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St. Peters, Treyford, 
demolished 1951 Death of a Church
St. Peters, Treyford
 
The church at Treyford, known as the Cathedral of the Downs, built in 1849, was demolished in 1951 having become unsafe.
It had stood for barely a hundred years and had been intended to replace the churches of Treyford and Elsted, both of which had fallen into ruin.
 
Today Treyford churchyard is a remarkable haven of peace and tranquility, surrounded on all sides by towering trees. It has become a secluded, natural sacred space of its own, conserved through the careful stewardship of members of the Elsted and Treyford community.
 
Much of the stone debris from the church was used in the foundations of the Youth Club built in Lamberts Lane, Midhurst.
Below is an article by Anthony Armstrong who visited the church as demolition commenced
reproduced in the June 1952 edition of the Church and Village newsletter.
Salvaged from the Way Back Machine, December 2013
 
The Death of a Church
an article by Anthony Armstrong.
...Elsted's ruined Saxon church was now to be restored and pulling down Treyford offered a scathing comment on the relative permanence of Saxon and Victorian building....
 
I was once present at the consecration, or birth, of a church, but never till last week had I been present at the death of one.
I do not mean the violent death which came to so many churches in the war. Treyford church, under the Sussex downs, has died, as it were, normally in its bed.

It was built only a hundred years ago between two villages, Treyford and Elsted, whose ancient churches had both fallen into ruins. Beautifully sited on a little 300 foot rise half a mile from the soft line of the hills, its slender 120 foot spire has for years been a West Sussex landmark – the Cathedral of the Downs some have called it. But soft local stone, 'clunch', was rashly used and slowly was eaten away, the inadequate foundations went, buttresses perished, and the steeple began to crack and lean. The authorities condemned it; the insurance company refused liability; and with a ten thousand pound estimate for repairs, to be met by two small parishes of under two hundred and fifty all told, demolition was the only course.
 
Last Monday the workmen arrived, and that evening I drove over with the Rector. Already the half-dozen men, using floorboards and other woodwork from the interior, had constructed a cosy little living hut in the churchyard; for they would remain on the site for a couple of months. Inside the church seemed completely unfamiliar: and I suddenly realised how integral a part of any place of worship are the serried rows of pews, which with the organ, had already been removed. Only the pulpit and font, both of stone, stood up lonely from the bare paved floor.

The first thing I saw, with rather a shock, in the centre aisle was the vestry table loaded with a weeks rations for six, and a workman with cap and cigarette carving a joint of pork into chops. It almost seemed that I had been out of place in instinctively removing my hat on entry, but I could get no clue from the Rector who had dodged the problem by not having a hat at all. So I asked him if there were a ceremony in reverse for de-consecrating a church. "Yes" he told me, "but only when it is being sold as a whole for non–religious use. Pull it to pieces and it's ordinary secular rubble. The ground, of course, remains consecrated forever; in fact, we shall continue to use it for burials”.
 
We wandered round and I enquired about the destination for the various component factors that go to make up a church in full swing as we know it. The pews, it seemed, had been sold to a boy's school in Worcestershire – soon, I imagined, to have initials carved on them during the French period.


1906 Treyford church - click to enlarge
Postcard dated 1906 - Treyford church

 
The organ? No sale. In very bad condition and the only offer received was £5. So it had been dismantled and the Rector hoped to get more than the fiver for the 96 lbs.weight of metal pipes. The stained glass windows? Not worth moving: they were of the worst Victorian colouring and treatment. One only, a plain design in red and blue, was possible – if any owner of a big mansion wanted an imposing window, say halfway up his baronial staircase… The heating system? Nearly sold to the local plumber, who had but recently put it in working order again. He had , however, called the deal off, which, the Rector felt did not display much faith in his own repairs. Still, it was being hopefully advertised in the Diocesan Magazine: eight radiators, "Robin Hood" boiler and a large quantity of 2" piping – first £30 secures. The pulpit? Of stone, difficult to move and of no particular beauty; it would be broken up. The font, being separately consecrated, could only have been sold to another church, and as no offer had come in, it was also being broken up. The lead lining, however, might fetch a good price: lead being so valuable these days as to be almost a burglar's first target; but much, the contractor's men told me, depended on the thickness. He was hopeful about this. In Victorian days they rolled 7lb lead – now it is usually only 3lb.
 
I then asked about the red tiling in the centre aisle and the chancel. Ah. That was reserved for Elsted's ruined Saxon church of which only the tiny chancel, holding a couple of dozen people, had been in service for many years, but was now to be restored. It has some of the finest herring-bone masonry in these parts, and the decision to restore it and pull down Treyford offered a scathing comment on the relative permanence of Saxon and Victorian building. "The restoration fund", continued the Rector pointedly, "is still short of some £600.."
 
"What about the rest of the stone paving?" I asked, quickly changing the subject. I learned that it had already mostly been sold for garden paths. Old chunks of masonry were also available for rockeries, principally those with designs, fleur-de-lys and so on, on them. The two heads which flanked the porch, that of a young Queen Victoria and the Bishop of Chichester of that period, had already gone that way. The corbels, too, traditionally representing contemporary dignatories, would also probably exchange their dim religious site for a bed of arabis and alyssum under the open heaven.
 
