A Church Guide

A History of the Church

As you walk into this beautiful Grade II* Parish Church, we hope you will take time to enjoy its many historic and contemporary features. These equip this building to serve the present generation. The general consensus is that the church dates from the early 11th Century and is therefore Saxon in origin.  Worship has taken place here since those early times.
Originally the church was much smaller and probably not as large as the present nave.  It would have been simple and bare with few creature comforts. There were possibly rough hewn benches around the walls for the elderly and infirm to rest.  It was built on rising ground to emphasise its importance to the local community. It is doubtful any of the fabric of the original church remains, although there may be some traces in the north wall.
Rottingdean – ‘the valley of Rota’s people’ – was one of the prizes which fell to William of Normandy when he invaded England in the eleventh century.  There was already a settlement here with a church.
Church History
The Christian faith was spreading rapidly throughout England, and there would have been a group of people who wanted their own church building.  It was in this building where mass could be celebrated, baptisms take place, marriages blessed and loved ones buried.  The village community would have been much smaller in those times and the church became their meeting place.  We may never know the details of these people, but we do know enough to allow us to imagine how the erection of the first church might have taken place.  There would have been an architect with his ideas and plans and it was all brought to life by the skill of workers, such as, stone masons and joiners.  The building would have risen slowly.  As well as the paid workers, volunteers would have given their time from whatever was left after their daily toil on the land.  Despite being by the sea, Rottingdean has always been a farming community and not a fishing village.  Whilst the men worked the land their women folk would keep house, raise and care for the children and watch over domestic animals.
The able bodied would have been called upon to dig the foundations which was no easy task in this area of the East Sussex coastline with its chalk and flint.  Craftsmen would be called upon to carve the stone; blacksmiths to make iron bars and locks for the heavy wooden door which would be made by a master carpenter.  There would be those who would prepare food for the workers and possibly a jug of ale.
In the years immediately following the Conquest, the Normans displayed a great zeal for church building.  They built to impress.  In every village where they settled, their influence is evident and their work may be observed in a very large number of Sussex churches.  The Norman Lord, William de Warenne, to whom the village of Rottingdean and the adjoining land was granted, at once set about improving the church. About the year 1100 AD he erected a tower on the site of the Saxon chancel where the present tower now stands and built a new chancel beyond it; two transepts of similar dimensions were also added.  The tower and transepts were built askew to the nave while the chancel was sited approximately in line with it. The curious irregularity of design may have been due to faulty planning or site difficulties or as some prefer to believe, the architect’s intention was to make his cruciform Church conform to the assumed position of Christ on the Cross. This shape has been preserved in subsequent rebuilding and is very noticeable when viewed from either the west door or the sanctuary rail.
There are distinct indications on the north wall of the nave and chancel that some great calamity befell the early Norman Tower within a century of its erection. Probably it was caused by one of the tremendous gales that occasionally swept in from the sea. The tower had been erected with comparatively thin walls and the shallow foundations of the Saxon chancel would not have resisted the fury of the wind, and thus fell, carrying with it parts of the adjoining walls.
The present tower, with its typically Sussex capped appearance dates from 1200 AD and is a replacement for the original.
The 1100 Century tower when it collapsed appears to have demolished the two transepts and a good part of the Chancel. While the tower and Chancel were in due course rebuilt, the transepts were abandoned.
Parts of the foundations of the south transept were uncovered in the course of digging operations in 1909. Owing to the large number of graves on both sides of the north and south of the tower, it has not been possible to make a full examination of either of these sites.
Fortunately today’s tower stands tall, because of the work carried out in the year 1200 AD.  Its massive walls, which are over four feet thick and flanked by strong buttresses, have been able to survive the storms.  It stands today as it has stood for over 810 years, a monument indeed to the constructive skills of the Early English builders.
In 1377 the building suffered severely in the course of a raid by a party of French pirates landing at the ‘Gap’ on the coast at Rottingdean, the only break in the cliffs for many miles.  They plundered and fired the village and many of the villagers fled to take refuge in the Church.  Sadly this was to no avail. The French proceeded to set fire to the Church, the villagers were burnt alive and the fabric was left half in ruins.  The side aisle and roof of the nave, together with the west wall were totally destroyed.  Many of the flints in its inner walls were fractured from the intense heat, and the stonework of the arches and windows given that peculiar pink and grey colouring which is there for you to observe this day.

