North Marden – St Mary

A small C12 single-cell apsidal church with a fine south doorway.  Apart from C19 restoration the only later addition is a large trefoil-headed niche, probably C13.

North Marden is the remotest of the Mardens, indeed perhaps in the remotest area of the Sussex Downland.  There has probably never been a village in the full sense, just a scattered collection of farms and cottages.  The flint church is approached past one of these.  The parish has long been amalgamated with East Marden, of which it was initially a chapelry (1 p88).

It is the only church in Sussex with an apse but no chancel arch, for the few other apsidal ones have separate chancels.  The only original window is in the west gable, though the C19 round-headed windows of the apse have old rere-arches.  The fine and little restored round-headed south doorway dates the whole to the second quarter of the C12.  The outer of two orders has chevron moulding with a circle between each section and the lower sides of the abaci have bands of beading. Parallels to work of the same date at Chichester have been noted ( retrieved on 15/4/2013).

The round-headed lancets of the nave are renewed and the Sharpe Collection drawing (1805), not ideally clear, shows a narrow south window, so these may replace similar C12 or early C13 ones.  A large trefoil-headed recess on the south side of the apse is too large for a piscina, as has been suggested (ibid), and lacks a drain.  It is probably late C13 and intended for an image.  After the Reformation, the chancel windows were altered, as a brick sill and sides under the north one shows, and there was more brick patching.  The Sharpe drawing shows a blocked east window, divided by a plain mullion, and a C17 or C18 south porch.  C19 restoration work may have started early, for Adelaide Tracy (1849) (1 p29) shows the apse windows as today, with lightly decorated surrounds that recall the work of 1839 in the nave at Old Shoreham.  It is thus puzzling that Quartermain ((W) p156), a little later, shows square hoodmoulds and so does Nibbs’s undated etching (in his 1874 volume).  They also show a big round-headed post-Reformation south east nave window, so most of the present nave ones date probably from L W Ridge‘s restoration of 1886-87, which cost over £300 (CDK 1888 pt 2).  Despite considerable renewal, Ridge kept much of the charm of the building.  Particularly to be mentioned is the new roof, which is beautifully fitted round the apse.  The boarded belfry was also replaced, though the present one resembles that on the Sharpe drawing.  At some point in the C19 a small vestry was added opening off the north side of the nave.  It is built of galletted flint but nothing precise is known of its date.

Fittings and monuments

Commandments etc:  (West wall) Painted boards, probably early C19, with the Creed, Commandments and Lord’s Prayer.
Font: The cylindrical bowl is probably C12, but the base was cut away, probably in the C14 to fit an octagonal base.  Unusually, the lead lining of the inside covers the top also.
Piscina: See above.
Royal Arms: (Now not on display) Small and of iron, George II or III before 1802 (probably the latter).


1. W D Peckham: North Marden, SNQ 9 (Nov 1942) p88


Measured plan by W D Peckham in VCH 4 p110