” or who “obstinately refuse, or wholly absent themselves from the communion of the Church of England” – as we would say, who were Roman Catholics or Nonconformists. By then, Catholicism was impractical, except for people who lived near a great house where the owners were Catholic and could organize the services of a priest, for instance the Gages of Firle. Among the 300 adults of Framfield parish, there were just three Catholics, and we know who they were: the branch of the Gage family which lived at Bentley. But most parishes had at least a sprinkling of Nonconformists: 18 out of 233 adults at Uckfield, 22 out of 300 at Hailsham. East Hoathly’s 100 adults, on the other hand, were solidly Church of England.

In 1689 the Toleration Act began the blessed process of dismantling the State’s attempts to force people in religious matters. But in our parish it seems there was no-one to be affected by it.

Thomas Turner’s Diary

As if in reaction to the cruelties of 16th and 17th centuries, as the 18th century approached our Church entered a period when events sometimes had a frivolous tone. Towards 1700 occurred the “Breeches Wood bequest”. A lady parishioner apparently left a piece of woodland to the Rector and his successors, so that the income it generated could be used in perpetuity for the specific purpose of mending and replacing the Rector’s trousers – apparently she had noticed that his current ones were very shabby. The story seems scarcely credible, but modern maps continue to show a Breeches Wood near the middle of the village.

The middle of the 18th century was a time for which we have a remarkably vivid picture of everyday life in East Hoathly. 1754 to 1765 was the period covered by the diary of Thomas Turner, keeper of the general store in the village, and through his diary the most famous inhabitant East Hoathly has ever had. Turner was an active man, interested in everything, and heavily involved in village affairs. It all went into his diary, with no attempt to paint himself in a favourable light – the result is a remarkable, highly readable human document.

Turner’s diary does not focus specially on the Church. On 11th May 1757 he recorded the earliest known cricket match played by the men of East Hoathly, against our sister village of Chiddingly. Accordingly, in May 2007 the men of Chiddingly arrived in their horse-drawn carriages for a 250th anniversary return match. After our Rector called for a blessing (left) and the sun duly appeared following a wet morning, play proceeded under 1757 rules: underarm bowling, no middle stump, scores notched on hazel wands …

Often, though, in Turner’s diary, we read sidelights on Church activities. It is interesting to find, for instance, that the relative importance of the three great rites of passage, baptisms, marriages, and funerals, was rather different then. Weddings were low-key affairs, with little by way of receptions afterwards (and of course no honeymoon – villagers in those days could hardly have afforded to go travelling on holiday). Christenings saw more drinking and riotousness. But the biggest events were funerals, drawing large congregations. Part of the tradition was to distribute gloves or other remembrances to each of the mourners. Turner sold these, along with everything else – he un-selfconsciously describes rushing to a house where there had been a death, to make sure he got the order.

Sermons were different then. Rather than taking a Bible text and drawing out its implications, they tended to consist of straightforward lectures against bad habits – swearing, fornication, drink. No theological underpinnings were required.

The church was used by the State to encourage voluntary disaster relief, in a way that would seem strange now. In the 18th century, Brighton was repeatedly wrecked by storms; the inhabitants could not expect the government to find money to make good the damage, but what the King would do was issue letters patent (a “brief”) to be read out in churches across the region, calling for people to contribute to relief funds. On 2 July 1758, Thomas Turner records

a brief read for to repair the groynes and fortifications of the town of Brighthelmstone, against the encroachments of the sea on that coast, which, if not timely prevented, will in all probability eat in and destroy the town
Thomas Turner was unwell that Sunday. He had not recovered from Friday night. Turner must have paid special attention to the sermons against drinking: one of the most human aspects of his diary is the way he is for ever vowing not to drink excessively again, and always breaking his vow.

On the Thursday, East Hoathly had been celebrating news of a British victory in the Seven Years’ War against the French, with bellringing and a service. Christopher Coates, steward at Halland House, invited the Turners to join a party there next evening.

I think this is not the proper way of rejoicing [Turner wrote], for I doubt there is little thoughts of returning thanks to Him that gives success in war.

And on the day of the party,

I have a very great dread … about tonight’s entertainment … Oh! a melancholy thing it is to deprive oneself of reason, and even to render ourselves beasts! But what can I do? If I go, I must drink just as they please, or otherwise I shall be called a poor singular fellow.