The seven stained glass windows in the Chancel and Tower 

As you walk through the West door of the church look straight ahead. The seven stained glass windows in the Chancel and Tower are one of the great glories of the church. They were made by William Morris from the designs of the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones and are acknowledged to be some of their finest work. They first met at Oxford University and remained firm friends. The three east windows, erected in 1893 were the personal gift of the artist to commemorate the marriage of his daughter Margaret in the church. Represented in these windows are the three archangels, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael.




Gabriel being the messenger, Michael the warrior and Raphael the carer and guardian of children.
The beautiful window in the South wall of the chancel depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary.. The opposit window in the north wall, portrays St Margaret the Patron Saint of the church as previously mentioned.
The two lancet windows in the Tower, on the north side Jacobs Vision (Jacobs Ladder), and on the South a Jesse Tree showing the figures of Christ’s Ancestors Jesse, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah and the Blessed Virgin with the Infant Christ.  In 1922 the old “low side window” in the south wall of the Chancel, which had been blocked up since the Reformation, was opened and filled with stained glass by Townshend, in memory of Sir Wentworth Dilke who is buried in the churchyard. The windows mentioned above were removed during the Second World War and stored in a neighbouring cellar for safekeeping.
There are two more windows in the north wall of the nave from the designs of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and executed by the firm of William Morris after the death of both the artist and Morris.
The first represents St Martin and was erected in memory of Mr Edward Ridsdale who was father of Countess Baldwin, wife of the former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
The second represents St Veronica and St George and was erected to the memory of Major Roger Rowden MC who at the time of his death was the youngest Major of the Air Force.  The motto of the RAF Per ardua ad Astra appears beneath the figure of St George.

The window above the pulpit is in memory of the Beard family

And It depicts Christ on the Mount where he taught the Beatitudes. The latest window in the church is that of the Millennium Window donated by the parishioners of St Margaret.

The window was executed to the design of Mr Andrew Taylor and installed in 2004. The window depicts the Eucharist the earthly products of water and wheat on one side and the other shows the chalice and host (Bread) under a cross surrounded by a crown of thorns.

The window can be seen as you enter the church immediately on your left, in front of the balcony balustrade, on the north wall of the nave, (it is best viewed when leaving the church).

On the South wall, the five windows are in the style of the London firm of Clayton and Bell.  Each one depicts scenes from the life of Christ and we can see the miracles from Christ’s life.  Christ’s Baptism, the Nativity, the Holy Family and the Annunciation.

