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The Rother Valley Guide
West Sussex, England

The Heyshott Book
pages 93 & 94


 


St James Church


 
Betty Murray thought that the fragment of a stone pillar piscina which was found when the south-west corner of the nave was excavated in 1972, may have come from what may have been an earlier chapel. It is now kept in the font, except of course during baptisms.
 
Before the Reformation, the church apparently had some stained glass windows. During the mid 19th century renovations, such fragments as remained were removed.
 
An article in the Midhurst Times of 31 July 1937 says:
 
    An interesting piece of restoration has been made in St James's Church, Heyshott.
    Some pieces of ancient painted glass having been replaced in a window in the aisle. The story of them is that about 1850 the
    church was restored and this glass, with probably more, was removed as being of little value.
    It came into the hands of the late Mr William Clare, of Midhurst, who gave three pieces some thirty years ago to the late Mrs
    Wheeler, who then resided in Eastbourne.
    In her will she left them to Mrs Cobden Unwin. Professor Selwyn Image has pronounced them to be early 16th century work.
    This opinion has been confirmed by Mr Robert Newbery, who has carried out the work of placing the fragments of painted
    glass, representing three angels playing musical instruments, in a leaded glass window and replacing them in the church from
    which they were removed more than sixty years ago.
 
As mentioned earlier, the lost charter of Alan FitzEudo was confirmed by Bishop Seffrid in the first half of the 12th century. The original charter may therefore have been signed as early as AD 1100; if so, the chapel itself must have been in existence before then and may well have been built before the Conquest.
 
A short history of the present building, which is for sale in the church, says it dates from the early 14th century. However it gives no firm evidence for this assertion and it may well be older.
The Victoria County History states that in the early 13th century it consisted of a chancel, nave and narrow north aisle, which is also what it consisted of before the considerable rebuilding in the mid 19th century.

Only the south and west walls of the nave are original as is the arcade between the nave and the north aisle. The arcade arches are in the Early English style (1189-1307), when the pointed arch came into general use.
 
It is possible that the font was originally 12th century and came from the early church. It has however undergone various alterations. It most likely was originally plain tub shaped but, by the 13th century, it stood on a stem and four shafts. These were later cut down but vestiges of them remain.
 
The wooden cover dates from the 17th century.
font


 
Page 93
 



Page 94


 
It is believed that the timbers of the nave roof date from the 17th century because many of the rafters have cuts in them, indicating that they are reused ships timbers.
In the 16th and 17th centuries new oak could only have come from naval ships.
Therefore there was probably some major rebuilding of the church during this period. It is also intriguing to wonder whether, before this, the church was roofless, because when the old organ was removed it was found to stand only on rubble.
Betty Murray was granted a faculty to excavate the south-west corner of the nave before it was paved. She found much of an old brick floor some 9 inches or more below the present one, the remains of an old domestic pottery kiln and shards of domestic pots. She also found a line of half-round bricks laid towards the north-east corner diagonally across the nave.
This continued across the churchyard to the stream on its eastern boundary and grave diggers have told us they have often found these bricks.
So, had villagers built shelters inside the church walls, perhaps during a period of plague in the 14th century?
 
During the 1850s restoration the old floor was raised, thus hiding the bases of the arcade columns.
The pews, which at one time had doors to them, were put on a raised wooden flooring, no doubt to avoid the damp which was clearly a recurring problem.
 
This is due to the fact that Heyshott church is the only medieval church in Sussex known to have been built directly on to the gault clay, which here is 100 feet deep, according to the Littlehampton firm which dug most of the wells in the village.


St James Heyshott
Old box pews, Heyshott Church - click image for enlargement


Page 94

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Heyshott Book

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