St. Giles’, Coldwaltham
St Giles’ church was built about 1200. Like several local churches of the period it first consisted of a chancel, nave, south aisle, and tower. Today, only the sturdy tower remains largely as it was first built.
By the 17th century St Giles’ was beginning to suffer from the ravages of time and neglect. In 1664 an entry in the records notes that ‘Our church was gone to decay, but is now in repayring’. Evidently the work carried out extended to little more than patching-up the worst of the damage because by 1724 it was again noted that the chancel was ‘out of repair’.
In the 19th century, a time of renewed interest in mediaeval buildings and the seriousness of religion, the fortunes of St Giles’ rapidly changed. A new vicar, The Revd James Sandham, spurred on by his interest in the Oxford Movement, set about completely renovating the church. In 1870 he engaged the services of the architect Henry Woodyer (1816-1896), who had recently built the Church School and the Vicarage. On his website (www.sussexparishchurches.org), John Allen notes that Woodyer’s ‘restorations could be heavy-handed, but he had a compensating gift for the picturesque’. Certainly little remained untouched in St Giles’, but the result was undoubtedly ‘picturesque’. On the south side of the church the little side aisle, with its ancient arches and Lady Chapel, remained, but on the north side a new aisle was built. Woodyer also added an organ chamber and vestry.
Most of the church furnishings and decorations date from the 1870 restoration and were also designed by Henry Woodyer. These include the elaborately carved reredos, pulpit and the font cover and plinth, although the font bowl itself dates from the 12th century. The comprehensive sequence of stained glass, which was supplied by the workshops of J Hardman and Charles Kempe, also dates from this period.
In recent times a fine lych gate was built as part of the parish’s millennium celebrations. It blends admirably with the church and is a fitting memorial to all those who have served the parish in war and peace.
The latest addition to St Giles’ is a beautiful, and unique, icon of St Giles commissioned from the community of the Fraternity of Jesus near Rome.
St Giles’ church is open each day for you to visit and as a place of prayer. We hope you enjoy your visit.