by Andy Sayers
An historic Lewes church is battling the elements this winter to make essential repairs before the worst of the weather hits. Find out how you can help.
St Thomas à Becket is the parish church of the Cliffe, once its own province but now part of the county town of East Sussex. The building is said to have been erected by direct order of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a chapel of the ease of the college of Malling.
Sitting at the bottom of Cliffe High Street, St Thomas is a focal point in the community. Thanks to Phase One of a £60,000 restoration project its historic clock is chiming once again. A 17th century mechanism, attributed to Ditchling blacksmith James Looker in 1671, it was painstakingly restored by the world’s oldest clockmakers, who reside in Rottingdean, famed for maintenance of the famous clock at the Palace of Westminster.
“To have the clock chiming again is magnificent,” says Trevor Butler, Churchwarden at St Thomas à Becket. “Without this timely intervention the entire mechanism was in danger of seizing completely.”
Also completed is restoration work on the church’s west window, commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, with new stonework and repaired stained-glass. “This was essential work as parts of the windows might have fallen and could have injured passers-by,” adds Trevor.
The church has raised some £40,000 of its target but still has more work which needs to be done, not least eradication of a death-watch beetle infestation in the south aisle which is threatening the roof structure. “We also have a leak in the roof over the remembrance altar,” explains Trevor. “Every time it rains, water runs down the walls and we end up with a puddle. If it’s not dealt with, it will only get worse once the trapped rain freezes and the split gets bigger.”
Everyone has rallied round to support the church, including the town’s MP and Lewes’ mayor. “We’ve received help from so many quarters, and are extremely grateful”, says Trevor. “Grants from the Cliffe Feoffees, Chalkhill Trust, and Alan Evans Memorial Trust were enormously welcome, as were the countless number of individual donations and invaluable support from many quarters including local businesses.”
The church has been holding a series of fundraising activates, including coffee mornings, a summer fair, successful harvest flower festival and a Christmas Fair on 3rd December in Cliffe Hall. “We just need to pull out all the stops now to find the final £20,000 to complete the work to this historically important and Listed building, to preserve it for future generations.”
If you’d like to help, visit the church’s website, st-thomas-lewes.org.uk where you can find details of how to support and donate.