St Margaret's Church, Ditchling
THE STORY OF ST MARGARET’S CHURCH, DITCHLING
THE CHURCH AND ITS HISTORY
The Church of St Margaret of Antioch is the centrepiece of the ancient and historic village of Ditchling on the borders of East and West Sussex. The present building dates from the late 12th century, sited on the sandy knoll overlooking the village. It is built on top of the earlier Saxon church referred to in the Domesday Book. Remains of the Saxon church are to be found in the lower walls of the nave.
The south aisle, displaying fine foliated capitals to its columns, is the earliest part of the present church, built by the Cluniac monks from Lewes in the 12th century. The chancel was built in the 1260s. The tower dates from the late 13th century and has a ring of eight bells.
A major restoration was carried out in 1863 when three windows were pierced in the north wall of the nave, while an outside staircase that had given access to a choir gallery at the west end of the nave was removed from the north wall. As this gallery was being removed, traces of medieval wall paintings were found. These were considered too badly damaged to be restored and were covered over.
The carved oak door and screen of the south porch were installed in 1929. A number of column terminals are unusually in chalk. Those of the east window bear the busts of a king and queen, quite probably Queen Eleanor and Henry III, and linked in some way to the Battle of Lewes in 1264. The window itself was designed in 1947 by Charles Knight, a leading member of Ditchling's artistic community.
The Abergavenny Chapel off the South aisle was built in the 14th century. It has a wall monument to Henry Poole who owned Wings Place and died in 1580. The carved oak screen was designed by John Denman and carved by Joseph Cribb in memory of the artist Louis Ginnett. The font and the lettering of the 10 Commandments tablet were by Joseph Cribb. The west door covering is spun from wool of Sussex flocks by the 'Tree Spinners' and woven by Hilary Bourne, one of two sisters who founded Ditchling museum. The artists, calligraphers and weavers noted here were all members of Ditchling’s famous artistic community.
The Churchyard contains a number of significant graves, gravestones and carvings by nationally known artists, particularly those associated with arts and crafts, a movement for which Ditchling is nationally known.
There was almost certainly a church here in Saxon times. Ditchling was an important settlement in the time of King Alfred (871-899) and King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). The building would have covered the area of the present nave and there is some evidence of a Saxon building under the pillars of the nave. A new church was built in the 12th Century after the Norman Conquest.
The coming of the Normans was dramatic for this part of Sussex. William de Warenne established the Cluniac Priory at Lewes to which his son gave the Manor of Ditchling in 1090. The priory dominated church and village life through the Middle Ages and the monks encouraged the building and decoration of the church. By 1200, the South Aisle was added to the nave and, sometime after 1250, the Chancel was built. The walls of the nave were decorated with wall paintings, similar to those which can be seen at Clayton Church. The present structure of our building was completed by the addition of the Abergavenny Chapel in the 14th Century and the South Porch in the 15th Century.
RECTOR TO VICAR
Before 1400 there were identifiable rectors of Ditchling. One of them, Master Deodatus, was excommunicated in 1253 by Bishop Richard of Chichester, but frustratingly, we do not k now why. After 1400, the Rector of the parish was the Prior at Lewes which meant that he held all the church land (the glebe) and took the great tithes. The Prior would pay for a priest to live in the village who was called the Vicar.
After the closure of the Priory in 1537, the rights of the Rector passed through various hands – Thomas Cromwell, Anne of Cleves and were eventually bought by the Turner family (they were known as the lay rectors).
VICAR’S DEBTS AND VICARAGE PEW
The parish had to adapt to all the various and contrasting changed in religion brought in by the Tudors.
Two main points for local gossip during this period. The debts of Edward Denton (Vicar 1581-1583) who found himself in the Fleet Prison for debt, and then who should occupy the Vicarage Pew. Agnes Rawood, widow of Hugh Rawood (Vicar 1589-1604) refused to give up her seat when Mrs Elizabeth Price came with her husband as the new Vicar in 1606. This bone of contention based from the parish to the Bishop, on to the Archdeacon of Lewes and back to the parish but still Mrs Rawood would not budget!
Much more serious was the bitter row in 1642 between Mascall Gyles (Vicar of Ditchling) and Thomas Barton (Rector of Westmeston). With the Civil War looming, Gyles favoured Parliament while Barton favoured the King. They fought a fierce battle of pamphlets over matters such as whether it was right to bow the head at the name of Jesus! Eventually both left their livings although Thomas Barton returned to Westmeston after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.
During the uncertainties of the Commonwealth Period a number of priests conducted services at St. Margaret’s, but stability only returned with the institution of John Gravett in 1662.
GALLERY AND COMPETITION
As elsewhere in the country, the 18th Century was less eventful. Early in the century it is probably that a gallery was constructed at the west end of the nave with access by an outside staircase at the northwest corner of the nave.
