KEVIN GORDON - Wartling’s past revealed at exhibition

The Reverend Edward Boys Ellman
The Reverend Edward Boys Ellman

Last year, I was invited to a history exhibition in the Reid Hall at Boreham Street and I enjoyed it so much I will do my best to get along to the one being held tomorrow at the same venue between 2pm and 6pm.

The Wartling Parish Local History group puts on a great display of old photographs, documents and maps. There are books and postcards to browse and local archaeological and family history groups are on hand to assist. The scope of the exhibition takes in the several villages including Windmill Hill, Bodle Street Green, Cowbeech, Herstmonceux and Pevensey.

The Heron lecturn

The Heron lecturn

I visited the village a few days ago and had a good look around the church, probably my first visit to the village when I haven’t been lured into the nearby Lamb Inn. The pub has memorabilia from the nearby RAF Wartling, which operated to direct fighter aircraft to intercept enemy aircraft. It was particularly effective against V1 flying bombs and the base was responsible for downing 380 of them.

RAF staff would have used the pub and also worshiped at the adjacent church. St Mary Magdalene has a small plaque to remember the men and woman of the station and I was surprised to see that although it opened in October 1941, it did not close until 1964. I later discovered that the base continued to monitor enemy aircraft after the war, although their target became Soviet nuclear weapons.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the church are the original box pews and it is unusual to see a full set of these high pews which, although uncomfortable would have kept worshippers free from draughts. Under the chancel arch is a fine royal coat of arms dating from George II. Some royal coats of arms need a pair of binoculars to establish their date but this one is conveniently dated 1731.

Under the coat of arms is another striking feature; a lectern in the shape of a heron. The modern design and colour of the elm looked slightly out of place in an ancient church but I read that there have been heronries in the church since the 1600s and by the time I left the church I had become rather fond of him.

The chancel is packed with grand memorials for the Curteis family. Several were Whig (Liberal) members of Parliament. The memorials are decorated with a the family crest – a unicorn walking through a forest. The crest of the Pelham is a buckle and this symbol can be seen carved onto the outside the south aisle indicating that the Pelhams once had a hand in restoring the church. Close by is a carved Catherine Wheel and it is possible that the aisle is a memorial to Katherine Pelham, the daughter of Sir John Pelham, who died in 1459.

The list of clergy dates back to the 14th century and includes at least one Pelham (Peregrene).

The vicar between 1844 an 1846 was the Reverend Edward Boys Ellman, the grandson of John Ellman of Glynde who developed the Southdown Sheep. Ellman replaced the Reverend Henry Pratt who was killed when out hunting at Seddlescombe in September 1843 (I hope he wasn’t hunting heron!)

Ellman found the parish neglected and the church in a poor state of repair. One house in his parish was seven miles away and he made a point of visiting each parishioner finding that many had not even seen the outside of Wartling Church let alone attend a service. He found that if he worked between 9am and 6pm each day, he could visit every house in the parish once every six weeks.

Initially he was refused entry to many homes but he used his knowledge of herbs and medicine to help many villagers who were ill (the local doctor apparently had no time for poor people) and he soon became trusted and saw his congregation slowly expand. Some parishioners enjoyed his sermons so much they would stay for the afternoon service and, as they lived so far away, he would invite them to Sunday lunch, although he did not eat with them as he was a bachelor and several parishioners were ‘maiden ladies’. He established a local school and in his short tenure managed to raise funds to repair the church.

Six Wartling men lost their lives in the Great War and their names are recorded on the neat brass memorial in the south aisle. These and other local men who died in the war will be the subject of a display at tomorrow’s exhibition.