Icklesham – All Saints

To a large nave of c1100, mid-C12 aisles, tower and north chapel were added, though the sequence in which this was done is debatable.  The south chapel is late C13, the chancel barely later and the north aisle was altered in the C14.  It was extensively restored by S S Teulon.

Barely a mile from Winchelsea, Icklesham church stands on a narrow ridge above the river Brede, by the road to Hastings.  Its size shows the village was important and land for the parish was extensive.  Until the late C13 this included the area of the new town of Winchelsea.  In the mid-C19 the vicar still received a regular payment from the Exchequer as recompense for the tithes that were lost as a consequence (Hussey p242).

The nave, large but then aisleless, was built around 1100, confirmed by the south west and north east quoins (the latter visible inside) and herringbone near the base of the west wall.  In the C19 traces of a north window of unspecified form were found high up (Eccl June 1852 p204).  It was thought to belong to a clerestory and thus to be linked to the later aisles, but windows into the open around 1100 were often fairly high, so the arrangement may well predate the insertion of the mid-C12 arcades.

The plan of this church of c1100 is conjectural, though the inclination of the chancel to the north is probably early.  Pevsner based his suggestion (BE p542) that the tower, east of the north aisle, dated from this C11 church mainly on the plain south arch opening into the chancel that lacks even abaci.  He postulates a cruciform, aisleless plan, with the tower in the position of a transept, and that the arch opened originally into the nave, rather than the chancel as it now does.  However, the arch is surely too small ever to have led to a transept and chancel arches generally remain in the same place, so this one is more likely always to have opened into the chancel.  The windows above the arch into the north aisle and on the eastern side do suggest the sides of the tower were originally in the open.  The arch into the north aisle is definitely mid-C12, with a head of two orders, a roll-moulding and semi-circular responds with scallop capitals, in the shape of Greek crosses.  Pevsner cites the eastern arch of the south aisle in support of his hypothesis, but it too is mid-C12, though the detail differs, with square responds, spurred bases and shafts with crocketed capitals.  More probably it led into an earlier south chapel (see below).  Meads suggests rather implausibly that the inner order and shafts are later additions.

The windows opening into the church show the tower was started before the mid-C12 north aisle.  A change of plan is thus apparent, for which the vault in the tower, awkwardly inserted in the second half of the C12 (www.crsbi.ac.uk retrieved on 8/4/2013), provides further evidence.  Its ribs start from grotesque head-corbels to the west and waterleaf capitals to the east. The latter are so similar to ones in the chancel at Bishopstone that they have been given to the same team of masons (ibid).  The purpose of the vault was possibly to strengthen the parts of the tower already built.  The rest of the tower is less problematic.  A round-headed north doorway enriched with chevrons is consistent in date, but said to be entirely C19 (1 p112).  However, the three wall-arches inside, with the doorway in a taller central one, shows that one was at least planned.  The shallow north buttresses and the window over the doorway in a stepped surround are authentic.  The small round openings in the shorter second stage are not old; the outlines of round-headed ones like the lower stage are visible.  The recessed top stage has tall round-headed openings, each containing two smaller ones separated by a shaft with a capital ornamented with scallops, except the plain south one).  The Sharpe Collection drawing (1797) shows a pyramid spire like today (but see below).

The 3-bay arcades date probably from the third quarter of the C12 and have round-headed arches of two slightly chamfered stepped orders; their bases diminish in height towards the west.  The thin capitals of the round piers and responds have scallops and stylised foliage.  Though inferior in workmanship, they have been compared to those at Steyning, West Sussex (SAC 88 p175 (note 1)) and more plausibly recall St Peter, Bexhill, which is considerably closer.  The aisles were low; the south one has never been heightened and retains three old though restored round-headed windows.  The late C12 pointed chancel arch, with two slightly chamfered orders and square responds with foliage corbels for the inner order is restored to the extent that Nicholas Antram (BE(E) p488) suggests the entire corbels are later.  However, its presence suggests that a complex east end with chapels was started after the tower and aisles were built.  A blocked pointed north doorway in the chancel, supplanted by a C14 window, may be of this date, suggesting that at least some walling has survived.  The north chapel has three north lancets with triple-shafted rere-arches, the outer ones keeled, and volute capitals; there are the jambs of three east ones by the present window.  Beneath is a row of pointed, roll-moulded wall-arches, divided by free-standing shafts.  Such arcading is a rarity in parish churches, but Peter Draper (p181) notes several instances in Kent, which is significantly close to Icklesham.  Here, the arcading is late C12, but not in situ, for the arches have been distorted to fit their present position.  Six more are reset in the later south chapel and it is likely that they are from the chancel of this period.  The two-bay arcade into the chancel, partly hidden by the organ, is again late C12, with tall, pointed heads of two orders, the inner ones on moulded corbels. The square pier has small filleted shafts at the angles and an attached shaft on each side with foliage capitals.  The moulded recess west of the arcade resembles the wall-arcading in the chapels and is more evidence that at least some walling is late C12.