Yes, everything it seemed was somehow or other being disposed of. Except one definite white elephant. That was the cover to the font. Well, it was more than a mere cover. It was in fact a twenty foot high pyramidical canopy of carved oak, suspended from the roof. "It's nice carving" said the Rector "but it'll have to be broken up. What else could anyone do with it?" To this I suggested that one could stand it in one's garden and grow ramblers up it, merely for the fun of saying to visitors: "And that's an Alberic Barbier – the one growing up the top of the font". He laughed heartily at this, admired my sense of humour, and asked what would I offer? The Elsted Restoration Fund was still short of….
 
I said hastily that I couldn't really afford it and we moved along to the west end where a stout ladder led up to the first floor of the steeple. Then up to the second storey where hung the solitary bell. The whole floor of this was, to my amazement, carpeted with twigs. No, more than carpeted; they lay nine inches deep at the minimum and I measured more than eighteen inches over most of it. "Jackdaws," said the Rector, I could not believe it. For the slatted windows were stoutly wired inside and every one of those twigs must have been pushed or fallen through as the birds made their nests between the wire and the window. Yet I counted a bare dozen nests, and the floor space was 15 feet by 15 feet. For every twig a bird actually incorporated in its nest some 200 must have been pushed through the wire, leaving a puzzled parent to wonder where did that one go.
 

I did a rough calculation and estimated that the crackling carpet amounted to some three hundred cubic feet of twigs. "But they must have been years at this!" I said at last, and the Rector dealt me a blow from which I haven't yet recovered. "It was," he said, "entirely cleared out just a year ago!"
 
"What happens to the bell?" I asked, as we came down again to where the rope, disused these many months, dangled forlornly. Sold, it appeared, to the same school that had bought the pews. The headmaster had been so constantly faced with latecomers to lessons saying: "Please sir, I didn't hear the bell," that he grimly decided to scotch that excuse for ever. It would be a bold boy who could now trot that particular one out while the air round him still vibrated to a four-hundred-weighter, used to summoning across two miles of countryside.
 
I had a sudden impulse and laid my hand on the rope. "Go ahead," said the Rector, and so for a minute or two I tolled a solemn farewell along the downland slopes. Then the bell fell silent, never to ring again in Treyford's church steeple.
 
Outside, over an efficient outdoor fireplace – a hole in the ground with an iron sheet over it – the workmen were cooking their supper among the tombstones.
The contrast between life and death seemed very marked. Pork chops sizzled, eggs spluttered, a man sliced bread, and a few yards away slept a bygone rector of the church when it was all band-box new, fresh from the consecrating hands of the Bishop of Chichester.


Ellen Wotton, 1899 Treyford church - click to enlarge
Ellen Wotton, Treyford church

I thought of the many other people who had worshiped there and finally come to rest in its shadows: and now would lie only in the shade of the trees, while grass grew over the site where the organ had once played and psalms been sung by rows or neatly dressed villagers. It seemed very sad. Then I thought of the slow dwindling of the congregation over the years; for the church, built between two villages to serve both, had with the twentieth century waning of church attendance, ended by serving neither: indeed I myself have been there when the whole congregation was easily accommodated in the choir stalls. And at that I wondered if its passing was after all so sad. For I recalled that it had been erected unnecessarily – by an all powerful and self-willed Lady Bountiful who, refusing to repair either of the other churches, had said: "I shall have another church, a much bigger one, with the highest steeple for miles around." And at least its decay and demolition have at least resulted in the restoration of the old Saxon church at Elsted.
 
"I don't know if I mentioned it," said the Rector briskly, as we walked out of the gate to the car, "but our Restoration Fund is still short some hundreds of pounds. Now I was wondering if you…"


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Email from- Andy Foster
2 January 2017
 
I've just found your page on this demolished church. It's a fascinating read and thank you very much for putting it on the net. Is it worth being a little more complimentary about St Peter's, as the 1952 article has of course the attitudes of the height of anti-Victorian feeling? The church was designed by Benjamin Ferrey, a good early Victorian Gothicist, and your photographs show that it was a very fine building indeed, in the early Gothic Revival's favourite 'early Decorated' style. But it's not a copy and no-one could mistake it for a mediaeval church. Ferrey has a wikipedia entry and there's more about him here
 
Eastlake's comments quoted there are still very accurate. The list of works in the wikipedia entry is not complete - it doesn't include St Peter's and it only includes one of his two churches in north Shropshire which I know fairly well. Chetwynd is a stately and grand piece - Sambrook which is not in the list is a delightful little village church with a rather oriental little spirelet. Ferrey is always worth seeking out. He was famously the biographer of A. W. N. Pugin, virtually the creator of Victorian Gothic, and some of his work is very Puginian, like St Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, in London, once famous in High Church circles. I found a copy of the biography many years ago in a second hand book sale which was Kenneth Clark's and has his pencil annotations for 'The Gothic Revival'.
 
With good wishes
Andy Foster


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