Chiddingly Church 

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Chiddingly Church, a listed building, is a landmark. Its spire is visible from every point of the compass, and indeed were it not for the Church it would be difficult to say exactly where Chiddingly is. For this is a 'dispersed' village having its origin in a number of scattered settlements, all linked to the Parish Church by an intricate system of footpaths and bridleways, over thirty miles in all. But wherever you live in the Parish, be it at Golden Cross or Whitesmith, Hale Green or Muddles Green, you can still see the Church spire pointing to heaven.

Chiddingly has a Saxon name. It is spelled in the Domesday Book 'Cetelingei', which represents the effort of a Norman clerk to come to terms with a broad South Saxon accent and most probably means 'the place of Cedd's people'.

It is worthwhile standing in the churchyard and trying to imagine the landscape as it was a thousand years ago. Woods everywhere, because this was the southern edge of Andredsweald, the great Wealden Forest, marshy ground to the south where now Willetts stream divides Chiddingly from Muddles Green. Beyond is the line of the Downs and the ghostly outline of the Long Man of Wilmington. Those who hold to the theory of ley lines, those mysterious lines of force connecting ancient sacred sites, have postulated such a line running north from the Long Man through the churchyard. Be that as it may, although there is no trace of a Saxon church, there is evidence from pre-Conquest charters that Chiddingly was served by a priest.

The first church of which traces remain was built in the late 11th or early 12th centuries. When the chancel was rebuilt in 1864 Norman masonry was found in the foundations; these included corbels, zig-zag moulding and traces of what may have been a sedilia. The details were recorded by the Vicar, the Reverend J. H. Vidal, in 'Sussex Notes and Queries' for September 1864. The church with the exception of the north porch is built of sandstone of local origin, and there is a tradition that the stone came from a pit at Hilder's Court about a mile north of the church.

Starting at the east end: the present chancel was completely rebuilt in 1864. The only trace of medieval work is the trefoil-headed piscina in the south wall. An 'Easter sepulchre' is mentioned in wills of the 15th Century, but nothing of this came to light at the time of rebuilding.

The print of the exterior by Albion Russell, dated 1841, shows that the east window was then five plain lights. The two plaques flanking the window are memorials to the Lashmar family and are there today. There were only two lancet windows in the north wall of the chancel and presumably their counterparts on the west face, which look early English in style.

Note in the illustration the position of the ancient Vicarage House. This was prior to the Georgian Vicarage, built by the Reverend J H Vidal in 1846 and erected on a new site hard by. It is now in private ownership (The Old Vicarage). Sometime after 1846 the old house was demolished.

James Noakes, Churchwarden, lived near the Church in the house now called Pilgrims. It was enlarged by him in 1855 from the nucleus of a 15th Century cottage.

To the right of the exterior of the south west lancet window is a mass dial, a sundial device which marked service times from the pre-Reformation period. The gnomon is missing, but the lines marking the hours can be seen.

From the chancel we go down two steps through the 13th Century chancel arch to the nave. The marks of plugged mortices on the inside of the arch suggest that in the Middle Ages there was a rood screen dividing chancel from nave. This latter is a perfect square, 38ft in each direction. The aisles are Early-English, perhaps between 1250 and 1300, as are the lancet windows of one light in the west wall. In the late 13th or early 14th Centuries the arcades of three bays dividing the nave from the aisles were built, the slight difference in style between the north and south arcades suggesting that the work was done in two stages.

The windows in the north and south aisles are early perpendicular (15th Century) which probably replaced earlier and smaller windows. The whole structure is covered by a single pitched roof of king-post construction containing some fine old timber. The roof is now covered in hand-made clay tiles which replaced the stone slates, but a report of the architecture of the church by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1937 suggested that the original covering may have been thatch.

At the west end of the nave is the magnificently proportioned arch of the tower. The tower and spire are presumed to be an addition of the early 15th Century. The evidence for this is historical rather than architectural. This is one of a group of church towers in this part of East Sussex known as Pelham towers from one common decorative feature, the Pelham Buckle carved on the external label stops of the tower doorway. The Buckle (of a sword-belt) appears as a badge of the Pelham family from about 1408 onwards and the story that the Buckle was a battle honour granted to a Pelham after the Battle of Poitiers, 1356, seems to be 17th Century invention, and is highly suspect. The Buckle can be seen on the tower doorways of the Parish churches of East Hoathly, Laughton and Ripe among other places, together with two shields on the spandrels of the doorway, in every case defaced, which may have borne the arms of Pelham.

The connection of the Pelham family with this neighbourhood seems to begin in 1401, eight years after Sir John Pelham was appointed Constable of Pevensey Castle, when he leased the Manor of Laughton from the De Vere family. The hamlet of Whitesmith was part of the Manor of Laughton, and all the estate properties were graced with the Buckle badge, an example of which can be seen at Coldharbour Farmhouse. The Pelham connection only ended about forty years ago when the burden of death duties forced the Earl of Chichester to sell the Laughton estate and end a tie that had lasted for five hundred years.

By contrast the Sackville family, which acquired the Manor of Chiddingly by marriage in the 14th Century and held it for generations, have left no visible signs of their presence in the Parish church, although a tenuous link was maintained by their patronage of the living until it passed to the Bishop of Chichester in 1988. In 1983 the Parish churches of Chiddingly and East Hoathly became the United Benefice of Chiddingly and East Hoathly.