Albourne – St Bartholomew
A small C12 church, which may have been apsidal, but was largely rebuilt in 1859 with the addition of a north aisle. Parts of the C12 chancel arch survive.
Although the village of Albourne is close to what was until recently the main A23, the church is situated well away from this down a narrow lane that goes no further. It stands by the park of Albourne Place, a fine mid-C17 house. It is possible that the village was moved to its present, more convenient location when the park was created, probably in the C16.
The originally C12 church had, as Nibbs (1851) shows, a two-cell plan. In the chancel is a small blocked south window, its head formed from a single stone and there was formerly a similar one to the north (VCH 6(2) p123), so some walling is original. The other apparent C12 survival is the chancel arch, which has chevrons on the head. Though it is in fact now entirely C19 and has lost its outer order, 14 original voussoirs from this, now severely weathered, are let into the churchyard wall near the gate – each is carved with what has been called ‘formalised beakheads’ (www.crsbi.ac.uk retrieved 1/4/2013) of varying sizes. It is not known why the C19 restorer did not reproduce this order. According to Harrison (p48) the stones came from an old arch in the nave, but it is most unlikely that this could have been anything but the chancel arch.
The east end raises some questions. Outside, the lower part of the east wall projects slightly, to accommodate a large, irregularly shaped pointed wall-arch inside. This is mentioned by Hussey (p183) and thus predates the work of 1859. It does not look later than about 1200 and the same applies to the side lancets, suggesting the whole chancel was remodelled then. This is puzzling, first because it was so soon after the church was built and also because the purpose of the wall-arch is not obvious. W H Godfrey suggests its imposts are C12 and belonged to an arch leading to an apse (2 p182), but it is hard to see why such an arch should have been kept if redundant or why the church was reduced in size at a time of rapid population growth. David Parsons (in his analysis of the church in SRS 101 (pp1-2)) suggests that there was originally a three-celled plan and cites Newhaven as another example, but that is not strictly comparable since the middle cell is a tower. Three-cell plans do, however, exist in Sussex as the examples at Stopham (incomplete) and Bishopstone (substantially intact though probably always larger and architecturally more elaborate) and some kind of eastern cell is the most likely explanation at Albourne. A possible reason for the partial rebuilding of the head of the eastern arch is that the apse was only removed in the later Middle Ages after such things had fallen out of favour (that is probably what happened at Stopham); excavations might provide an answer.
Little more was done for certain before the Reformation, beyond the insertion of C14 ogee-lancets and C15 square headed ones. In 1586 the church is said to have been in poor repair (1 p62) and a porch dated 1641 was added (Dallaway II(2) p288). Most south windows have been faithfully renewed, as Adelaide Tracy (1850) (III p26) and Quartermain ((W) p17) show. Nibbs notes that a north transept had been added about 25 years previously (i e around 1825) at the east end of the nave, with a hipped roof and plain windows, like the one still existing in the old church at Milland. Nibbs also shows that the north nave wall was blank and a squat louvred bell-turret like that today, which was probably C14 or C15 like the windows.
In 1859 everything was swept away except the chancel. Pevsner identifies the architect simply as ‘Scott’ (BE p395) and his indexer interprets this as Sir George G Scott, but there is no source given. David Cole found no contemporary one and Albourne is not in the list of Scott’s works published after his death (B 36 p360). Despite the bad reputation he had even in his lifetime, Scott was a careful restorer by the standards of his time and it seems unlikely that he would have acquiesced in the destruction of so much ancient fabric or placed the stones from the chancel arch so cavalierly in the boundary wall. It is more likely that ‘Scott’ was E E Scott, who was less inhibited in his restorations and had been active in Brighton from 1853, though little is known of his activities for the following ten years. The work cost £1750 (PP 125) and involved a new north aisle with a three-bay arcade of standard C13 derivation. The nave was rebuilt, copying the south windows except the plate tracery of the west one which, like that in the aisle, has an elaborate rere-arch. The work inside is competent and the external flintwork well executed, as are the head-stops on the aisle windows and south doorway. Horsham slabs were re-used on the roof.
Fittings and monument
Font: Plain and octagonal, Mosse calls it C14 (Treasures (ed) p21) and though it has clearly been retooled, presumably at the restoration, the irregularities still visible support an ancient origin.
Monument: (Chancel north) Rev Charles Bridger (d1826) Plain tablet, signed by Williams of Brighton.
Piscina: (Chancel east wall) C13 Quite large and trefoil-headed. It is also recorded by Hussey (ibid).
1. G R Burleigh: Deserted Mediaeval Villages in East Sussex, SAC 111 (1973) pp45-83
2. Anon [W H Godfrey]: St Bartholomew, Albourne, SNQ 5 p182
Measured plan (1934) by W H Godfrey and E F Harvey in 2 p183