And indeed the company used the excuse of toasting every distinguished name they could think of to “drink bumpers as fast as could well be poured out”. Saturday: “Terrible bad with the headache … Very bad all day, though no more than I deserve …”

Not, in the rumbustious 18th century, that the Rector’s family set an example. In Turner’s day the Rector was a Cambridge man, Thomas Porter – there is a memorial to him on the chancel wall. (The painting is thought to represent Thomas Porter, though it may possibly be his predecessor, also named Porter.) The previous February the Porters, the Turners, the Coates’s, and others had been guests of Jeremiah French, tenant farmer at Whyly and one of the “big men” of East Hoathly. Again they were all drinking as fast as they could pour – but “the parson of the parish was one amongst the mixed multitude all the time, so doubtless in point of sound divinity it was all harmless”. However, at six in the morning when the Turners had got to bed, the Rector’s wife came knocking at their door on pretence of wanting to buy a hangover cure, and a new drinking session got going. Thomas Turner tried to stay in bed, but the womenfolk pulled him out – the Rector’s contribution being to insist that they let him throw his trousers and his wife’s petticoat on. Turner had to dance with them in bare feet until they had got through a couple of bottles, then the party left Turner in peace and moved on to someone else, breaking up about 3.30 that afternoon.

Turner commented “the precepts delivered from the pulpit on Sundays by Mr Porter, though delivered with the greatest ardour, must lose a great deal of their efficacy by such examples”. Indeed they must have. Not that life for the Porters was all fun and games. At that period of the 1750s, as recorded on the chancel memorial, they saw five of their children die one by one, at ages ranging from three years to a few days.

Prime Ministers from Halland

The decades when Thomas Turner was depicting a village society floating on a sea of drink coincided with the great days of the Pelham family. Sir Thomas Pelham had been one of the promoters of the election of William and Mary as joint monarchs in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and was made Baron Pelham of Laughton. Then his sons Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle (pictured below), and his younger brother Henry Pelham, became leading Whig statesmen under the Hanoverians. In 1724 they became respectively secretary of state and secretary for war, and for almost the whole period 1743 to 1762 first Henry and later Thomas was First Lord of the Treasury – the nearest equivalent then to prime minister. One writer calls the Pelhams “the only English premiers born and bred Sussex men” (though Thomas was actually born in London). Halland House became the venue for lavish entertainments provided by the Duke of Newcastle to distinguished guests in furtherance of his political interests.

(Among weightier issues of war, peace, and finance, one measure for which Henry Pelham was responsible was England’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Next time you are at a New Year’s Eve party, spare a thought for the fact that it was a Halland native who made the year begin on 1st January – previously it began on 25th March, the anniversary of Christ’s conception.)

A memorial on the outside west wall of our church commemorates Samuel Atkins, gardener and housekeeper to the Duke of Newcastle. He bequeathed a hundred pounds, the interest of which was to be distributed among the poor of the parish.

Incidentally, people who know that one of the great statesmen of Halland was Duke of Newcastle sometimes wonder which Newcastle this was: upon Tyne, or under Lyme? The answer, confusingly, is both. Thomas Pelham-Holles became Duke of Newcastle on Tyne in 1711, in succession to his mother’s brother John Holles, and then in 1756 he was additionally made first Duke of Newcastle under Lyme. Perhaps he decided when he woke up whether it was to be a Tyne day or a Lyme day.

(Popularly, the Duke had a simpler name: people called him “Hubble-Bubble”, because of his endless hurry and busyness.)

Although Halland House was the Duke’s country seat, because his career lay in London he came to Halland only for brief stays. Much of the time the great house was unused, and maintenance was neglected. (The Duke of Newcastle was such an honest man that he eventually left office £300,000 poorer than when he entered it – not the common pattern in the 18th century.) The Duke died childless in 1768, by which time Halland House was in bad repair. It was demolished in 1788.

The Pelham barony was inherited by a cousin, Thomas Pelham of Stanmer, near Brighton, who became first Earl of Chichester. The Dukedom of Newcastle under Lyme went to his brother Henry’s son and lost its connexion with Sussex, and the Dukedom of Newcastle on Tyne became extinct. Our Church has a link with the Earldom of Chichester, in the bell-tower. When a bell presented by the Duke of Newcastle and his brother in 1723 needed repair in 1876, their collateral descendant the then Earl of Chichester paid for the recasting.

The Great Court of Halland House – S.H. Grimm, 1783

Father and son rectors

After the roistering of the 18th century, in the following century things sobered up. During the 19th century our Church had what must be an unusual distinction of having its living held successively by a father and son for over 90 years continuously.

Thomas Porter, the Rector in Thomas Turner’s day, died in 1791. A Rev. Edward Rudston Langdale was at the time curate of Frant, and had been tutor to the sons of our Patron, Lord Abergavenny. (The Patron is the person who has the right to present a new incumbent to a living when a vacancy occurs – in the Church of England today, the role of lay Patrons has become limited, but 200 years ago what the Patron said went. The Earls of Abergavenny had been Patrons of East Hoathly since 1523; they continue to be a local family – the present Lord Abergavenny represents Frant & Withyham on Wealden District Council today.) The Rev. Langdale decided he would like to become Rector of East Hoathly, but he knew the Patron was currently staying in Cornwall. So he walked there to see him.

