Preserving our Heritage
At the heart of what has been described as “the most Sussex of Sussex villages” is St Mary’s Church. There has been a church on this site for over 900 years. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085. Plans exist of how the church has evolved over the centuries. To this day there is evidence in the building of work undertaken through the centuries.
In 1949 Mr F Wootton Issacson bequeathed Slindon House and the Estate to the National Trust. Many of the vernacular flint buildings of the village are in the ownership of the National Trust. Most were built in the 18th century but the oldest dates back to the 15th century.
Because of its historical and architectural interest St Mary’s has been identified as a Grade 1 Listed Building. A listed building in the United Kingdom is a building which has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Listing picks out the best of our heritage to give it protection. There are just under 500,000 listed buildings in the UK. Grade 1 buildings are judged to be of exceptional interest and only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
In common with other historic buildings, St Mary’s Church needs continual care. Our Building Committee takes as its mantra William Morris’s saying ‘Stave off decay by daily care’. The building is subject to a thorough inspection by a qualified architect every five years.
St Mary’s is unquestionably a lovely building and its setting and quiet dignity make a significant contribution to the attractiveness of the village.
Looking Back – Development and Restoration Project 2016
In recent years work has been carried out on the windows, pipes and drainage, the external walls, the heating system and the floor. A monitoring programme of potential problems is in place which has addressed many minor issues before they develop into serious ones. A team of volunteers ensure that the churchyard presents a fitting setting for the building and a pleasing aspect for the community.
However, in 2014 the church architect Richard Meynell RBA advised us that major work was needed including the repair of the roof. At the same time it was decided to undertake two development projects – the building of a WC and kitchen facilities .
The whole roof has been stripped, the failing battens replaced, and then re-tiled and pointed. Before the scaffolding was removed the gutters and down pipes were all re-furbished.
A new WC was added as an extension to the North West corner of the building. Access is gained through a new beautiful stone arched doorway at the west end of the north aisle. This lovely arch is echoed in the shape of the new window inside. The room is light, spacious, is suitable for those with disabilities and has baby changing facilities. The door itself has been made to reflect the design of the door to the vestries and is equally splendid.
The new catering facilities constructed from sapele wood complements the colour of the pews well. The design features of the folding doors pick up the detail surrounding the organ with its appropriately ecclesiastical feel. Behind the doors is a well- lit work surface with washing up facilities an oven, a hob and plenty of storage.
During this project the Building Committee was led by John Barrett and St Mary’s PCC and the community are very grateful for all his dedication to St Mary’s Church and the overseeing of its continuous care.
The PCC and Building Committee recorded their thanks to architect Richard Meynell for sharing his knowledge, his experience and his love of church architecture.
We were, as well, grateful to our Building Contractor, Couzens and Sons, who under the very able leadership of Barry Shepherd managed the whole project very efficiently from the outset instilling in us a sense of confidence both in the reliability and quality of their work. Worthy of comment too is that the project was completed within the projected budget.
The work of Shepherd and Grantham the stone masons is there for all to see and admire – a lasting legacy to their craftsmanship.
Stephen Clear, who many will know from The Farmers Market, takes credit for the design and construction of the greatly improved new catering facilities. The design, allied to the warm rich colour of the wood, enhances the west end of the south aisle considerably.
The roofing contractors, Ernie Mews and Sons, had to contend with very mixed weather conditions but were steadfast throughout and completed the work to a high standard.
Perhaps the most telling tribute to all involved is that so many of those who have visited the church to see the new developments have expressed the view that it all looks as though it has all been there for years.
All of this work was made possible by tireless fund-raising in the community, successful grant applications and generous personal donations.
The Restoration of the Spire & the Bells
It was discovered in 2015 that some significant remedial work was also required on the Spire – this was a disappointing discovery after the completion of the major building project. This repair work which included a complete re-shingling of the spire, replacement of some of the internal timbers, refurbishment of the weather vane and some repairs of the stone work has now been successfully completed.
