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Tours > Sussex Churches > Ashburnham

St. Peter - Ashburnham
TQ 689147; Five Miles West of Battle

For years Ashburnham Place and church have seen history together. Now that the house forms part of a Christian Conference Centre the future of this church is secure and visitors are welcome. It stands between the house and its former stables neither stealing the scene nor being compromised by its companions.

The exterior is undramatic except for a few carved dates on the walls. The interior, however, is quite a surprise. With the exception of the tower the entire church was rebuilt in 1665 in Gothic style. We call this 'Gothic Survival' as the main period of Gothic architecture in England had by this time been superceeded by the use of Classical forms and a complete Gothic building of the mid seventeenth century is a rarity (although Staunton Harold Church in Leicestershire is another example).

The nave is wide and light, filled with box pews and dominated at the west end by a gallery reached by a staircase with beautifully turned balusters. At the east end of the church the chancel and its twin north and south chapels are raised a great height above the floor of the nave in order to accommodate family vaults beneath. The north chapel, separated from the chancel by a beautiful wrought iron screen made locally by the forge that made the village famous throughout England, contains two superb monuments to the brothers who rebuilt the church.

That to John Ashburnham (who died in 1671) shows him and his two wives lying in prayer on a tomb chest. The front of the chest has 'weepers' of small half-figures of his four sons and three daughters. Its classical design is a stark contrast to the gothic of the church itself, although the design of this tomb is out of date for its period and really belongs to the beginning of the seventeenth century rather than the middle. On the west wall is the monument to his brother William who died in 1679. This is in the up-to-date classical style showing a completely contrasting design with both the figures of William and his wife raised from the traditional horizontal pose to one which makes the composition much more lifelike and moving. Two cherubs pull back a marble curtain whilst William (wearing an amazingly bushy wig) kneels before his dying wife. It is the work of the sculptor John Bushnell whose other monuments can be seen in Toddington (Bedfordshire), Westminster Abbey (London), Little Gaddesdon (Hertfordshire) and Great Billing (Northamptonshire).

Next Stop: Penhurst

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