From: A Descriptive Account of the Parish Church of Framfield, Sussex by Herbert W Keef - published by the Friends - printed copies available in church price £1.00.
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The dedication of this Church is singularly appropriate, the parish being part of the Manor of South Malling, belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The date of Becket's martyrdom was in 1170, and he was canonised in 1190. The principal part of the present church was built between 1200 and 1250, the first Rector being appointed in 1223. The fame of the popular national saint soon spread not only in England but also in continental countries, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage.
The dedication of the new building to the much revered saint was thus not only a memorial to his sanctity, but also a tribute of respect for their leige Lord of the Manor. Among the churches in the land which bear the name of St Thomas à Becket, Framfield may justly claim to be one of the earliest.
The date of the founding of the Manor is uncertain. It has been assigned by Leland to Cadwalla, King of the West Saxons, who died in 688, but it was granted to the See of Canterbury by Baldred, one of the last Kings of the Saxon Heptarchy, between 823 and 836, and confirmed by King Egbert in 838. This grant is the origin of the temporal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction which the Archbishop exercised in Manors lying within the limits of the See of Chichester, and which remained until the confiscation of the Manor in 1545. Such a right was known as the Archbishops "Peculiar". A collegiate church of Benedictine Canons was established at South Malling at an early date, and there is a record that Archbishop Theobald, about 1150, increased the efficiency of the establishment by forming it into a Deanery.
The old British trackway along the crest of the ridge running from Hastings to Uckfield formed a convenient approach for the Saxon invaders to penetrate into the heart of the great Wealden forest region, and the numerous place names on this route show to this day the site of their various settlements, the terminal "field" being the most prevalent, indicating the spot where the forest trees had been felled and the space occupied by a homestead and cultivated land. Framfield was probably founded early in the ninth century and was a small settled community when the Manor passed into the possession of the Archbishop. One can only conjecture that, as the Saxons had embraced Christianity and the parish was part of an ecclesiastical domain, some provision was made for the religious welfare of the inhabitants. Most early Saxon churches were small wooden structures of unhewn logs with wattle and daub filling in. They were doubtless served by itinerant priests who journeyed from parish to parish as their services were required.
The first historical mention of Framfield is contained in the Domesday survey of 1087, where it is entered under the name of Framelle; there is no mention of a church at that date, but as the main object of the survey was to ascertain the amount that had been paid to King Edward the Confessor by each parish, the omission has no significance. On the subject of the tax it is stated that - "never having paid geld" - being ecclesiastical property it was exempt from taxation by the King.
There are no visible remains of any Norman stone building having superseded the Saxon wooden edifice, but it is safe to presume that such a building existed similar to one in the adjoining parish of Little Horsted, the northern wall of the Chancel showing considerable traces of Norman work. As that parish is of very small extent compared with the area of Framfield, it is fair to presume that the larger parish should also possess a church built of stone when the Norman conquerors entered into possession.
The history of the existing building begins in the early years of the 13th century, when a start was made in the erection of a Chapel on the northern side of the presumed small Norman edifice to which it was an annex. This was a prelude to providing a much larger church to consist of nave, north and south aisles, western tower, chancel and chapels, which gradually, during the period between 1200 and 1250, emerged into the well planned structure that has survived unto the present day.
The year 1223 marks a definite step in the ecclesiastical history of the parish; documentary evidence is available and we learn that in this year Archbishop Stephen Langton ordered that the sum of four marks should be paid annually from the church of Fremisfield to the sacrist of the Collegiate Church of South Malling; this proves that there was a church in existence at that date, possibly the Norman building was used while the new one was being constructed. Also in the same year the first resident clergyman was appointed in the person of Robert de Bishopstone as Rector, the first of the long line of clergy who have successively ministered in the parish up to the present time (a complete list of their names is hung just inside the Church near the porch).
In 1266, on the appointment of Gilbert de Cliva, the benefice was converted into a vicarage, the annual payment of 4 marks being continued and it was further charged with the additional payment of 15 marks to the Dean and Chapter of South Malling. By this time it, is assumed that the building of the new church had been completed and the small Norman one demolished.
