Wednesday 19 February 2020

Towering Tales

Years ago one of my former students told me the story of when she lived next door to this church- St Mary Magdalene in Rusper, West Sussex. When they were digging the footings for a conservatory in their garden they dug up some human bones.  The appropriate authorities were called in to evaluate the remains. All I remembered from our conversation was that they turned out to be nuns. I filed this little nugget under "might come in useful" one day and found out the backstory several years later.

This church is Victorian, but a much earlier one stood on the same site [only the tower is older]. There was a small Benedictine nunnery nearby, but the deceased nuns and prioress were buried here. As it transpires this was not the first time some of the nuns had been disturbed.....back in 1840 when work was being carried out other skeletons were found. They were reburied at the base of the tower. In 1975 a boy scout fell from the top of the tower. Incredibly he escaped with only a broken arm. It's the local belief that it was the protective spirit of these nuns that protected him and saved his life.

The same afternoon and another local Victorian church. This time I was at All Saints in Roffey [a district of Horsham]. In all my years of living here it's always remained resolutely locked so I grabbed my chance to have a poke around when I realised it was open. Not much to report from my perspective...high churches aren't my taste. However, there's another tower related tale to tell.

As the church was nearing its completion in 1878 a wild swan flew into one of the remaining scaffolding poles on the tower. Sadly it did not survive and fell to the tower base. Strangely though, Mrs Cecil Martyn, who paid for the building of the church, had a swan rising out of a crown as her family crest. This was deemed to be a good sign and some of the bird's feathers were included in the original altar frontal. I have "The West Sussex Village Book" by Tony Wales to thank for this particular gem. There is always a story to be told if you dig deep enough.



  1. You've reminded me of a Suffolk Villages book that was around several years ago - I shall look out for it.

    What I want to know - as an ex Cub Scout Leader - is what the heck was a Scout doing up the tower anyway!

    1. For those of us who survived a 1970s childhood without incident there was no thought of health and safety like today was there! Arilx

  2. That scout was lucky!!!! Poor Swan though! Nice it had a lasting monument as it were though!



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