St Mary's Ancient Building
St Mary’s Church has stood at the centre of Billingshurst for over 900 years. Its beautiful high stone arches, flagstone floor, stained glass windows and soaring tower make it a wonderful heritage site to visit.
Our aim through the Transformation Project is to celebrate St Mary’s Heritage while ensuring that our beautiful building of St. Mary’s is ready for the needs and challenges of the 21st Century and beyond. This includes enabling the church to be left open during daylight hours for visitors to come and enjoy the fascinating story of history here and to provide them with facilities such as toilets. The work of the project will also make the church welcoming for those needing help with access, with access doors and access toilets.
The Transformation Project aims to promote the church’s heritage through literature, display boards and hopefully even film. For children there is a Heritage Challenge activity where they can seek out items in the church and learn about them. There is a guide for adults.
St Mary’s heritage is not just in the building itself. It has stood as a symbol of faith, hope and community for hundreds of years. It has survived wars and strife, and it is the site of some of our most precious ceremonies – weddings, funerals, baptisms and remembrance. It continues to be a place of worship and prayer to the present day.
St Mary’s comes as a gift from those who lived here before us and we want to ensure that we pass it on, fit for purpose, as a precious legacy to those who follow after us. We want this amazing resource to be used and enjoyed!
Come and visit!
Interior roof bosses
Central to St Mary’s heritage are the centuries of records of the baptisms, weddings and funerals of the people who lived in the village, often for many generations. Some who life in the village today are descendants of these long lines. Records are also kept of the all the vicars starting back in 1274 with Thos de Salhurst. Church wardens are recorded too, as are some who made generous donations to the church. At the same time life went on – eating, drinking, trade, community life, wars, empires, diseases and inventions.
Many of St Marys records are kept now in Chichester Records Office, but some are in the church still. Looking at them is a slice through time!
A key part to St Mary’s heritage is her memorial to those who have died. Burial records stretching back hundreds of years are kept in Chichester Records Office. There is also our wonderful churchyard with a whole range of grave and memorial stone showing when people died and in some cases what they did. Inside the church we have some very old graves, the oldest marked one is a brass dated 1499.
Our aim through the Transformation Project is to ensure that the St Marys can be left open during daylight hours for visitors to come and enjoy the heritage of the building and to provide them with facilities such as toilets. The work of the project will also make the church welcoming for those needing help with access, with access doors and access toilets.
Royal British Legion
For over a hundred years the Royal British Legion (RBL) have been here to help our service personnel and their families.
Remembrance honours those who serve to defend our democratic freedoms and our way of life. United across faiths, cultures and backgrounds the RBL remembers the service and sacrifice of the Armed Forces community from Britain and the Commonwealth.
Each year in November, the RBL holds its Remembrance Day Service at the War Memorial at St Mary’s Church. Here are remembered those who gave the ‘Greatest Sacrifice’. This is opportunity for Billingshurst to honour the memory of the fallen and pledge to care for the living. For WW1 an WW2 roll of honour visit https://www.roll-of-honour.com/Sussex/Billingshurst.html.
St Mary’s Transformation Project will ensure equality and inclusivity for all those who wish to share in such services and at other times visit graves in the churchyard knowing that there is an open church providing shelter and facilities.
With the help of the Billingshurst Parish Council, Legion members and the Royal British Legion’s supporters’ parade through the Village to St Mary’s for an Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial. Presided over by Branch Chair, Rob Nicholls, and our Branch Chaplin, St Mary’s own Reverend David Beal.
At the Service, the Exhortation is recited:
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them’.
The Remembrance Day Ceremony at the War Memorial is followed by a Morning Service, where all are made welcome at St Mary’s.
To see the work of the British Legion, visit the national website at:
For more information of the Legions work locally, contact our Branch Chairman, Rob Nicholl at: [email protected]
St Marys is fortunate to have one of the rings of eight bells in West Sussex. They are rung for church services, weddings, funerals and celebratory events such as New Year, Coronations or Jubilees. The history of bells at Billingshurst is well documented and goes back as far as the early sixteenth century.
The Transformation Project really wants to promote this ancient art and to ensure its future. It is part of the heritage of English village life.
It is doing this in a number of ways:
- Improving access to the church bells by installing a platform mid-way between the ringing chamber and the belfry. This will allow much easier access for the maintenance of the bells, which otherwise can only be accessed using safety harnesses and a long vertical ladder.
- Improving the health and safety of bellringers by lessening by half the very steep access staircase to the bellringing chamber and also upgrading the fire alarm system.
Bell Ringing at St Mary’s Billingshurst
Bell Ringing is a team activity for people of all ages (10yrs +) and from all works of life. Although some ringers are members of the church where they ring, many are not. It is a good way to meet people, exercise your brain and keep an English tradition alive. Ringers are welcome at any tower across the UK and can even ring internationally.
After the initial bell handling training and you are proficient at ringing and controlling a bell, you can join us for Sunday service ringing, special celebrations such as weddings and national events and Christmas. We also ring on New Year’s Eve at midnight to welcome the New Year in.
Once a year we usually go on a tower outing to a different area and ring in five to six different towers. We have rung at a few cathedrals on these outings. The outings also include various coffee, tea and lunch stops using some rather nice hostelries! We also have other social events throughout the year.
We also take part in competitions with other towers where the band that makes the least mistakes is the winner. The Sussex Young ringers usually do very well in these competitions and we are very proud that one of our ringers is a member of the youth team.
We all have a DBS certificate and have undertaken the Diocesan Safe Guarding Training. The tower also has undertaken a risk assessment.
Our practices take place every Wednesday from 7.30pm to 9pm. We would love you to come and see what we get up to and have a go.
Contact: Kathy FitzPatrick (Tower Secretary) 07592 354858
Email : [email protected]
St Marys is the oldest building in Billingshurst, with parts of it going back to at least 1230. As such it is one of the few prime locations that can promote the village’s rich history and heritage, the other being the local village library.
In its aim to promote village heritage St Mary’s Transformation Project will have information boards, pictures, guide material for visitors for both the church and the village and hopefully be able to show the excellent film made by the Billingshurst Local History Society and the producers Chris Hare and Rob Gomez-Martin.
The Transformation Project will offer visitors access facilities and shelter and will also enable St Marys to be open for visiting during daylight hours.
There are many other old buildings in the village. The story of Billingshurst starting from a small agricultural West Sussex village to its present size of over 10,000 people is fascinating and full of characters and events. St Marys is just part of this wonderful heritage.