The Parish Church, Selmeston
The parish church has been at the heart of Selmeston for a thousand years and continues to play an important part in village life. Selmeston is now part of a benefice that comprises Alciston, Arlington, Berwick, Selmeston and Wilmington. There is a list of vicars displayed in the church, dating from 1350, and the church registers date from 1667. Our current vicar in 2015 is the Reverend Peter Blee. The church website has a description of each of the churches and the Selmeston Church Guide, which has some excellent photographs, can be seen here.
For details of the times and venues for worship, click here.
Selmeston is the only local church, with a priest, to be mentioned in the Domesday Book. Unusually, the churchyard is circular, with complex ley lines centred on the font. Many churches (especially in Wales) are built on land originally used for pagan worship, and encircled by stones. Even after the spread of Christianity, old fears died hard, and churches were built within the protection of the circle, as may be indicated by this aerial photograph.
When the Reverend W D Parish became the vicar in 1863, the church was declared unsafe and it was pulled down and reconstructed. The work was completed in 1867. Details of the old building are in a number of publications, photographs and drawings, including three watercolours presented by John Maynard Keynes, the well-known economist, which can be seen in the church.
The reconstruction was overseen by the architect Ewan Christian, rather better known for his design of the National Portrait Gallery. The new church used the existing foundations and incorporated every original stone, though not necessarily in the same place! A thirteenth-century lancet, which has been reset in the east wall of the vestry, is the oldest identifiable remnant of the original structure.
Christian’s design is sympathetic to the predominantly fourteenth/fifteenth-century character of the old church. It retains many key features, including the arcade of three timber bays supported on wooden pillars and stone columns that separate the south aisle from the nave.
The church in its present state was given a grade II English Heritage listed building status in August 1966. (ID No 295548)
On the north wall of the sanctuary, there is a monument with the following inscription:
Here lyeth Dam Beatris Bray svm tyme the wyffe of Syr Edward Bray and dawgter of Raffe Sherley of Wyston and Wyfe of Edward Elderton
Sir Edward Bray (1492-1558) of Henfield and Selmeston sat in Parliament for Lewes and bought a manor in Selmeston from Lord Gage of Firle in 1532. He was the Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex between 1538 and 1539, and he became the captain of the Mary Rose and took part in several raids on Calais. Just before his death he held the office of constable of the Tower of London. The monument, which is dated 1537, was at one time used as an Easter sepulchre. A fine ink drawing of this monument was made by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm in 1787 and is held at The British Library.
A painful preacher
At the east end of the south aisle there is a ‘brass’ with the following wording:
The body of Henry Rogers a painfvll Preacher in this churche two and thirty yeeres who dyd the sixt of May Ano dni 1639, and in the yeere of his age 67
lyeth heere expecting the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I did beleeve and therefore spake Whereof I tavght I doe pertake.
The idea of a ‘painful’ preacher may amuse the modern reader but of course ‘painful’ has changed its meaning over the years, and, as noted in Parish’s Dictionary, then meant ‘painstaking’. There are epitaphs to ‘painful’ preachers in other churches, including Petworth, Ringmer and Southease.
An unusual feature of the brass is that the name of the deceased is inscribed in what looks like handwriting at the foot of the inscription as though it were signed by him!
There is another unusual inscription in the vestry floor. This is dedicated to Henry Rochester, who died in 1646, apparently as an infant. The first part of the inscription reads:
Here lyeth ye body of Henry Rochester
Dyed May 28 1646.
Then, set at a 90-degree angle to this, there is an ‘apostrophe’, a sort of poetic address to the world at large, which reads:
Apostrophe AD Omnes
This life that’s packt with ielovsles and fears
I love not. That’s beyond the lists of fears.
That life for me. Foe here I cannot breathe
my prayers ovt. There I shall have wreath
to say Ovr Father that’s in heaven wth me
where chores of sancts and innocents there be
No sooner christened bvt possession
I took of the heavenlie habitation.
In the churchyard, one of the notable headstones is that of Frederick Stanley Mockford, originator of the distress call ‘May Day’.
In early 2000 the pathway into the church was renovated to make it level. During the work the skull of a goat was found planted in the centre of the path; this was replaced before the work was finished!
See also: http://www.sussexparishchurches.