Monuments & Memorias

It is always of great interest to walk around the church looking at various reminders of people who once worshipped here.  Many are Victorian rather than from an earlier time.  Some bear the names of families still connected with the village whose forebears lived here generations ago.
Most of the memorials are self-explanatory.
The Beard’s were a Quaker family, much persecuted in the 17th Century and beyond for their faith.  Nicolas Beard suffered particularly badly, spending several terms in prison. ‘Downs House’ was owned by the Beard family as was ‘Challoners,’ this was the Beard family home for nearly 300 years it lies to the north of the Church and is the oldest house in the village.  It was the Beards who gave the Quaker Burial Ground, now hidden away in the garden of the house ‘Quakers Rest’, just a few yards along the north side of Dean Court Road.
One can hardly miss the bust hovering over the pulpit of Dr Hooker, a former vicar of the parish, who ran a private school in the vicarage (now the Grange). He was generally regarded as the “look out” man, for the ‘Rottingdean Smuggler Gang’!  Not without reason was Rottingdean known as Smugglers Village.
The chair in the tower was presented in 1945 by Earl and Countess Baldwin of Bewdley, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage in the Church.
Also in the tower is the eagle lectern a brass lectern in the shape of an eagle. They are very common in Christian churches and cathedrals.  The eagle is a symbol used to depict John the Apostle, whose writing most clearly witnesses the light and divinity of Christ.  In art, John as the presumed author of the Gospel is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolises the height to which he rose in the first chapter of his gospel.
Dr Hooker
Church Organ
Throughout the centuries church music has been part of our worship, with singing and instrumental accompaniment. Primitive organs were used in larger churches nearly a thousand years ago.
St Margaret’s Church organ is sited in the balcony. It is a Three Manual Allen Quantum Digital Organ with 38 speaking stops. This was installed in 2007, replacing a small extension organ. The introduction of the new organ has enhanced the music used in Church.
Sanctury Lamp
Most importantly in the Chancel look to the altar. Many Christian churches have at least one lamp continually burning before the tabernacle to indicate the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
St Margaret’s is in possession of a fifteenth century triptych, a Spanish work, presented by the Moens family.  This has now been removed for restoration.  After restoration this special piece of work will be placed in the Lady Chapel.  The Moens family memorial plaque can be seen on the south wall of the Lady Chapel.  S. M. Moens wrote much of village life in his history of Rottingdean.

