A brick church, consecrated in 1505, it shows the influence of the Low Countries. It has been much altered, but keeps good pre-Victorian fittings.
East Guldeford is the only marshland church in Sussex; East Guldeford level is technically part of Walland Marsh, not Romney Marsh, but the flat, wind-swept terrain is similar. The marsh appeared after the Western Rother was diverted westwards to Rye in a storm in 1287 (Millward and Robinson p173). It was gradually drained and passed into the possession of the Guldeford family, which was settled in Kent though taking their name from Guildford, Surrey. The marsh was then in the parish of Playden, but by the later C15 there was a sizeable settlement and in 1499 Sir Richard Guldeford (c1455-1506) received a faculty to build a church, consecrated in 1505 (1 p1).
The church is thus of one precisely dated build. It is built of brick without chancel or aisles, despite its breadth. On each side under three large windows and best seen to the north, is a shallow plinth topped by a moulded course. There is a single east window and none at the west end, where there is simply a doorway with an elliptical head, set in a pointed and roll-moulded wall-arch. All have been altered and the simple intersecting tracery of the east and the south west windows is unlikely to be original; the straight mullions of the other windows are also clearly later, perhaps C18, since the exterior of the church has suffered much from its exposed position. Steer cites an earlier reference to ‘flowing tracery’ (ibid p2), which calls to mind the flamboyant tracery of the nearby brick chapel at Smallhythe, Kent, dated to 1516-17. Brede has a comparable window, though in stone. Close links with the Low Countries in this part of Kent and Sussex are well documented and the marshes may have been drained by experts from there. The plan is a further reminder of churches in Flanders of the same period.
The interior never had an arcade. Before 1764 there was a low-pitched leaded roof, possibly supported by wooden posts; the replacement of that year may have had these from the start - see plate II in Steer - though this is not certain. Horsfield (1 p502) describes the earlier arrangements, but is ambiguous on this point. The roof of 1764 has two hipped parts with a small bell-cote in the valley between. The Sharpe Collection drawing (1804) shows the windows as they are today, so they could also date from 1764. The side buttresses are original, but the east ones, built over the plinths and of larger bricks, are clearly C18, as are the triangular ones either side of the west doorway. Elsewhere, the walls themselves beneath the render show signs of repairs in larger bricks. They may have been done piecemeal - the original brickwork has continued to decay, though recent repairs (see below) have interrupted this process.
The inside includes work of most periods since the early C16 and the fittings, plain whitewashed walls and mellow floor tiles look back to the pre-Victorian age – no restoration is known. The roof is now a single span and the eastern part is differentiated only by pierced spandrels under the roofbeam. The posts in the centre of the nave were probably removed in the 1930s and the roof is now supported by hidden steel girders (VCH 9 p151). There is said to have been a further restoration in 1973-74 (Mitchell/Shell Guide p112), although repairs to the brickwork were in progress in 1980, using bricks of the original size (vidi). Further work in 2009 by Carden and Godfrey (responsible architect R Andrews) (Notice in church) included repairs and replacements to the brickwork of the north wall, though the cement render on the south side appears to have been untouched.
Although there are some houses around the church, the main centre of the parish is now at Camber.
Boards: (West wall) C18 or early C19, displaying the Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer.
Coat of arms: (North wall) Sir Richard Guldeford. Carved stone, with traces of paint.
Corbels: (East and side walls) Four early C16 ones, with angels holding shields. The lower two are damaged.
Font: Weathered, square, shallow bowl of Purbeck marble with arcading on two sides and rosettes on a third. It is late C12 and stands on a single modern pedestal of brick, though the underside of the bowl shows that there were originally corner-shafts. It is not known how it came to the church, as it is likely to be at least 300 years older.
1. (Above coat of arms) Poorly preserved early C16 heraldry.
2. (Around east end) Painted frieze of angels. The VCH rather optimistically suggests an ancient origin (ibid), but everything appears to date from around 1900. They were intended as part of a larger scheme, which was stopped by the then vicar (Langdon p210). No artist is known, though the colouring is delicate and they are of some quality, as well as having been well conserved. However, the level of drawing suggests a talented amateur who was well versed in contemporary artistic trends - there would have been no shortage of such people in the Rye area.
Pews: Relatively low box-pews, probably early C19.
Piscina: (South wall) Depressed-head with a cut-back shelf, dating from the building of the church.
Pulpit: Plain two-decker, probably early C19.
Royal Arms: (Over west doorway) Painted panel, George IV.
1. F W Steer: Guide to the Church of St Mary, East Guldeford, (Sussex Churches no 46), 1972
- Category: East Sussex E - G
- Published: 24 March 2008