St Peter's churchyard

From our Member Laurie Keen

I love to stand in the churchyard of St Peter's at West Blatchington, on the south side. It has such rural tranquillity and you can easily imagine the farm buildings and pond that once surrounded the windmill, and look across to where the old manor house once stood. It is still enclosed by a thick brick and flint wall. The south side - built up from centuries of burials - is raised two feet above the outside land, but the northside - built up by roads and modernisation on the outside - is raise two feet above the churchyard level.

The church was once a 12th century ruin, but the more sound parts of the south and west walls were incorporated onto the rebuilding of the church in 1980, thanks due to the wishes and legacy of Miss Harriot Hodson. The village population back then was a mere 56, so without her bequest there probably would be no church here today.

The evidence now reveals that the Norman church replaces a Saxon one and lying close to the west end are two oblong shaped sarcen stones that were once door jambs to the Saxon church. Close to them is a longer (five feet plus) flat stone grave slab, curved at one end and tapering to a headrest. It lies east to west, has no inscriptions, and is thought to be a survivor of the old church. Being flat probably saved it as in 1802 a writer stated ' --- here is not the least vestige of any monumental stones remaining on graves visable above the surface of the ground.'  He also measured the ruined walls at 20 paces by 8 paces.  We know it was 35 feet x 16 feet so presumably one pace equalles two feet.

Examining the surviving original walls is so interesting - standing out are the many lumps of black / red furnace flue debris that would have been recycled from the kilns of late Romano-British villa that existed just 500 yards away. Not so obvious are the odd shards of Roman tiles. The flints were in courses, making a sharp distinction from the random laying of knapped flints above it. In the west wall are two narrow windows inserted by the Normans and these can be clearly seen in drawings of the ruined old church.

Several large flints lie on the ground below the wall. None seem to be missing from the 1890 part of the wall so perhaps they were misstruck in the knapping process.

It is a pity there isn't a distinctive weathervane - a cockerel would be fine and apt - given the old farmhouse proximity. The guttering is fine and solid, but has no maker's marks; however the fish-tail brackets are of the Victorian period.

There is a boot-scraper outside each of the southern doorways, but successive path restorations are burying them. One has almost disappeared, the other half gone. They are of a type I have found around Brighton and I know that there is about 16 inches of each buried underground!

In this quiet, unspoilt site, you can absorb the history and feel close to the Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans who once lived, worked and worshipped here.