A Guide to the Village

With the church behind you, look to your right, you will see the white house called ‘The Elms home of Rudyard Kipling for five years.  It was here he wrote many of his works such as the poem Recessional and the books Stalky & Co and Kim.
In his teens he would visit his Aunt, Georgiana Burne-Jones at Prospect House (later extended to North End House), now divided again into three properties.
Georgiana Burne-Jones and Alice Kipling, Rudyard’s mother, were sisters.
In 1902 he moved from the village, due to the lack of privacy – admirers would gather at the gate of The Elms to get a ‘chance glimpse’ of the great man at work in his study.
In the wall that surrounds the garden of The Elms about 10 metres beyond the little arched door in the wall is a ‘wishing stone’ a strange, gnome-like face, set among the flints, not easy to find.  Village tradition says you must stroke his nose with the forefinger of your right hand, make a wish, then turn around three times to make your wish come true, but never for money!  Often children can be seen performing this ritual and many adults can be seen going through the motions too.  Please be aware of the traffic!
To the side of The Plough is Whipping Post Lane, and a few metres along the lane you will find Whipping Post House a listed building from the 16th Century.  The Whipping Post and village stocks used to be in front of this house. The persons to be punished would be tied to these posts and whipped for what was often a very minor offence.  Captain Dunk lived in this early Tudor house, he was the villages most notorious smuggler.  It is believed there were cellars beneath this property, with underground passages leading to the beach.  (This was the case for many Rottingdean premises), When not occupied in outwitting the Revenue Officers, the Captain was the village butcher.
When you stroll across The Green you will find the entrance in the North-West corner to Kipling Gardens; well worth a visit.  The plan to build houses on this land by the owners was thwarted by the opposition of the Rottingdean Preservation Society, the residents of Rottingdean and Brighton Council.  This gave the Society the opportunity to purchase the land with the help of a bequest and then to restore the gardens. Many of the seats and ornaments in the garden have been given by Rottingdean residents or by some who love to visit here and enjoy the beauty and peace.
The oldest houses are to be found grouped round the village green, already mentioned are North End House, and The Elms.  The Dene, is now a home for retired persons. The Grange, now the village library, has a museum dedicated to Rudyard Kipling upstairs, and also houses some wonderful art exhibitions by local artists.  The Grange was for 250 years the Vicarage.
Also to be found in the Museum at The Grange is the exhibition depicting The Copper Family. It tells the history of their farming lives dating back to the sixteenth century.  The family are a world-renowned folk group.  ‘Copper Corner’, where many of the family are buried, can be found in St Margaret’s churchyard to the right of the entrance to the Memorial Garden.
The Grange is open daily (although this may vary during winter months) admission is free and run on an entirely voluntary basis.
Turn left as you leave the Grange into Whiteway Lane, facing you is the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1958, with local flints by local craftsmen.
Further along Whiteway Lane is the Whiteway Centre this was built on land given by the St Margaret’s Church.  It is in constant use for a wide variety of community activities.  Beyond this building further along the lane is St Margaret’s Church of England (Aided) Primary School.
St. Margaret’s School was established under an agreement drawn up in 1859, by the Rt. Hon. William Earl of Abergavenny the Lord of the Manor of Rottingdean.   He gave land to the Vicar and Churchwardens of the time, and to their successors. The Deed goes on to say The Principal Officiating Minister of the Parish shall have the superintendence of the religious and moral instruction of all scholars attending the school.
In 1986 arsonists burnt down a sizeable part of the original school.  It was rebuilt and re-opened in 1988 with the addition of a new library, which was funded, by the Church, parents and villagers of Rottingdean.
Retrace your steps, walk through Whipping Post Lane, cross the High Street to your right, opposite The Green is St Martha’s Convent, first started by a group of nuns in 1903.  Their Mother House is at Perigeux in the Dordogne.  Despite speaking very little English the sisters soon settled in Rottingdean.  Their first convent was on the sea front.  The house was called “Star of the Sea”.  Leaving their cradle home in 1925 they moved further into the village and settled in the present convent named after St. Martha.  Now St Martha’s is a beautiful and peaceful place to stay and enjoy the hospitality of the sisters.  Turn back towards the sea and you pass Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, which caters for pupils not only of Rottingdean but also the surrounding area.
Continuing towards the sea you will pass the Black Horse the oldest of the five public houses in the village, dating back to 1513.
Further on, this time on your left, is St Aubyn’s Preparatory School, a Georgian building, once housed boys only, but now caters for both girls and boys.
A few steps onwards is 66 High Street, the old ‘Customs House’ (better known to many as ‘Tallboys’), this was not a popular building for the inhabitants of ‘Smugglers Village’!  Tom Paine was an excise Officer living in Lewes from 1768 where for the next six years, he combined his duties with serving on the Town Council, Paine was very active in local affairs.
He was a much travelled man, spending time in America. In 1787 he returned to Europe. Paine’s most influential work was ‘The Rights of Man’.  In intellectual terms this was his greatest political work.  He continued to write on political issues. His achievements were all with his pen, so it is difficult to accurately assess his influence.
On Beacon Hill, to the west of the village, is a fine old ‘hooded windmill’ which stands as Rottingdean’s iconic landmark.  It was once marked on Admiralty charts as a practical service to ships in the channel.  Although no longer a working mill, it is maintained and cared for by the Rottingdean Preservation Society.  The mill is open once a month on a Sunday during the summer to allow visitors to see inside this treasure. It is well worth the climb up the hill, the views are breathtaking.
Another important feature of Beacon Hill was the beacon itself. (One of twenty-six) this would be lit, at the first sighting of an approaching enemy by sea, and then send its signal along the coast. For centuries this practice was very successful.  The best known enemy in the 16th Century was the Spanish Armada.  When the Spanish ships were sighted off the Lizard, a beacon was lit sending its warnings of enemy in view as they sailed up the English Channel.  The vicar at that time was William Savage (his tomb is in the churchyard) and he led his flock to the shore of Rottingdean Gap, to pray for deliverance from the Spanish. A furious storm arose and the Spaniards were driven headlong to the Straits of Dover and in to Drake’s fire ships.
In recent times, beacons and bonfires have been purposely built to celebrate anniversaries of past victories, coronations and the like. Many happy times have been enjoyed by visitors and villagers alike on this historic hill.
Many thousands of visitors come to Rottingdean and to St Margaret’s Church. They come from all parts of the globe as is testified in our visitors’ book.  In the past some Americans who came were so delighted by the Church building, they wanted to purchase it, pull it down and rebuild it stone by stone in the great cemetery at Forest Lawn, California when this was being laid out. The offer to the Vicar and Churchwardens was, thank goodness, refused.  A mutually acceptable compromise, the Church of the Recessional was built on the model of Rudyard Kipling’s home church, St Margaret’s Rottingdean.  The name was inspired by the famous man’s poem ‘Recessional’.

