TRINITY Church, Southover:
A Historic Guide
The following guide is available in the church as a booklet.
To download a printable version click on the following link:
Historic Church Guide
The church of Southover originated as a ‘hospitium’ or guest house to serve the nearby Priory of Saint Pancras. By about 1330 AD a new guest house had been built, perhaps because the original had by then become too small. So, the first guest house was then available for the growing lay parish that had been growing up outside the great gates of the Priory, in the new ‘suburb’ of Lewes, south over the Winterbourne stream which separates Southover from Lewes.
When William de Warenne and his wife founded the Priory of Saint Pancras in 1077 AD, used a little chapel, once made of timber but which he had re-built in stone, to serve as a nucleus for the Priory. This old chapel had been dedicated to Saint Pancras ‘of old’, since it had been in existence before the Norman Conquest.
By 1121 AD there is on record a ‘Chapel of St John the Baptist within the Priory Cemetery’. In about 1260 AD there is the first evidence of the move of the Chapel from inside the Priory to its present position ‘outside the gate’, and within fourteen more years the ‘parish’ is referred to as such for the first time.
The Hospitium outside the gate is known from 1202 AD, and as late as 1802 the ‘Great Gate’ beside which the Chapel stood, remained relatively intact at the east end of the present Church. A few battered fragments remain.
By 1320 AD the Chapel had become a Church, and by 1374 it is precisely described as ‘the Parish Church of St John, near the gate of Lewes Priory’.
Thus, from at least the twelfth century, a Chapel of St John the Baptist seems to have served the needs of the lay population of Southover.
The right of presentation to the living of the church was given by the then Bishop of Chichester to the Prior and Chapter of the Priory, and there it remained until the dissolution of the Priory in 1537, part of the greater dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. Then, along with all the other possessions of the Priory, it was given with the Manor of Southover to Thomas Cromwell. On his death, although the Manor of Southover and most of the rest of the Priory lands were settled on Henry Vlll’s divorced wife Anne of Cleves, the right of presentation (the choice of cleric) remained with the Crown. Later the Lord Chancellor presented, and then the right passed into lay hands. In the 19th Century the right was bought by a Rector, and from him it passed to the present holders, the Church Pastoral Aid Society.
Thus for over 850 years, the Church of St John the Baptist, Southover, Lewes has served the needs of its members, its parishioners, and of an increasingly widening body of worshippers, who now with the easier availability of transport come from a much greater area than the limits of the original parish.
Little is known of the church as a building in its earliest days. The few facts that emerge must be treated with caution. There are references to Chapels dedicated to Saint Katherine and to St Erasmus, to the building of a rood loft, a vestry, and there are several references to a Chancel. By 1620 a map of Lewes and parts of Southover shows an elevation entirely different from today, yet the map is known to be trustworthy. The tower has a spire and is at the east end. Between the tower and the Priory gate is a building, known from other sources to have been a house, which was perhaps the parsonage house. The house having gone, it was on the space it once occupied that the present Chancel was built.
After the dissolution, with the particularly savage demolition of the Priory itself, Southover Church became the only building in the parish to retain its sacred purpose. By 1560 the parishioners had started a programme of repair and redecoration, much of the work being paid for by the sale of vestments, fabrics, and the pre-dissolution altars.
The building of a new tower at the west end in 1714, the addition of the Gundrada Chapel in 1847, a vestry and the building of the Chancel in 1884 were all steps along the road of achieving a better building as a place of worship. Recent additions to facilitate worship and mission have included new lighting, sound systems, the re-ordering of the Chancel in 2008 and the long-awaited building of toilets and the multi-purpose room known as the Chapter House in 2009. These are situated south of the tower and are not shown on the plan above.
Chancel & Nave
Despite early references to a chancel, the present chancel continues what must have been the earliest arrangement, where there was no separate chancel structure, no heavy arch dividing it from the nave. Thus there continues what is and must always have been an important element in the architecture, the feeling of openness, a friendly welcoming embrace, a feeling which hopefully you will get as you enter the nave from the Tower.
The doorway through which you enter is fourteenth century, as indeed is the whole of the left (north) wall of the nave as far as the pulpit.
The wall has been much restored and altered, the windows are all restorations following the shape of those they replace and in some cases retaining pieces of the original tracery. The westernmost window, that nearest the tower, has a square head. It stands where the main door was until the last century, when the door into the tower, the one by which you now enter the church from the street, was inserted.