The oldest bell of the four bells was cast in 1657. Two were cast later that century but were recast in 1885. At the same time a fourth bell was installed on the initiative of The Revd William Chantler Izard. In 1913 the second bell developed a crack and required a further recast.
Following a recent inspection, several components were identified as in need of attention. Apart from bi-annual inspections, the most recent work on the bells was over 100 years ago. It was decided that the ideal solution would be to completely refurbish and retune the bells. This became possible thanks to a most generous gift given in memory of Angela Morgan. We are also grateful to The Sussex Bell Restoration Fund for their grant.
The contract was awarded to The Whitechapel Foundry. The current owner, his father and grandfather had all worked on our bells with their records showing the work undertaken in 1885 and 1913.
On January the 4th 2017, a team of five, led by a Whitechapel hanger, began the dismantling and removal of the bells. Each was lowered to the ground through two floors and trollied to the gate where they were hoisted onto a truck bound for the foundry in Whitechapel.
Later that month a small group visited the foundry, still on the site it has occupied since 1570. We witnessed the second bell in the process of being retuned, a task that takes the best part of a day. It was as though we had stepped back in time. The technology has changed little over the centuries and this was reflected in the extraordinary work space.
On March 27th, the team reassembled to greet the return of the bells with all their new fittings. Under expert leadership, all four bells were rehung by the end of the day. It took another two days to add and adjust the fittings before trialling the new ring on the Wednesday evening. The improvements were immediately evident. The physical effort required has been greatly reduced requiring considerable adjustment to our bell handling. The tone of the bells too has been greatly improved. A near neighbour of the church walking his dog on the downs that late afternoon stopped in his tracks not simply because he realised the bells were back and ringing but were doing so with a much sweeter tone.
Many of you will know that The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the oldest in the world, closed in May 2017 after 447 years of continuous service. The St Mary’s bells were the last complete refurbishment undertaken by this famous foundry. They have been rehung to the highest possible standard.
A Celebratory Service was held to mark the completion of the spire and the refurbishment of the bells led by The Bishop of Horsham on June 18th 2017.
Redecoration of the Interior
With the new roof and re-furbished gutters, down-pipes and gullies the building was sufficiently dry for us to consider internal redecoration. The interior of the Church was redecorated using clay-based paint during the summer of 2018 and the result is a much lighter and welcoming church.
Funds for On-going Maintenance
Our perennial challenge is to raise the necessary money to undertake essential maintenance work and to ensure that the church both protects its heritage and adapts to new patterns of usage. We apply for grants and subsidies from public bodies whenever appropriate; but we also need to raise a substantial proportion from private individuals (gift aided where possible) and local enterprise. To date, we have been able to meet all challenges, but only with supreme effort from a large number of dedicated individuals.
We are very fortunate that people who are not regular churchgoers or worshippers still recognise that development and restoration is not only essential for the preservation of this historic building but also vital in safeguarding our village heritage.
Please join us in preserving our ancient and historic parish church for future generations.
St Mary’s is part of the historic heritage of Slindon and is in the heart of the village. It incorporates architectural features from the 12th century as well as additions from the 13th, 15th and 19th centuries.
The present church has its origins in a small building consisting of a chancel and nave, built in 1106, possibly on the site of one mentioned in Domesday in 1087, and there may have been an earlier building attached to Slindon Manor but of insufficient importance to warrant remark. The Manor and lands were a gift to St Wilfrid by Caedwalla, King of the West Saxons, in 685.
Wilfrid donated the gift to the See of Canterbury in the person of Archbishop Theodore, and the estate was in the possession of the See until Archbishop Cranmer exchanged it with Henry VIII for other lands, except for one brief interlude after the Norman Conquest when it was granted by the Conqueror to his nephew, Earl Roger de Montgomery. Throughout eight centuries Slindon was associated with many eminent clerics.
