A brief History and timeline

A brief History - from a leaflet found in the church archives (author unknown)

St John the Baptist Church - Westfield

This lovely old Norman church holds a wealth of historical and architectural features, with some dating back as far as the early 12* century. These include a Norman arch which, until 1935 was surrounded by a text on tiles reading: “This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven”. On either side of the arch is a hagioscope (squint window), cut through the 32in thick walls to enabling the priest to seen when the chancel was lengthened by 137ft eastwards in 1251.

The oldest part of the church is accessed by the south door and on the left is the font, which was placed here during the 14" century. It has a counter-balanced cover which is late 17th century, with an open-work top.

Various features have been removed, enhanced or extended over the centuries due to necessity caused by damage and destruction. Generous donors to the church have included Sir Harry and Lady Newton who in 1936 donated the brass lectern, referred to by old villagers as ‘Polly’.

Another generous donor enabled the rebuild of the small bracket organ in 1958 in memory of Ruth Rickman. Major General Beale Brown presented the communion table in 1936 which bears the text which translates to: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

In 1100AD Westfield Church (Westewelle in the Domesday Book) with the accessory of a pit for the ordeal of trial by water, were granted by Lord Wening of Westfield Manor to the care of Battle Abbey. The site of this pit is thought to have been part of the old moat around Church Farm which was, at one time, some form of ecclesiastical establishment. This would indicate that Westfield was, and probably had been for some time, a fully organised Parish. The monks of the Abbey may have pulled down the wooden parts of the church and built the stone nave and chancel around 1120.

The church was valued in 1291 to the value of £5.6.8d (£5.34), with the vicarage being worth £6.13.4d (£6.67).

In 1350 the first of the bells was hung, which was probably cast by William Burford and weighs 8cwt. The second, weighing 9cwt, and the third, weighing 10cwt, were both cast by John Wood and hung in 1699. All thebells have inscriptions, with the second bell also having 18 coins sunk into its surface. The bells have a preservation order on them and Westfield has the earliest dated bell frame in Sussex — 1617.

There are many more fascinating original features within the walls and windows, some of which are now sadly lost forever, but many have been carefully restored and renovated to their former glory including the pulpit, which is made from panels taken from the old Jacobean box pews, and its sounding board. The current pews are equipped throughout with 150 tapestry kneelers made within 12 months in 1985 by the Ladies Guild and others, many in memory of loved ones.

The great storm of 16 October 1987 caused damage to the lych-gate which was gifted in 1887 in memory of a deceased child. Detailed on the gate are four carved angels with inscribed shields, and an inscription is carved into the cross beams. The tower and the roof, which were completely retiled in 1987, were also both badly damaged by the great storm. Previous to this damage, extensive work had already been carried out to the roof and its

timbers in 1954/7 when it was ravaged by death watch beetle and decay, this was followed by even more extensive repairs in 1961. It was not just the church itself that was damaged, many of the lovely old trees around the churchyard were blown down or left in a dangerous condition, and unfortunately it will be many decades before the area will be restored to its former beauty.

Throughout this pamphlet we have discussed the history of the ‘church’ in Westfield, what we must all remember is that a church is not a building. A church is a gathering of people who have come together to worship and pray in the presence of Jesus Christ. This can take place anywhere and at any time, not just on a Sunday morning in an historic building.

Although it is a wonderful thing to worship in the same place as others have done for hundreds of years, and in beautiful religious surroundings, it is the people who make the church and not the building itself. In the bible there is no reference to early Christians building a place to worship in, but only gathering together in the name of Jesus.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

Westfield Church Timeline (from a booklet published in the 1970's to raise money for restoration)

The site has been a place of Christian worship for about 1,000 years.

11th century. (Possibly between A.D. 950 and 1020).   - ‘Lower part of Tower built; nave and sanctuary of wood.

12th century. (About A.D. 1120) - Nave and sanctuary of stone built by the Normans.

 12th century. (About A.D. 1180) - Tower raised to its present height.

 13th century. (About A.D, 1251) - Sanctuary extended eastwards; buttresses built against N.W. and S.W. corners of Tower;

- Priest’s door moved eastwards; hagioscopes built.

14th century. (About A.D. 1350) - South porch built; S.E. corner of Tower buttressed; West door with lancet above the belfry louvre.

16th century.  - Panelled oak South door (bearing date 1542). This was in the time of King Henry VIII.

17th century. (About 1650) - South side of Tower completely buttressed by connecting those buttresses already existing.

19th century. (A.D, 1861) -  North aisles and arcade built.

20th century. (A.D. 1904) - Tower restored; Norman stairway discovered.

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