Ditchling – St Margaret

The nave may be C11 in origin, with a late C12 south aisle.  In the late C13 the east parts were rebuilt on a cruciform plan, starting from the east, and a south chapel was added in the C14, re-using some C13 work.

Ditchling is a long narrow parish north of the Downs, but unlike the nearby Westmeston or Streat, there was a full-scale village at the crossroads near the church.  Most such parishes are early and Domesday Book (12,6) mentions a church here.  This had royal connections before the Conquest, leading David Parsons to suggest it was a minster church (5 p7).  On the basis of herringbone masonry Godfrey identified in the west wall, he (1 p4) suggested the walls of the nave were C11, but in the absence of any more conclusive feature, there can be no certainty.  There is even less to support Harvey’s pre-Conquest dating (see 3).  However, the nave had definitely reached its present dimensions by the late C12, when a south aisle was added with a west lancet (renewed).  The two plain pointed arches of the arcade with a chamfered square pier were inserted in the existing wall.

The form of the eastern parts at this time is unknown, but the arch from the aisle into the south transept resembles the C12 ones.  Though it could conceivably be utilitarian late C13 and thus contemporary with the present crossing, the quality of the other late C13 work argues against this and for a late C12 date.  This indicates that there was already a transept then.  None of the present chancel (which is as long as the nave), transepts or crossing is earlier than c1270, the date of the three-light east window with geometrical tracery.  Though renewed, it is like the one on the Sharpe Collection drawing (1802) and the shafted rere-arch retains a moulded head, stiff leaf capitals and head-stops.  On each side is a tall, shallow recess; that to the north has its original trefoiled head. The rere-arches of the three north lancets are also finely carved in clunch.  A string-course links the sills, changing level as necessary.  The rere-arch of the blocked north doorway has affinities to late C13 work at Chichester cathedral, for the moulded head, growing out of straight sides without capitals, looks ahead to the C14.  When the C14 south chapel replaced the similar south side (see below), much C13 work was re-used, suggesting the C14 builders realised its worth.

The eastern crossing arch has a head with complex mouldings and responds of clustered shafts and is of one build with the chancel.  Pevsner’s suggestion that the high bases of trefoil section were inserted later has not been sustained (BE p481).  Stiff-leaf capitals here and on the east responds of the north and south arches confirm that transepts either existed or were planned from the start.  However, the responds of the side-arches are entirely of trefoil section and they have double-chamfered heads.  The similar western arch, like the west responds of the side arches, has moulded capitals.  The tower is little higher than the roof, with only a renewed north lancet, which is like one on the Burrell Collection drawing (1787).  This also shows the top of a stairway below this, leading from the former north transept.  The bell-openings are incorporated in the tall, shingled pyramid spire.  This arrangement is unchanged from the Sharpe Collection drawing (1802).   David Parsons (4 ibid) believes that this tower replaced another which could either have belonged to an axial plan church (he instances that at Newhaven) or a church that was cruciform from the start (as at Old Shoreham, West Sussex).  He inclines to doubt whether there were transepts before the present ones as the tower is narrower than the nave but the present tower lacks the distinguishing features that might test this.

The development of the crossing arches confirm they were built from the east and that work was complete by about 1300.  Before C19 rebuilding the north transept had two east lancets, as the Sharpe drawing shows.  It is longer than the south one and this too was always so.  The next addition was the large south chapel.  The reticulated tracery of the three-light east window and ogee-quatrefoil south ones do not look later than the 1320s.  Their rere-arches re-use shafts and capitals from the C13 south wall of the chancel.  Only the east window has a moulded rere-arch, with a rounded head, as it is wider than any in the chancel and must have taken all available stones.  The arches into the transept and chancel have double-chamfered heads dying into the responds without capitals.  Related changes in the chancel included an ogee-head for the recess south of the east window and a plain capital for the adjacent rere-arch.  Other, later C14 work included the moulded west doorway and buttresses.  A restored C15 three-light square-headed west window in the south transept is matched by a reset one in the same position in the rebuilt north one (1 p6).  The restored south porch is also C15.

In 1851 Nibbs noted that the east window had been restored and so did Hussey (p222), who claims it was a copy of the original one.  However, it is not known when this restoration happened.  Adelaide Tracy at much the same time shows the nave had plain segment-headed west and north windows (III p69) and a pointed one (Quartermain (E) p78) high up for a west gallery, entered by a stair at the north west corner.  W Slater and R H Carpenter at a restoration in 1863-64 (CB 1864 p187) concentrated on the western parts, though all roofs were renewed.  The north transept was rebuilt and possibly the north wall of the nave, with its three windows of C14 type.  The west window and most if not all of the south aisle were replaced, including the west lancet and the shouldered doorway.  There were repairs to the spire in 1897 (Meads).