The structure supporting the roof is a text-book example of a southeastern timber frame technique which was going out of use during the sixteenth century, and may be a re-roofing soon after the dissolution of the Priory, perhaps containing reused material from the Priory buildings.
Looking towards the chancel the change in roof style is at the start of the 1884 chancel, although a small part of the earlier east end was removed during the work.
The pews in the nave, dating from 1884 were removed in 2012 and all were bought by members of the congregation. The additional space provided by the building of the chancel meant that the Choir (until then known as the ‘Psalm Singers’) could be brought down from the gallery at the west end. They and the organ had been placed there when the gallery was built in 1764.
The earlier organ was brought down at first, but it was replaced in 1904 by the present instrument, made in Lewes.
An arcade of four arches separates the nave from the south aisle. It is supported on four substantial plain drum piers made of shaped stone blocks. The stone is Caen stone from Normandy.These drum piers are considered to be 12th Century work, although it is possible that they may be re-used material from the Priory itself. The arches of the arcade have been heavily encased in plaster, so it is not possible to see the original masonry. They are similar in shape to the plain arches in work of that period, which is still to be seen in the Priory ruins.
It has been suggested that the arcade represents the dividing line between the male and female sides of the first Hospitium. As will be seen from outside, the south wall of this aisle is sixteenth century work, although the windows (which are modern replacements of those there before) are of 15th century style. Therefore the south wall may be a rebuilding, using material either from the previous wall, or from elsewhere in the Priory.
The wall at the west end of the south aisle is of the same period as the Tower, although once again the doorway is 14th century work, and has been re-used. The 1620 map referred to shows just such a door but in the south wall of the aisle, of which now no trace remains. An eighteenth century engraving shows a chimney in this corner, which shows that here was located the earlier vestry.
Reverting to the arches of the arcade, the easternmost is a fifteenth century arch which spans over to a modern base in the organ enclosure. This too must have come from elsewhere, unless it shows an extension of the church eastwards at that time.
A suggestion that it originally spanned the south aisle cannot be ignored, although in that case the south aisle would have had to be wider than it is now. The most westerly pier, which is partly built into the eighteenth century tower, had suggested that the nave must have been longer at some time past than it is now. This was confirmed during the Chapter House excavations of 2008-9.
The tower was built in stages between 1714 and 1738, after the collapse of the earlier tower with spire in 1698. This may have been caused by hanging a ‘Great Bell’ in the previous year, which proved too much for the earlier structure. The location of the earlier tower is not certainly known, but from what evidence is available probably stood where the Gundrada Chapel is built now.
There are four carved stones set in the brickwork of the tower of which three may have been recovered from the earlier tower. One has the arms of the De Warenne family, Lords of the Barony of Lewes. One has a Tudor Rose with a Duke’s Coronet above, which has not been satisfactorily explained and one (now much worn) has the letters I.A.P.L. These have exercised the ingenuity of many historians, but the most probable explanation is that they identify John Ashdown, Prior of Lewes, who was the last Prior but one before the dissolution. He ceased to be Prior in 1525.
The fourth stone has the letters N.T.P. and the date 1714, and may refer to Nathaniel and Philadelphia Trayton, the son and daughter-in-law of the owner at that time of the Manor of Southover.
In the tower that collapsed were four bells, and in the present tower there are ten. Southover Church is one of only five churches in east and west Sussex to have this number, the last two bells having been added in 1906. The top of the tower has brick merlons (battlements) and the octagonal cupola and the fine tall weathervane are additions of the 19th Century. The moving part of the vane seems to represent a basking shark.
Much of the furnishing of the Church, and the windows in particular, dates from the major reworking of the building in 1884. The glass of the windows on the north side is said by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (on no quoted authority) to be by Charles Earner Kempe. The second from the east window in the south aisle has Kempe’s mark in the bottom right corner, and is of superior quality to the other work, which could well be by Henry Holiday.
The westernmost window in the south aisle is by William Morris & Co.
The east window was installed in 1930 where before there had only been plain glass, as still remains in the windows flanking the Sanctuary. It is by Miss Jessie M Jacob. On the left, below the figure of St Pancras, is a scene of William and Gundrada de Warenne symbolically presenting the Priory to Dom Hugh, Abbot of Cluny. On the right, under St John the Baptist is St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order. At the lower corners are the arms of the Town of Lewes and the Abbey of Cluny, while above the side lights are the arms of de Warenne and Fitzalan (the Fitzalans were lineal descendants of the de Warennes through the female line). The three centre lights represent the Ascension of our Lord, the City of God, and in the highest part, the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove.
