The Hastings Hundred - The Gateway to Old England

extract from 'The Hastings Hundred - The Gateway to Old England' by David Ingram

First Published 2008 The History Press © David Ingram 2008  - ISBN 9780752445397

The Hastings Hundred : The Gateway to Old England - Westfield

About four miles north of Hastings on the A28 is the village of Westfield. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it appears as Westwelle, it is a lovely spot for exploring.

As you round the corner to Westfield from Hastings you suddenly see the church, and then too soon it is gone. Next time take a left turn and park in the lane next to the churchyard to explore one of the prettiest and best-kept churches in East Sussex.

The war memorial by the main road is always immaculately kept with a good show of seasonal planting. You approach the fine old church of St John the Baptist through the elaborate lych gate that was given in 1887 in memory of a child. Four carved angels each hold a shield with the following inscriptions:

“I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive evermore.

Who died for us that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him.”

On close inspection the noses of the angels are damaged. The local story is that 1 young villager did this as a prank that sadly backfired. When the culprit. Was identified, there was so much local resentment against his family that they had to move out of the village.

Viewing the church you come to realise the enormous amount of buttressing supporting the walls. One is dated 1624 to the left of the door. When the Normans came to extend the old Saxon church, which consisted of a wooden nave and stone tower, they did not enlarge the base of the tower to take the extra height. Without the attractive ‘clasp’ buttresses added in the thirteenth century it would have fallen long ago. All the changes though, make a harmonious whole and seem to clamp the church to the Sussex soil.

The path to the church passes through an avenue of clipped yews. Above the door, over the lamp, is a sundial dated 1626, but this was placed there fairly recently. The massive oak door bears the date 1542 picked out in iron, and is hung on a pair of equally impressive iron hinges. On the right as you enter is a stoup (a basin for holy water) of Cotswold stone.

Standing just inside you, are in the oldest part of the building. The walls here are over 800 years old and the number of villagers that must have passed this point, in good times and bad, to worship and pray here must be astounding.

In and around this fine church you can trace the changing tastes and styles - From the humble Saxon beginnings, through the Normans, Tudors, Jacobeans and Victorians, all have left their mark. As it grew up and out the buttressing was added to control the spread of the walls and roof.

Among the things worth looking out for are the Jacobean Pulpit, font cover and the restoration sounding board over the pulpit.

In pride of place is a magnificent brass eagle lectern, known by old villagers as “Polly”. This had originally been in the Mission Church at nearby Westfield Place In 1984 the congregation decided to have ‘Polly’ cleaned and polished. This was duly carried out and she was returned, only to be stolen a month later. This wasn’t the end of the story, however,  as she was found, minus her base, beside a railway line two months later.  After her adventure a new base was commissioned, and she was rededicated on Mothering Sunday in 1985.

The bells can’t be viewed due to access difficulties, but Westfield can boast the earliest dated frame in East Sussex - 1617. The earliest bell carries a date of 1350 and was probably cast by William Burford.  It bears the inscription ‘Sit nomen domini benedictum’ (Blessed be the name of the Lord.)  The second, dated 1698, weighs 9cwt and was cast by John Wood. This bell has a total of eighteen coins sunk into the surface.  John Wood cast the final bell in 1699, which names him as the bell founder "

In common with many country churches, when a new bell was required it was often cast in the churchyard. This was easier than trying to move something heavy and difficult to transport as a bell over the appalling Sussex roads.

The inside is magnificent; the church looks good from the outside and even better form within. Everything looks well loved and cared for, just as it should be.