Visiting Old Town, Eastbourne, and its 11th century parish church, East Sussex, England: stones with memories
A direct link with the era of the Norman Conquest
To give it its full name, the Church of St Mary the Virgin is Eastbourne's ancient parish church. Situated in Old Town (as one might expect), the building is located in Church Street (as one also might expect).
The building was executed in Caen stone, brought from Normandy (1). Dating from the 12th century, its venue says a lot about the origins of the town. Erected by a local stream, or bourne, it is part of the nucleus of what is now known as Old Town. The building is thus a direct link from the times of the Norman Conquest.
The building was expanded in the 14th century, and thoroughly renovated in the 19th century. Its style is described as a combination of Norman and Romanesque. The interior of the building has pillars in alternating octagonal and round shapes. The building contains the tombs of a number of local patrons, dating back to Medieval times.
Within the building's wide, greensand tower (2), the church bells were cast in 1818, and most recently overhauled in 1994; the chief bell-ringer is known as the Tower Captain.
Various, reigning monarchs have visited the church, including King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
The church has a strong, musical tradition and its choir is affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music. There is also a resident Early Music Chamber Choir.
It would be very fair to say that this Church of England parish building, steeped in history, can be well described as 'quintessentially English'. The church of St Mary the Virgin is thus the oldest of Eastbourne's churches, of which there are now many.
Eastbourne is in England's county of East Sussex.
December 17, 2012
(1) It is maybe significant that Robert, Count of Mortain (c.1031-1090), half-brother to William the Conqueror, and companion in arms at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, served as the local landlord. Patronage has doubtless exercised its ways over many centuries!
(2) Greensand is a locally quarried form of sandstone. Thus it is clear that the Normandy trade route gave way to locally obtained resources!
Also worth seeing
In Eastbourne itself, other visitor attractions include: the Beachy Head cliffs; the Martello Wish Tower; Eastbourne Pier; the Redoubt fortress; its 19th century Town Hall; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York - Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. (Distance from London Heathrow to Eastbourne : 146 kilometres.) For access by road, take M25/M23/A23/A27. There are rail links to Eastbourne from London Victoria railroad station. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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