St Michaels and All Angels Church
All the churches along the line of Willingdon, Wilmington, Alfriston, Lullington,
Berwick, Alciston, Selmeston, are built on high ground. They are all ancient
foundations, and in all probability built on pre-Christian "bar- rows". When our
early forefathers had to decide where to build the church, it would be natural
for them to give preference to the spot that was already sacred, even if it were a
pre-Christian and therefore a heathen place of burial. When the "Sanctuary"
was built at the top of Winton Street (one mile south of the church), by the
late Dean Gregory of St. Paul's, workmen came across human remains and implements.
The "bits and pieces" were placed in the Barbican Museum, Lewes, and the bones
were re-interred beneath an Oberammergau Calvary.
History of the Church
The parish church of Berwick has stood on the same site for well over 1,000 years.
The first church was, tradition says, of wood, then there was one of flint
(part of a wall remains between the old porch and the tower). Unfortunately,
the earliest title deeds of the advowson (the right of presentation to a church
benefice) are lost, but a church was built here by the Lord of the Manor in very
early times. After the Conquest, the Patron was succeeded by a Norman, suggesting
either that the Lord of the Manor was killed at the Battle of Hastings, or that
he was "succeeded." In the reign of Henry I, the Lord of the Manor and Patron of
the Living seems to have built a chapel at Berwick Court, as remains of
ecclesiastical work and Caen stone, carved like those in the church, were
discovered there some time ago.
The present church was built about the middle of the 12th century.
In the 14th century Edward III issued a Proclamation that every man was to
practice archery on the Sabbath, and the men of Berwick brought their weapons
to church, sharpened their arrows on the tower by the font and practiced archery
in the field near the station which is sti11 called "The Butts". The Bowmen of
England became famous at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, and according to the
"Sussex County Magazine," Westcatt's of Berwick (now spelt Westgate) were on the
Rolls of the Archers of Agincourt." There are still Westgates living in Berwick.
In 1541, Henry VIII ordered a copy of the Great Bible to be placed in every church.
People who could not read were inclined to finger this wonderful Book that gave them
so much and Bibles were costly. The remedy was to provide a Bible Box, and lock it
up when the Bible was not in use. Unfortunately the last Berwick Bible Box has been
Berwick had cause to remember the dreadful years of the Commonwealth 1649-1660,
for Parson Nutt, Rector of Berwick, from 1613 (also Rector of Bexhill and Canon of
Chichester) had already been turned out of the living in 1645 for his Royalist
sympathies, and retired to spend his last years with his brother,
Sir Thos. Nutt, Kt., at Mayes in the next parish. His place was taken by one,
Thos. Russell, who describes himself not as "Rector" or "Parson", but "Minister".
He was a "Parliamentary intruder" and probably not even ordained such was the
state of the Church and Ministry during those years when the Prayer Book was
banned and it was illegal to administer the Sacraments.
Decay and Restoration
When the King (Charles II) came back in 1660, a new Prayer Book had to be
printed and bought and it was costly. Churches not only needed repair,
they needed books, vestments, sacred vessels, everything - and had little money,
and little hope of replacing these things. The following two centuries mark the
lowest ebb of church life ever reached in this land. By the time Queen Victoria
came to the throne, most of the churches in this country were in a deplorable
condition, and not a few were derelict. The Rev. E. Boys Ellman
(Curate of Berwick 1837-43, and Rector 1846-1906) described Berwick Church
when he came to see it in the first year of the Victorian era. The tower had
been struck by lightning in 1774, the spire destroyed, and the four bells were
on the floor, two of them broken. The north aisle was derelict and bricked up,
and three graves had been placed in the aisle. The East end was shortened by
14ft and had a make-shift thatched roof. The only side that was intact and let
in light (south) had earth up to the windows. "A most depressing sight!" But
Mr Ellman had sat under Keble, Pusey and Newman, and was well in advance of his
day. As curate, he could do little more than build up a congregation, while the
Rector, who lived in Lewes, could not be persuaded even to visit the church! As
Rector, Mr Ellman completed a remarkable restoration. The tower was rebuilt and
the spire restored (it has since been re-shingled); the North aisle was rebuilt;
the East end was carried back to its original foundations; the Easter Sepulchre
(N.E. corner of Sanctuary) found in pieces in the churchyard, was restored; the
earth removed from the South side; the Church reroofed; and the screen made from
timbers of the old chancel. A truly remarkable restoration, marked by a great
occasion when, on 4th August 1857, the Bishop of the Diocese came, the farmers
gave a holiday (in mid-harvest!) and the whole population flocked to a Service
of Thanksgiving. A silver Flagon was given by Mr Ellman to mark the occasion,
and he remained in the living for another 49 years, and built the village school,
and rebuilt the Rectory.
He wrote a most interesting account of his time at Berwick, entitled
"The Recollections of a Sussex Parson", a copy of which is in the East Sussex
His grave is in the churchyard, to the south of the Church.
The church was re-roofed in 1980. Lightning struck again in 1982, but the damage
was not extensive. On 17th October 1987 a hurricane struck the South of England.
The church spire was bent out of its true line and stripped of tiles; the roof also
suffered considerable damage.
The Lady Chapel
This chapel was consecrated as a memorial to the late Reverend Albert Roe,
Rector of Berwick from 1928-1934. The Altar Frontal was specially made and
embroidered by two local residents, Mrs Beatrice Broderick and her daughter Alleyne;
Alleyne subsequently married Albert Roe's son Alban. Peggy Ramsay, a friend of the
Brodericks designed the frontal to incorporate flowers from the English Downland and
the Bahamas where the Rector had ministered.
The figures of Mary and St. John beneath the Crucified Christ were given by Alban
Roe in memory of his mother. These figures were originally in the chapel of the
Duxhurst Estate, founded by Lady Henry Somerset for the care of inebriated ladies.
Albert Roe was the chaplain there from 1922-1928.
In 1986 an appeal was launched to raise money for a new organ. During 1987
the organ was constructed and installed by John Males from Polegate, who cleverly
incorporated woodwork and pipes from other old organs, thus avoiding the feeling
of an unsuitably modern instrument.
St Michael & All Angels as she stood in 1850 St Michael & All Angels as she stands today
The inside walls of St Michael and All Angels church are covered with beautiful paintings, below is a plan of where the paintings are.
Nave 1. North Wall
2. Over the Chancel Arch
Christ in Glory -
3. The Chancel Screen
5. South Wall
The Annunciation -
6. West Wall
The Victory of Calvary
7. The Altar piece
The supper at Emmaus
8. Over the Chancel Arch
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
9. The Screen
The cycle of life
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