The south chapel, associated with the manor of Icklesham (VCH 9 p188) was rebuilt in the late C13, though the mid-C12 arch from the aisle already mentioned shows it had a predecessor.  A blocked circular opening above it might suggest that there was no chapel when the aisle was built, but this is contradicted by the arch beneath.  The opening, which lacks all detail, is thus likely to be later, though it is impossible to guess its date or purpose.  Outside, the ground falls away to its east, so this elevation is imposing.  The south windows have restored Y-tracery with a circle in the head and a string-course links the interior sills.  The Burrell Collection drawing (1785) shows they are unchanged.  The east window is C19, but the same drawing shows a similar sized opening, shafted inside, containing a later, smaller one.  The three-bay arcade to the chancel is typically late C13, with double-chamfered heads, octagonal piers and equivalent responds.

The chancel was rebuilt soon after the south chapel.  Indeed, though the detail is slightly later, the presence of the late C12 wall-arcading in the south chapel, if it was from the previous chancel, suggests work on chancel and chapel was proceeding at the same time.  The east window is C19, but the side ones are original with cinquefoil heads and curling stops on the labels and the east window has them inside, so the opening is old.  The east window of the north chapel was probably replaced in the C19 as the Burrell drawing shows a single opening.  The three traceried east windows make an impressive picture; possibly Winchelsea served as a model, though the detail there is finer.  The west end was altered in the C14.  The main west window is impressive and, though C19, unchanged from that on the undated Sharpe Collection drawing.  The aisles were also altered, with pointed west windows and the more prominent north one was heightened, with square-headed side-windows with pierced spandrels.  Only the faint outline of a doorway, probably also of this time, remains.

The church as it stood by about 1350 was not further altered before the Reformation.  The Sharpe and Burrell drawings show that after that most windows were blocked with plain, round-headed ones inserted in the openings of each east  one and this was commented upon by Sir Stephen Glynne on his visit in 1826 (SRS 101 p156).  He does not mention that in 1785 the north doorway was blocked and a round west porch added (Horsfield I p477).  It is not known if it had a predecessor.

The restoration under S S Teulon (ICBS) lasted from 1848 to 1852.  This length of time was the consequence of agricultural distress and the diversion of resources to build a new church to his design in the parish at Rye Harbour which though distant, lay within the parish .  Teulon’s elegant watercolours, formerly displayed in the church, show he made considerable changes, inside and out.  He retained the C18 west porch, but made it hexagonal with two openings and a conical roof.  New tracery was inserted in most windows, particularly at the east end.  The triplet of the north chapel is unlikely to match the C14 original, but those of the chancel and south chapel are said (2 p62) to be faithful copies of the originals.  The top of the tower was altered, with a corbelled out parapet and a smaller recessed pyramid – the report to the ICBS particularly deplored this.  Teulon is said to have found traces of a blocked clerestory (Mitchell/Shell Guide p130), but he did not carry out his planned replacement, criticised by The Ecclesiologist as ‘dandified’ (Feb 1849 p268).  In its place the new nave roof has wallposts of alternating lengths on finely carved foliage corbels, in an attempt to articulate the disproportionately large blank area above the low arcades.  He also replaced the other roofs and all earlier fittings (see below), and removed a late C15 altar tomb from the south chapel, said to have been beyond repair (1 p111).

Sir George G Scotts obituary in The Builder (36 p360) includes Icklesham among his works, and Murray’s Guide to Sussex is elsewhere given as the source, though without a date (RIBA Library transcript, 1957 p23); however, in view of the ample documentation supporting Teulon’s responsibility, this must be an error.  The main subsequent change was in 1928, when the top of the tower was restored to its original form (Saunders p35).

Fittings and monument

Aumbry: (Chancel north) Square-headed and probably C14.
Chest: (South chapel) Plain and probably C17.
Font: Round and designed by Teulon with trefoiled arcading on the under side of the bowl and foliage resembling the corbels supporting the nave roof.
1. (North aisle, second window) C Webb, 1959 (signed). It shows Christ with children and a mother and is remarkably conservative by this date.
2. (North aisle, west window) J Jacob, 1924 (signed). Single figures, predominantly in purple and bluish hues with prominent leading.
Monument: (South chapel) Arnold Nesbitt (d1779) by J Marten (signed).  An elegant composition, topped by urns.
1.  (North chapel) Late C12, small and square.
2.  (Chancel south) C14 ogee-headed with a shelf and a crocketed hoodmould with animal stops.
3.  (South chapel) Early C14 with a trefoiled head and crocketed label.
Recesses: (South aisle, west wall and south chapel) Plain and round-headed.  They are hard to date, but could in their present form be C19.  However, conceivably they may be linked with the C15 tomb in the chapel that was removed (see above).
Royal Arms: (Over west doorway) Small panel with arms of Queen Victoria.


1.  T T Churton: Icklesham Church, SAC 32 (1882) pp105-22
2.  G M Livett: Three East Sussex Churches – III. Icklesham, SAC 48 (1905) pp157-78


Measured plan by W H Godfrey in VCH 9 p188