A couple of days ago I went off to Chiddingly (which you pronounce 'chidding-lye', and not 'chidding-lee'), a village set in a very rural area between Uckfield and Hailsham.
It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and my prime objective was the parish church. This has a very tall spire made of stone, which is unusual, because stone spires are very heavy and tend to fall. This one has however lasted six centuries, and indeed survived the effect of a V1 flying bomb that the Germans sent over in 1944, and which shook up a marble memorial inside the church.
As you must have gathered by now, I like history, and the best places outside museums to see very old things are the churches scattered around the countryside. They are usually open, and there is no charge to go inside, although I do sometimes make a donation, or pay for a candle if I want to sit a while and think of my parents; or just be still and think.
Apart from their historical interest, each country church has a subtly different character, and each has a hushed atmosphere of peace, very suitable for contemplation. I avoid times when a service might be going on, but I don't mind encountering any of the people who look after the church, such as a voluntary cleaner or flower-arranger. But best of all I like to have these places to myself. Or at least myself plus whatever other Invisible Presence there might be.
Sometimes I do feel like an intruder, even a trespasser. But most country churches seem very welcoming, very much the gentle, mellow sanctuary. And in return I treat them with huge respect, walking about them carefully with soft footsteps, and trying very hard not to break the spell. Very few churches are in any way forbidding or threatening, with a tense and watchful atmosphere and little unsettling noises that could make you feel uncomfortable. But they do exist. I don't revisit them.
Chiddingly was actually a bit of a find. It's a strung-out kind of place, with its 'modern' focus at Muddles Green, and the older, original centre a bit up the road, where the Six Bells pub, the church, and a now-closed-down drapers and grocers form a traditional nucleus. It's very leafy, and from the churchyard, between the trees, you can see a wide open space where cricket is played. In fact, a game was in progress during my visit, the white-clad bowler throwing perfect balls, and the batsman making perfect clunking sounds with his bat. I didn't see any runs made, but perhaps nobody cared. It was entirely in keeping with the slow-paced, sunny afternoon full of pollen and bees and butterflies.
Inside the church, the chief interest is a large marble and alabaster memorial to members of the Jefferay family, although this is only the most prominent of a number of monuments and floor slabs and plaques that are scattered around inside the church. It was erected in 1612, four hundred years ago:
In the middle, lying down, are (top) Sir John Jefferay, who had high office under Queen Elizabeth I and died in 1578, and (underneath him) his wife Alice, who died in 1576. Standing to the right is their daughter, Elizabeth, who died in 1611; and standing to the left, her husband Sir Edward Montagu, who died in 1644. The little figure right at the bottom, possibly kneeling on a stone cushion, is in fact a child: Edward and Elizabeth's daughter, also named Elizabeth. She died in 1654. Her mother, the older Elizabeth (standing, right) prevailed upon husband Edward to have this memorial created 'in memory of her discent and ofspring' as the plaque at the very top explains.
As I have remarked before, these stone figures are very strange. Are they meant to show the person in a pious pose? Well, they don't here. Sir Edward looks pretty self-important, and not at all humble and penitent, with his fine robes and haughty mien:
And his wife, Elizabeth, is herself rather smug and self-satisfied, and dressed in the height of early-1600s fashion:
The stone carvers have attempted to give her a big starched wing collar, a fan-shaped hairdo with ribbons in it, a super-tight bodice - so tight that her bulging boobs are fit to burst out at any moment - and a peplum at her waist that has become a horizontal platform, from which a pleated skirt hangs straight down, like the Victorians would drape a round table to hide the legs from view. Presumably the real-life skirt was supported by a hoop of some kind. A very odd fashion to modern eyes! Even odder, the little daughter is dressed exactly the same. At least the daughter is kneeling and praying. Her plump-faced mum certainly isn't.
You''ll notice the missing hands. All the parts of this monument that are within easy reach have suffered deliberate damage at some past point. The two most popular theories as to whodunnit have pointed the finger at (a) the Puritans in the Civil War, or, much later, at (b) simple country folk mistakenly thinking that the Jefferays were related to the hated and feared Judge Jeffries of Bloody Assizes infamy. But it may be that hands and other bits were knocked off in the Captain Swing riots of 1830. Here's a description of them from a website on the local history:
In 1830 there was a wave of agricultural unrest known as the 'Captain Swing
Riots', which swept across Sussex from East to West in a matter of weeks. They
took the form of machine-breaking, rick-burning, riotous assemblies and a great
deal of damage was done to the property of parson and squire. Riots took place
at Hellingly and Ringmer, the latter in the churchyard. The interior of Horsham
Parish Church was badly damaged and it is not impossible that there was such an
incident at Chiddingly, in the course of which damage was done to the monuments.