The Green

Much has been written of the historic and fascinating village of Rottingdean as well as St Margaret’s Church. It would be quite wrong to think that everything happened in the past. Ancient and modern work well together. From its roots in the past up until this twenty-first century the community spirit is as strong as ever.
There are two ‘fayres’ on the Green, the first in June organised by the ‘Lions’ for worthy causes, the second is the famous “Rottingdean Fayre” which for over a hundred years has taken place in August when groups from many associations are joined by private individuals, both young and old, to work together to raise money for charity.
The memorial erected on the Green opposite the Lych-gate after the First World War commemorates those from Rottingdean who died in both World Wars.  In November on Remembrance Sunday a Service of Remembrance is held on the Green and many hundreds congregate to remember all wars, past and present. It is a moving sight to see representatives of all generations laying wreaths lest we forget the sacrifice made by those who won our freedom.
The Green is also a popular venue for brides who may choose to have their wedding photos taken there, with the village pond as a backdrop, on leaving the Church
One does not have to be in Rottingdean long to realise that the goodwill and community spirit which perhaps caused the first church to be built here, still survives.
We hope that you enjoy your visit and look forward to your return.
Pray for the work of St Margaret’s Church and the people of Rottingdean.  Give thanks to God for to all that it offers

The Churchyard

When you are ready to leave the church, having taken in its beauty and peace, take time to walk around the Churchyard.Here are buried the famous together with the less well known though far from ordinary people of the village.
The memorial plaque to Sir Edward Burne-Jones and that of his wife Georgiana can be seen just to the left of the West door on leaving the church. Although Burne-Jones was the first artist to have a memorial service in Westminster Abbey, his ashes were buried by the parish church, here in Rottingdean, within sight of his home ‘North End House’ which is across the Green from the church.
Angela Thirkel, society novelist, much loved grand-daughter of Sir Edward Burne-Jones has her memorial also to the left of the West door, a wooden structure needing repair you may think, but this was Angela’s wish that it should ‘rot’ into the ground.  The Angela Thirkel Society is still very popular with members who visit St Margaret’s church frequently in her memory.  One of her most popular books (repeatedly reprinted) is ‘Three Houses’ a child’s memoir of Rottingdean.
Another interesting gravestone can be seen to the North side of the church, with its inscription.
Erected by Order of the Admiralty in memory of David Bennett AB and Alfred Barnes OS also two other men not identified.  Drowned Sunday March 24 1878 when HMS Eurydice in which they were serving, foundered off the Isle of Wight. Their bodies, which were washed ashore near this spot, are buried here.
There was a great loss of life that day, 364 officers and men, most of whom are buried in Haslar Hospital Cemetery in Portsmouth.  There is a plaque in the town to honour their memory.
Another well known character and novelist whose ashes are buried in the churchyard are those of Enid Bagnold  She was the daughter of Colonel Arthur Henry Bagnold; Enid was born in Rochester Kent on the 27 October 1889.  Her early childhood was spent in Jamaica. She became a journalist for the magazine ‘Hearth and Home’.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Enid Bagnold joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and worked as a nurse at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich. Later she went to France as a volunteer driver, she wrote of this experience in ‘The Happy Foreigner’.
In 1920 she married Roderick Jones the head of Reuters News Agency, they moved to North End House, Rottingdean.  Bagnold continued to write, and in 1924 published the highly acclaimed novel ‘Difficulty of Getting Married’.
This was followed by the commercially successful ‘National Velvet’ (1935).
If ever an author managed to get everything into one book, Bagnold did it with ‘National Velvet’, a great hit with children and adults alike. It was later made into a hugely successful film, with Elizabeth Taylor in the starring role.
Enid Bagnold died in March 1981 in London. Her ashes were buried in St Margaret’s churchyard Rottingdean, after cremation at Golders Green.
Follow the path to the ‘Memorial Garden’ which is maintained as an English Country Garden, this is where cremated remains are buried.  We welcome you to enjoy its peace and quiet.
As you leave the Churchyard through the Lych-gate which was built in 1897 in memory of the Reverend Arthur Thomas, a former Vicar. Glance up at the arch and see the inscription.
On the entrance side of the lych-gate once again look up, the inscription on the arch reads.
The term Lych-gate is from the Old English for ‘corpse’ or dead body, which would lie in the gate-house before a funeral.

