Saxon Steyning

Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition
Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition

Sussex, her towns, ports and villages, were at the heart of the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex.

In my imagination I can picture wooden Saxon houses flanking the old Roman streets of Chichester, the earlier pavements covered by grass. By the late 6th and early 7th centuries Steyning, Lewes, Hastings and Pevensey had developed from their farming origins into towns of craftsmen and traders. By the 10th century all these towns had mints producing coinage which is evidence of an established urban economy. A mint was recorded at Steyning at the end of King Canute’s (1016-1035) reign, and was perhaps the successor to the mints of Burpham and Cissbury.

A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)
A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

The penny illustrated dates from the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) and is an example of Saxon coins from the Steyning mint. Coins are remarkable in their ability to provide a tangible connection with our past. Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was amongst the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and was the last king of the House of Wessex.

Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550
Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550

Many antiquarians argue that where buildings of a varied type, arranged in close proximity to one another along the main street of a town or village are found they are often following a tradition dating back to Saxon times. This would certainly appear to be the case at Steyning. Saxon Cottage in Church Street actually dates from c.1550 but its name perhaps hints at an earlier structure on the site now lost. The town was located on the River Adur and is generally believed by historians to have been one of the most important ports in Saxon times.

The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning
The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning

The current parish church of St Andrew and St Cuthman has Saxon origins and replaced a timber structure built by St Cuthman. Inside, in the south aisle, alongside the fine Norman arcading, is an arch exquisitely carved with fabulous beasts. Contemporary historians are increasingly of the view that this arch dates from the late Saxon renaissance which took place during the reign of King Canute. The Saxon St Cuthman and Aethelwulf (839-858 are both said to have been buried there). Aethelwulf was father of King Alfred.

Today Steyning with her fine church, architecture and Museum connects us with our past. The Sussex Produce Company and the wonderful Steyning Bookshop along with a rich array of other independent retailers, restaurants and tea rooms maintain the vibrant tradition of this ancient and important town. The perfect place to visit as spring returns to Sussex!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Community and the Arts Celebrate the Queen’s Birthday

Andrew Bernardi plays the 1696 Stradivarius in the company of conductor, David Bevan, and choir © Graham Franks
Andrew Bernardi plays the 1696 Stradivarius in the company of conductor, David Bevan, and choir © Graham Franks

The 2016 Steyning Festival provided the perfect prelude to the remarkable celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen’s official 90th birthday last weekend.

The festival was the largest ever held in Steyning. It represented three years of hard work by a dedicated team of volunteers under the chairmanship of Christine Aubrey. This biannual event gathered leading authors, musicians and artists.

Steyning Festival Chairman, Christine Aubrey with supporters from the Festival and Steyning Parish Church © Graham Franks
Steyning Festival Chairman, Christine Aubrey with supporters from the Festival and Steyning Parish Church © Graham Franks

I asked Christine Aubrey what has been at the heart of her vision for the Steyning Festival. She replied “Bringing the community together – to provide something for everyone.” At moments of great celebration it is often the Arts which bring communities together.

Sara Bowers and the Steyning Bookshop once again ensured a remarkable literary line up.

The festival included Theatre Trails, walks on the Downs and the Art Trail. Star attractions included Craig Charles, Steve Knightley, Vince Cable, The Comedy Store Players, Frank Gardner, Alison Weir, Cressida Cowell and Steyning’s very own Julia Donaldson of Gruffalo fame!

My own contribution was to bring the Steyning and Shipley Arts Festivals together with Steyning Parish Church to put on a performance of one of the finest classical works ever written, Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The Bernardi Music Group and The Choir of Our Most Holy Redeemer St Thomas More were conducted by David Bevan. This work is one of the greatest pieces of music in the Baroque canon. It was an exceptional performance which was both reflective and alive with great vigour and energy. It blessed the sell-out audience. It really was a fitting celebration of the Christian feast of Corpus Christi which marks the Institution of Holy Communion.

The Rt Revd. Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham and the Revd. Rupert Toovey celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday with Steyning’s community
The Rt Revd. Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham and the Revd. Rupert Toovey celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday with Steyning’s community

Steyning Parish Church is at the heart of its community and this was reflected in the generosity of those attending concerts and events throughout the festival with some £2000 donated towards the tower restoration fund through retiring collections. Estimates for the urgent restoration are upwards of £150,000 and all contributions are most welcome.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday was celebrated with a service of thanksgiving at Steyning Parish Church, led by the Revd. Fr. Neil Roberts. The Rt Revd. Mark Sowerby, the Bishop of Horsham, reflected on the role of the arts in bringing our community together and the richness with which they bless our lives. He spoke movingly of the Queen’s contribution to our nation’s life and identity.

After the service Steyning’s community gathered outside the church and the Festival Big Top, on St Cuthman’s field, to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday with music and picnics.

