The Grade 1 Listed Norman Church of Hamsey is one of Sussex’s most interesting small churches. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it is perched on a small hill in the Ouse Valley and enjoys a spectacular and prominent position. When a larger church was needed, the Victorians built St Peter’s at Offham but left Hamsey standing and unmodernised, which means, almost uniquely, it retains its medieval character. The nave and chancel are 12th century; the tower, 14th century; there is a 15th century limestone font, 16th century pews and fragments of wall paintings from the early 1600s. Without electricity or gas, Hamsey has a quiet elegance and serenity that is appreciated by many visitors and worshippers, with services held in the summer and at Christmas.
A key aim of the Friends of Hamsey is the restoration of this unique church. An inspection of the church highlighted a growing damp problem due to a number of causes, which are being addressed in a phased manner, as funds allow.
Phase 1 – The Nave Roof – completed
The most urgent need was to re-slate the Horsham Stone and clay tile nave roof. Not only were many of the tiles cracked and damaged, pieces of stone and lime mortar bedding were falling off the roof slopes. This was addressed in 2017. As far as possible the original stone and tiles were used, and the south (road facing) side was re-laid entirely in original tiles, with new handmade ones used on the north face. The roofing work revealed serious failures in the roof structure itself, which were also rectified.
Phase 1 costs were some £63,000. Half of this was covered by a grant from the government LPOW Roof Repair Fund and the rest from donations and funds raised by the Friends.
Phase 2 – Replacement of External Render and Reglazing of Windows – completed
Following detailed investigations, we have replaced the render on the south walls of the church. In many places this had come ‘off key’, and in others it had been repaired with non-breathable cement, leading to water ingress which could not then escape naturally. The new render matches the composition of that on the north walls, which was in much better condition. In addition a number of leaking windows have been reglazed, and two east end buttresses repointed where necessary.
Phase 2 costs were some £43,000 (excluding VAT which was recoverable). £15,000 of this came from donations and funds raised by the Friends (£5,000), and the rest from a generous grant from a local family trust.
Phase 3 – Tower Repointing and Stonework Repairs, Internal Redecorating – FUND RAISING
The tower suffers both from failed pointing and also from previous replacement pointing made in non-breathable cement mortar, rather than the correct lime mortar, as used in the original construction. This must be replaced and some of the stonework repaired. With the damp issues hopefully largely addressed it will then be possible to go ahead with internal redecorating. This itself will need to be tightly controlled so as not to disturb fragments of wall paintings.
Phase 3 costs (excluding VAT) are expected to be some £50,000 and these funds must be secured before we can go ahead with the work.
A new management plan was introduced towards the end of 2020 with a view to encouraging the rich plant life while maintaining the integrity of the graveyard. During the year, weather conditions meant more growth than usual. Some of the planned work was not carried out. At the Open Day (Hamsey in Bloom) in July, the churchyard was a riot of colour but many graves became difficult to get to or even to find. Although the scheme was publicised, there was nothing in the churchyard itself to explain the plan.
As the Rev Anne Dunlop, parish priest, said: “We have learned a lot from this first year.”
Constructive comments from various visitors and friends of Hamsey church suggested changes, especially in the management of the East graveyard where the modern graves are found. The Parochial Church Council accept responsibility for the churchyard. They are determined to get the management scheme right; to see it is properly implemented; and to make sure people are kept informed.
A revised management plan will be considered by the PCC at its next meeting and more information will be available shortly. The Friends have recommended that the revised plan should include the following:
The churchyard is a place where loved ones are laid to rest and is also a valuable sanctuary for endangered wild flowers and other wildlife. So our aims will be:
Chairman of the Friends of Hamsey Church
4th October 2021