Leaning Tower

Yapton’s Parish Church which can be traced back to Saxon times is sited betwixt Church Lane and Church Road. It is dedicated, like many of the churches in the neighbouring villages, to St Mary the Virgin. The whole structure as it stands today is much the same as it was when completed around 1230, although there is still evidence of the much earlier work.

The church records show that the subject of this article, the tower itself, is Transitional Norman and it was built between 1180 and 1230. lt was constructed against part of the west and south walls of an older nave without bonding in, which proves that the nave walls are earlier. Indeed the lower part of the north wall of the tower is the south wall of the ancient Saxon church.

But have you noticed the tower has a lean? Apparently it is about 11 degrees out of the perpendicular and is supported by massive buttresses, their slopes being formed of Caen stone from the 12th century church together with some beautifully moulded stones that appear to have been part of a late 13th century door or possibly window which have been built into its face. At the base of the quoin (the south east outer corner) is a large slab of Sussex marble, which is thought to be one of the altar stones of the original Church.

The tower is topped by a shingled timber spirelet. This is a typical Sussex church feature and is known as the “Sussex cap”. A cross tops the cap and this at one time carried a weather vane which was blown down and never replaced. On 14 March 1909 there was a fire in the tower the effects of which can still be seen in the blackened oak framework which was fortunately strong enough to withstand wholesale destruction. At this time the opportunity was take to have the four old bells recast into four new ones. One of the old bells which dated back to the 14th century bore the inscription “Ave:Maria +R” and in order to preserve this, the rim was made into a candelabrum to hold three candles. This now hangs from a beam at the entrance to the chancel.


Inside the bell tower

Candelabrum with 14th century bell rim

St Mary's after new tower shingles

And so to the present time. The end of last year saw the tower shrouded in scaffolding. lt was being given a facelift with its wooden shingle roof being completely renewed at a cost of more than £20,000. Whilst this work was underway the current verger, Chris Weymouth, deciphered various names and dates on the lead taken from the top of the tower. The different dates shown suggest that the lead cladding was re-used several times, most recently in 1948. This seems very likely as 1948 was just after the 2nd World War when there would have been a shortage of resources.

The Parochial Church Council (PCC) has appealed for contributions towards the cost incurred in replacing the wooden shingles on the church tower. You could help to preserve Yapton’s heritage by donating just £5 for a shingle. You can also donate a shingle(s) in the name of family members which will be recorded for posterity in the church. Donations (if possible in Gift Aid envelopes which are available in the church or from the Treasurer), should be sent to CYF Church Office, c/o Yapton and Ford Village Hall, Main Road, Yapton, BN18 0ET. Cheques payable to ‘Yapton & Ford PCC’ please.

John Stirland

(Originally published in Yapton News, March 2010.)