Additional seating may have been to accommodate larger congregations although, at the same time, St. Margaret’s must have been fully aware that the Baptist church was growing apace in the Twitten.
Almost all the churches stretching from Albourne to Plumpton and beyond were ‘restored’ in the period 1850-1870 and Ditchling was no exception. From the summer of 1863 until the summer of 1864, the church was closed for rebuilding. Out went the gallery, condemned as a ‘resort of ill-behaved boys and sleepy men’. Out went the old box pews to be replaced by more free pews where anyone could sit. Traces of the old medieval wall paintings were uncovered under thick coats of whitewash, but, sadly, they were felt to be too fragmentary to be restored and so more whitewash! The north wall had to be rebuilt and so the outside staircase could be removed. The north transept was restored and new seating and the four foot high wall which had divided the chancel from the chapel was removed. This meant that all the seating in the church was arranged facing the chancel – no separate area for worship being provided. The eagle lectern was provided by Mrs Hutchinson at the cost of 7 guineas. The cost of the new work, completed in 11 months, was £1,461.15.8, all found from voluntary contributions.
Great were the celebrations when Dr Otter, Bishop of Chichester came to dedicate the restored church on 13th July 1864.
Sooner after the initial restoration, an organ was purchased to replace the musicians and then a new church clock was installed in the spire. Thomas Hutchinson became very frail and lost his sight – hence the window in his memory at the north end of the sanctuary with the words of our Lord ‘Receive thy sight’.
It was the next Vicar, Francis Norton, who, in 1914 gave 2 new bells in memory of his brothers. During the First World War he provided the convalescent home for wounded soldiers at ‘Meadowcroft’ in the Lewes Road.
After the war he also provided the Church Room, sited at the east end of Boddington’s Lane. Somewhat eccentric and known for his great interest in Egyptology, and for his aversion to illness, Francis Norton was the longest serving Vicar of Ditchling (1883-1921).
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Charles Williams (1921-1944) brought more system to the cure of souls as can be seen from the detailed records he left behind – on the services held and on the general life of the parish. During his time, the Vicarage moved from East End Lane to the large white house next to Wings Place.
In 1944 a remarkable Vicar arrived – Arthur Crookshank. He made sure that the church was the centre of the recovery of Ditchling from the trials of the Second World War. He was the inspiration behind the creation of the Village Association and the revival of the Village Fair. In his time, the Chapel returned to use as a separate area of worship, and he used the skills of local artists and craftsmen in the construction of the screens surrounding the chapel and in the erection of the tablet of the Ten Commandments carved by Joseph Cribb. The memorial to Henry Poole was moved from the North Transept (the present Priest’s Vestry) to its present location in the chapel. Arthur Crookshank was a man of wide literary and historial interests which he combined with an infectious sense of humour. His death from an accident in the High Street in March 1958 was a great shock to all.
CHURCH SITE TRANSFORMED
The present environment for St. Margaret’s is very different from that of 50 years ago. At that time, the farmyard of Ditchling Court Farm came right up to the west wall of the churchyard and reminded all churchgoers that the village was primarily an agricultural community. At playtime, the noise of the children could be clearly heard coming from the playground which adjoined the northwest corner of the churchyard. The Church School, which had been first established in 1837, was moved to its present site in the Lewes Road in 1983 leaving the old school to become the present Ditchling Museum. The Green and the Museum provide a very different context to what had been before, reflecting the changing nature of the village.
IN 2007 THE PARISH OF DITCHLING BECAME THE BEACON PARISH
DITCHLING, STREAT AND WESTMESTON
By the 1970s the Church Room was deemed unfit for use and was demolished. The present Choir Vestry was then constructed on its partly underground site at the north east corner of the church. In 2003, the Vicarage moved once again – this time to Charlton Gardens.
During the incumbency of Revd Jason Clarke (2001-2006) the last Vicar of Ditchling, the St. Margaret Fair was revived to run in alternate years with the Ditchling Fair.
In 2007 the parish of Ditchling became the Beacon Parish – Ditchling, Streat and Westmeston – with the first Vicar, our present Vicar, Reverend David Wallis.
FRIENDS OF ST MARGARET’S CHURCH, DITCHLING
Registered Charity No 1024889
The Friends of St. Margaret’s Church Trust is a charitable Trust, which was established in 1993 by the then Churchwardens, Colonel Digby Thompson and Mr Peter Coster.
THE OBJECTS OF THE CHARITY are:
To raise funds to help the Parochial Church Council in the maintenance repair, replacement of and addition to
(i) the fabric of the Parish Church of St. Margaret’s Church Ditchling
(ii) the organ within the Parish Church
(iii) the contents of the building
(iv) the churchyard including the planting and replanting of shrubs and trees.
The Trustees work closely with the Parochial Church Council, the body responsible for the church and its worship.
Membership of the Trust is open to everyone, irrespective of religious persuasion, who have an interest in preserving the building that is St. Margaret’s Church.
