Saint Andrew’s Parish Church, Fairlight
The name Fairlight has only been in use for the last 200 years or so. Previously the village was known variously as Farleg, Farleia, Fernlega, Farleigh, Fairlyghe and Farnleigh. The origin of the name is unknown: some say it is derived from Fern Leah (meaning ‘bracken clearing’); others that it refers to the site of an ancient pharos light (or beacon), which would be lit to warn of impending invasion. Following the Norman Conquest, the village formed part the Hundred of Gestelinges (Guestling) within the Rape of Hastings, governed by Robert of Eu.
We know from the Domesday Book, completed over 900 years ago, that there was already a church in Fairlight at that time. A new stone built church was constructed, on the present site, in 1180 and probably extended over the next 100 years. By the middle of the 19th century, the 700 year old building (pictured right) was too small to meet the needs of the parish and the structure was in danger of collapse; the spire having already been removed from the top of the tower because it was unsafe.
Construction of the present church began in 1845 and it was consecrated in August the following year, by the Bishop of Chichester. It is considerably larger than the old church and legend has it that it contained a seat for every one of the 366 people living in the parish at that time.
The tower was apparently built in its present style at the request of the Admiralty and it is shown on maritime charts as a prominent navigational mark for shipping. It is claimed that the church was spared from bombing during the 2nd World War, because it was a useful landmark for enemy aircraft but it was damaged by cannon fire from low-flying planes, which resulted in the loss of the stained glass to the west window. On the north parapet, at the top of the tower, is a plaque (see left) which was donated shortly after the Second World War by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. They were a group of German nuns who visited England in a spirit of repentance and reconciliation, placing such plaques at various historic places and beauty spots, including St. Andrew’s church.
The Belfry contains one bell, dating from the 14th century, which is still tolled regularly. In 1950 another peel of eight bells was added. These are operated by a carillon keyboard which can be used to play hymn tunes. For more about the history of the bells, see:- https://www.fairlightandpett.com/history/the-bells-of-st-andrews/
On the Battery Hill frontage of the churchyard is an attractive lychgate (see right), erected in 1926 as a memorial to members of the Lucas-Shadwell family who lived lived at Fairlight Hall in the valley to the north of the church. From the Old English ‘lic’, meaning corpse, the gate reminds us of the days when motor vehicles were few and far between, Battery Hill was a quiet country lane and the gate afforded a safe and convenient entrance to the churchyard.
The graveyard contains many interesting memorials, including those to:-
The Parents and Sister of Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes founded Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and used to enjoy walking in Fairlight Glen during home visits.
Richard D’Oyly Carte,
D’Oyly Carte was a famous Victorian theatrical impresario who founded the opera company which still bears his name.
The Earl and Countess Waldegrave
William the 8th Earl Waldegrave (a direct descendant of William the Conqueror) and his wife Sarah, and their daughters.
St Peter’s Church Centre, Fairlight Cove
As the number of dwellings in the Cove area increased during the 1920s and 30s, so the need for a church to serve that part of the parish (and save people the long uphill trek to St Andrew’s) became established . St. Peter’s, which was dedicated in 1947, would have come into being rather sooner had it not been for the Second World War, but in an odd way the war also enabled the project to go forward.
Several vicars were instrumental in bringing the project to fruition. Firstly, Rev George Northridge, who had come to Fairlight in 1936, oversaw the acquisition of land in Broadway with funds raised by parishioners who organised fetes, bring and buy sales and all sorts of fund-raising schemes but without achieving the necessary total to enable the building to proceed. This was left to Northridge’s successor, Herbert Hinde, whose renewed appeals for donations met with a positive and generous response.
This enabled a sectional military hut which was surplus to requirements at the end of the war to be acquired, moved to the site and re-erected. It had been previously a section hut for personnel manning the anti-aircraft battery near Storm Point at the end of Hill Road. Those who recall it say that it made a lovely little church (pictured left) with seating for 80-100 people .
That is not the end of the story, however. Although the ex-Army hut fulfilled the immediate need, there was still an impetus for a proper church building. In 1968 it was discovered that the old building’s floor timbers were riddled with rot; so much so that it had to be condemned and new accommodation found quickly. The energies of the then vicar, Rev George Seamer, led to further rounds of fund-raising and the Diocese of Chichester came good, through its Sussex Churches Campaign, with an £8000 new building. The original idea was that the new structure would be of a temporary nature which would tide the Parish over a period of some 5 years or so, whilst money was raised for a permanent building.
In the event, in December 1970, the Archdeacon of Hastings, the Venerable Guy Mayfield, performed the dedication of the new St. Peter’s Church – a plain but stylish wooden structure standing, as it does today, on the corner of Waites Lane and Broadway adjacent to the Village Hall. The Hastings Observer said: “It is a simple building, the only decoration being a gold curtain on which hangs a wooden cross behind the communion table. In one corner stands a large ornate pulpit given by St Clement’s, Halton, and at the back of the hall is a two-manual Compton electronic organ. A small vestry and rooms for making tea are located on either side of the entrance and the church is sited on a prominent corner of Waites Lane.” (HSLO, Dec 18, 1970)
(We are grateful to Haydon Luke for this brief history of St. Peter’s)
St Mary and St Peter’s Parish Church, Pett Village
The earliest record of a church in Pett (then known as ‘Pette’ or ‘Putte’) dates from the late 13th century. The present brick and stone building, designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey in the Early English Decorated style, was built over 8 months at a cost of under £1,800. It was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Peter by the Bishop of Chichester, in 1864.
The tower houses a single bell, cast in 1641, which also serves as the hourly chime for the church clock, which was manufactured in 1829 by John Moore and Sons of Clerkenwell, London.
There are many memorials both inside the church and in the churchyard, the earliest of which date from the medieval period. The parish registers (of baptisms, marriages and burials) cover the period from 1606 with a few gaps, during the Civil War for example. They, together with a glebe terrier (1615) and the parish ‘poor books’ contain a wealth of information about the village and its people, over the centuries.
St Nicholas’s Church, Pett Level
Before the Second World War, parishioners raised £100 to purchase a former Life Saving Rocket Apparatus Station from the Admiralty and in April 1935 the Bishop of Lewes dedicated the building to St. Nicholas.
The church was closed from 1940 to 1945, following the wartime evacuation of civilians from the area.
In 1959, a vestry and porch were added to this tiny place of worship; surely one of the closest to the sea, in the whole country.