Sidlesham church is down a short lane off the B2145, Chichester to Selsey road, by some thatched cottages. The current church originates from the early 13th century, however Christianity probably arrived during the Roman era.

The Romans landed in Pagham Harbour in AD 46, where at the time, the area was occupied by the Celtic Regnenses tribe with their chief Cogidubnus. Cogdubnus was confirmed, by the Romans, as the local ruler and took the name Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus; he claimed to be Rex Magnus Britanniae. Sidlesham was part of a client province, of Rome, until the early 5th century.

During the rule of the Roman Emperor, Theodosius (AD 378-395), Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire; so it is likely that the citizens of Sussex would have been largely Christian towards the end of the 4th century. However in the late 5th century, after the departure of the Roman army, the Saxons arrived in Sussex and brought with them their polytheistic religion. The Saxon pagan culture probably caused a reversal of the spread of Christianity.

In AD 691 Saint Wilfred , the exiled Bishop of York came to the area and  is credited with evangilising the locals and founding the church in Sussex, and according to  the Venerable Bede it was the last area of the country to be converted.

The Buildings

St Mary’s church was built in the early 13th century, probably on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The style of the building is early English. As built, the church was cruciform, with a chancel tower, transepts and aisles. The Chancel extended beyond the bounds of the existing east wall. There were two Chantry chapels and, possibly, two aisles built in the 14th century. There was also a vestry to the north of the Chapel area.

 

Plan of St Mary Our Lady

The north chapel and part of the Chancel were allowed to fall into ruin, probably in the early 16th century, but were rebuilt, using much of the original materials, shortly after 1660. During this rebuilding, the east window was moved to the current position, giving the church the unusual T-shape it has now.

The Chancel area is traditionally, the responsibility of the Vicar, the remainder of the building being that of the Church Wardens. It seems possible that, at some time, there was a disagreement about this since, to make it absolutely clear two small stones inscribed, Chancel Boundary, 1814" were inserted in the eastern columns. The niches(or pricinas), adjacent to the Altar, are original and were used for the cleansing of the Holy vessels, after celebration of the Holy Communion. An aumbry has been built into the wall, adjacent to the Altar, to keep the Blessed sacrament.

In the 15th century, the tower was added, complete with a minstrel's gallery; at the same time bells were hung, music for the services would have been provided by a village orchestra, comprising flute, fife, bassoon and fiddle.

 In 1850, a harmonium replaced the orchestra to provide music in the church. 

The current organ is an historic G M Holdich instument, formerly in the chapel of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and brought to Sidlesham through a bequest from a former organist, Mr Fred Stacey. More details can be found on the Music Page.

During the Middle Ages, the nave must have been very dark, as the only light came from the three narrow windows in both the north and south walls and two in the west wall. In 1596, three of these windows were converted to oblong windows. Alongside the new window, on the north wall, the workman could not resist adding, for posterity, his initials! 

The Font, adjacent to this window, is about the same age as the church and is typical of early Sussex work. It was removed from the church, during the Civil War and its weather-beaten and rather battered appearance may be the result of it having been buried during this time. It was re-erected in 1660. There is a drain, from the font, which discharges just above the tiled floor. An Edict requires that the water in the font, which has been blessed, should be collected and cast away outside the church. In the old days, it was suspected that if this action was not taken, the water might be used for witchcraft purposes. 

In the 18th century, side galleries and large box pews were constructed the incisions to support the galleries can be seen, cut into pillars. It seems likely that, to compensate for the reduction of light, led to the villagers subscribing to the splendid brass candelabrum, installed in 1750.

There is an iron screen, dating from 1815, in the north chapel, that is a fine example of the work of Sussex blacksmiths.

Chancel repair Liability (CRL)

CRL is a legally enforceable liability to contribute to the cost of repair of the chancel and is attached to the ownership of particular pieces of land because the land in question originally formed part of a rectory. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, a large amount of such property came into lay ownership and the relevant Acts of Parliament made it clear that the new owners of the land took over the obligation to repair the chancel of the parish church. The Chancel Repairs Act 1932 provided that in future CRL was to be enforceable in the county court and that the responsible authority for enforcing it is the PCC of the parish concerned. After 12th October 2013 the liability can only be claimed if it has been registered with Land Registry and that can be done at any time before the land is next sold.

At St Mary's the PCC's research found that there are 73 plots of land in the parish with CRL attached. We took advice and, given the very small area of St Mary's which constitutes the chancel, the large number of plots of land concerned and the comparatively small amount of liability attached to each plot, the cost of further research and the legal proceedings necessary would exceed the value of any likely claims. We concluded therefore that it did not make economic sense to continue the process to register the liabilities. We also felt that to pursue CRL would be damaging to the goodwill which is shown to St Mary's. As trustees we had to be sure that legally and in the eyes of our insurance company we would not be neglecting our duty in taking this decision. So we then sort the view of the Charity Commission who confirmed our feelings in responding that the Commission considers that the PCC's decision is reasonable in the circumstances being within the range of possible decisions that a reasonable body of trustees could have made. This can be taken as formal advice under section 110 of the Charities Act 2011.'