Wednesday, 25 April 2012

St Mary, Broadwater

Until sea bathing became fashionable in Georgian times, Worthing was a mere fishing village and the main town was Broadwater. Nowadays, Broadwater is just a place people drive through on their way to the beach.
But it is worth stopping to take a look at St Mary's church with its imposing Norman tower.
When it was built in the mid-12th century, it was probably an 'axial' church with an aisle-less nave, tower and chancel all in line, like Shipley. About 50 years later, a pair of transepts were added, either to make the church grander or to support the tower which was clearly subsiding – the chancel arch was originally round but now sags in a sort of banana shape. The western arch to the nave had to be completely rebuilt, with the rather bizarre result of a Gothic pointed arch made of Norman stones complete with the beakhead and zigzag ornament of a century earlier. The mason did not have enough stones from the round arch to complete a pointed arch, so he added a few plain stones at the bottom to fill in.
At the same time as the transepts were built, the tower was made higher to accommodate a peal of bells.
The east walls of each transept was built with three chapels, but these were ruinous by the 19th century and demolished – traces of the arches can be seen.
It is possible that the rather grand chancel with its stone vaulted ceiling dates from this time also, but it was mucked about with in the mid-19th century so it is difficult to tell. The vaulting was pushing the walls out so badly the architect, Charles Hide, decided to take drastic action. In an operation known as 'Mr Hide's Experiment' he had iron rods passed through the walls and nuts screwed on the outside. The bars were heated and expanded as a result, allowing the nuts to be screwed up. The bars were then allowed to cool, bringing the walls in. Then the process was repeated until they were straight. Finally, the walls were underpinned to stabilise the whole building.