St John the Evangelist
See Also: Newtimber Parish
Description and History
The Church of St John the Evangelist is approached down a country lane that leads only to Newtimber Place, a moated house probably originally built in the 16th century, and its estate with a few cottages. A few other houses – including the Old Rectory – lie on this road. From the road, a fingerpoint signpost takes you off to the right up a long path to the church set in a beautiful and fairly isolated rural location.
Some of the original parishioners would have lived in the Saxon settlement of Saddlescombe, which is still part of the parish. The church was built in the 13th century, with a single aisle. A list of Rectors from 1270 can be found on the wall of the church. The Nave and Chancel are Early English work. The Pulpit is Jacobean and has l0 panels carved in the style of the 17th century
In 1839, the West Tower was built, and substantial restoration , including resurfacing of the walls and renewal of the windows, took place in 1875. The font is from the 19th century. The original lectern – a carved wooden eagle – was unfortunately stolen, but has been replaced by a modern one given in 1983 in memory of a former churchwarden. This incorporates 2 ancient carved figures which were found in the vestry.
Heater and a glass screen have been added recently (2009) – the latter in memory of Judge John Clay of Newtimber Place. Memorials can be found in the Church, amongst them a number to members of the Buxton family. The altar frontal (applique collage) that is normally in use shows a Sussex scene, with the chalk quarry and sheep that are so memorable a part of the church’s location.
As a result of the link between the Earl of Buxton and South Africa (he was Governor General of South Africa during the First World War, and his home was Newtimber Place), a memorial has been placed in the churchyard to the 670 South African men who lost their lives off the English Coast in February 1917. At the end of a long journey to join the war effort, their ship the SS Mendi sank in the English Channel, rammed by another allied vessel. Amongst the dead were Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase and their minister.
The City Gate Church in Brighton learned in 2001 that many families of the dead had never been fully informed about the tragedy, and helped to discover the information needed and to lay two memorial stones, one in South Africa and one in England. Newtimber Church was chosen as a suitable location, and a service of reconciliation with the theme of ‘turning tragedy into blessing’ was held in Newtimber Church in 2002. The memorial stone in the churchyard lies in line with the Buxton memorial. Newtimber Church is a place of great significance to those who are in the parish and to many who pass by, discovering it perhaps by chance whilst walking. It lies in the South Downs National Park. It is always open and worship continues here on a regular basis.
Information taken from published material and the account of the SS Mendi Memorial, which is available in the Church and in which additional details can be found.