W. Walder, G. Walder junr., H. Packham, D. D. Denman, S. J. Denman
G. Packham, W. Vincent, W. Wheeler, T. Gasson
T. A. Walder, G. Walder, J. King


St Mary Magdalen Church,
Bolney, January 1994

Until 1724 the ring of 8 bells was unique in Sussex. The oldest bell dates back to 1592, and the latest to 1740. The bells were at risk in 1961 when weakness developed in the bell frame, but a successful appeal for funds made it possible to replace it. Unusual feats of bell ringing are recorded in the tower (through the memorial doors). The old inn in the village street opposite the steps up to the church is appropriately called the Eight Bells.




The following details are from the Book:-


In 1903 E.V. Lucas remarked: 'Before the day of bicycles, Bolney was practically unknown.' Tucked to one side of the A272, Bolney still pursues its own life, seemingly unaffected by the heavy stream of traffic roaring past a few yards away. It is a classic example of a village developing as a result of topographic rather than economic or strategic conditions.

The oldest point of the village is that nearest the main road. Here it is compact with houses, a pub (the Eight Bells, with a pub sign consisting indeed of eight real bells), and the church. The modern village developed up the valley so that the section furthest away from the main road also has the newest buildings.

St Mary Magdalen Church,
Bolney, January 1994

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene
The pub sign was undoubtedly inspired by the church, for this has eight bells and has long been famous for its bell-ringing. Lucas quoted an older writer saying: 'Those who are fond of the silvery tones of bells may enjoy them to perfection by placing themselves on the margin of a large pond, the property of Mr. W. Marshall: the reverberation of the sound, coming off the water, is pecularly striking.' The church, mostly 14th-century, is set immediately behind and above the houses in the High St., the visitor passing through a handsome lych-gate 'made of Sussex oak, Sussex marble, Sussex millstones and Horsham stone'.




The following information is from the above guide which was sent to me by my friend in UK, Bruce Rayner.


1. South Doorway 2. Both round headed windows
3. Arms of John Bolney, etc 4. Both scratch dials
5. Plaque in Porch 6. Piscina
7. Two old Brasses 8. Huthson's memorial
9. Arms of Queen Anne - wood panel

The Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalen (sometimes Magdalene), Bolney, may not be of exceptional interest to the architect or historian, but it is has nevertheless been a place of worship for the best part of a thousand years. The exterior, particularly the tower, is impressive and the inside light and spacious. It is set in a commanding position on a steep rise, doubtless to avoid building on the marshy ground of ancient Sussex.

The notes which follow are intended only for the casual visitor; those who seek more detail will find a full description in Volume 7 of the Victoria County History. Nairn and Pevsner, in the Sussex volume of the 'Buildings of England' series, refer briefly to the church, but it can be deduced from their note on the village of Bolney that their exploration here was not extensive.

The Structure
The Nave and Chancel
date back to about 1100 A.D. The construction is of coursed rubble.

The South Doorway (1) into the church, within the porch, is variously described by the authorities as Saxon and early Norman. It can probably be safely placed about 1100 A.D. and is certainly one of the important features of the church. The actual door, with its oaken lock, is itself of very early date.

The Windows were inserted later, except for the two round-headed windows in the Chancel (2). The bulls-eye window high in the east wall is however very early and the East window is late 13th century. The trefoiled light in the south wall of the Chancel is probably also of the 13th century. There are two windows in the south wall of the Nave, of which the eastern is modern and the western 15th century.

The West Tower was built, of ashler, in 1536-38 by John Bolney, and a note of its height (66 feet) is cut in the masonry on the outside wall to the left of the west doors, which are ancient but with added facings. The arms of John Bolney, (3) with those of St. Leger, are carved on either side of the doorway. The clock on the west face of the tower was added in 1897 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria; its re-gilding 80 years later, and that of the weather vanes, is a Silver Jubilee tribute to her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

The North Aisle was added in 1853, and the north vestry in 1912.

The Exterior
The lych-gate is modern, having being presented to the church in 1905 by Mr. Edward Huth of Wykehurst ( a large 19th century mansion to the north of the village) in memory of his parents. It is built entirely of Sussex materials, including millstones from a Bolney mill, and is by any standard remarkably fine.

Above the 18th century porch of the church is a sundial dated 1850; but within the porch, on the west jamb of the church door, signs remain of an old "scratch dial" (at about eye level). The remains of another "scratch" or "mass" dial, rather better preserved, are also visible - again at eye level - on the exterior of the SE corner of the Nave (4). The purpose of these old dials is not entirely certain, but they were probably used to time the ringing of the bell which marked the canonical hours in the daytime.