I was interested to know what the highlight of the 2016 Steyning Festival was for Christine Aubrey. She smiled and exclaimed “The pleasure of watching everybody enjoying themselves!” This generosity of spirit has been evident throughout this wonderful event and Christine Aubrey and her team of volunteers are deserving of our thanks and congratulations!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Eric Gill, Art and Architecture in Sussex

Woodbarton, designed by the artist Eric Gill in 1920
Woodbarton, designed by the artist Eric Gill in 1920

Woodbarton is a hidden artistic jewel in the heart of Sussex. The house is being offered for sale on the open market for the very first time since it was built in 1920. It was designed and decorated by the famous Ditchling based artist, Eric Gill (1882-1940).

Eric Gill was born in Steyning, West Sussex, in 1882. In his formative years he lived both in Brighton and Chichester. In 1900 he moved to London to train as an architect with the firm W. D. Caroe. Gill became ever more disaffected with this path. He studied stonemasonry in Westminster and calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. By 1903 Eric Gill had given up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

In 1907 Eric Gill found himself drawn back to Ditchling in Sussex. Together with a group of fellow artists Gill worked within the Roman Catholic Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling. These artists lived in community with their wives, children, associates and apprentices. They upheld the principles of the artisan artist. Their work and lives were framed by the monastic rhythm of prayer. Thanks to their work this Sussex village became a centre for the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic was founded by Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler and the English poet and artist, Desmond Chute (1895-1962).

Eric Gill brought his artistic and architectural skills to bear when he designed Woodbarton for his associate Desmond Chute.

The house sits confidently in its generous gardens, surrounded by open countryside with stunning views. An old brick path leads past the studio to a welcoming front door which, it is thought, might be the work of the Arts and Crafts designer and architect, Ernest Gimson. That this home was designed by the artist Eric Gill for an artist becomes quickly apparent as the light breaks into the generous hallway. The qualities of light and welcome run through the whole house.

Eric Gill’s carved and painted stone Lavabo in the hall
Eric Gill’s carved and painted stone Lavabo in the hall

The Christian foundations of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic is visible in the carved and painted stone Lavabo by Eric Gill, which is set into the hallway’s wall. It would have contained Holy water for a priest to ritually wash as a sign of inner purity before celebrating the Mass, and for members of the Guild and visitors to bless themselves.

A detail of Eric Gill’s carved stone fireplace in the sitting room
A detail of Eric Gill’s carved stone fireplace in the sitting room

The sitting room is arranged around a fireplace which is framed by a stone carving with a central cross, again by Eric Gill. The stone was originally made for Westminster Cathedral where Gill carved the Stations of the Cross. It was broken in transit and was therefore installed at Woodbarton.

There are stone panels carved with meditative inscriptions by Gill and others set into some of the walls of the house.

Desmond Chute only lived at Woodbarton for a few years before leaving for Rapallo in Italy for his health. Chute would be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1927. After he left, the house became the home of the Guild’s treasurer, Eric Gill’s brother-in-law, Charlie Walters and subsequently the weaver, Valentine Kilbride.

The entrance hall at Woodbarton
The entrance hall at Woodbarton

In 1983 the Guild was wound up and Woodbarton was bought privately by the artists, Edgar and Jennifer Holloway. When they arrived there was no plumbing and only an outside toilet and single cold water tap. This artistic couple set about modernising the house to create the comfortable home and studio, in which to live and work, which you see today.

With its three bedrooms, reception rooms and studio the fortunate buyer of Woodbarton will acquire a generous and charming home. This exceptional house forms part of an important story in the history of both the Arts and Crafts Movement and Modern British Art here in Sussex. It provides a remarkable opportunity to live with exceptional art-in a beautiful setting.

The property is being marketed by Clifford Dann with a guide price of £800,000. Partner, Michael Hudson, understands the importance and qualities of this unique property. For more information contact Clifford Dann’s Ditchling office on 01273 843344 or email ditchling@clifforddann.co.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Battle of Britain Concert in Steyning

Soprano, Sophie Bevan
Soprano, Sophie Bevan

Tickets have just gone on sale for a world class concert which is to be held on Battle of Britain Sunday, 20th September 2015, at Steyning Parish Church. The Steyning Battle of Britain Memorial Concert brings together an extraordinary group of international musicians.

Amongst these is the soprano Sophie Bevan. She is at the forefront of a remarkable new generation of British singers. Sophie is no stranger to followers of the English National Opera and Glyndebourne festival with numerous leading roles. Together with her sister Mary Bevan we are delighted to be welcoming them at Steyning.

Andrew Bernardi and the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple
Andrew Bernardi and the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple

Seventy-five years ago during the summer and autumn of 1940 the Battle of Britain was fought over the skies of Sussex and the South East of England. Civilisation and righteousness hung in the balance as our courageous young airmen took to the skies to defend our principles and freedoms. Winston Churchill famously remarked that “The gratitude of every home in our Island…goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” I too have shared that great sense of gratitude.

