"I have loved
of thy house"
History of St Peter, Stonegate
Some local history
All of Stonegate, (with the exception of Hammerden Farm) once belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Robertsbridge, founded in 1176. In 1539 the Abbey and its property was taken over by Henry VIII and granted to Sir William Sidney. Though there were manor houses, cottages and farms in the area there was no village as such.
The present village stands at ancient crossroads; the road from Burwash Common being part of that from Roman times linking Pevensey Marshes with the ridges inland and the highway (now the 82099} in the vicinity of Wallcrouch. The other road linked the ironworks at Bardown in Stonegate with Etchingham and beyond, running past Cottenden and possibly ending in Bodiam; the River Rother once being navigable this far inland.
East Sussex was an important source of iron ore for the Romans and there were a number of workings in the Weald, the one at Bardown being one of the most important. An archaeological dig took place at Bardown each summer between 1960 and 1968 and the Roman items discovered are on display at the Tunbridge Wells Museum. Shards of pottery found in the area suggest that a settlement may have been here from pre-Roman times. After flourishing in the medieval and Tudor period the iron industry in Sussex declined with the discovery of coal in the Midlands.
The River Rother flows through the valley below Stonegate railway station, now serving the railway line from London to Hastings. The railway came in 1851 when the line was extended from Tunbridge Wells to Roberstbridge, the station serving nearby villages. Initially it was known as Witherenden, Witherenden Mill being nearby. It subsequently became Ticehurst Road and finally Stonegate.
The parish of Stonegate is in the Deanery of Rotherfield and the Diocese of Chichester.
Stonegate was originally part of the ecclesiastical parish of Ticehurst, but became a parish of Its own in 1836. The first church was built in 1838 by the Courthopes of WhiIigh who had substantial interests In Stonegate at the time, including Hammerden and Stonegate Farm.
The Vicarage, (now The Old Vicarage) was built in 1845. The first Vicar, the Rev'd G.D. Johnstone, lodged at Stonegate Farm until the building was completed.
The first church was demolished after dangerous cracks appeared in the structure The Courthope family again funded the building of the present church, which was consecrated on 23rd November 1904. Items such as the pulpit, altar, font and church bell were donated by members of family. The vestry was added in 1908.
The church was listed (Grade II) by English Heritage in 2010, being "a fine example of Early English-inspired Arts and Crafts style with high quality interior fittings." Built of red brick with a large North tower and 80ft shingled spire, the building forms a focal point from many surrounding fields.
At the entrance of the church above the porch is written in carved oak "I have loved the habitation of thy house". Inside, the church roof is supported by substantial oak beams and the various windows are mainly clear, giving a light appearance and views of the trees outside.
A fine oak reredos and a tablet were also put up in his memory in1911. The reredos has carved at its centre, "This do in remembrance of Me", with the Ten Commandments on either side.
The chancel window, with scenes of the Nativity, the Cross and Resurrection, and the ascended Lord, is in memory of Frederick, George, Fanny Elizabeth and Caroline Sophie Luck, members of a family long and honourably connected with the parish.
There are two war memorials, that to the left of the chancel being in memory of the fifteen killed in the 1914-1918 war and the other, in the nave, commemorating the seven men from Stonegate killed in the Second World War.
Among the few tablets is one to Jane Ashdown who was a teacher at the school who died in September 1894, aged 22. This tablet must have been removed from the original church. In the chancel is one to the Rev'd A. Arthur Gray, Vicar from 1914 to 1924, and one to John B. Snell who died in November 1949, and in whose memory electric light was installed in the church. There is also a memorial to Andrew Young, priest, poet and naturalist, who was Vicar of Stonegate from 1941 to 1959.
The first organ from Cousans of Lincoln was installed in 1908, and replaced an American organ or harmonium.
There is a fine stained glass tree of Jesse window made by James Powell and Sons of London. The vivid colours in a "Whitefriars" style depict the descent of Christ from Jesse, the father of David. The twenty one characters include Jesse, King David, King Solomon, the Virgin Mary and Christ as a child. Below is the dedication "To the Glory of God and in memory of George John Courthope of Whiligh who built this church."
Rother in Flood
Between twin banks the Rother
with slow contentment goes;
Bush-sprinkled lakes spread this side
and the other
Flowing as the wind flows
High on the upper lands
White-cowled oasthouses stare
And piled poles in hop gardens seem
Whose fingers point in prayer.
Gathered by stormy weather
The rooks and seagulls meet
Like black angels and white mingling together
At God's last judgement seat.
As daylight drains away
And darkness creeps out of the wood
And flowers become too faint to tell,
My eyesight failing me as well
And chill dew watering my blood,
I might imagine night was my last day.
But why need I rehearse
What I must play with my whole heart?
Spectators may be moved to tears
To see me act these now-feigned fears;
While others summing up the part
May with approval say, His lines were terse.
Rev'd Andrew Young, priest and poet, was Vicar of Stonegate from1941 to 1959. During this time he wrote many short nature poems, and his long poem Into Hades, in which he describes many details of the Vicarage and Church, and includes residents of the village.
Mr Young was a shy and reserved man in manner, but was much liked and respected by his parishioners. When, in 1952, he was presented with the Queen's Medal for Poetry, it seems characteristic of the man that he did not tell any of his friends and, in fact, no-one outside his family knew of the honour until the public announcement. He was a man who had little need of small talk and his visits to parishioners could sometimes be rather silent affairs! His sermons, however, were eloquent and imaginative.
His nature poems are the best known and most accessible of his work. He had a lifelong interest in the natural world and was particularly knowledgeable about wild flowers, which he observed on his daily walks. The range of subjects within nature is wide, encompassing flowers, birds, creatures, weather patterns, butterflies and changing seasons, to name but a few. These short poems are timeless in their appeal.
His work should not, however, be considered solely in the context of nature poems as he did not consider these the most important aspect of his work. He felt that his poetic life led him to write his long poems Into Hades and A Traveller in Time, both of which took him six years to write. As a foreword to the second edition of Out of the World and Back (which consists of these two poems) he wrote:
"When the spring of short nature poems ran dry I was not altogether sorry; for while my interest in nature was as intense, it was not as deep as the underlying interest that prompted me to change my style and write Into Hades.
Of the prose which he wrote perhaps the most famous is the book A Prospect of Flowers which was written and published while he was living in Stonegate.
On retirement from Stonegate, Andrew Young lived at Yapton near Arundel, until his death in 1971.