The extraordinary Rev Webster Whistler

Newtimber near Hurstpierpoint had a larger than life rector some two centuries ago.

The Reverend Webster Whistler combined his Mid-Sussex benefice with another in Hastings, serving both to a great old age.

In 1817 a complicated dispute with the local landowner led to the Newtimber property being put up for auction in London.

The rector decided to attend in an anonymous capacity. The auctioneer highlighted the various attractions of the Newtimber holding and ended by stressing that it was to any purchaser’s considerable advantage that it was currently held by “an aged and infirm clergyman with one foot already in the grave”.

At this point proceedings were interrupted by a powerful figure in clerical garb who sprung up on a table to exclaim: “Now gentlemen – do I look like a man tottering on the brink of the grave?

“My left leg gives me no sign of weakness and as for the other, Mr Auctioneer, if you repeat your remarks you will find it very much at your service.”

Unsurprisingly the benefice found no purchaser and Whistler resumed his ministry.

As he got older, Whistler had a mature yew tree in his garden felled and a chest fashioned out of the wood. He had it placed at the foot of his bed and used it as a container for clothes.

When he died the clothes were removed and the “chest” was put to use for its true intended purpose.