St Anselm, to whom the building of the church is attributed, stayed at the Manor, and Archbishop Stephen Langton died there in 1228. A plaque commemorating his death, given by a descendant of his family, can be seen on a pillar by the north door.
In 1154 Archbishop Theobold dedicated, rebuilt and enlarged the Church of Blessed Mary and made a grant of land for its endowment.
In 1160-70 the south wall of the nave was taken down, an arcade of two arches built and the south aisle added. A few years later a transceptal chapel was constructed out to the north and dedicated to St Thomas a Becket. The arch by the pulpit, once the entrance to the chapel, is all that now remains. Gone, too, is the interesting fresco work executed at the same time.
The font is 11th century, probably Norman or late Saxon. Early in the 13th century the chancel was altered, rebuilt and extended eastward. In the 15th century, an arch was made in the wall of the nave and the north aisle added; a further addition of one bay brought the church to its present size, and a small tower was built.
The church is built of flint rubble with ashlar dressing. The material used in the interior during the transition period was Caen stone and chalk. The 13th century work was of Pulborough stone, also used in the little Norman window which is the only remaining feature of the original nave. Traces of another Norman window can be seen in the north wall. Both were splayed and had no glass.
Restoration carried out in 1866 during the incumbency of the Rev William Chantler Izard included rebuilding the aisle walls and the construction of a new chancel arch, the former being narrow and flanked by arched recesses.
The east window of five lancets was installed, together with the mosaic tile reredos, the centre panel of which depicts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The floor was laid with encaustic tiling, the entire roof renewed and the old wooden tower replaced by a shingled one with a stone belfry. This work revealed the inner jamb and sill of a Perpendicular west window where the present tower now stands. It also disclosed the blocked outline of a doorway into the 15th century tower. Pre-16th century, this door was once the main west entrance into the church. A south door was built and a new south window. The present north doorway uses the original mediaeval door. Bath stone was used throughout during the restoration.
According to a local diarist, there was no choir when the Rev Izard came to Slindon and the organ was housed in a large oak gallery approached by a stairway close to the bells. Copyholders of Slindon worshipped in their own enclosed pews. After the church restoration, a choir was organised by the Rector and all the pews made open. In 1895, a hand-blown mechanical organ by Forster and Andrews of Hull was installed, later to be improved in the early 1900s with pneumatic pedals and the fitting of an electric blower.
In 1936, a new south porch was built, retaining the original weathered tiles for its roof. The present tower houses four bells, three inscribed as follows:
1 W.R.W.P. 1616 T.W.
2 Bryanus Eldridge, me ficit 1651
3 Bryanus Eldridge, me ficit 1657
The 4th bell was installed by the Rev William Chandler Izard. It is interesting to note that both bells by Bryanus Eldridge were cast at the time of the Commonwealth, when Cromwell’s stringent administration restricted such casting of bells.
St Mary’s most notable possession is the effigy, carved in oak, of Anthony St Leger Esq of Binsted, who died in 1539 and who requested in his will that he be interred in Slindon Parish Church before the picture of Our Lady. The only existing example of a wooden effigy in Sussex, it represents a man in the plate armour of the Wars of the Roses. The head rests upon his helmet. The effigy was removed from its former site in the chancel when the organ chamber was relocated. The protective mort safe around the figure was added in 1990 to ensure security. The picture by which he was laid no longer exists and may well have been in stained glass or possibly a mural.
The Bishop’s chair in the sanctuary is made of oak and is reproduction Queen Anne, made by Andrew Cossar (son of a former rector) in 1998, to replace one that was stolen. The piscine in the south wall is 13th century. The prayer desk came from the chapel in Slindon House when this was removed during alterations in 1914.
At the west end of the south aisle are some 15th century Poppyhead benches; in the vestry is a 17th century table and over the entrance door hangs a representation of the Royal Arms of George III. It bears the letters “G.III” and the date 1783. A tablet on the west wall of the north aisle bears the names of the Rectors of Slindon from 1233 to the present day.