Almost the first question his Lordship asked, after hearing the purport of his visit, was “How did you get here, Langdale?” “I walked all the way, my Lord.” “What, walked all the way? Then you shall have the living.”

By 1827, both Rector and Patron were getting old. The Rector asked the Patron to let him pass the living on to his son, Edward (who was serving as curate of East Hoathly and of Chiddingly). Lord Abergavenny agreed, and the younger Edward Langdale was instituted as Rector in January 1828. He remained Rector until his death in 1882.

One story about the elder Rev. Langdale relates to the number of services held each Sunday. Originally there was one, but the parishioners asked him to increase this to two. He agreed, on condition that they attended both. At first they did, but after a while attendance dwindled. So the Rector asked his son as curate to preach a strong sermon reminding the congregation of its promise. Unfortunately, this backfired: that afternoon turned out to be the occasion when the Rector forgot to bring the sermon he had written with him to Church. So the chastened congregation arrived in numbers, to hear what proved to be a sub-standard service!

The younger Edward Langdale evidently had his full share of the energy that was typical of the Victorian age. It was in his time that the church was rebuilt; and the Church of England School was founded in his time.

For mid-century, we have solid information about Church attendance. In 1851, for the first and last time in English history, a census was taken of worshippers in connexion with the general national census: ministers were asked to count all those attending services on Sunday 30th March.

By this time, East Hoathly also had a nonconformist chapel; the Methodist Chapel had been built two years before, in 1849. The Rector counted 190 people, including 50 Sunday School children, in church for morning service, and 280, including 40 children, at afternoon service. The Rev. Robinson, the minister of the Chapel, counted 250 at morning and 200 at evening service. A problem is that there is no way of knowing how many individuals attended two services. One historian’s suggestion is to assume as a rough rule of thumb that half the congregation at the smaller service of the day were also at the larger one; that would give a total of 725 people worshipping at East Hoathly at least once that day – but the population of the parish was only 667. Evidently many people went to two services, and very few can have stayed away completely.

The Rector noted that his congregations were about average. That Sunday was quite wet over southern England, and some parishes claimed that their attendance was lower than average for that reason – evidently Victorian East Hoathlyites did not let a bit of rain keep them away from Church or Chapel.

We sometimes suppose nowadays that ecumenical attitudes are a novelty in the Church. So it is interesting to read of the younger Rev. Langdale’s co-operation with Quakers. In the 1860s, the village postmaster, Charles Sturt, was a Quaker. Every few years he would ask the Rector for permission to put up tents in one of the Glebe fields (the land attached to the living), to hold Quaker services. These would be attended by Quakers from miles around, including Lewes.

(In the Post Office, we read that Mr Sturt kept the sheets of stamps in his Bible. The higher values were tucked in among the Minor Prophets.)

Changing service patterns

It is interesting to read about changing patterns of services in our Church in Victorian days.

In about 1861, Morning Service – Mattins – was held at 11 on Sundays, and an “Afternoon Service” (presumably Evensong?) at 3. The only weekdays on which a service was held were Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Christmas Day, and “the first Monday in June, for the Benefit Club”. Holy Communion was celebrated just four to six times a year.

By 1900 numbers of services had increased. Holy Communion was celebrated each Sunday and on Christmas Day and Ascension Day, and twice on “High Festivals”. There were services at 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. on Sundays, and 11 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. on Wednesdays; and, on Saints’ days and the first Sunday of each month, “Litany and Catechizing” (confirmation classes) at 2.30. Additionally, at this period there was an out-station of the Church at Halland, the “Mission Room”, which had Sunday services at 3.15. (The Mission Room building no longer exists. The illustration is taken from an old postcard.)

One can compare these patterns with the current pattern on our home page (though this does not show the services for special times such as Easter).

Recent times

The 20th century is a period for which the webmaster is short of material so far – any parishioners who can help out are warmly invited to get in touch.

Inhabitants of our parish served, and in some cases died, in two World Wars, and their names are recorded on the memorials inside and outside the Church. In the Second World War, our area played important roles, with the Battle of Britain fought out overhead in 1940, and Canadian and other Allied troops stationed round about in the months leading up to D-Day in 1944. But to date we have not identified specific links to our Parish Church.

In 1965 the large and rambling Rectory which then existed was demolished and replaced by the present, more easily maintained Rectory on the same site.

Later, a major Church milestone came in 1983, with the joining of the neighbouring benefices of East Hoathly and Chiddingly into the present united benefice. The first Rector of the united benefice was the Rev. Patrick Amos.

In conclusion

And so we reach the present day. A Christian cannot avoid asking what to make of all the cruelty and selfishness that was so abundant in this record before the last few centuries. Those who most needed to hear Christ’s lessons sometimes seemed to be the very people whose job was to teach them.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Were they listening, back in the Middle Ages? during the Reformation? We hope that we are listening harder today.

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