Entering the sacred edifice by the north porch (which in its present state is not coeval with the original church, being probably built about 1845 to replace a possible wooden one destroyed in the fire of 1509), we find ourselves in a well proportioned lofty nave separated on each side from north and south aisles by arcades of four arches supported on octagonal pillars with moulded caps and plain chamfered bases. The arches of the arcades have simple rectangular ribs with coved splays and shew the transition from the more acute lancet form to the latter quadrilateral arch that marks the evolution of the Early English style merging into the Decorated.
There are none of the elaborate mouldings, floriated capitals, detached or coupled columns, etc. that characterise the more elaborate cathedrals and churches of the period, but the very simplicity and severity of these arcades is impressive and dignified. The rich colouring of the stone pillars, especially towards the east end, owing to the presence of iron in the local sandstone, almost gives the impression of veined marble. The chancel arch is unusually lofty and of the same clear detail to the nave arcades. The most striking feature that meets the eye is the position of the original entrance from the chancel to a former rood loft, this is almost unique (Yuverland, Isle of Wight and Meopham in Kent are the only similar examples known to the writer). Rood lofts entrances were usually approached by turret stairs in the wall of north arcade or chancel wall. The Framfield opening was apparently approached by a ladder on the chancel side reaching to three stone steps, still in position, by which the rood loft level was reached.
The early rood screen for which this entrance was planned is no longer in existence, it may have been damaged in the 1509 fire or a new one constructed to replace it, for it is rather surprising to learn from a M.S. written by Sir Joseph Ayloffe that a rood screen was actually in existence at the end of the 18th century, and is thus described by him: "The nave is separated from the Chancel by an ancient Skreen of Carpentry pannelled to the height of four feet over which it is framed in an open work richly carved and rising in the whole about twelve feet from the ground. This Skreen appears to have been painted in party colours." There is no mention of the loft over the screen, Sir Joseph being probably unaware that rood lofts were ordered to be removed in the reign of Edward VI.
In the year 1788 the Churchwardens set up in the Chancel what is described as "a most neat and cheap Altar piece at a cost of £11.11s.0d.," and a further entry in the Vestry book records that a contract was entered into for "Painting, Writing and Guilding the Altar piece for the sum of £14.3s.6d." - we may, therefore, assume that this was considered a favourable opportunity of removing, what was no doubt thought to be a relic of Popery and an obstruction to the view of the new gilded Altar piece. Though this no longer encumbers the building, it is deplorable to reflect that such a striking adornment to the Church as the ancient rood screen should have been ruthlessly destroyed in those unenlightened days, a relic that would today have been valued not only for its beauty but also for its historic association with the fabric.
The Chancel is of the same width as the Nave and on the same level as far as the Altar rail, this portion of the building being practically unused during Georgian days under the rule of the Churchwardens, was allowed to fall into dilapidation, and it was not until the advent of an enlightened Vicar, the Rev Henry Hoare in 1836, that in 1842, largely at his own expense, the whole east end had to he rebuilt on the old foundations, the tracery of the old window being so badly decayed that a new window was inserted; fortunately Mr. Hoare was an enthusiast in the cause of the Gothic revival, and the new window is based on the design of the beautiful west window of Tintern Abbey. On the north and south walls arched openings of similar character with those of the Nave arcade give access to transeptal Chapels known respectively as Hempstead and Bentley or Gage Chapels. Between the latter and the Chancel is a well preserved "squint" enabling the worshippers to obtain a view of the Altar. In pre-Reformation days the Chancel must have contained a piscina and aumbrey, with perhaps a sedilia and possibly an Easter sepulchre. No vestige of these remains and it appears only too probable that they were all swept away and the apertures built up during the period of the Commonwealth when East Sussex in particular was strongly Puritan in religion and politics.
This, the earliest part of the Church, built about 1200, has two interesting windows In the north and east walls which give an object lesson in the history of the development of the Early English style; the northern consists of two narrow lancet headed lights separated by a shaft of masonry, the heads being filled with simple cusped tracery, the latter being the earliest form of tracery added to the plain lancet heads which had previously characterised the pointed style of architecture, and which eventually expanded into the magnificent windows of the Decorated period, the narrow masonry division between the two lights is also the nucleus of the many mullioned windows of later periods. The window in the east wall shews the further progress in window construction that speedily followed upon the first tentative effort, the two lights are-now coupled together with a million, and a quaterfoil apex, the whole embraced under one arch and surmounted with an arched drip mould. In the apex of the window arch is a small fragment of medieval glass, the only survival of the stained glass that once added glowing colour to the windows of the Church. This Chapel is now used as a clergy vestry and organ chamber and has a small arched external doorway.
