The history of St Anne’s

A Brief Historical Sketch

St Anne’s lies at the top of Lewes’s long High Street close to the stretch of downs where the Battle of Lewes was fought in 1264. It was originally known as St Mary Westout, but by the sixteenth century was generally associated with St Anne, the patron saint of wells, probably from its proximity to a healing well.

It is the oldest church remaining in Lewes, and is remarkable for its size and magnificence in what was until 1538 a very small parish. The association with St Anne suggests that it may have become a centre of pilgrimage, paid for by offerings at the healing well. It was part of the endowment given by Earl William II de Warenne about 1095 to the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras. The oldest parts, built in the early twelfth century, are the tower (with corbels in the form of grotesque gargoyles), the nave and the south chapel, though the exterior of the nave was much altered in Victorian times.

naveeast_600Later in the twelfth century an aisle was added to the south, and separated from the nave by an arcade of substantial pillars, their capitals decorated with stiff carved foliage. The arches are pointed except at the eastern end, where the south chapel is flanked by two round arches and has a quadripartite rib vault and boss.

Churchfont1_600The drum-shaped font is also Norman work, decorated with a basket-weave pattern.

The twelfth century chancel was extended eastwards in the early thirteenth century; the present chancel arch is modern. On the north side is a fourteenth century altar tomb with an ogee canopy, probably used as an Easter Sepulchre; it is thought that this may have come from a chantry in the churchyard of the neighbouring church of St Peter Westout which was demolished in 1539. On the south side of the chancel is the small window or squint giving on to the remains of the cell of an anchoress, to whom St Richard Wich, Bishop of Chichester 1245-1253, left the sum of five shillings in his will. The precise location of the cell was not known until 1927, when a new vestry was built here. The squint enabled her to watch services and receive the Sacrament, and there is also a hatch connecting with the south chapel through which she may have received offerings from pilgrims.

Roof_600The nave roof with its tie-beams, queenposts and carved raking struts dates from 1538. The chancel roof retains its medieval tie-beams. The carved oak pulpit is Jacobean, given in 1620 by Herbert Springett whose granddaughter married William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. The altar rails are eighteenth century, as is the gallery at the western end. Below this are the arms of King George IV, a frequent visitor to Lewes races when in residence at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

Stanne_600No medieval glass survives. The earliest datable window is in the south chapel, dated 1889, showing St Mary Magdalen at the tomb. The east end of the chancel was remodelled in 1843 and contains a fine Victorian window. Near the south transept is a modern statue of St Anne with her daughter St Mary as a young child by Karin Jonzen (1914-1998). St Anne and St Mary are also represented, together with a pet tortoise, in a window on the north side of the nave. The twelfth century tower, capped by a shingled spire, has a copper weathercock made in 1826. It was blown down in the hurricane-force winds of October 1987, but rescued at the height of the gale, repaired and regilded and restored to its place. There are three bells. The roof of the south side of the nave and the south aisle is of carefully graded Horsham slates.