Chithurst – Dedication unknown
A tiny two-cell mid-C11 church with mostly C13 or C14 windows.
Like many churches on the Western Rother, Chithurst is close to the river and is one of five parish churches in under three miles. Perhaps for this reason the parish has always been poor. It was exempted from the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 and by 1482 was regarded as a chapelry of Iping (VCH 4 p6).
A small church mentioned in Domesday Book (11, 9) must be the present one, which stands on a mound that is possibly artificial. It consists of a nave and chancel, which was never extended, and the interior has a marked slope from west to east. Taylor and Taylor (p157) date the church to shortly after 1050, because of the large quoins and thin walls of plastered rubble, though a patch of herringbone masonry in the north wall of the nave is not reliable evidence. John Potter has noted certain pre-Conquest characteristics in the masonry but broadly concurs (SAC 145 (2007) p84), though he does not suggest a narrower dating. The only original window is a north one in the chancel. The round-headed chancel arch is narrow in proportion to its height, but lacks throughstones, though Potter suggests there could have been some originally that were replaced at later repairs (ibid p95). That seems needlessly complicated and less likely in the case of internal masonry, so it is likely to be mid-C11 at the earliest. The abaci are plain and the head is slightly horseshoe-shaped, as if bent by the wall above.
In the early C13 a lancet was inserted in the south chancel wall. Its rere-arch lacks a scoinson, indicating the date. The nave roof, with three simple tiebeams, is probably also C13, though only the main timbers are visible as the rest is plastered. Otherwise the windows and doorways are C14 and so probably is the braced chancel roof. The single-light west window has a cinquefoiled head and the south west nave window has two ogee-headed lights and a quatrefoil head. Quartermain ((W) p62) and the Burrell Collection drawing (1791) show this in the centre of the wall and it was probably moved to accommodate a second C19 copy of it. The east window has two ogee-headed lights of the same size without any hoodmould. The west doorway, though plain and pointed, is C14 and so is the blocked north one in the chancel. The other main change to the interior is the square-headed squint north of the chancel arch.
Little more seems to have been done before the early C19, though according to the survey of 1636 the church ‘wantes reparicions generally throughout’ (SRS 98 p35). Neither the undated Sharpe Collection drawing (possibly 1804) nor the Burrell one shows any external buttressing, but shortly afterwards four massive brick west buttresses were added to counteract subsidence. In the 1850s the chancel arch was retooled (1 p101). At an apparently more thorough restoration in 1885 (Harrison p49), when a stone belfry was added, the C14 south window was probably moved and the second one added. A circular window in the west gable was said to come from Iping church.
Of the four brick buttresses, only the south west one remains after a further restoration in 1911 by P M Johnston; he also removed the circular gable-window for structural reasons, leaving some disturbed stonework. He stripped the roofs of plaster and rebuilt the rather rickety wooden porch, so that it is now half-timbered. The work cost under £200 (CDG 216 (1911) p242) and barely disturbed the patina of the church.
Fittings and monuments
Benches: (Nave) Plain C16 work, though much restored, especially the ends.
Chest: (Formerly) Dated 1731.
Communion rails: C18 and unusually high, with turned balusters.
Credence: (North wall of chancel) Small pointed recess.
Font: Big tub and probably C11, though there are signs of C19 retooling.
Glass: (East window) The two lights have quarries containing ornamental scrolls bearing Biblical texts. No maker is known and they date probably from the 1850s.
Image brackets: (East wall) Three plain ones, possibly C14.
Monuments: (Outside, under north nave wall and largely hidden by moss) A row of tombstones bearing what David Parsons describes as a stylised house with a hipped roof, similar to those at Steyning and Stedham, though there are distinct differences. The most recent assessment (Tweddle p189) dates them to the second half of the C11. They were probably disinterred during grave-digging over a long period of time, explaining why some are sunk further into the ground than others.
Piscina: (South wall of chancel) Small and round-headed and lacking a bowl. It is probably C13 and connected with the nearby lancet.
Royal Arms: (Over west doorway) George III on a painted panel.
1 P M Johnston: Chithurst Church, SAC 55 (1912) pp97-107
Measured plan by W D Peckham in VCH 4 p6
My thanks to Richard Standing for the colour photos of the exterior and of the stained glass