The church and its rectory was founded by Gilbert d'Aquila, a wealthy baron owning a third of Sussex, in 1229. The baron also built the nearby Michelham Priory, whose clergy were responsible for the daily masses at Laughton. The priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536.
In 1466, and for the next five hundred years, successive members of the Pelham family were Lords of the Manor of Laughton, adding many fine features to the church. In the fifteenth century they had the tower erected and improved some of the windows in the nave, and in the eighteenth century they rebuilt the chancel. Under the chancel is the Pelham family vault where there are 31 coffins, including those of two prime ministers and three Earls of Chichester.
Other benefactors to the church include members of the Shoosmith family who donated three of the church bells and served as churchwardens from 1694 to 1924. In 1883 the Victorians removed the Georgian musicians' gallery, the box pews and the three-decker pulpit, re-floored the nave, replaced the stone roof with slate and provided a new pipe organ. In front of the now blocked north door an impressive war memorial was erected in 1921 in honour of the eighteen Laughton men killed in the Great War.The striking war memorial in the nave was dedicated in 1921. Sculpted in Italy of Carrara marble, it was paid for in Italian lira to take advantage of the exchange rate at the time. Four names were added following World War II. A tablet on the same wall records the death of five people killed by a flying bomb in Shortgate.
The font is situated by the south door, the pipe organ on the north wall of the chancel.
Here is the nave looking east. The chancel arch is slightly off centre towards the south, however the east window appears to have been aligned with the aisle of the nave. The nave is the oldest part of the building and is in the Early English style, that is 13th century. There are still two of the simple lancet windows characteristic of the period remaining, one in the south wall and one in the north; the other windows in the nave are Perpendicular. From the external stonework, it appears that the nave roof has been raised from its original position. The roof is of single frame construction with tie beams and king posts supporting the ridge. Some of the medieval timber used still remains.
Inside the church, on the north wall at the east end of the nave can be seen an aumbry, a recess to hold sacred vessels for the Mass, and a piscina, a stone basin with a drainage hole where water used at Mass is poured away. There is another piscina on the south wall opposite. These probably indicate the existence of side altars in medieval times. One of these might have been the 'altar of St. Michael, at which requiem masses for William Pelham were to be said according to his will. William Pelham, who died in 1503, and Thomas Pelham, who died in 1516 and is buried in the church, left money for the poor, for various goods to be given to Laughton church, and for a priest to be employed for seven years to sing for their souls.
Here are two views looking west, the first from the chancel and then a closer view of the fabulous tower arch. The chancel arch is Early English and traces can be seen on its soffit where the rood screen divided nave from chancel. The chancel arch is set off-centre to the nave, symbolic of the declination of Christ's head on the Cross. Above the chancel arch are the painted arms of George III.
The window depicting the Parable of the Sower, below, in the south wall of the nave, was "Erected by Georgina E Terry in memory of her beloved dather Sir James Duke, Bart. who died 28th May 1873 aged 81 years and of her brother Sir James Duke who died 3rd July 1935 aged 70 years." The glass in the lancet window, depicting Christ with hand raised ("I go to prepare a place for you") carries the inscription "In memory of my dear husband Sir James Duke Baronet, J.A.I."
The window in the south wall of the chancel ("Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life") carries glass with a brass plaque below it inscribed :"This window was placed to the glory of God an in grateful memory of Henry Thomas, Earl of Chichester, Lord Lieut. of Sussex by thirty tenants on his estate, August 1886."
The east window ("Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life") is in memory of Thomas 2nd Earl of Chichester who died in 1826 and Mary his wife who died in 1862, together with other family members. The window of the original chancel was removed during the rebuilding of 1765 and is now at Fontwell Manor, Waldron.
The west door at the base of the tower has some nice stone moulding. The tower is Perpendicular and has the Pelham buckle carved on the label stops on this projecting moulding. The two shields in the spandrels are now unreadable; the left one had the three pelicans of the Pelham arms, the right shield bore the Colbrond arms of a fesse.
The north door is blocked.
Trees obscure the view of the tower from the west. The two buttresses at the west end are not quite symmetrical. They may have been later additions to enable the tower to take the weight of the bells. The tower contains a ring of six bells. A sacring bell was provided by William Pelham's bequest in 1503 but this would have hung inside the church. When the tower first had bells installed is unknown but in 1686 it was reported that 'all things are in good order'. Five bells were cast, or more probably recast from the original bell metal, for the church in 1724 by John Waylett. He was an itinerant bell founder and would have cast the bells locally. Two of these bells were subsequently recast. The bells are hung in a cast iron side frame.
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