Salehurst, East Sussex
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Salehurst, East Sussex

Domesday Sign at SalehurstSalehurst, East Sussex

1831 Topographical Dictionary
SALEHURST, a parish in the hundred of HENHURST, rape of HASTINGS, county of SUSSEX, ¾ of a mile (N.E.) from Robertsbridge, containing, with Robertsbridge, 2121 inhabitants... The church, dedicated to St. Mary, exhibits portions in the early and later styles of English architecture. The river Rother runs through the parish, and is here crossed by a bridge.

Village of Salehurst:
Location: 9 miles S of Goudhurst, 0.3 miles E of the A21.
National Grid Coordinates: TQ 749 243

Salehurst History and Photographs

Saint Mary the Virgin Church, Salehurst

Culpeper Arms at Salehurst Church, Oct. 1999The Culpeper armorial bearings may be seen on the inside front facade of the porch (photo at right). The church contains the Wigsell Chapel where William Culpeper10w of Wigsell (1509-1559) and his wife, Cicely Dingeley Barrett were once honored in an elaborate monument with recumbent figures. The monument was defaced during Cromwell's Commonwealth government (1649-1660), and in the early 1900's, it was removed from the church (Hodson, Salehurst, 1914, p. 48).

St. Mary the Virgin Church, Salehurst, East Sussex, Oct 1999The advowson (the right of presenting a nominee to an ecclesiastical office to which the revenue from an endowment is attached) was sold to Thomas Culpeper12w of Wigsell in 1608, who later sold it to the Rev. Thomas Lord, the then Vicar in 1621.

Parish registers date from 1575 and are now at the County Records Office in Lewes.

Photographs taken by Warren Culpepper, October 1999

horizontal rule

This church is remarkable for having north and south aisles of seven bays each, all of the thirteenth century, with a similarly-dated chancel and west tower. The aisles extend to the west wall of the tower, which therefore stands on arches to the north and south aisles and to the nave. West of the tower is a porch of the fourteenth century and north of the chancel is the Wigsell chapel of the same date with a piscina. At this time the north and south aisle walls were rebuilt together with the piers of the north aisle. There is a south porch which is heavily timbered. In the south aisle is a trefoil-headed piscina recess with shelf, the bowl of which has been destroyed. Let into the wall by the second window from the east in the same aisle is part of a fifteenth-century altar-tomb of Sussex marble with three quatrefoils containing blank shields. The upper doorway of the rood-stair is in the N.E. angle of the nave. A second piscina is in the chancel and on the north wall the traces probably of an Easter sepulchre. There is also a thirteenth-century dual sedilia. Some of the windows contain contemporary glass. The font is of the late twelfth century and is on a shaft, the base of which is encircled by salamanders. There are four iron slabs (17th-18th c.), two fourteenth-century table-tombs and several eighteenth-century mural tablets. The nave walls are very high with a range of clerestory windows above the aisle roofs. (W.H.G. Sussex Church Plans, CXI)

Salehurst Church: The Wigsell Chapel

During the present repairs to the roof and interior of Salehurst Church, in connection with which a public appeal was launched1, the flooring of the Wigsell Chapel was taken up and owing to the presence of beetle and rot was completely re-laid. The existing floor covering of planks and joists, probably laid in 1861 when the Church was “restored,” was taken up and a layer of rubble and brickwork was revealed. On the recommendation of the Diocesan Surveyor an examination was made of the foundations supporting this floor and opportunity was taken to inspect the burial vault, to which entry was available by means of a loose flagstone situate in the South West corner of the flooring revealed under the timbering cover.

The Wigsell Chapel is referred to in S.A.C. xlvi 85, and is described in Hodson, “History of Salehurst” (1913), whilst Meads, in his “History of Salehurst Church” (1933)2, deals more fully with tile Architectural features of this in­teresting structure. Its chief characteristic is the tomb in the North wall under an ogee arch or wall canopy, with crockets and finial flanked with square pinnacles with gables, crocketed and finialed and generally indicative of late 14th century work. It is not known whom this tomb commemorates, but Hodson3 surmises that it may possibly be that of Sir John Culpeper, who bought Wigsell in the Parish of Salehurst in 1348.

It seems clear that the Chapel was originally built primarily to accommodate this handsome tomb, as not only does it still in its fragmentary state dominate the interior, but the large North window on the North wall of the Chapel is sited considerably off-centre and well to the East end of the North wall, indicating that the siting of the tomb in its recess in the North wall was the paramount consideration in its design. There is one other window in the Chapel, at the East end, and, considering the size of the Chapel, fenestration is ample, both windows clearly designed to admit maximum light to the tomb and the recumbent effigy which probably occupied the flat rectangular table which is deeply recessed in the existing wall. There is now no record of any effigy, but from the character of the tomb and the objective treatment of the Chapel, it was clearly designed for some person of note. In the Church there exists no other tomb comparable to this in design or size; there is only a table tomb under a window in the South aisle, about which nothing is known.

