The foundations of this church were laid over 900 years ago when a Norman baron, Ralph de Chesne, ordered it to be built and provided land to support it in about 1090. The church was dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch, who was honoured in the Eastern church from an early date and from the 7th century in the west. She is believed to have been martyred in during the Diocletion persecution but nothing about her is known for certain. This original dedication was lost for many years but rediscovered in 1927 when a 13th century document came to light. The document granted land to Sir Amfrey, Rector of the "Church of St Margaret of Hotleghe."
The church is built of local sandstone, and was originally roofed by Horsham stone, now clay tiles apart from a few courses along the south aisle. The spire on the 15th century tower was re-shingled with Canadian red cedar in 1959. The tower contains six bells which date from about 1550 to 1937. The latest one commemorates George V and has the inscription
"Here am I set on high
by the folk of West Hoathly."
The appearance of the church has changed considerably over the centuries as it evolved from the original rectangular building with an apse or square east end. In the north wall there are six different windows and a door. On the south side there stands the chapel with the aisle extending the length of the nave. On the window jambs beside the porch are two mass dials which have lost their gnomens or pointers and they are now eroded by time and weather. As simple sundials they indicated the time for services before a clock was installed.
Here are two views of the nave, one looking east into the chancel, the other west to the organ on its gallery.
Here are the font and the pipe organ which was built by W M Hill & Son and installed for Easter 1899. It has two keyboards and eight ranks of sounding pipes. The simple form of the font suggest a date of the late 12th century. It is made unusually enough of paludina limestone, sometimes called Sussex marble or winklestone. The consolidated snail shells, which are visible, became petrified when the Weald was under a marsh and water. The columns supporting the font were restored using Purbeck marble. Font covers were often locked to prevent the consecrated water from being purloined for superstitious or curative purposes.
The ancient clock mechanism was displayed under the organ when the tower clock was electrified. The clock likely dates from soon after 1660, as pendulums were developed in 1657 and it has square decorative finials which are a common feature after 1600.
This huge old chest, carved from a single tree trunk resides at the west end of the south aisle, behind the font. For many years this was the parish chest and could date from the reign of Henry II in the 12th century or King John in the 13th century. In 1287 the Synod of Exeter ordered each church to have a chest for books and vestments. The chest would also have held alms for the poor and for the crusades. Three locks became obligatory in the 16th century, separate keys being held by the vicar and two churchwardens. This one has lost its lid but the key holes are still there.
Two iron grave memorials have been mounted on the south wall of the chapel. They commemorate Richard Infield and his son, of Gravetye, where they ran a profitable ironworks. The cast iron slabs were made by pouring the molten metal into sand moulds. The lettering was first carved in wood and then pressed into the damp sand.
For a time the grave slabs served as "stepping stones into the tower," but were resited in the 20th century.
The three light east window of the chancel is of Christ in majesty with heaven and the angels above and the earth beneath his feet. It is shown in the photograph below. At the top left of the window stand the saints, including St Peter bearing the enormous key to the gates of heaven. On the right are a bishop, a king and a learned divine. Amongst the figures below, St Catherine is shown on the right with the wheel, symbol of her martyrdom. In the centre are the traditional emblems for the authors of the gospels; a man for Matthew, lion for Mark, eagle for John and bull for Luke.
The colours of the window are very striking and follow the tradition of illustrated medieval texts whereby the colours should be used in equal quantity and even distribution. The design is by Clayton & Bell, and is popular as there are versions in other places. The inscription reads "To the Glory of God and in affectionate remembrance of John Blake Kirby, barrister-at-law, who died at Highbrook in this parish, September 1858. This window was erected by Frances Sarah, his wife."
The stone window frame was copied from one in the Chapel when repairs were made in the 19th century. It replaced a square headed one which can be seen in early photographs, and which itself replaced a medieval window.
The two light window above is in the south wall of the chapel. This is from the same studio as the east window in the chancel, Clayton & Bell, but in this example the colours are rather more subdued. At the top an angel and its wings fill the quatrefoil and it sings "Holy, holy, holy." Beneath on the left is the Pharisee from the parable in St Luke chapter 18, and on the right the humble publican. Below are angels carrying legends and a border of daisies but no inscription. This window, along with its neighbour (not shown) was probably given my Mr Stephenson Clarke of Brook House in 1891. A brass memorial to him is fixed to the wall beneath the two windows.
The window below, opposite the entrance to the church, is a design by Douglas Strachan, whose expressionist work may also be seen at Winchelsea, West Sussex and St Paul's, Woldingham, Surrey.
The artist's conception of this window is displayed on the wall beneath and begins: "My thoughts first fixed on Psalms 24 and 121 with the hills as a symbol of permanence. That I thought was the spirit of hope.....".
The design portrays the Heavenly Host soaring upwards; angels with trumpets and riders on horses resemble changing cloud patterns. The warrior minstrel in the centre is flanked on the left by a knight on his white charger and on the right by toilers in the field. There are hills and mountains in the background. Strong vertical lines carry the eye upwards.
The wording at the base reads: "To the Glory of God and in proud and loving memory of Kenneth Wyndham Arbuthnot, Major, 2nd. Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, who fell at the Battle of Ypres on 25th April 1915. This window is erected by his wife, children, brothers and sisters."
The 15th century window frame may have been repaired as some of the stone on the exterior has little sign of weathering.
High in the wall at the west end of the south transept is an unusual quatrefoil window with a design in blues and white, its origin is presently unknown. The fragile glass is now protected by a plastic sheet mounted on either side, which also enhances the colours. The cross surrounded by fleur-de-lys is an unusual composition, however the strong blues were often employed from the 1840s onwards. The stone quatrefoil was mounted within the frame of an earlier window which is no longer visible outside. At such a high level, it is though by some this may suggest that it once lit an upper room for the priest?
The second picture shows the arch high in the south wall of the nave that once gave access to the now vanished rood screen and loft. This was rediscovered in 1870.
In the south wall of the chancel are the piscina and three seater sedilia.
The two windows below are in the north wall of the chancel. The larger is an example of "plate" or flat tracery, with no carving of the stone roundel above the lancets. This and its neighbour are now filled with pale green glass arranged in a simple geometric pattern. The decoration on the reveals was made during the Victorian restoration, with a wax finish and may have been an attempt to reproduce the faint remnants of medieval work just visible on the side of the blocked window opposite. The two window frames were made in the 13th century, when additional light was required for the extended chancel. The elegant columns and capital are similar to those in the sedilia above.
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