The floor of the porch is somewhat sepulchral in that it consists for the most part of an 18th century memorial stone side by side with a 13th century coffin-lid of Sussex marble. Furthermore one of the steps into the church is, from its shape, probably also a coffin-lid.

A notice on the west side of the porch (5) gives a stern though somewhat confusing injunction, laid down by the body which helped to finance the 19th century addition to the church, regarding the reservation of seats for the poor of the parish. The church seats in all about 300 people and nowadays anyone may sit wherever he or she wishes, except maybe in the pews reserved for the wardens. The notice is therefore of historical rather than practical interest.

The Interior
In 1840 the original chancel arch (or arches) was replaced, and the new arch was again reconstructed in 1853/54 when the north aisle was added.

On the south wall of the chancel is a 13th century piscina (6), which has recently been restored for service use; the restoration is commemorative and the inscription is on the table surround.

The church is sadly lacking in ancient memorials. There are but two old brasses (7), one on each side of the altar - both are of the early 17th century. The first (1600 A.D.) marks the resting place of Anne Ashbourneham, clearly an attractive as well as a generous lady; she married first John Bolney, who built the tower, then in turn Thomas Culpeper and Henry Barkeley. The second brass commemorates John Pellatt, who died in 1625 A.D. aged 41 and was connected by marriage with the Culpepers.

The memorials of the 19th and 20th centuries (other than those mentioned in other contexts), which include most of the stained glass of the windows, are in the main self-explanatory; although some are attractive they are inevitably, for the present at least, of local rather than general interest. One however secured, with reason, the eclectic interest of Messrs Nairn and Pevsner (8). It is in the south-east corner of the Nave and commemorates the son of the donor of the lych-gate, who was killed in the First World War and lies in an unknown grave. It is graceful and unusual in style for its period and ends with an extract in Greek from the funeral oration of Pericles over the Athaenian dead, as recounted by Thucydides - "the whole world is the sepulchre of famous men".

 A war memorial for those killed in the 1914-18 War is on the north side of the church; the memorial for the 1939-45 War consists of the doors into the tower.

Within the tower the door to the stairs is original. A gallery was built at the west end of the Nave in 1700 A.D., but was removed in 1853.

The Furnishings
The altar and chancel furnishings are mostly modern and have in many cases been presented, some as memorials, by past and present members of the congregation. The church has been fortunate in its benefactors. However, the five oak panels immediately behind the altar are early 17th century and were removed from one of the original pews in the Nave; these pews were replaced at the time when the church was enlarged.

The font was installed in 1850 and replaced a 12th century font of Sussex marble which has regrettably disappeared.

The present oak pulpit was given in 1926 in memory of a former parishioner, Margaret Hodgson.

The painted and framed wood panel (9) by the south door (a "hatchment") bears the arms of Queen Anne.

Enthusiasm for needlework is country-wide, almost world-wide, and although, unlike some churches, Bolney has no co-ordinated scheme for its kneelers, those interested will find some good specimens in the pews. The long kneeler, in five sections, at the Communion rail is striking.

The Organ, which is the gift of a former parishioner (Mr. Henry Courage), was built in 1902 by Lewis of London. It was rebuilt in 1968 by Wood Wordsworth Limited of Leeds and is of exceptional quality. It is unfortunate that only those visitors able to attend a service are likely to hear it played. The electric blower is an unusual memorial to a former vicar - who is, however, also commemorated in one of the stained glass windows.

The Bells. Until 1724 the ring of 8 bells was unique in Sussex. At present the oldest bell dates back to 1592, and the latest to 1740. The bells were at risk in 1961 when weakness developed in the bell frame, but a successful appeal for funds made it possible to replace it. Unusual feats of bell ringing are recorded in the tower (through the memorial doors). The old inn in the village street opposite the steps up to the church is appropriately named.

The Churchyard
The churchyard contains many old gravestones of interest to the knowledgeable, including a number of table tombs of the 17th and 18th centuries and of slightly earlier cylindrical tombs, which are uncommon. (The cost of maintaining such a large churchyard as a decent burial ground for the parish is a heavy financial responsibility).

In recent years provision has been made for the interment of cremated remains close to the retaining wall by the west door. The plots are identified by horizontal memorial stones. The lettering on these stones is notably good.

A list of incumbents from 1293 to the present day, with some gaps, is in the tower chamber.

(Rear page of brochure)

The features of the church described in this guide bear witness to the fact that for almost a thousand years the people of Bolney have used this building for the worship of God. By prayer, praise and sacrament they have responded to God's love made known to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Will you join in the eternal stream of worship which is still offered daily in this place? The prayer of him who believes in the Communion of Saints is a strong prayer.

Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious Name.

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.


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This page first produced 30 April 1997

This page last updated 21 February 2020