History and Origins
The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded two churches under the Manor of Warblington (which was then included in the Manor of Westbourne) and since only one ancient church is now known in the neighbouring parish of Warblington-with-Emsworth it is likely that our building was the second ancient foundation. Additional evidence for this comes from two sources:
- By 1071 Roger de Montgomery had the right to hold a Fair at Westbourne on 29 August, an obscure Feast day in honour of the Beheading of St John the Baptist. Such fairs were generally associated with the Church, so it seems probable that there was already a church in Westbourne with this very unusual dedication.
- During Victorian restoration work, the then Rector (the Revd J H Sperling) reported that below the present flooring he saw ‘large square bases of early Norman pillars, on which the later pillars had been built’. Such supporting evidence suggests that the original church was built in the 11th Century or before, although the main architectural evidence is from 13th-16th Centuries, with heavy restoration in the 19th and modern additions in the 20th Century.
Watch our animation, created by Don Manson, showing how the building has developed since the 13th century accompanied by the sound of our bells.
The font, with its elaborate wooden cover, was presented in 1865 by Mr Sperling, the old font then being buried in the churchyard. Stand beside it, looking down the nave, and imagine that you are at the back of a little Norman church, with a low ceiling and rounded arches. There might have been a few wooden benches along the sides, for the elderly, but no pews, since the building doubled as the Parish Hall. The nave was the people’s domain and to it would have come the 27 villeins, 31 borderers and seven serfs mentioned in the Domesday Book, together with their families.
The side aisles were added in the 13th Century. In the late 14th (thanks, it is believed, to those two great church builders, the Sixth Earl of Arundel and Robert Pubelowe, Rector of Westbourne in the 1390s) the nave and aisles were extended to the west; new windows were inserted in the nave and chancel, north and south doors were replaced; a vestry added to the chancel and possibly a tower built in the south-west corner.
But the most striking change came later, when around 1500 the 11th Earl of Arundel raised the roof and the chancel arch to their present height, replacing the round Norman arches and thick piers with slender, well-proportioned pillars supporting flattened arches. He also built our present tower, making our church its present size, although the spire was not added until 1770.
When you look up you will see a fine pair of brass chandeliers, presented to the church in 1737, with modern pendants of hammered iron. These are still used at Christmas and Easter. At the far end of the nave is the pulpit, an 1865 Victorian replacement for the ‘great pulpit with a sounding board’ set up in 1630. A flat ceiling and galleries at each side had been put up in the 18th Century and by 1790 there was also a singing gallery under the tower, where the singers were accompanied by bass viol, cello and clarinet. All (including the singers) were removed with the Restoration of 1865. As you walk down the nave your eye is caught by a number of stained glass memorial windows. These are all 19th and 20th Century work. Further details may be found on our windows of Westbourne church page.
Under the chancel arch there was once a 13th Century rood-beam (a beam surmounted by a Cross) and a rood loft with stairs leading up to it: this was used for the reading of the Gospel at Holy Communion. The present chancel was built in the 13th Century and twice extended, a vestry being added to the north in the 14th Century and an organ chamber to the south in 1862. The vestry door, with its original lock, is believed to be 600 years old and there many fine monuments on the walls. There is also a 14th Century piscina (used for washing the Communication vessels) on the south wall.
The church contains a large number of memorials. The details may be found here.
Above the North doorway you will see a carved beam, dated about 1500. Near its centre are the FitzAlan arms of the 11th Earl of Arundel (1476-1543), quartering those of Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, 1461-1483, being his aunt). The large capital E at the West end of the beam probably represents his first wife, Elizabeth de Broke, who died about 1508.
The present tower dates from the 16th Century. The spire was given in 1770 by the Earl of Halifax, Lord of the Manor, who offered the parishioners the choice of a spire or an endowment for a Sunday afternoon sermon. They chose a spire, on the grounds, it is said, that it would always point to heaven, whereas a sermon might not! This shingled spire was built of Stansted oak in the ‘Chinese taste’, with an open balcony midway, but these ornamentations were removed in 1860. There are eight bells. Originally there were four, but in 1770 the Earl of Halifax was so pleased that the people of Westbourne had chosen a spire rather than a sermon that he had the bells recast and augmented to form a ring of six. In 1933 two of the bells, which were cracked, were recast and an iron frame was substituted for the old oak one. Two new bells were also added, making eight in all.
The churchyard was closed in 1859, by an Order in Council of Queen Victoria. It includes many fine 18th Century headstones. The splendid yew tree avenue can be assumed to date from 1500, probably at the same time as the FitzAlan beam and is the finest and oldest in England.
You will have to travel to Chichester to see some of our most valuable possessions, which have been taken there for safe keeping. All except the most recent Records and Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials (virtually complete from 1550) can be viewed in the County Record Office and in the Cathedral Treasury you will find a number of pieces of Westbourne plate including a very rare ornamented chalice (a silver gilt bowl on copper gilt stem and foot) of Sienese workmanship dated about 1390, a plainer chalice of Austrian origin dated 1751, and a set of silver communion vessels presented by Frances, Countess Scarborough in 1718.
Further details of the church building are to be found on the Sussex Churches website
An alternative account is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_the_Baptist’s_Church,_Westbourne
West Sussex County Record Office holds a large amount of information, including the primary sources for the above.