The church is a Grade I Listed Building that has its origins in the 12th Century, built on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. Whilst it has been lovingly cared for over its long life, it is none the less an ancient structure that needs continual maintenance.
The Parochial Church Council has few resources for this and it is the Trustees responsibility to ensure that funds are found to preserve the heritage of this ancient building for future generations of villagers and visitors.
As a results of this generosity the Trustees have been able to contribute significantly for the work on St. Margaret’s Church, including reshingling the spire, replastering and decoration works, and many other urgent matters. The Quinquennial Report, produced by the Church Architect, is the guide to all works.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Our future ability to support the Parochial Church Council is measure against our income, and importantly, the Trustees obligations to conserve a viable Trust Fund, both for this and future generations.
We therefore ask everyone who would like to assure the future of the fabric of St. Margaret’s Church, Ditchling, to remember the Trust, either by gift or through a bequest, so that we can continue to provide support in the long term.
If you feel that you are able or would like to find out more about becoming a Friend, then please get in contact with the Trust Secretary, Catharine Robinson, 01273 841732 or by email email@example.com, or myself:
Chairman, The Friends of St. Margaret’s Church Trust
Telephone: 01273 844323 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ACCESS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE
It is the fervent wish of the Parish Church of St Margaret of Antioch, Ditchling, to make everyone feel welcome both in the church and in the activities of the church.
Every possible effort has been made to meet the requirements of disabled people so that they may share in all aspects of church life. With regret, however, there are some areas where this is not yet possible. This is due in large part to the church being an ancient Grade 1 listed building which is not easily adaptable. We hope, in due course, to raise funds to meet those requirements which are currently not available.
We hope these notes will help anyone with a disability to enjoy being part of the life of St. Margaret’s Church.
FOR THOSE WITH A PHYSICAL DISABILITY
Wheelchair access is possible through the west door at services. Should the door appear to be closed, please ask someone to open it.
For security reasons the west door cannot be left open at other times. Anyone wishing to gain access to the church should make arrangements beforehand by ringing the Vicar or Churchwardens.
Access to the chancel or the Abergavenny Chapel is reached by a step and so we regret that this is not easily possible. There is a ramp which is kept folded by the entrance to the Abergavenny Chapel.
At Eucharist Services the Vicar is happy to bring communion to anyone who cannot gain access to the chancel.
For seating within the church, sidesmen will guide you to the best place for a wheelchair.
Those with moderate walking or sitting difficulties may find the pews difficult to sit in. There is extra leg room in the pew near the west door or, alternatively, chairs are available.
At present there is no available access to a toilet as this is currently in the vestry down some steep steps. The nearest toilet for the disabled is in the village hall car park – or in the village hall, if open.
Anyone with moderate walking difficulties who requires the toilet should ask one of the sidesmen to guide them down the steps to the lower vestry.
At present there are only a couple of available disabled parking spots in the churchyard. Take the road north out of the roundabout and within 50 yards there is a very small lane to the left which leads to the churchyard. Parking is at the far end before the Museum car park.
FOR THOSE WITH A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT
The sidesmen will help you to find an area of the Church where the lighting is the most suitable for you.
The following enlarged print materials are available: hymn books; extra large print hymn sheets; the Eucharist Service Booklet and a Bible (this last on request).
Every effort is made to ensure that other printed materials are available in enlarged print and that signs and notices are easy to read. Other items can be printed on request.
FOR THOSE WITH A HEARING IMPAIRMENT
The church is fitted with an induction-loop system which is in use at all services.
Anyone experiencing problems with the loop system during a service should speak to the sidesmen.
If requested beforehand every effort will be made to make a sign language or lip speaking interpreter available for a particular service. Anyone requiring such a service should contact the Vicar or Churchwardens well in advance of the occasion.
FOR THOSE WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES
Anyone with a learning disability is most welcome in the church.
They should make use of any of the above listed facilities which may be helpful.
If there is any other problem in accessing information, they or their companion should speak to the sidesmen or the Vicar or Churchwardens.
ACCESS TO OFFSITE CHURCH ACTIVITIES
Some church activities or meetings are held in other venues, including private homes. Disabled people are most welcome on such occasions but we cannot guarantee that all private homes will have the necessary facilities.
Most such activities are ‘advertised’ well in advance, either in the Beacon or in the weekly service sheet, usually with a contact telephone number. We would strong advise anyone requiring special facilities to contact the number to establish whether or not these are available.
If anyone has any suggestions for improving our existing facilities for disabled people please contact the Parish Office at email@example.com or contact one of the church wardens.
Graves in St Margaret's churchyard can be located here.
The information in these materials was created by the Ditchling History Project and includes inscriptions for each grave, where readable, plus information from the book Monumental Inscriptions of Ditchling Churchyard compiled in 1877 by Frederick William Town Attree.
Please see their website for more details on the work of the Ditchling History Project.