Brighton and Hove – Stanmer church (dedication unknown)

Until c1450 the rector was the precentor of the college of South Malling (2 p85) and the parish was thus under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In 1664 there were only three houses (2 p163), probably as a result of sheep farming, but unlike other parishes similarly affected, the church continued in use, no doubt because the estate belonged to a branch of the Pelhams, the later Earls of Chichester, and they built their house here in 1724.  By 1800 there was an estate village around the church, which stands across lawns from the house.  The estate became a public park after World War II, including the village, but despite the proximity of much housing and Sussex University, it keeps its former character.

The church was rebuilt in 1838, at the expense of the then Earl (Nibbs, notes 1851).  Doubt surrounds the identity of the architect.  A plan from the estate archives (ESRO ACC 3412/3/32) is signed and dated by J Butler.  It shows a new church with a cruciform groundplan like the present one, superimposed on the old one.  Butler is a likely candidate on stylistic grounds, but the obscure R Joanes signed off the plans, so he may have had a hand in the design as well (BE(E) p289).  It was probably at this time that he moved to Lewes, where he is to be found in 1841, whereas in 1838 he was still living at Chichester, which probably accounts for his association with Butler.  Sue Berry adduces evidence which suggests Joanes was the clerk of works (1 p210), though that need not rule out his responsibility for the design as well.  Butler’s plan does not affect the situation, for it does not go into detail.  It is most valuable for what it shows of the old church, of which it is the only surviving plan.  It shows it had a west tower with a single large buttress at the south west corner.  This is confirmed by the Sharpe (undated) and Burrell (1780) Collection drawings, which show the tower had a slender broach spire and plain openings, except for a trefoiled east one.  They also show a west window that looks early C15 and that is the probable date of the whole.  The drawings also show C13 lancets in nave and chancel, a C15 east window and a C14 north one with pierced spandrels.

Neither drawing indicates the church was in a bad state and in 1732 the parish register notes that it had been ‘new covered’ (i e re-roofed), whilst Horsfield (History of Lewes, II p217) speaks of recent repairs.  These presumably included a further re-roofing and re-pewing recorded in 1801 (1 p205).  The then Earl paid for this and the continued family interest may account for the decision to rebuild the church totally.  It would also account for the use of flint and not the cheaper rendered brick or rubble. both then more common.  The plan is cruciform, with transepts well west of the chancel.  The thin tower has single bell-openings and a narrow spire behind battlements corbelled out on grotesque heads.  Most windows are over-sized lancets, cusped in the chancel, with simplified tracery in the east window.

The interior combines unrelated gothic shafts, mouldings and foliage, under a nave roof with cranked tiebeams and cusping above; that of the chancel is adorned by angels bearing shields.  There has been little later structural change and a panelled west gallery with organ on iron posts must be original.  In 1905 J O Scott was paid £2 2s 0d for an unspecified account (BAL/MSS ScJO/2/1), but can only have provided a design of some kind for such a sum.  F J Jones, estate carpenter and churchwarden (Dale p214), made most fittings in the late C19 and his son carved the west doors at a later date.

The church was declared redundant in 2008 and was thereafter for a time used by a Greek Orthodox congregation.  However, this arrangement has ended and the long term future of the church is thus uncertain.  More positively, the Stanmer Preservation Society opens the church every Sunday afternoon and at present, most fittings remain.  The Society is currently exploring means of paying for the repairs that are becoming increasingly unavoidable (see www.stanmer.org.uk)..

Fittings and monuments

Font:
1.  Small and octagonal with a quatrefoil on each side, probably dating from 1838.
2.  A plain round bowl, probably a former font, was found in the nearby woods in 1959 (5 p270), but was not reinstated.
Glass: (East window) Mayer and Co, 1887 (Antram and Morrice p211)  There is no trace of the glass said to have been acquired for the church in 1838 from W Miller of Silver Street, London (3 p62).
Monuments:
1.  (North nave) Sir John Pelham (d1580) and his wife.  Husband and wife kneel facing each other, with their son, who is also commemorated, behind the father.   The monument came here from Holy Trinity Minories, London (VCH 7 p239), probably when that church closed in the 1890s.
2. (South chancel) Elizabeth Scrase (d1732) signed ‘Hargraves, Lewes’.  An oval dark marble plaque.  Her son Henry (d1793) is also commemorated and from the style the memorial clearly postdates his death
3. Frederick Frankland (c1775) by E Coade (Roscoe p284)
4.  (North nave) J Jones (d1914). See above.
Royal Arms: George III.  Painted to resemble wood but in fact of iron.  This was presumably transferred from the previous church, though the superimposed arms of Hanover had only ceased to be included the year before the church was built.

Sources

1.  S Berry: The Impact of the Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians on Early Parish Churches – City of Brighton and Hove c1680-1914, SAC 149 (2011) pp199-219
2.  P Brandon: Deserted Mediaeval Villages in the Brighton Area, SAC 112 (1974) p163
3.  E H W Dunkin: History of the Deanery of South Malling, XII – Stanmer, SAC 26 (1875) pp84-90
4.  J Goodfield and P Robinson: Stanmer and the Pelham Family, Brighton, 2007
5.  N Hammond: An Ancient Font from Stanmer, SNQ 16 (Nov 1966) pp270-72

Acknowledgements

1. My particular thanks to Nick Wiseman who alerted me to the recent changes of use and also provided the three photographs of the interior, the Royal Arms and the Pelham monument.

2. I am also grateful to John Vigar who established the material of the Royal Arms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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