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St Mary’s History

Although the present St Mary’s is less than 100 years old, there has been a church here since early in the 12th century.

The first church was very simple, built in about 1110, square and with no aisles or tower. Before the end of the century a chapel was added; then in the 14th century an east window, which continues to figure throughout the church’s history. The church was enlarged in the 15th century when a nave, aisles and a wooden tower were added, and the building remained as it can be seen in the illustration until early in the 19th century.

picture of first church

As the population of Littlehampton grew in the early 19th century, the church was no longer large enough to accommodate all the parishioners. The building itself had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair, and it was demolished in 1826 and replaced by the second church, built of knapped flint. The 14th century east window was reinstated in the new building, but nothing more of the original church survived.

picture of original 2nd church exterior and interior

In 1888 a faculty was obtained for the church to be extended eastwards. The east wall was demolished, and the window, at which worshippers had looked for 500 years, disappeared. The new chancel, vestries and Lady chapel were dedicated by the Bishop of Chichester in 1900.

picture of extended 2nd church exterior and interior

Within 30 years the structural condition of the church had become so serious that it was decided to rebuild the whole church with the exception of the tower. The present church was designed by W H Randoll Blacking and built at a cost of about £20,000. The foundation stone was laid by Lady Leconfield in 1933. The Lady Chapel and transepts were dedicated in May 1934 and the completed church, which included the encasing in brick of the 19th century church’s tower, was dedicated by the Bishop of Chichester on 2nd February 1935.

During the preparations for the rebuilding some stone work was found in the churchyard and in the rockery of a neighbouring garden. As a result, nearly all of the pieces of the 14th century east window were recovered. After some cleaning and restoration they were built into the west wall of the tower.

So St Mary’s as it is now incorporates ‘bits’ of the previous churches – the stonework of the east window from the first church; the tower, the font, an altar (in the south transept chapel) and the stained glass from the second church. And the present church, a notable building with so much that is beautiful and an aid to prayer.  All a reminder and celebration of worship, and witness throughout the centuries.

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