Visiting Local Churches No. 17

St.Mary Magdalene, Rusper

The church with its 15th C West tower with flagstaff and St. George's red cross fluttering70ftabove ground is the centre-piece of Rusper. Founded in the early 13th century, but the first record of St. Marys' existence was 1287, when a rector was appointed.

The building probably dates from this period because a drawing of the church prior to the extensive rebuild of 1854-55,clearly shows its very old features. The Victorian rebuild was paid for by the fours sons of James Broadwood of Lyne House, Capel, in memory of their father who died in 1851. Henry Woodyear, the well-known architect followed closely the original design; the roof was raised with clerestory windows added ; a south aisle was built and the tower slightly altered and raised 10 feet.

Few visitors can fail to be impressed with the Tower; it is a fine example of the late 15th century perpendicular tower with its heavy buttresses and battlements. On its south wall is a doorway which leads to a circular staircase within the tower where a plaque records the re-interment of the remains of a prioress and four nuns of Rusper's Benedictine convent (founded 13th C) accidentally exhumed in 1840. A beautiful enamelled chalice of Byzantine workmanship and a rosary of semi-precious stones were found by the remains.These holy relics now reside in the British Museum. There are eight bells that ring from the tower's bell chamber, six bear inscriptions showing they were cast by William Eldridge in 1669, the other two were hung to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Bell ringing has long been a feature of Rusper's church life; a board in the bell chamber records a peal of Bob Major (5056 changes) rung in 3 hours 5 minutes on 21st December 1919. On the south wall of the tower other records of change-ringing are recorded. The floor of the tower reveals a number of 17th century memorial stones and brass inscription plates; the walls display memorials to Broadwood family members ,including a fine alabaster work by Thomas Clapperton to Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929). Lucy, a pioneer in folk-lore research, recorded and preserved Sussex folk songs, plays and dances; today she is still commemorated when The Broadwood Men perform in villages around Horsham and when they act the Rusper Mummery Play each Boxing Day. The Nave has two fine 18th century brass candelabrum which were given in 1770. Over the tower arch is a carved Royal Arms of George I recalling the compulsory requirement, dating from Charles H, to display the Arms as an acknowledgement that the sovereign was temporal head of the Church.

Two interesting and very old brasses, which prior to 1854 were in the floor of the nave, can be seen on the north wall of the chancel. The oldest dates from around 1380 and records, in Norman French, that John de Kyggesfolde (Kingsfold) and his wife Agnes lie here. This is one of the earliest examples of an inscription in Norman French rather than in Latin. Records show that John Kingsfold bought a house and land in Rusper in 1326. The dress depicted in the brass is typical of that worn by an ordinary yeoman at the end of the 14th century. The second brass which dates from 1532 is to Thomas Challoner and his wife Margaret. The boy below the couple is presumably their son. Challoner may have been a make of "challons". Challons were woollen quilts originating from Challons-sur-Marne, in the Champagne area of France. Chaucer referred to the material, calling it "chalouns" and Swift called it " shallops".

The stained glass in the East window is one of the most modem additions to the church, introduced in 1955 as a thank offering for the centenary of the church rebuilding. The designer was Gerald Smith. The theme is the ascended Christ in Glory. Panes of local country scenes throughout the seasons and illustrations of the old and new churches complete the window. The tablets flanking the East window undoubtedly date from the time of the church's restoration, replacing the original Jacobean screen -unfortunately a major loss during the rebuilding work.

Near the main door to the church can be seen an old oak ironbound 13th century chest with linenfold panelling at one end of it. This type of chest was used before the Reformation to collect "Peter's Pence", the money demanded from all English churches to be sent to the Pope. To the left of the South door you see a window in a wooden frame which was originally in St.Luke's, Southampton in memory of The Rev.James Trevaskis, vicar at that church. After its redundancy, it was moved to Rusper (his son was rector 1932-48) by the family in 1996.

Eric Burleton - from Abinger & Coldharbour Parish News, May 2003

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