Until about 200 years ago, there were red crosses on the two inside bays on the north wall where the Bishop had placed his hands at the original consecration. A Lady Chapel that stood close to the gate inside the churchyard was demolished in 1524. A square, single room building with a lancet window, it was later used as a dwelling belonging to the Parish. The church registers date from 1558.
In 1979-80, a chapel for the purpose of private meditation, prayer and special services was created in the east end of the north aisle on the site of the early Thomas a Becket chapel. Donations and gifts of furnishing came from many individual donors. (Note the inscription on the side of the Communion Table.) Named St Mary’s Chapel, it was dedicated on Trinity Sunday, 1st June, 1980 by the then-Archdeacon of Chichester, the Venerable R M S Eyre, later Dean of Exeter. In 1995, a memorial garden was created in the area of the War Memorial. The two seats, the trees and plants were donated by parishioners. There is also a plaque in the church commemorating those of the Parish who died in both World Wars.
The rose bushes in the churchyard were donated by parishioners in memory of deceased relatives. These are commemorated on a small tablet in the north porch.
To celebrate the new millennium, a young yew tree propagated from an ancient tree estimated to be at least 2,000 years old was planted on 7th October, 2001, near the path to the north door.
In the window facing south, just above the effigy of the knight, is the etched window in memory of David Beaty, who worshipped in the church and lived at Manchester House in Church Hill, where he wrote several of his books. The window was presented to the church by his widow and family.
During the war, David Beaty flew from various Sussex airfields, having volunteered as a pilot whilst at Oxford. He completed four tours of operation in some of the fiercest arenas – the Siege of Malta, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Russian convoys and the D-Day landings. He was awarded the DFC and Bar. After the war, David became a senior captain with British Overseas Airways (now British Airways) and left to fulfil his ambition to write. His novels became international best-sellers and his books and articles on air safety are used by airlines, air forces and universities around the world. But it his love of the air and freedom, and his soaring, questing spirit, that the window by Simon Whistler commemorates.
To coincide with an event held in March 2012 St Mary’s & St Richard’s, Slindon published a booklet entitled – Aspects of the Religious History of Slindon written by ecclesiastical historian Andrew Foster FRHistS, FSA, FHA in association with the Slindon History Group. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately the booklet has sold out but it would be possible to obtain an electronic copy from Moira Richards 01243 814 735.
The church is open daily so do think about making a visit to Slindon and enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of this Grade 1 listed building.
Click here for a printable version of the text of A Short History of St. Mary’s, Slindon.
Church plans dating back to the 11th Century show how the building has evolved. Further work is needed.
We are developing a file with illustrated descriptions of the people and times related to each of the periods represented to the right. There is much work to be done to refine it. Can you help? Please contact John Barrett (Tel: 01243 814265 or email: email@example.com)
This ancient village has been largely shaped by those that have lived here over the centuries. Their stories make for a rich and fascinating story. The church currently holds a collection of over 200 biographies of these former villagers. This archive has largely been drawn from our Parish Magazine collection over the last 30 years. Included in this number are brief portraits of:
Archbishop Stephen Langton who was a principal signatory of the Magna Carta. He died here in Slindon in 1228;
Richard Newman, England’s first national cricketing hero;
Poet Hilare Belloc who lived at Bleak House and more recently Ralph Upton who founded the Pumpkin Farm in Top Road;
Each week one of the biographies is selected for display under the title ‘This Week We Remember’.
The plan is to continue to research all possible sources to extend the villagers and times represented.
This archive is available to all every day in the church or is available on line – Click here.
Produced by The Parish Register Transcription Society, Number SXW 44 Sussex, St. Mary Slindon which contains the following records:
Click here for Baptisms 1558 – 1901
Click here for Banns 1765 – 1777, 1823 – 1828, 1846 – 1902
Click here for Marriages 1559 -1901
Click here for Burials 1558 – 1608, 1614 – 1896