Crowborough – All Saints

Crowborough emerged in the C18 at a crossroads on the sandy high ground between Rotherfield and Withyham.  The poor soil and scrubby woodland had impeded earlier settlement; the western edge of the town still gives an idea of what it was like in the mid-C19 (Lower I p125).  The crossroads were in Rotherfield parish and a chapel, All Saints, was opened to the east in 1744.  It was rebuilt in 1881-83 at the behest of the landowner, Lord Abergavenny, when a district and subsequently a parish was formed, and has since twice been extended.  A chapel of St John was built in the part of Crowborough in the parish of Withyham in 1839, for which see Withyham – St John.  After the railway reached Jarvis Brook, which serves Rotherfield and Crowborough, development was steady.  In the 1950s a new chapelry, St Richard, was built in the developing southern part of town, known as Alderbrook.

A chapel was built in 1744, together with a minister’s residence or schoolhouse that still stands to the east of the church, later the vicarage, at the expense of Sir Henry Fermor, Baronet, who lived in Sevenoaks, Kent, but whose family is said to have originated in this area (Horsfield I p398).  The benefaction is recalled by his name and the date on the west doorway of the tower.  This has changed little, with circular openings, battlements and a spire.  The Sharpe Collection drawing of 1803 shows a nave with similar battlements, a hipped roof and big round-headed windows.  It hardly bears out Horsfield’s description of chapel and house as ‘neat edifices, exhibiting the appearance of a hermitage’. (ibid).

By 1881 the chapel was not only old fashioned, but too small and a new one was completed in 1883, at a cost of £2624 (KD 1899).  Gothic would normally have been chosen for a replacement at the time, but Lord Abergavenny, the main local landowner, wanted to retain as much as possible of the old church (BN 44 p527), so some form of the classical was necessary.  R O Whitfield and J A Thomas, the architects engaged (A 29 p261), had greater experience in secular architecture.  Their south aisle has battlements and windows like the former ones, with the addition of so-called Venetian tracery.  The arcade is in what was known as the Lombardic style, with cylindrical piers and round-headed arches.  A similar chancel arch led to an apsidal chancel and a vestry to the south; here the windows have no tracery.  Characteristic of their period are the roofs, ceiled with shiny pitch pine.

The tower was mostly retained, including Sir Henry Fermor’s doorway, and the north wall remained intact until 1895, when M B Teulon added a north aisle and vestry (ICBS); that to the south was converted for use by children.  The work, on which a further £2000 were spent (KD ibid), was completed in 1898 (Arch J 8 (1898) p254) and matched that of 1881-83.

In turn, the extended church became too small and the big pillars caused problems with sight-lines.  A plan was produced in 1991 by Sarum Partnership (BE(E) p316) and after modifications this was built in 2002 by N A Lee-Evans (CBg 57 p51).  It is a square structure on the north side, replacing all but the easternmost part of Teulon’s aisle and the style respects the older classical work without following it slavishly.  The altar is contained in a pillared polygonal apse and there are pilasters arranged on the walls.  The old part has been converted to various uses with glass and wooden partitions, so that the south aisle is now a library, whilst the former sanctuary is still used for worship.  In the nave there is now a baptismal pool.


Font: (Formerly) 1881.  Large and round with fluting on the bowl.
Glass: (East apse) J Powell and Sons, 1902 (order book).
Pulpit: Designed in 1881 specially to match the then new church (BN 44 ibid); like many other fittings, which must be contemporary, it is in the Jacobean style
Reredos and panelling: C E Kempe (BE(E) ibid).

My thanks to Nick Wiseman for the photographs marked NW