Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Visiting a 12th Century Village Church

Framfield Parish ChurchA couple of miles from Uckfield in East Sussex lies the small village of Framfield.  You’ve come across it in a previous article enthusing about its fabulous historic pub, the Hare & Hounds.  The village itself is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1087 as Framelle and, as you might expect from such an ancient enclave, it has an equally historic church, St Thomas à Beckett.

The earliest recorded mention of a church on this site was in 1190, when it was listed in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica (a survey of church property and income commissioned by Pope Innocent III). However, it’s widely thought that there’s been a church of sorts on the site of since Saxon times. The present church is mainly of 13th century construction, at this time, the church was dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170 and later canonised as a saint and martyr. Framfield’s church was therefore one of the earliest in the country to be named after the canonised saint.

The church interior has an intimate, welcoming atmosphere with wooden pews facing towards the stone altar.

 

There is also an impressive octagonal font thought to date from the early 16th century and a plaque commemorating villagers who died during World Wars I and II.

As with most churches, it is now made up of parts added throughout its life.  The Hempstead Chapel, now the vestry and organ chamber housing a well-maintained and very impressive church organ – a two manual instrument with 22 stops, still in use – is the earliest part, dating from around 1200 with windows of note from this period set in the north and east walls and an arched external door.

Like most old structures, the church has suffered set-backs such as a fire in 1509 which destroyed the remaining wooden parts, including the north porch.  During rebuilding, the height of the nave was increased and extra windows added to allow more light into the church interior. It’s noticeable to this day how much brighter Framfield church is compared to many of its ilk.

Shortly after a Sunday service in 1667, the church tower collapsed, bringing down the six bells it housed.  Although the wall was made good fairly soon thereafter, the tower was not immediately replaced and the cracked bells rested at the back of the church for over 100 years.

A new tower was eventually built in 1891 and two bells recast from one of the originals were hung. Throughout the village, we still hear them ringing for worship on Sundays.  An interesting feature of the tower is a 14th century window that was found in the garden of the Vicarage.  It can now be seen set in the wall above the west doorway.