History of the Church continued

Various alterations and restorations have taken place in the church from time to time. In 1876 the old fashioned high box pews were removed and the present pews substituted.
As recently as January 2011 there has been a re-ordering at the east end of the Nave. Two sections of pews have been removed. The removal of the ancient rotted floor timbers were replaced and covered with a crimson carpet, (designed to be the same hue as that of the archangel Michael’s wings in the stained glass window to be seen in the chancel) adding colour and warmth. The whole area adds richness to the Church. This was a much-needed move to allow more space for worship.
East end of the Nave

East end of the Nave

This space allows for a more flexible use of the building. As well as its prime use for worship, the church is now more able to host concerts, recitals and the like.
In 1920, the Bishop of Lewes dedicated a war memorial chapel at the east end of the south aisle and unveiled a memorial tablet to the men of Rottingdean who fell in the First World War. Thirty seven names are mentioned there, a large loss to a then, small farming village. The wooden crosses either side of the tablet were brought back from the battlefield.
In the baptistry, at the south west end of the aisle, may be seen the battered bowl of a thirteenth century font. It now resides on the fourteenth century window sill. Reflect for just a moment as you gaze at this old font and imagine the families of long ago, being baptised in this very place.

Baptistry Bowl

This bowl (font) was found some years ago, buried in the vicarage garden, which was then the present grounds of the Grange. It is now placed in its true home, but is too much injured for use, another has been erected, a replica of the 13th century one (from a design of Mr Johnson, which is believed to be an exact reproduction of the old one), in memory of Mr Charles Reed, Churchwarden of the parish for many years. There is a very similar font in Iford Church, near Lewes, which served as a model for the new ‘legs’ and base.
In the corner of the Baptistry on the south-west wall you will find a list of Vicars of the Church since 1237 AD to the present day.

Baptistry Bowl

About the Author – Maureen Blakey

It was early in 1983 I began to worship at St Margaret’s Church. I was confirmed on April 8th 1984.   As time went by I became involved with the church in many ways.  I was a flower arranger for 25 years. I also clean the church brass.  I am one of a team who ‘welcome’ on a Sunday morning at the 9.30am Eucharist; I find this a great pleasure. I also serve on the PCC.  To be part of church affairs and its future for me is a great privilege.
Having travelled widely as an ‘Army wife’, I had 21 homes in 19 years – to finally settle here in the village, I can say to St Margaret’s Church and Rottingdean – this is home, I am truly blessed.
As a point of interest St Margaret’s was one of the first churches to have electricity.
My grateful thanks to Fr Martin Morgan for his confidence and support.
To Chris Stringer and Carl Nye, my thanks to you both for your patience and help in the technology and compilation.
To Michael Nye for his watercolour, my special thanks for helping to make this presentation unique.
My husband Geoff, I thank you for all your help and many cups of tea and coffee!