It is conjectured that in the original structure this was a small chapel consisting of the extension of the south aisle to the present east wall, the angle of the squint lending some confirmation to this theory. Both Hempstead and Bentley were Manor Farms of the Archbishop's Manor and were presumably built for the accommodation of the retainers of the respective farms. The Bentley chapel being found too small, was enlarged to its present dimensions about 1400, and with its two three-light windows of mid-Perpendicular design with the original leaded lights and clear and slightly tinted glass forms one of the most attractive features of the Church, admitting as it does the sunlight without any obstruction of stained glass, which in so many churches almost entirely shut out the daylight.
On the south wall of the Chapel is an alabaster monument enclosing a brass depleting the kneeling figures of Edward Gage and his wife, son and five daughters, and the following inscription in stone above the brass: "Here lyeth ye bodies of Edward Gage Esquire and Margaret his wife (daughter of Sir John Shellie of Michelgrove) and had 3 sonnes and 7 daughters. Anno Domini 1595". Below is a Latin quotation from the Office for the Dead.
The Gages of Bentley were descended from a branch of the noble family of the Gages of Firle and settled at Bentley in the early years of the 16th century, an entry in the Register of the Church records the burial of Edward Gage Gent in 1539, and the family was still in residence at the end of the 18th century. It may be opportune to mention here that Framfield is one of the few churches that possess a complete series of Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials from 1538 (the earliest date when they were ordered to be kept) until the present date.
A low arched narrow priest's door in the south wall affords an entrance from the churchyard.
The only portion of the original structure that cannot be seen or described is the West Tower which collapsed in 1667 and which is referred to below in an account of the building of a new Tower. The present clerestory above the Nave arcades is not part of the old building, which probably had both nave and aisles roofed under one span similar to many Sussex churches of that period. In 1509 a disastrous fire occurred in the old roof which in its fall partly destroyed the aisle walls, though leaving the Nave arcades and Chancel arch intact. This was a serious calamity for the parishioners to face and a considerable time elapsed before an ultimate decision was made. The Nave, before the fire, must have been rather dark, being dependent solely on light from the aisle windows: the Church authorities then embarked on the bold scheme of raising the Nave arcade walls some feet higher and forming clerestories having glazed windows of similar pattern to those in the aisles and re-roofing the Nave and Aisles in three separate spans of lower pitch, the result has been satisfactory and the interior is now exceptionally well lighted for a village church. The cost of this work must have proved a heavy burden on the parish and recourse was made for help from other churches in the form of a brief for which permission was sought from King Henry VIII, in a petition which for its quaint wording and quainter spelling perhaps deserves to be preserved from oblivion - it runs as follows:-
"TO THE KING OUR SOVERAIN LORD"
"In the most lowly wise shewn unto your highness your most humble subgiestes the aparisshens of the parish church of Framfield in the Deanery of South Malling in your countie of Sussex. That where the said church chauncel staple and bellis with all the ornaments within the said church and chauncell was now of late by infortune of fyre takene within the barn of the parsonage of the said churche clearely wasted brent and consumed."
"In tender consideration whereof it maye please your highness of your most blissed disposition to grant unto your said subgiectes the parisshons of the said parishe your gracious lettres paients of licence under your great seale to aske levie and receive the alms of Devout Xpen people within the counties of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Essex towards the reedefying of the said church, chauncell steple and bying of the bellis and ornaments belonging to the same during the space of three yeres from the date of the same your licence to be accompted."
"And your beseechers shall contunnelly pray to Almighty God for the prosperous conservacion of your most noble and Roiall estate."
