Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Earnley Parish Church

It is a pleasant surprise coming into Earnley from the tackiness of East Wittering. The ancient little church sits on a triangle surrounded by a few cottages and trees, seemingly just as it always has. But look closely, and change and decay all around you’ll see.
The church was originally built in the 13th century, a simple box with a bell turret at the west end. A chancel was added a hundred years later. And that is, to a casual glance, was that. Examine the walls, however, and you soon observe whole sections that have clearly been patched in using different types of stone.
Inside, the roof timbers are medieval but the roof above is not. It has been replaced at least twice in living memory, first when it was blown off by a German bomb in the war (the parishioners continued to hold services in the road to show Hitler that business was as usual) and more recently when death watch beetle was found.
A new roof was installed over the existing one, the space at the eaves being bricked in rather than built up in stone so the new work would be honest.
When I visited, I happened on local geologist Roger Cordiner who explained the variety of stones used in this simple building. Apparently, most of the quoins (the cornerstones) are hard chalk quarried in medieval times at Stoke Clump, near Lavant.
The walls have a lot of Mixon stone, a yellow limestone found in a reef off Selsey. Mixon stone was used a lot by the Romans, and the west wing of Fishbourne Palace was faced with it. A lot appears in the walls of Fishbourne church, probably recycled from the palace.
Some stones at Earnley are clunch, a rather lumpy chalk, and some come from Quarr on the Isle of White. A surprising amount was shipped in from Caen in Normandy, the same high quality building stone used for the bulk of Chichester Cathedral.
Roger explained that until the coming of the railways, builders used the closest stone that was fit for purpose, as road transport was hugely expensive. In fact, bringing stone in from Caen by ship may have been cheaper than bringing it from Lavant by ox cart.
This month's bonus picture (exclusive to the web!) is of the evocative window in memory of the sculptor Yvonne Rusbridge, who was secretary of the PCC. The stained glass depicts the story of Jonah and features images from her work, and was dedicated in 1987. I love the way the spirit of the word of God passes over the waters, and the monsters of the deep.