In the C20 Ditchling was for a time the centre of E Gill‘s enterprises and after his departure for Wales several of his followers remained here.  Initially under J Cribb, Gill’s Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic lasted until 1989.  Although the Guild took its inspiration from Roman Catholicism, the church like the village, contains many examples of their work and several of its members are buried in the churchyard, including Cribb (see below).

Fittings and monuments

Aumbry: (North chancel) Trefoil-headed and with a continuous roll-moulding.  It is probably late C14, though possibly altered.
Bracket: (Reset in a blocked south doorway in the chapel) Plain, but probably C14.
Chest: (Fornerly) Plain C15 on legs with a later lock (See 6).
Commandment Board: (South chapel)  Carved by J Cribb (2 p47).
Font: Small octagonal bowl of c1954.  This was carved by J Cribb (2 p46), though the design has been attributed to J L Denman (BE(E) p325).  It  replaces a round one with a band of leaves round the base.  Though said to be C13 (Drummond-Roberts p30), this is doubtful.
1. (East window of south chapel) Plain glass that appears to be original, i e C14.
2. (East window, centre roundel) C Knight, 1957 (www.stainedglassrecords.org retrieved on 4/2/2013).
3. (South transept south window) Lowndes and Drury 1955 designed by M M Williams (ibid).
4. (North chancel, first window) J Hardman and Co, 1885 (ibid).
5. (North chancel, third window) A L Moore, c1912 (signed).
6. Glass by W Wailes and Clayton and Bell was recorded in 1866 (KD).  No location was given, but three windows in the north aisle have been ascribed to Wailes on stylistic grounds (www.stainedglassrecords.org retrieved on 4/2/2013) and the south aisle west window and the main west window to Clayton and Bell (ibid).
1. (South chapel) Henry Poole (d1580).  It is a flat wall-monument in two tiers.  Each is sub-divided and contains a coat of arms; one of the lower ones has been destroyed and the others repainted.  The divisions of the upper tier have shell-like heads.  The inscription is above in place of the entablature.
2. (Churchyard) Gravestone to Richard Lingard Stokes (d1912) by E Gill, carved. 1913 (E R Gill p37).
3. (Churchyard) Walter Harvey (d1917), died of wounds in World War I.  Carved by E Gill (2 p48), though not noted by E R Gill.
4. (Churchyard) Memorial to William (d1862) and Thomas (d1863) Attree by E Gill, carved in 1918 (E R Gill p50).
5. (Churchyard) Small tablet to David Pepler (d1934) by E Gill (ibid p96).
6. (Churchyard) Gravestone to Edward Johnston (d1944) and his wife by J Cribb. Johnston was a calligrapher and close associate of Gill, though he was never a member of the Guild.  His best known work is the typeface still used by London transport, as well as their emblem (2 p48).
7. (Churchyard) Gravestone to Hilary Pepler (d1951) and others of his family by J Cribb (2 ibid). He was one of the founders of the Guild.
8. (Churchyard) J Cribb (d1967) by his assistant K Eager.
1.  (South chancel) This has a cinquefoiled head and dates probably from the C14 rebuilding of the south side, though it is much restored.
2.  (South chapel) C14 with a cusped ogee head.
Screens: (South chapel) designed c1946 by J L Denman and carved by J Cribb (BE(E) ibid).  These are in memory of the painter L Ginnett.
Sedile: (South chancel) The pointed head with a shaft on its east side only, suggests it is C13 work, altered in the C14.
Sundial: (Outside, close to south porch) E Gill with lettering cut by J Cribb. Bronze top on stone pedestal; erected to commemorate the coronation of King George V in 1911 (E R Gill p31).


1.  W H Godfrey: Guide to the Church of St Margaret, Ditchling, Sussex, (Sussex Churches no 21), 1958
2.  L Harrison: Ditchling Walks – in Eric Gill’s Footsteps, Alfriston 2017
3.  C F Harvey: Plan of St Margaret, Ditchling, SNQ 3 (Feb 1931) p187
4.  T Hutchinson: Ditchling, SAC 13 (1861) pp240-61
5.  D Parsons: Ditchling St Margaret and the Old Meeting House, NFSCHT 2014 pp7-8
6.  L E Williams: Old Oak Chest at Ditchling, Sussex, Reliquary 8 (1902) p131


Measured plan in VCH 7 p107

My thanks to Nick Wiseman for all the photographs except those of the north chancel and south arcade