The riots, which went on for two years in the South of England and East Anglia,
provoked savage sentences from the courts. Over four hundred people were
transported and nineteen hanged.
To my mind, Elizabeth's arms seem too large for her head and torso, and there is a theory that in order to get the monument finished quickly, an entire team of carvers were unleashed upon it, so there was bound to be a little inconsistency in style and skill here and there!
Another thing that caught my eye in the church was a brass plate set into the floor of the main aisle, commemorating the first John Jefferay who died in 1513 (that's my feet in the upper shot):
Of yor charite pray for the soules of John Jefferay and Agnes his wife the
which John decessed the xxviii day of Juyn the yer of Or lord M V xiii on whose
soules Jhu haue mcy
It beats me how anyone ever thought that blackletter was easy to read! And presumably, to compound illegibility, each engraver formed his letters as he felt inclined, and spelled as he saw fit. At least it was in English. Jolly good-quality brass, though, considering that people have been treading on it since 1513!
Full descriptions of Chiddingly church and its monuments can be found at http://www.coopersfarm.co.uk/church/churchguide1.htm and http://www.coopersfarm.co.uk/church/nadfas2.htm.
Having checked out the church, I set off across a field, at first following the Wealdway footpath as the first leg of a clockwise jaunt to Muddles Green, and then back to where I had left Fiona near the church. It was so peaceful and pleasant. I came across woods with bluebells in them. Bluebells surely typify the English Springtime, and I am certain that those Brits who decide to live abroad in their retirement years must think of dewy bluebells with an aching regret for what they have left behind. You don't get 'em in sunny Spain or Tuscany or Greece, now do you? And I remember how M--- and I felt at that moment in our two-month holiday in New Zealand when, despite all the wonderful sights, we suddenly yearned for the shady woods of Sussex and a carpet of bluebells.
Here I am, with said bluebells in the background:
Gosh, I look a bit better (and happier) than I did a day or two previously, after an ill-conceived experiment with eye makeup that made my eyes water:
On the way back to Fiona, opposite the school at Muddles Green, I noticed a recreation field with an entrance between two brick columns. On one column was a shield with a somewhat forbidding message for the little local schoolchildren:
I've played around with the rendition of the shield, to make the words clearer. They say:
HONOUR THE KING
PLAY THE GAME
This entrance gate was presented to the children of this parish by Alan Richardson Esq of Bosham, and opened on the King's Jubilee May 6th 1935
I bet all the kids tugged their forelocks or curtsied, and said thank you to Mr Richardson - or else! Personally I think this is an outrageously intimidating bit of nonsense. A little child shouldn't be frightened to death by thoughts of an avenging deity, or an irascable monarch (it was George V), or a ridiculous public-school ethos that had been brutally discredited in the muddy, bloody trenches of Flanders twenty years previously.
It was easy to track down details of Mr Richardson and his family on the Internet - see http://www.thekeffs.freeserve.co.uk/richardson.html. Despite the mention of Bosham (a village at the far western extemity of Sussex), Mr Richardson had strong links with Chiddingly. His father was a wealthy banker and stockbroker who considered himself the Chiddingly village squire during the late nineteenth century.
Alan Richardson himself was a Colonel in the army, a title he used till he died, so the schoolkids would have heard him referred to as 'Colonel Richardson', and they would have been suitably overawed. He must have been treated much like elderly Marshal Pétain was treated in France at the time - another old soldier with an unassailable reputation. Colonel Richardson lived from 1854 to 1942, so was aged 81 when he gave the village children these entrance gates.
I suppose I shouldn't blame him for holding God, King and Cricket so dear. His was a generation that venerated the myths and illusions of an Imperial Britain, and he clearly had a military mind to boot. Was he very much different in personal outlook from the Jefferays commemorated on their monuments inside the church?
Only a few miles away from Chiddingly is Hamilton Palace, the unfinished mausoleum of Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who made his millions as a ruthless landlord during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, before concentrating on his foreign interests. If it is ever completed - construction has stalled just now - this vast building will house Mr van Hoogstraten's art collection in a perpetual trust. It will outdo any memorial that other upcoming families of Sussex have ever devised in the past. But naturally Mr van Hoogstraten will have to pop his clogs before his mausoleum scheme will work.
I wonder if he has thought of a way around that. He's a very clever man if he has.
You know, it's the same old snag. No pockets in a shroud.