There is no record of the result of this appeal. The mention of a “steple” amongst the objects destroyed indicates that the tower had been surmounted by a wooden spire presumably covered with shingles of a similar type to the existing spire of the neighbouring church of Buxted. The work of reparation was eventually completed though the Chancel seems to have only received temporary repair as a memorandum dated 1570 states that "the chancell of the pishe church of Framfield was in great ruyne and decay." The collegiate church of South Malling was suppressed in 1545, the Archbishops Manor being confiscated and given to Sir Thomas Palmer of Angmering, the parish of Framfield being bestowed for a time as part of the lands assigned to the Lady Anne of Cleves by the King as some compensation to her for the loss of the rather precarious position of reigning as his Queen.
In the year 1667 a further disaster occurred. On a Sunday morning, just after service, the Tower of the Church collapsed, bringing in its fall the west wall of the Nave and the peal of six bells. The question of rebuilding the Tower was shelved for the time on the ostensible pretext of the cost, but as it was more generally believed to be because the strong Puritan feeling was opposed to such structures as survivals and reminders of the old sacerdotal worship.
The rebuilding of the west wall was however essential and was put in hand and completed in 1688, the Churchwardens recording this achievement by having a stone carved with their initials and the date which is visible as the termination of the coping on west wall of north aisle. The fate of the bells may be briefly recorded, we learn from Ayloffe's M.S. that five of the bells were lying on the floor of the church in 1775, having lain there in a cracked and fragmentary condition for over 100 years. In 1779 however, two of the bells were recast, both bearing that date, the larger one which weighs 2 cwt. having the inscription "Wm. Heaves of London ficit. Oblige me not to call in vain." This bell was for a time hung in a wooden turret on the roof, but was afterwards suffered to lie outside the Church until its installation in the new Tower in 1892. There is a tradition that two of the bells were sold to Rotherfield and East Grinstead, and enquiries reveal that there is a coincidence of dates that appears to confirm the tradition.
In the early years of the 18th century the Church was fitted with box pews and a three-decker pulpit and a small gallery at the west end for the accommodation of the village orchestra. The Chancel was practically disused and allowed to fall into further decay.
During the Hanoverian period the Church of England had degenerated into a lethargic and moribund state, the liturgical services being mainly confined to a mumbled duet between the parson and the clerk, the principal event being the sermon of inordinate length to which the parishioners either listened or slumbered in the recesses of their cushioned pews. The fabric of the Church was disfigured by plaster and whitewash, including a flat plastered ceiling over a portion of the Chancel and as late as 1842 one of the Churchwardens built a chimney and inserted a grate in his pew in the Chancel, this last offence being however too much for the congregation to suffer and after some difficulty the obstruction was removed.
To the reforming zeal of the Revd. Henry Hoare the parishioners of Framfield owe a debt of gratitude, for it was mainly owing to his untiring exertions and financial assistance that the building was saved from utter ruin arising from the scandalous neglect of the responsible Church authorities. Mr. Hoare had to exercise great tact and perseverance in persuading the Churchwardens to do such necessary works as making the building watertight and then gradually proceeding to internal reparations, reducing height of box pews, removing minstrels gallery at west end of Nave and restoring and rebuilding large part of the Chancel and providing choir seating therein, fitting up an organ in Bentley Chapel and restoring the services of the Church to something approaching congregational worship. This work occupied the years 1844-45 and Mr. Hoare had the satisfaction of finding that his work was appreciated by the parishioners and he could carry on his ministry in congenial surroundings during the next twenty-one years until his death in 1866.
Successive generations of parishioners had grown accustomed to the absence of a tower to the Church and even Mr. Hoare had not the temerity of suggesting a rebuilding, and his partial renovation of the building was sufficient for the needs of the time, but, taste had changed in subsequent years and a generation had arisen, reinforced by new and wealthy residents to whom the unfinished aspect of the building was regarded not only as an eyesore, but a want of reverence for the character of the building. Consequently during the Vicariate of the Revd. Henry Leach, about the year 1875, the question of rebuilding the Tower was mooted but nothing was done until certain urgent repairs had to be undertaken in 1891. Mr. Robert Thornton, of High Cross, then generously offered to rebuild the Tower to mark his Shrieveality, and his wife added the gift of a clock. When the work which was built on the old foundations, which were intact, was only a few feet above ground the donor, while visiting the work, caught a chill and, to the great grief of the community, expired the next day. His son Major R. L. Thornton however completed the work which his father had so nobly begun. Much of the stonework of the old Tower, including a consecration cross, has been rebuilt in the south wall and a 14th century two-light window found in the kitchen garden of the Vicarage has been reinserted over the west doorway. The next year Mr. Thornton's widow and children erected to his memory the Reredos designed by Mr. Sedding, an architect who was responsible for the Reredos in Bristol Cathedral, with marble lining and pavement to the sacrarium. The two supporting effigies to the central crucifix on the Reredos represent St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Canterbury, the latter being the patron saint of the Church. To complete the purpose for which a belfry tower is constructed two of the old bells recast in 1799 were rehung.
