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Parish Church of St Peter, Bexhill

Description: Parish Church of St Peter

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 11 May 1949
English Heritage Building ID: 291975

OS Grid Reference: TQ7460708096
OS Grid Coordinates: 574607, 108096
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8460, 0.4789

Location: 5 Church Street, Bexhill, East Sussex TN40 2HE

Locality: Bexhill
Local Authority: Rother District Council
County: East Sussex
Country: England
Postcode: TN40 2HE

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Listing Text

(East side)


Probably C11 in origin, the tower is late C11 or very early C12. The two western bays of the aisles were added in the 3rd quarter of the C12. The eastern bay on each side is early C13. The NE chapel is early C15, as are the tower buttresses and W window. The rest of the church was rebuilt and greatly enlarged in 1878 to designs by William Butterfield, with further extension in 1907.

Coursed and uncoursed stone rubble with stone dressings and slated roofs.

Nave with W tower and N and S aisles extending alongside the tower. S porch. Chancel with S Lady chapel, and NE chapel, organ chamber and vestry.

Long and low, externally the church is almost entirely C19 and C20 in a successful, if overly smooth, medieval style that copies many of the features replaced in the rebuilding. There is a good vista with the tower, porch and lychgate from the approach up the hill. The C19 chancel and Lady chapel are in a C13 style with lancet windows and a S door with a hood mould to the Lady Chapel. There is a triplet of lancets in the E wall. The C19 S aisle has C15-style windows and a steeply pitched roof. The C19 S porch is in a late medieval style with a glazed, timber framed gable and carved barge boards. The wide N aisle of 1907 has a lower pitched roof with a plain parapet and largely C14-style windows, including a pair of two-light openings at the W end and reticulated windows in the N wall. There is a small lancet in the N aisle E wall, and a wheel window in its E gable. The N chapel is C15 and has a pair of two-light windows with vertical tracery. The C19 N vestry was extended N in 1965-6 and is also in a C13 style with lancets and twin gables. The late C11 or early C12 W tower is undivided externally and has massive C15 buttresses, an embattled parapet and a low, pyramidal roof topped by a tiny spike. The C19 W window is in a late C13 style with delicate geometric tracery set in a C15 opening; the W door is also C15 and has continuously chamfered mouldings and a label.

Internally, the church retains much medieval fabric of interest. The W tower is c1100 and has low arches of that date to N and S that formerly opened to small chapels or chambers beside the tower; that on the S was formerly blocked and was reopened in 1878. These have round heads and chamfered imposts, that on the S with a band of flat chevrons on the tower side. An unusual arrangement, they speak of the importance of the church at this time. The very plain tower arch is c1200 and has a slightly chamfered, pointed head and chamfered imposts. The nave arcades were extended at their E ends in the C13 and again in the C19. The N arcade has four bays. The first two bays from the W are mid C12. The first pier is round and has a scallop capital, and there are matching responds to the W and on the W face of the second pier, which was formerly a long respond. The arcade arches here are round, and have a chamfered inner order and a plain outer order. The third bay from the W is early C13 and has a pointed arch of two hollow chamfered orders; the outer dies into the wall, the inner is carried on short, corbelled shafts, with another long respond between it and the next bay. The easternmost bay on the N side is C19 in a C15 style with polygonal responds with moulded capitals; it opens into the C15 NE chapel. On the S side, there are five bays. The western two bays are also mid to late C12 and are similar to those on the N, but the responds and pier capital have stylised leaf forms. The third bay, also with former long responds converted to piers on both sides, is like that on the N. The eastern two bays on the S are C19 in a C13 style and have chamfered, pointed arches with a central round pier with a moulded capital. The NE chapel has a heavily restored C15 window of three lights with vertical tracery that now opens into the organ chamber. The nave ceiling appears of late medieval/early post-medieval date.

The C19 chancel arch is in a C13 style, with an inner order on half-round responds with moulded capitals. Both the chancel and the NE bay of the nave are richly decorated with C19 mural painting; the chancel roof also has stencilled and painted decoration. The chancel N door, now opening to the N vestry, is C14, very rebuilt. There is a further C19 opening to the Lady chapel, and a C20 opening to the organ chamber.

The church was entirely refurnished in the late C19 and the chancel decoration scheme by W G Rich of 1893 is particularly notable. The chancel screen has depressed ogee arches and above them very complex ogee reticulated tracery. The cornice has demi-figures of angels, and there are good ironwork gates. Reredos in a very elaborate Victorian Gothic style with two tiers of relief carving amidst tracery, large polygonal corner buttresses and an openwork cornice. Three seat sedilia in a Decorated style with trefoiled arches on marble shafts and carving in the spandrels. The chancel dado has blind tracery panelling, rising higher behind the altar, and the sanctuary walls were painted by Rich with figures of saints and scenes in ogee niches, with a row of angels above. The roof has stencilling with complex motifs, including tracery and monograms, but the decoration formerly on the intermediate truss has been painted out. Good C19 choir stalls with open tracery fronts and twisted iron candle stands, and the tracery metalwork communion rails are also Butterfield. The Lady chapel also has a good C19 screen of similar design to, but simpler than, that in the chancel arch.