If Hodson’s surmise that the tomb is that of Sir John Culpeper is correct, there is a reference to Salehurst Church in the Will of William Culpeper of Wigsell, who was a descendant of Sir John. William Culpeper in his will of 16 November, 1559, desired that he be buried in the Parish church of Salehurst, “where my good dere wife Cicely Culpeper doth lye,” and directed that the sum of £10 might he set apart “ for a tome to set on my grave.’’4

It is known that in the restoration of 1861 the ledger tomb slabs that covered the floor of the Chapel were removed (with all others in tile Chancel) to their present position in the tower floor space, including that of Dame Elizabeth Harcourt (died 1713), whose family lived at Wigsell after disposal by the Culpepers in the 17th Century5, but no records exist of burials in the Chapel earlier than that of Dame Harcourt as the Parish Registers, which first date from 1575, do not encompass the deaths of the earlier Culpepers.

The Vicar (Rev. E. W. Rudge), accompanied the foreman mason and the writer on entry to the Vault on the 16th August, 1954. Access via a flight of 12 stone steps running South to North, disclosed a plain rectangular brick walled chamber supporting a barrel-vault also of brick, with a West to East axis 7ft. at apex and coextensive in plan, with the floor surface of the Chapel above. The brickwork was plain with thick mortar. without rendering and appeared to be simple 18th Century masons’ work, using the thin brick and rough mortar then in use. There was some evidence of damp at the extreme west end, but otherwise the vault was in good repair and brickwork and pointing firm and well preserved.

At the East end of the vault were placed five lead coffins, two below and three above, all of 18th Century design, with brass nameplates which were loose, having apparently become detached from the wooden outer coffins, vestiges of which were seen to have attached a leather covering with brass studding characteristic of the period. The three coffins displayed were those of Richard Harcourt (died 12th May, 1777, aged 67), Elizabeth Harcourt, daughter of Sir Philip Harcourt of Wigsell (died 4th March, 1778, aged 70) and Phoebe Harcourt (died 10th December, 1779, aged 70). It was not possible to read the inscription of the two lower coffins without disturbance, so the identity of these was not ascertained. Presumably one of these would be that of Dane Elizabeth Harcourt. A wreath of evergreens with a note of date of entry was deposited and the vault was closed. There was no trace of any other remains apart from the five lead coffins and no mural or floor openings were seen indicative of earlier burials or disposals of human remains. It may be surmised that if any did exist, they were disposed of prior to the construction or reconstruction of the vault, which may well have been undertaken by the Harcourt family who were in possession of the Wigsell Estate during the period from which the brickwork clearly dates.

Presumably after the construction of the present wall tomb there were later tombs erected in this Chapel. Hayley, who visited the Church in 17786, states that in the Wigsell Chapel there was then a tomb having “a brass plate inlayed on its flat stone and three brass escutcheons on its front: which are all gone, and had formerly, as it seems, supported by four columns at the corners a wrought tester or canopy of one stone, which stone is now there laying on its edge against ye wall.” There is a large stone7 to be seen outside the church forming a pavement to the priests’ door immediately outside the external east end wall of the Chapel; it is much worn, but appears to have rivet marks on its upper face and possibly this is the stone to which Hayley refers as having “a brass plate inlayed.” Hodson compares it with the table stone on the tomb of Sir Thomas Hoo at Horsham.

It does not resemble a canopy or tester on examination and if it in fact be the stone once inlaid with a brass plate, there is now no trace of the “wrought tester.”

From Hayley’s description and from the character of this existent stone it seems clear that it has no connection with the wall tomb recessed in the thickness of the North wall and consequently identification of both the wall tomb and the stone ledger remains uncertain. From an architectural point of view, it is regrettable that the Church Organ has since 1895 occupied most of the space of this Chapel and the full beauty of the design can only be appreciated when the instrument is dismantled for repair, as in 1954, when repairs to the organ were part of the work undertaken by the Parochial Church Council.

  1 See The Times newspaper 3 Feb 1953: of a total of £3,500 plus required, over £2,300 has been collected chiefly by local subscriptions. The external stonework of the Tower and aisles remains to be repaired and interior flooring and seating restored.
  2 Salehurst Church was No. 112 et seq in a weekly series published in the “Sussex Express.” 1936, writ/en by W. Edward Meads descriptive of Sussex Churches: the series dealing will this Church consists of an exhaustive architectural examination of the fabric and forms a complement to Hodson’s briefer treatment.
  3 L. J Hodson, id. p. 48.
  4 Hodson, id. p. 48, & “Sussex Record Society,” Vol. 45.
  5 Hodson, id. p. 109. The Cu/peper family had a long and honourable association with Wigsell and the Hollingbourne Branch of the family later became owners: it appears to have been brought into the Harcourt family by Elizabeth Lee who ,married Sir Philip Harcourt, of Stanton Harcourt, Oxon., about 1775. Her father, John Lee, had purchased the Estate from William English of Brightling sometime after 1643, when William English, by tradition a pantry-boy in the Culpeper’s service, “bought out” his late masters. Violet Lady Milner, widow of Alfred Viscount Milner, now resides at Wigsell.[1955]
  6 Hodson op. cit. p. 48.
  7 It measures approximate/y 3 ft. x 6 ft. 9 in. x 5 in., with moulded edges..

By J. L. Ward, "Extract from Sussex Notes and Queries, November 1955", provided to Culpepper Connections! by Ray Wigzell.

Great Wigsell, Salehurst, East SussexGreat Wigsell

The magnificent Great Wigsell in Salehurst was owned for three centuries by the direct ancestors of the modern day Culpeppers

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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