East Wittering – The Assumption
The nave is originally C12 with a C13 chancel arch. The rest, including the chancel and new windows, is C19.
The pre-Conquest Bishops of Selsey held land at East Wittering (VCH 4 p215) and though its church only passed to the bishop (of Chichester by then) in the late C12, earlier connections with cathedral masons are possible. The present dedication is recent and it was formerly St John the Baptist (Peat and Halsted p174).
The south doorway provides the strongest evidence for the involvement of cathedral masons. In other respects, the mid-C12 aisleless nave is modest with small south windows (visible inside and blocked). However, the doorway has a round head with a decorated hoodmould around a wide band of shallow zigzag, each terminating in a lobe. The inner arch has a segmental head and renewed shafted jambs, though the scallop capitals are original. The rather squat proportions and the segmental head may suggest alterations beyond the renewed shafts.
The east end was rebuilt in the C13, including the chancel arch, which is broad in relation to its height with a double-chamfered head, the inner order of which rests on corbels on square responds. The upper parts of these are chamfered, terminating in stops about 4ft off the ground. Below this would have been a low wall. The sawn-off end of a plank in the wall to the north was probably connected with the rood-loft, but is too thin to have been the main beam. The chancel is C19, but two slender south lancets resemble those in the Sharpe Collection drawing (1805). Its predecessor is said (GM 1804 pt 2 p1101) to have had three narrow east windows (i e lancets), ‘lately’ changed to a single casement, presumably the oblong window mentioned by Horsfield (II p38).
The nave was also remodelled in the C13, as a plain north doorway with a steeply pointed head shows. The rere-arches of the north lancets have low sills. No doubt other windows were also C13, but by about 1800, the date of the earliest drawings, all had been replaced. The best depiction of the church as it was before restoration is that by Adelaide Tracy (I p3) (1852), showing the nave with post-Reformation round-headed windows. The survey of 1602 (SRS 98 p56) states that there was no belfry so that the bells hang ‘outwardly at at the west ende’. This had been remedied before the Sharpe drawing was made as this shows a bell-turret like the present one but smaller.
Adelaide Tracy shows the present chancel, which had been rebuilt in 1847 in a smoother stone. As well as repeating the slender side-lancets, the unknown architect designed an east window in late C13 or early C14 style. The rest of the church followed in 1875-76 under L W Ridge (CDK 1876 pt 2 p87) at a cost of £550 (KD 1899). He scraped the walls inside and out and replaced the windows by lancets, including a pair under a quatrefoil at the west end. The nave walls were heightened by two courses of brick, so Ridge must have replaced the roof and bell-turret, though he kept some old rafters. The conspicuous pointing of the external flintwork is another of Ridge’s trademarks.
In the C19 and C20 the village moved closer to the coast and a new church (St Anne) was built there in 1958. This took over the functions and some of the fittings of the old church, culminating in its redundancy in 1983. The building was then sold and for a while was used as a study centre. It subsequently became derelict and in 2009 press reports included it among the historic monuments of Sussex that were at risk. However, around 2010 repairs were in progress, mainly to the west end and roof (vidi), though a new purpose for the church has yet (2019) to be found.
NB. In addition, some fittings were transferred to the new church of St Anne
Font: C19 octagonal.
Glass: (South nave windows) Jones and Willis, 1907 (Peat and Halsted ibid).
1. F W Steer: Guide to the Churches of East Wittering (Sussex Churches no 47), 1973
Measured plan by W D Peckham in VCH 4 p216
All black and white photographs 1976