St Thomas the Martyr church, Winchelsea :: Shared Description


Grade I listed.
The first mention of the church of St. Thomas in Old Winchelsea came in 1215. The town was then a flourishing seaport on the shingle (some distance from the present site), but in 1250 it was battered by a phenomenally high tide. Later floods virtually destroyed the town and changed the course of the River Rother.
So important was Winchelsea as a seaport that King Edward I soon found a new and safer site on the hilltop of Iham, where the present town and its church now stand. The church occupied a dominant site near the centre. Work started in 1288 to erect a magnificent Gothic edifice, with a chancel and choir, two side chapels, a central tower, transepts and a great nave.
The first of the two chantries on the south side was endowed in 1312 by Stephen Alard to contain a tomb of supreme workmanship in memory of Gervase Alard, Admiral of the Western Fleet, probably Stephen’s father. The stone effigy is in full armour with raised hands to enclose a heart and a lion crouching at the feet. The carved arch of the recessed canopy springs from the heads of King Edward and his second wife, Margaret. The second monument is of a later date, with the arch springing from the heads of Edward II and Queen Isabella. It is reputed to be the tomb of Stephen Alard himself, who became Admiral of the Cinque Ports and the Western Fleet. The centre of each canopy is surmounted by the head of a Green Man, a prominent pagan figure.
There are 3 marble effigies on the north wall, saved from the old, now lost, church. Thought to be members of the Godfrey Family, possibly a Knight, his Lady and their Son. All are within recesses beautifully carved with carved heads and grotesques.

Winchelsea flourished for only a few years before disaster struck. In 1337 in one of the first raids of the Hundred Years War the new town of Winchelsea was attacked and taken in a French raid, leaving a trail of devastation behind them. Eleven years later the town was decimated by the Black Death which killed many people.
Then in 1359 the French returned and many were butchered.
The French were back again the following year, and twenty years later a fleet of galleys came with a force of French and Castilian troops to ‘fire Winchelsea and the approaches of London.’ Historians believe it was in this raid that the nave of St.Thomas’s was burnt to the ground, and the tower and transepts destroyed, the remains of which are still visible, although the remains of the nave have now almost disappeared.
On the accession of Queen Mary in 1547, the rector was deprived of his living and replaced by a Catholic priest.
During these turbulent years the interior of the church fell into a deplorable state of repair. Finally in 1850 the perilous condition of the fabric was realised and extensive repairs carried out, since then a constant watch has been kept on the state of the fabric, both inside and outside the church.
It is unknown whether the nave was ever actually built, or destroyed by the French. The ruins of transepts remain, one with remains of a piscina, now outside.
The church has some fine stained glass windows, mostly by Douglas Strachan.
by Julian P Guffogg
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18 images use this description:

TQ9017 : Stone Effigy, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Winchelsea Church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Air and Fire window, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Tomb Recesses, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : East Window, Winchelsea Church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Interior, St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : East window, St Thomas' church, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Grotesque, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : "Land" stained glass window, St Thomas' church, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Land Window, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Stained glass window, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Life Boat Memorial window, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Stained glass window, St Thomas' church, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Once Inside, now Outside by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Gremlin Grotesque, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Stained glass window, St Thomas' church, Winchelsea by Julian P Guffogg
TQ9017 : Female Effigy, Winchelsea church by Julian P Guffogg


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Created: Sun, 21 Oct 2012, Updated: Wed, 5 Oct 2016

The 'Shared Description' text on this page is Copyright 2012 Julian P Guffogg, however it is specifically licensed so that contributors can reuse it on their own images without restriction.

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