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All Saints’ Church, Waldron

All Saints’ Church in Waldron dates from the 12th century and is thought to have been built on the site of an older Saxon church. During the mid-19th century there were substantial alterations by enthusiastic Victorians. In 2017 the north-western pews were removed to create a social space with tiled floor. Such revision has historical precedent, for in the mid-nineteenth century the old box pews, pulpit and reading desk had been removed in favour of more contemporary items. A board on the wall of the vestry states that “The Incorporated Society for building and Churches granted £35 towards enlarging this church upon condition that of 236 seats those numbered 1-39 be reserved for the use of the poorer inhabitants of the parish” and it is therefore thought this must have been in the days when the galleries still existed, as the present church only accommodates around 180 people.

Records in the County Record Office dated 31 January 1862 state that the Rector, the Reverend Ley, was required to publicise the proposed work which included an additional aisle on the south side, the removal of the northern gallery and of the western gallery (used by the ‘musickers’) and the ‘ringing loft’ at the west end of the nave: the latter became the belfry on the ground floor. For this work, alternative provision was needed for worship, leading to the construction of St Bart’s Church in Cross-in-Hand. Church service Sundays now alternate between the two.

The memory of the former Western Gallery was recalled in April 2018 with ‘Western Gallery music’ sung by Sussex Harmony whilst in rustic dress, in a concert given to help raise funds for the renovation of the historic pneumatic organ. This was said to have been installed by Bevingtons in the mid-19th century and refurbished around 1883 at a cost of £15, which also had to cover the cost of repairing damage done “when two starlings had chosen one pipe as the last receptacle for their mortal remains, while an inharmonious mouse had first fallen into, and then despairing of other means of exit, eaten its way out of another “.  The organ had been extensively renovated  in 1903 by F H Browne and Sons who substantially improved it in 2003 and have now been commissioned to restore it to its original glory in 2018.

The oldest part of All Saints’ Church is the square Bell Tower, which may have Saxon foundations.  Its west door faces across land sloping towards the Downs. Outside the north door lies an old Saxon stone font, said to be one of only three in Sussex. Legend has it that in the 16th century this font was removed from the church and rolled down the hill by Thomas Cromwell’s soldiers, ending up as a cattle trough at Dengates Farm whence it was eventually recovered in 1907.

Bells have been rung at All Saints’ Church for more than two centuries, with the earliest bell in the eight-bell peal dating from 1732: all were rehung in1886, recast in 1912 and rehung in 1986, funded by or in memory of some of the village residents of the time. The belfry roof was repaired and retiled around 2013 at a cost of £70,000, half of which was met by fund-raising through events organised by the Friends.

Inside the church, a board records the unbroken line of Rectors of the parish since 1195, when Bartholomew was the first.  Our current Rector is George Pitcher, who is non-stipendiary.  Opposite the north entrance door is the square Norman-style font on a plinth, with wrought iron strapping on its cover. In a corner of the north aisle is the memorial dedicated to Major John Fuller, who died in 1722; he was an ironmaster and member of the famous Fuller family of Tanners Manor near Waldron and of Rose Hill in Brightling.  At the top of the north aisle is a pre-Reformation stone mensa or altar slab, discovered under the quire during the Victorian rebuilding and now placed in its present position as a memorial to those local men who died in the service of their country during both world wars and later; their names are read out at the annual Remembrance service. Within this sanctuary is a lancet window, the only survivor of three, its ancient glass showing a repeating pattern of quarries of corn ears and vine leaves. Below this is an aumbry or small recess in the wall which once housed the chalice and other sacred vessels behind locked wooden doors.  To the right of the altar is a piscina, a stone basin usually found in pre-Reformation churches to drain water used in the Mass. The chancel’s mosaic pavement was dedicated to the Reverend Ley, already mentioned, who was Rector for 30 years from 1850. The communion rail also dates from the late 19th century though the modern credence table replaced the Stuart version which was stolen in 1994.  Floor slabs and brasses commemorate local families of substance, including the Dykes and the Offleys, who were generous patrons of the parish.  The beautiful silver paten and chalice of 1638 were left by Lady Joanna Dyke and are now lodged in the Cathedral treasury at Chichester.

The lych gate (also spelled lichgate, lycugate, or lyke-gate; from the Old English lic = corpse)  at the bottom of the church path from The Rocks was built in 1907 by the Huth family in memory of Louis Huth (1821-1905), Squire of Possingworth.  Its superstructure was rebuilt in 2017 after being struck by a lorry.

The present account is adapted from the leaflet available in All Saints’ Church, Waldron.