The pulpit has a polygonal stone base and a timber top section with alternating open tracery and carved figures; the timber lectern has figures and relief carving. The font is of 1878 by Butterfield in a C13 style, although it is said to be a copy of the original font. The polygonal bowl has a plain arcade of uncusped, pointed arches and stands on detached marble shafts around a central marble shaft. Polygonal marble base with fat scallops. Very elaborate Victorian cover in an Italian Gothic style with a cupola. The rood figures are by Martin Travers and were installed in 1946; the mural in the NE bay of the nave was painted in 1951 by Alan Sorrel. Some C15 glass, including figures and canopies reset in the N aisle. Some good C19 and C20 glass, including the W window and a window of 1917 by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. The western part of the nave roof may contain some old timber.

Only a few wall tablets, the most notable of which is that from Thomas Milner, vicar, d1722, a white marble tablet with a black marble, open scroll pediment. An Anglo-Saxon grave cover with excellent interlace carving, and a probably C12 or early C13 grave cover with a cross shaft hang under the tower.

The C19 lychgate creates an attractive vista with the church.

There was a church at Bexhill long before the Norman conquest, when it was a minster or small collegiate church serving a large area of territory. However, herringbone masonry seen at the W end of the nave during restoration work in the mid-C20 suggests that the present church only dates to the late C11 or very early C12. The tower was built c1100, and formerly had N and S chapels or chambers opening through the low arches on either side, one of which (on the N) survived until the N aisle was enlarged in 1907. The other was demolished at an unknown date. The two western bays of the N and S arcades were added to the nave in the mid-late C12, with that on the N being slightly earlier.

The E tower arch was probably originally similar to those on the N and S. It was enlarged c1200 and given a pointed arch, but perhaps reusing the existing impost blocks. In the early C13, the third bay of the nave arcades were added on both sides. It is unclear if a very short nave was lengthened at this time or if these arches replaced earlier arches, perhaps similar to those opening from the tower. Both aisles were much narrower than the present aisles and were roofed with `catslide┬┐ roofs that swept down from the main nave roof; the scar of that on the N is visible at the E end of the N aisle. Also in the early C13 the chancel was rebuilt; it formerly extended as far E as the present altar step. The foundations of an earlier, probably C12, apse were seen during the C19 rebuilding work. The NE chapel was added in the C15 as the Batesford chantry; also in the early C15 a now demolished chapel was added at the E end of the S aisle, massive buttresses were added to the tower and the W window and W door were remodelled. By the C18 there were N, S and W galleries and dormers in the nave roof.

The church was greatly enlarged, and almost wholly rebuilt, in 1878 to designs by the well-known church architect William Butterfield (1829-99). He lengthened the nave by one bay to the E and built a new chancel; he demolished the S aisle, SE chapel and S porch, adding the S Lady Chapel and rebuilding the aisle at twice the width and twice the length, extending it alongside the tower, opening up the S tower arch in the process. He also built the S porch and a N vestry, and refurnished the church, removing the galleries and dormers. For Butterfield, who was noted for his dramatic and individual style, the work was very conservative and at least some of the windows and other features appear to have been copied from those that he replaced. In 1907, the then vicar, Rev Theodore Churton, demolished and rebuilt the N aisle on an even larger scale than the S aisle. He also demolished the NW chamber and added the organ chamber between the NE chapel and the vestry. There was some refurnishing after WWII, when the rood was installed and the NE bay of the nave painted. The NE vestry was enlarged in 1965-6.

Lambeth Palace Library, ICBS 08186
Early C19 watercolour copied in National Monuments Record
Buildings of England Sussex (1965) 415-6
Bexhill Parish Church of St Peter: A Brief History and Guide (2006)

The church of St Peter, Bexhill, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Parish church with W tower of c1100, C12 and C13 nave arcades, and C15 upper stages to tower.
* The work of c1100 is particularly interesting.
* Rebuilt and enlarged to designs by William Butterfield, the church contains a fine collection of C19 fittings and furnishing and a good decorative scheme in the chancel of 1893.
* Further enlargement in 1907.
* Interesting late medieval/early post-medieval ceiling to nave.
* Excellent Anglo-Saxon carved grave cover.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.