At one time the Ecclesiastical (Church) Parish of Withyham included what are now the separate parishes of (New) Groombridge – the part in East Sussex – and St. John’s Crowborough (formerly Withyham St. John).
The three parishes continue to form the Civil (Parliamentary) Parish of Withyham.
History of St Michael and All Angels Church
There has certainly been a church at Withyham since a very early period.
It is mentioned in 1291 in connection with Edward I sending money to Pope Nicholas IV for a crusade and
Withyham was then valued at 45 marks.
The church was apparently almost completely rebuilt in the 14th century and consisted
of a nave with a north and south aisle, chancel and west tower and at the east end of the north aisle was the chapel of the Sackville family.
On 16th June 1663 the church was struck by lightening coming in at the steeple, melting the bells, and up to the chancel
where it smashed the monuments to the Sackville family to pieces. The family steward wrote to his master saying:
'I was much trubled to see soo fine a fabrick and such stately monuments so suddenlye turned to lime and ashes'
The damage was estimated at £1,860, a very large sum, and a Brief was granted by the Privy Council allowing
collections to be made in Sussex and neighbouring counties to enable the parishioners of Withyham to begin to rebuild.
The rebuilding of the church does not seem to have been finished until 1672 and the Sackville Chapel was not completed
for another eight years.
Of the old church only the lower part of the tower, the west wall from the belfry door to the north-west corner and the
north and south east walls remained to be incorporated into the new building. It was also around this time that the Rectory was built.
Two years later the bells were recast and a sixth bell (treble) was added in 1715. These bells remained until 1908 when they were
recast and a further two added to give the magnificent 8-bell peal we enjoy today.
During the 19th century much work was carried out on the church including the removal of the western gallery,
a south aisle was built, the low ceiling removed and the chancel arch carried up in solid masonry. Carolean pews,
pulpit and pannelling were removed and the ornate 17th century south porch was replaced. Oak seats to south and
central aisles were installed and a screen between tower and nave erected.
In 1849 Edward John Ottley presented a set of four 14th century Italian paintings depicting the Passion of Christ to St
Michael and All Angels’ Church, Withyham, East Sussex. They had been part of the collection of William Young Ottley, R.A,
(1771-1836), collector, artist and art scholar. ‘Having been cleaned by the Courtauld Institute in the early 1990s, their value was recognised and they were loaned to Leeds Castle.
In 2012, they were sold at auction by Sotheby’s in London and are believed now to be in the USA.
The proceeds from the sale
have been invested to produce a source of income to be used solely for the repair and maintenance of St Michael’s Church and
churchyard, thereby freeing up funds for the mission of the church and the pastoral needs of the parish. Four excellent full-size copies were
made and now hang in the church.
The East Window
The beautiful East Window above the Altar was put in early in the nineteenth century when there were still a lot of people unable to read or write.
Windows were used for teaching and here there are 10 panels which are meant to be read in the following order:
6 7 8 9 10
1 2 5 3 4
1. The Annunciation. The Virgin Mary is listening to the Angel above telling her she is to have a child who will be called Jesus.
2. The Nativity. A cameo of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a crib.
3. The Agony in the Garden. Christ is praying in the garden with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John asleep at his feet.
4. The Procession to Calvary. Christ carries his cross through the crowds.
5. The Crucifixion. Christ is on the Cross; Mary, his mother, stands on the left, Mary Magdalene on the right, and Mary,
the mother of Apostle James, is kneeling
6. The Resurrection. Christ is stepping out of the tomb carrying a processional cross. The three Roman guards are asleep.
7. The appearance of Christ to St Mary Magdalene.
8. The Ascension. Christ is rising to Heaven supported by two angels.
9. The Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a white dove descending,
shedding rays of light. Mary is in the centre in a blue robe surrounded by eleven of the twelve Disciples. (Judas who betrayed Christ is missing)
10. The Last Judgement.
The Sackville Chapel
Although part of the Church, the Sackville Chapel is a private chapel owned by the Sackville family. The present head of the family is William, 11th Earl De La Warr, who is also the Patron of the Church. The history of the Chapel cannot be understood without knowing something of the history of the family.
The family moved to Withyham when Jordan de Sackville married Ela Dene, heiress of Buckhurst, in 1200.
Thomas Sackville (1536-1608), who was created 1st Earl of Dorset, was Queen Elizabeth 1’s Lord Treasurer and also acquired the Knole Estate, Sevenoaks.
One of his successors, the 5th and last Duke of Dorset died in 1843 without a male heir.
His sister, Elizabeth (1795-1870), who had married 5th Earl De La Warr, obtained a royal licence to inherit both the Buckhurst and Knole Estates. She divided them between her eldest two sons. In due course Reginald, who had been Rector of Withyham (1841-1865) and was her third son inherited the Buckhurst Estate - talking the family name Sackville; his younger brothers inherited Knole, taking the name Sackville-West.
The Chapel has a number of fine monuments including Gabriel Cibber’s magnificent monument to Thomas Sackville, aged 13, and his parents, the 5th Earl and Countess of Dorset. It dates from 1677 and the restoration of the Chapel after the fire of 1663.
Amongst the many members of the Sackville family commemorated in the Chapel is a memorial tablet to Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West (1892-1962), the creator of the wonderful gardens at Sissinghurst with her husband Harold Nicolson. She was also a poet, novelist and family historian, and was the author of ‘Knole and the Sackvilles’ (first published in 1922).
A more recent history of those of the family who lived at Knole from the early Seventeenth Century – and Buckhurst as well until the late Victorian times – is ‘Inheritance – the story of Knole and the Sackvilles’ written by Robert Sackville-West, the present Lord Sackville and resident of Knole. It was published in 2010 and was described in the Literary Review as ‘the definitive modern account of a great house and family.’
History of All Saints Church, Blackham
The first church built in the village was the ‘Iron Church’, constructed in 1884 and clad with iron sheets.
The present building was completed in 1902 when the Iron Church became a Reading Room for some 20 years.