The work of renovation involved the closing of the edifice for public worship and a licence was obtained from the Bishop of Chichester for services to be held In the village school room, which became temporarily the Parish Church. The work of clearing away the old flooring and removing the box pews was the first thing to be done In the interior of the Church, followed by new tile and wood block flooring where required, cleaning walls, repairing plaster and roofing, lining the latter with oak boards, etc., and then fitting the Chancel and Nave with choir stalls and oak seating with bench ends in the Nave and Bentley Chapel. Windows were also reglazed and other necessary work completed, leaving the interior practically in its present aspect. The whole restoration was carried out at a cost of over £3,000, and owing to the liberal support of its promoters without incurring any outstanding debt. At a later date the red tiles were removed from the north side of Chancel and Hempstead Chapel roofs and replaced by Horsham stone slabs from the south aisle roof which was not watertight thus giving the whole building viewed from the north a homogenous appearance.
The embellishment of the restored interior was enhanced by various gifts: an Organ by Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Baxendale of Framfield Place, an oak Pulpit by Mr. Barclay Watson of New Place, brass Lectern by Mrs. Mackenzie Steuart and an oak screen to tower arch by Major R. L. Thornton. In recent years heating apparatus and electric lighting have also been installed.
It is doubtful if there were any monumental effigies or brasses in pre-Reformation days, as there were no residential nobility or persons of consequence in the parish - any such would be of slight importance and were probably destroyed either in the fire of 1509, or by Puritan fanatics. The earliest existing one is that of the Gages in the Bentley Chapel dated 1595, already described. There is also a well designed alabaster mural tablet in Hempstead Chapel recording the death of Francis Warnett of Hempstead in 1622. The central aisle of the Nave is paved with seven large Sussex marble slabs of the Stone family dating from 1717 to 1838; these were under the pews in Hempstead Chapel and north side of Chancel and had to be moved for the laying of the wood block floor and erection of organ. There is also one to Mrs. Mary Wright, who died in 1831 in her 90th year. The walls above Nave arcades and the wall of south aisle contain a number of memorials of no particular architectural merit to members of the Peckham, Woodward, Donovan and other local families, including a very eulogistic one to the Rev. Thomas Wharton recording the long ministry of 41 years from 1726 to 1767. He was buried in the middle of the Nave aisle.
A tablet in the south aisle is inscribed to the memory of “John and Robert Smith, Brothers and Bachelors. The first died on 10th April 1718 in the 80th year of his age. The second on the 5th October 1719 in the 79th year of his age. Both honest sober men and good christians. The last of whom gave Two Hundred pounds in charitable use to this Parish."
Sir Joseph Ayloffe in his M.S. description of the Church in 1777 states that on a stone in the floor of Bentley Chapel is the following inscription: "Here lyeth the body of Henry Gage Esquire of Bentley, son of Thomas Gage Esquire of Bentley, born the 26th day of July 1648, deceased March the 10th, 1717, aged 69 years”. No trace of this stone is now visible and it was probably removed or buried in the restoration of 1842. A large marble wall slab records the names of 36 men of the parish who died in the service of their country in the Great War 1914-1918. There is also an alabaster wall tablet in south aisle to the memory of Francis Hugh Baxendale, Esquire of Framfield Place, who died in 1918 and had occupied the position of Churchwarden for 23 years. A brass to the memory of the Revd. Henry Hoare is affixed to the north wall of Chancel and there are also brasses recording the death of Revd. E. Mackenzie Steuart in 1905, and one to Lieut. Robert West Thornton who was killed in action in 1915.
