The history of St Margaret’s Church

The History of St Margaret’s Church

The ancient parish of Ifield covered about 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of rural land in the north of Sussex, up to the border with Surrey. It was attached to the priory at nearby Rusper by the mid-13th century. The church was built in the centre of the small settlement of Ifield, which was recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086.The present stone building is believed to stand on the site of an older wooden church—possibly dating from the 10th or 11th century.

St Margaret's Church, Ifield

By the 13th century, the church had a stone-built nave and chancel; the latter survives in the present building, as does a 12th-century font which was probably taken from the building in place at that time. A chancel arch was inserted between the nave and chancel in about 1300. The dedication to Saint Margaret is later: it was first recorded in 1489.

Aisles were added to the nave in the 14th century, first on the north side and then on the south, doubling the seating capacity. More windows were also installed in the nave. A century later, a timber porch was built on the north side, the chancel arch was widened and a rood screen was installed, a standard feature of churches in the medieval era, as were wall decoration and paintings. Ecclesiastical feeling moved in favour of austere, whitewashed walls, screens and pillars by the 17th century, and Parliament decreed these changes in the 1640s. The vicar of Ifield, Reverend Robert Goddin, was a strict Protestant who was strongly opposed to Catholic-style worship, ceremony and church decoration, and he enforced the new style rigorously. The rood screen and all internal decoration were removed at this time.

 The next major work took place in 1760, when a gallery was built for the choir and the pews were replaced with large box-pews taken from St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (the parish church of the Palace of Westminster in London).  More restoration took place in 1785. In 1847, the roof was improved and a vestry was built, incorporating wood from one of Crawley’s famous old trees, the “County Oak”, which had been cut down at that time. (The tree marked the ancient county boundary between Sussex and Surrey.) A barrel organ was installed in 1850. Between 1883 and 1884, architect and archaeologist Somers Clarke and fellow architect J. T. Micklethwait  built a tall, substantial tower at the west end to replace an earlier small tower over the porch (which had itself replaced the much older bell turret); lengthened the nave; and removed a gallery at the west end of the church.

The exterior walls are of rough-hewn stone, but this has been hidden under modern layers of cement. The church is approached from the east through a Lychgate at the churchyard entrance, at the end of Ifield Street, the ancient village street.