This south chapel was built in 1847 after the excavation of the site of the Priory during the building of the Brighton to Lewes Railway in 1845. The remains of William de Warenne and his wife Gundred (latinised as Gundrada) were found in small leaden caskets. These remains had been removed from their original resting place before the High Altar of the Priory Church, and re-interred in those caskets in the floor of the Chapter House when it was built in the thirteenth century.
These caskets are now in niches in the south wall of the Chapel, but the remains of William and Gundrada were buried again in the floor of the chapel, under the original grave slab of Gundrada. This had been found in the eighteenth century, face down in nearby Isfield Church.
The following is one of the many translations of the inscription:
Illustrious branch of Ducal race
brought into England’s Church balsamic grace
pious as Mary and as Martha kind
to generous deeds she gave her virtuous mind.
Though the cold tomb her Martha’s part receives
her Mary’s better part forever lives.
O Holy Pancras, keep with greater
care a mother who has made her sons thy heir.
On the sixth calends of June’s fateful morn
the marble frame by inward struggles torn
freed the pure soul which upward bent its
way to realms of love and seeds of endless joy.
It was for many years thought that Gundrada was a daughter of William the Conqueror but this cannot now be sustained. She died in 1085 at Castle Acre, Norfolk, apparently her favourite home. Her remains were brought back to Lewes to be buried in the Priory Church which she and her husband founded. The tomb slab is stylistically of the period of re-interment rather than of the original burial, and is considered to be an important piece of Romanesque art. There are other finds in the Chapel, including the damaged effigy of a knight also found during the railway work.
TRINITY Church, South Malling:
A Historic Guide
The current church building was built in 1628, replacing an earlier medieval church. We have memorial stones in the churchyard dating back to 1609.
If you would like to know more about the interesting history of our church, you can download a copy of a history of the church HERE which was written in 2002. Printed copies are also available which include some photos and illustrations.
Church and Churchyard Memorials/Gravestones
CLICK HERE if you would like to download a transcript of the wording from each stone.
Family History & Records
The registers containing historic details of baptisms, weddings and burials at the church are held by:
East Sussex Record Office
Lewes BN7 1YT
Tel: 01273 482349
A list of the records held there and other information can be found here:
TRINITY Church, St. John sub Castro:
A Historic Guide
There is evidence to suggest that the site upon which the present church of St John sub Castro is built, together with its churchyard, served as a Roman camp. The site was probably chosen because of the steep natural banks to the West, North and East, and its ability to command a nearby crossing point on the River Ouse.
There is also evidence to suggest that a church may have existed on the site in the 8th or early 9th centuries – perhaps to establish a Christian presence amidst the pagan burial mounds which were both on the site and in close proximity to it. The dedication to St John supports this theory – the feast day of St John coincides with the pagan rituals associated with mid-summer.
There is strong evidence to support the existence the church by the 11th century.
In the early centuries following the Norman Conquest, evidence points to St John’s having acquired minster status.
In the 17th century, the St John’s rector is recorded as being the best endowed in the town, but notwithstanding this, the church had fallen into disrepair – probably due to a decrease in the local population.
In the early part of the 19th century however, residential development in the immediate area gave rise to the need for a much larger church. The mediaeval church was therefore demolished in 1839, and the present church built adjacent to it on the site of one of the remaining pagan burial mounds.
The new church comprised a large aisled nave, with a small Sanctuary at the liturgical East end, and an iconic castellated tower at the West end. There were galleries to the North, West and South sides. It was consecrated on 3rd June 1840.
The chancel slab of the original church can still be seen in the churchyard, and
other features of it are built into the external fabric of the present church – most notably a Triple Arch doorway (generally recognised as being of Anglo-Saxon origin); the inscription commemorating a Danish anchorite of royal descent whose cell was in the medieval church (c.1200); and the James Lambert memorial. All of these are believed to be in need of conservation.
Relics of the original church are also to be found inside the present church – for example the mediaeval font, the three bells (two of which are listed and dated 1724), and a number of memorials.
The church was altered in 1883 by the removal of the liturgical West gallery, and an extension at the East end to form a Chancel, Sanctuary, and vestries.
The Powell stained glass in the apse was designed by Henry Holiday, and there are Kempe and Savell windows in the North and South aisles.
The two-manual organ was built by Bishop in 1882, rebuilt by Morgan & Smith of Brighton in 1927, and restored in 2011.
For further details see