Two stained glass windows in north and south lancets of Chancel were gifts from Churchwardens and parishioners to mark their grief at the death of the popular vicar the Revd. E. Mackenzie Steuart. A stained glass window by Webb of St. Albans has been inserted in the north aisle to commemorate the demise of Mrs. Thornton, widow of the donor of the Tower, at the age of 92. The east window has stained glass of a geometric pattern of simple harmonious colours, that do not materially obscure the light and the whole effect is unobtrusive and much to be preferred to the brilliant and glaring effect of many east windows in other churches. The window is believed to be in memory of Alexander Donovan, a former owner of Framfield Place who died in 1846.
On the external side of Bentley Chapel is an ancient grave slab much weatherworn, but having a fairly distinct carved raised cross and probably dates from the 13th or early 14th century: the slab has a transverse crack or break, and the writer has been informed that the slab was found in the vicinity of the west end of the Church, and removed from thence to its present position. There is a proposal that it should again be removed into the interior and placed in a vertical position against a wall, a course which has been adopted with similar finds in many churches.
The view of the Church from the north-east angle presents a very picturesque grouping of gables and roofs, the doubled gable of the Hempstead Chapel forming the fore-ground of the picture, backed by the modern tower which in time will harmonise with the older building. As it is difficult to obtain a comprehensive view for a photograph from this point, the frontispiece sketch may afford some idea of the general effect.
Entered by a short cul-de-sac from the main Uckfield - Framfield road a picturesque group of cottages will be observed on the right, the one nearest the entrance with its tile hanging lattice windows and timber framing dates from the 16th century. A conspicuous object on the left side is a well designed lych gate with old Horsham slab roofing giving an antique appearance, though really quite modern, being a gift from James Groves of Blackboys to commemorate the coronation of King George V.
An old sundial on a stone pedestal stands just beyond and at the junction of the public footpath through the Churchyard and the direct path to the Porch entrance is a white Sicilian marble cross, bearing the simple inscription, "Lest we forget". This together with the tablet in the Bentley Chapel and the Memorial Hall in the village, are memorials to the men of the parish who gave their lives for their country in the Great War. On Armistice Sundays the British Legion and the congregation gather round the Cross, hymns are sung and prayers recited, the Last Post is sounded, the Legion standards lowered in salute and in this parish (as in most) the dead are not forgotten.
Since the original printing of this history, we have been advised by Dr William Cole MVA, FRSA, that the "small fragment of medieval glass" in the east wall of the Hempstead Chapel (page 5) is probably a 16/17th century Netherlandish roundel.
To bring the booklet up-to-date, it should be mentioned that four further memorials have been added to the Church, namely:-
A stained glass window behind the font in memory of Arthur Haire (Vicar 1926-1948)
A stone tablet to the memory of those killed in action during the Second World War
A glazed screen to the memory of Idwal Ifread Jones (Vicar 1949-1959)
Stained glass windows in the porch to the memory of Ronald (organist 1934-1960) and Evelyn Press.
During 1987 the old heating system of boiler and radiators was replaced by electric pew-heating panels, a sound reinforcement and induction loop system were installed and the interior redecorated.
In October 1987 the nave roof was badly damaged by a severe storm and had to be completely renewed.
In 1992 and 2002 we received faculties to allow the removal of the front 5 pews to give more room for special productions and participation in services.
The "old sundial" was replaced by a new one because the original was stolen. Unfortunately the replacement has also now been stolen.
In 1992 Oak shelves were provided near the font and in 1995 the Tower (or Choir) Vestry was refurbished.
In 2001 the heating system was replaced by night storage heaters and under pew cylinders (as the pew heating panels became a fire hazard)
In 2002 an updated Public Address and Sound system was installed.
In 2002 the bells were re-cast by The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, thus enabling the clock to chime and the village to have its bells "sounding out". The cost of approximately £9,000 was totally raised from local donations.
Correction: John and Robert Smith, Brothers - Robert Smith died on 5th October 1719, not 1819 as printed in the booklet. See photograph
In 2002 the South Isle window mullions were refurbished
The bells were rehung on 19th November 2002 and first rung again for public worship on 24th November after the re-dedication service. Many thanks to Peter Berry, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and all who made donations.
The church clock now chimes correctly again, thanks to the Friends.