SU7602 : Thorney Island - Church of St Nicholas

taken 2 years ago, near to West Thorney, West Sussex, Great Britain

Thorney Island - Church of St Nicholas
Thorney Island - Church of St Nicholas
This little church on the eastern coast of Thorney Island, has stood here for over 800 years, pre-dating all the other buildings on the island, most of which are connected with M.O.D. use by many centuries.
The oldest part of the church is the tower which dates from Norman times, as early as 1100 (making it over 900 years old) - the nave is clearly in the Early English style of the 1200s.
Thorney Island
When seen on the map, Thorney Island looks to be a peninsula on the southern coast of England sandwiched between Hayling Island to the west and the Manhood Peninsula (containing The Witterings and Selsey) to the east; along with two other stubby peninsulae, those containing respectively, Chidham and Bosham.
The southern section of this peninsula is indeed an island however as it is separated from the mainland by a reasonably wide channel known as "The Great Deep". This channel is bridged at both eastern and western coastal extremities by the Sussex Border Path which hugs the coast of the entire peninsula. A third bridge (slightly to the west of its centre) carries the only road onto the island across this channel. This road is only open to approved traffic as the entire island (south of the Great Deep) is owned by the Ministry of Defence (M.O.D.)
The Military's presence on the island was established in 1938 when the RAF built an airfield here (see LinkExternal link ); the flatness of the island making it eminently suitable. The airfield played an active part in the Battle of Britain, and was bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe.
The RAF abandoned the site on 31st March 1976, and an etched clear glass window in the ancient church of St Nicholas in the island's only village of West Thorney (confusingly situated on the east side of the island) commemorates their time here.
In 1980 the site became temporary home to many of the "Vietnamese Boat People" who had been accepted for settlement in Britain. Two years later, the Royal Artillery took over the site, and several regiments have been stationed here, and continue to occupy the site. In 1986 the site was renamed "Baker Barracks" which is its current appellation.
As a result of the M.O.D.'s presence, not only is road access strictly limited, but the coastal footpath passes through controlled gates in razor-wire topped metal fences. Walkers press a button on a yellow box and presumably are checked over by army personnel via the pole-mounted CCTV cameras. Access to the island is then granted (or presumably denied if they don't like the cut of your jib!) by remote control of the gates. Notices advise walkers not to stray inland from this coastal footpath, as they will be prosecuted, or may come up against guard dogs; not to mention the possible dangers of unexploded munitions. The exception is the church of St Nicholas which may be visited, and dating originally from Norman times is very interesting and worth a visit. The presence of this ancient church speaks of the long history of the island for the many centuries before its comparatively recent military use.
Physically the island is very flat and low-lying, ranging from just 2m to 4m above sea level. The area of the island (south of the Great Deep and excluding Pilsey island and the extensive tidal sand off the south coast) is about 487 ha (just under 2 sq.miles) - the entire peninsula is about 680 ha (c.2.6 sq.miles) depending on where you consider its northern border to be.
The Thorney Channel to the east of the island is characterized by mud flats, whereas to the south of the island are extensive sands; to the west, the shoreline adjoining the Emsworth Channel is more shingly than the eastern side, but also with extensive mud.
The peninsula to the north of the Great Deep is heavily reeded and is cut through with waterways both natural and man-made. The whole of the peninsula and its surrounding mudflats are very popular with wildlife especially wading birds and geese.
The human population of West Thorney (the island's only village) was 1,183 in 2011 up 10% from 1,079 in 2001 - presumably mostly military personnel and their families.
To the south of Thorney Island and now linked by a sandbank is Pilsey Island, an RSPB nature reserve, to which public access is prohibited to protect the birds there.
St Nicholas, West Thorney
The church of St Nicholas in West Thorney on the east coast of Thorney Island dates originally from as early as 1100 having a Norman tower (see SU7602 : Thorney Island - Church of St Nicholas - Tower & Porch) and font (SU7602 : Thorney Island - St Nicholas - Norman "tub" font) though the bulk of the building is in the slightly later Early English style (c.1200-1250). The EH Grade I listing LinkExternal link is slightly at odds with this, but I think they may have said "chancel" when they meant "tower" as the triple lancet in the eastern end is clearly Early English while the tower has C12th Norman features such as the Romanesque twin lancet arched window.
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SU7602, 42 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Saturday, 7 January, 2017   (more nearby)
Monday, 9 January, 2017
Geographical Context
Coastal  Historic sites and artefacts  Village, Rural settlement  Religious sites  Islands 
Primary Subject of Photo
Island (from Tags)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SU 7698 0246 [10m precision]
WGS84: 50:48.9948N 0:54.5180W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SU 7701 0245
View Direction
West-northwest (about 292 degrees)
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Image Type (about): cross grid 
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