Through my childhood and professional life, both as auctioneer and priest, it has been my privilege to accompany the war time generation who largely remained open hearted and hopeful about the world, with a generosity inspired by their common experience.

Following on from the great successes of this year’s Shipley Arts Festival, Andrew Bernardi and myself decided to organise a Battle of Britain Memorial Concert at Steyning Parish Church, where I serve, to honour the men and women of the RAF. Soloists including: Sophie Bevan (soprano), Mary Bevan (soprano), Andrew Bernardi (violin), Graham Salter (oboe), Bruce Martin (flute), together with the Bernardi Music Group and the Choir of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Chelsea, will be conducted by David Bevan. The concert builds on Steyning Parish Church’s strong musical tradition.

Steyning Parish Church
Steyning Parish Church

The program begins with J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no.2 in B minor BWV 1067 and Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D minor BWV 1060. An interval with Pimm’s will be followed by extracts from Mozart’s Mass in C minor.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor K427 is generally regarded as one of his greatest choral works. He began it in celebration of his marriage but the piece was never completed. The Mass took Mozart’s unpredictable genius to new heights and is one of the most extraordinary pieces of sacred music ever written. It seems fitting that these pieces should be played in memory of and to honour all those who fought to save our island nation.

The concert will conclude with a world premiere performance of ‘To Notice Such Things’ by the late Jon Lord, formerly of Deep Purple.

Sponsored by Toovey’s and Spofforths, The Steyning Battle of Britain Concert will be held at 5.00pm on Battle of Britain Sunday, 20th September 2015, at Steyning Parish Church. Tickets priced at just £18.00 are on sale now through the Capitol Theatre Box Office. Go to www.thecapitolhorsham.com/whats-on/allshows/the-steyning-battle-of-britain-memorial-concert or telephone 01403 750220.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th August 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

How to be English!

Author, David Boyle, with Gudrun and Sara of the Steyning Bookshop
Author, David Boyle, with Gudrun and Sara of the Steyning Bookshop

‘How to be English’ by David Boyle is published this week. The book provides a fond, irreverent celebration of the ambiguities, eccentricities, and shared stories that define the English.

‘How to be English’ by David Boyle
‘How to be English’ by David Boyle

The writer David Boyle has recently moved to Sussex with his family and I have arranged to meet him at one of my favourite shops in all England – the Steyning Bookshop. The shop is at the heart of the Steyning community and is passionately run by Sara Bowers and her daughter, Gudrun. The shelves, filled with books, always fill me with a sense of anticipation and excitement. As I walk towards the shop past the familiar iron railings I am greeted by David, Gudrun and Sara, framed by the arch of the door and the colourful hanging baskets. Preparations are underway for an evening and book launch with David Boyle at the Steyning Bookshop on Thursday 23rd July 2015.

I ask David where the inspiration for the book came from, he replies “I became concerned that many of the stories which define the English, that I had grown up with, were in danger of being lost.”

David’s account of the English leaves you with a real sense of place in the procession of human history. I mention to David the delight that his articulation of the English has given me and the empathy I have with so many of his subjects. As I have read ‘How to be English’ I have become increasingly aware of how my understanding of what it is to be English has been informed by my love of Sir John Betjeman’s work. David agrees explaining that he too read Betjeman avidly in his late teens.

So are the English defined by Wellington’s stiff upper-lip? David responds “That’s one side of the story but Nelson provides a more old fashioned personality – emotional, overindulgent, sentimental, and lachrymose, overwhelmingly English, with a blind eye to authority.”

The divergent subjects of this eclectic book include: warm beer, Alfred the Great, the seaside, Capability Brown, The English Hymnal, heroic failure, daffodils, bell-ringing, the King James Bible, and The Last Night of the Proms.

So how would David summarise the English? He smiles and says “The English are always polite, apologising for themselves wherever they go. The importance of practicality over intellect is a very English idea, but also the importance of trying again.” David pauses for a moment and concludes “They like pluck, fair play and cricket…”

Author, David Boyle, preparing for Steyning Bookshop launch
Author, David Boyle, preparing for Steyning Bookshop launch

Don’t let David’s gentle humour deceive you. There is a quality and depth of thinking which belies the light-hearted tone of this joyous book.

Books feed not only our imaginations and thinking but there is the physical pleasure of the touch and smell of the paper. And the best place to savour and acquire these pleasures is an independent bookseller of the quality of the Steyning Bookshop.

‘How to be English – an Evening with David Boyle’ will be held at The Steyning Bookshop, 106 High Street, Steyning, West Sussex, BN44 3RD on Thursday 23rd July 2015 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost just £4, redeemable against the purchase of a book, which might just have to be ‘How to be English’! For more information go to www.steyningbookshop.co.uk and to book your place telephone 01903 812062.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.