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Listed Building
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Ordnance survey map of CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Sussex
Wealden (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 49969 23494

Reasons for Designation

Yes, list




II Parish church, 1886 by Scott and Company. Later alterations.

MATERIALS: Flint with Bath stone dressings; tiled roof; and shingled spire. Flint is not naturally found in Buxted but was frequently used in churches on the South Downs to the west, and thus St Mary's has a distinctive appearance in this locale.

PLAN: Seven-bay continuous nave and chancel, with the Walsingham Chapel on the south side, a porch and vestry on the north. The principal entrance is set at the base of the tower, approached by a flight of stone steps.

EXTERIOR: Late Gothic in style, the church has the appearance of a medieval Sussex church. All elevations have Bath stone dripmoulds at ground and clerestorey level. The tower has simple trefoil-enriched single-light windows at the lower level and two-light louvered mullion belfry openings in its upper stage. The west elevation, framed by two angle buttresses with Bath stone quoins, is dominated by a large seven-light west window with rectilinear tracery. The north elevation has seven single lights at clerestory level (the eastern two are no longer visible, due to the 1956 vestry extension). The vestry is also of flint with stone dressings, with a two-light mullion and transom window to the west and a porch on the northern elevation. The blank east wall of the vestry is of red brick, indicating that it was built to be extended. The east wall of the main church is blind, and beyond it is an area which was left free for an unrealised further expansion of the church. As with the west front, the apex is surmounted by a stone Celtic cross finial. The eastern end of the Walsingham Chapel has a simple two-light mullioned window and a southern diagonal buttress. The apex of the chapel roof has a chimney stack disguised as a finial stack, with relief crosses and a coped top. The south elevation has four single lancet windows at clerestory level and, to the west, the tower with its southern stair turret under a pitched roof.

Below the west window is a carved wooden Calvary consisting of a crucifix with the Virgin and St John. This was made by the Art and Book Company of Westminster and was erected in 1921 to commemorate those of the parish who fell in the First World War.

INTERIOR: The church has a plain interior, painted white, although it is apparent in a few places that the walls originally had stencilled decoration, with wall paintings in the chancel. A pointed-arched arcade runs between the nave and aisle. The two-bay chancel and five-bay nave share a timber barrel roof. The church did not contain pews originally, but wooden chairs, and the current seating is modern. The altar is mounted on a single step at the east end of the nave with a crucifix hanging from the ceiling over.

FIXTURES & FITTINGS: Notable fixtures and fittings include: * Stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe of various dates, including the Annunciation in the south chapel east window (1896); the Nativity, St Elizabeth with John the Baptist, and the Good Shepherd in the south chapel south windows (1909); and St Agnes and St John the Evangelist in the north aisle (1920 and 1921 respectively) * A Victorian pulpit in English oak and a lectern * An octagonal stone font decorated with quatrefoils under the west window * The rood screen to the Walsingham Chapel, which is original to the church * A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, standing in the Walsingham Chapel, carved in Oberammergau, Bavaria, painted in Walsingham and dedicated on 18 December 1932.

HISTORY: St Mary the Virgin Church was erected and endowed by the Reverend Father Arthur Douglas Wagner (1824-1902) and consecrated on 11 June 1887. The architects were Scott and Company, a Brighton-based firm founded by Edmund Evan Scott (1828-1895), from whom Wagner had commissioned other churches. Scott's partner Frank Thomas Cawthorn (1856-1921) is likely to have taken the lead on the design.

Wagner was ordained deacon in 1848 and priest in 1849, serving as curate to his father, who between 1846 and 1849 built the new church of St Paul at Brighton. Designed by R C Carpenter, St Paul's was the first church in Brighton at which Tractarian ritual (including the use of vestments and incense) was adopted. When the church acquired a parish in 1873, Wagner Jnr became its first vicar, a position he retained until the end of his life. Wagner continued the work begun by his father by founding a sisterhood in connection with St Paul's in 1855, the Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Wagner was a wealthy man and also built four new churches in Brighton: St Mary Magdalene (1862, demolished), the Annunciation (1864, listed Grade II), St Bartholomew (1874, also by E E Scott and listed Grade I) and St Martin (1875, listed Grade II*).

In 1873, Wagner leased Totease House in Buxted as a holiday home; when not in use, it served as a retreat for the Blessed Virgin Mary sisters. Wagner later built a house for himself at Buxted, complete with a chapel which was shared with the sisters. By the mid-C19, hastened by the arrival of the railway in 1868, the pattern of settlement in the village had shifted eastwards away from the medieval parish church of St Margaret (listed at Grade I). In 1883, therefore, Wagner endowed a new church for the village; the foundation stone was laid on 27 January 1885 and on 12 March 1885 the schoolroom was opened, which operated as a temporary worship space until the church was completed.

Edmund Evan Scott of Brighton (1828-1895) is best known as the designer of St Bartholomew's Church in that town (Grade I, 1872-4). Scott worked in partnership with a number of local architects, including Frank Thomas Cawthorn (1856-1921), who continued the practice after Scott's death. In addition to this church, Cawthorn is credited as the designer of St Agnes, Hove (1903, disused and unlisted) and St Saviour, Brighton (1885-1900, as Scott and Co, now demolished).

The stained glass in the church is by Charles Eamer Kempe and Co, and is of various dates, from 1896 until 1921. Kempe (1837-1907) was also a major figure in the C19 Anglo-Catholic movement. Prevented from his taking holy orders by a severe stammer, he devoted his religious fervour to the cause of ecclesiastical art, training with G F Bodley, a leading figure in the later phase of the Gothic revival in architecture. He studied briefly in the major stained-glass studios of Clayton and Bell, and in 1866 set up his own business. Kempe's early work was inspired by C15 English glass but by 1880 he was turning to German models, and as business increased (he is believed to have employed as many as 100 men) his work became more standardised.

St Mary's was designed to promote Anglo-Catholic worship and the screen in the Lady Chapel, known as the Walsingham Chapel, was positioned so that the dimensions of the chapel replicated those of the medieval Holy House at Walsingham; the latter was itself modelled on the Holy House at Nazareth,considered traditionally to have been the scene of the Annunciation. The Walsingham Chapel at St Mary's became the first restored post-Reformation Walsingham shrine (the medieval house having been destroyed in the C16) and was the precursor of the revival of devotion to our Lady of Walsingham in England. Aside from the proportions of the chapel, established when the church was built, the connection between Buxted and Walsingham does not seem to have been much celebrated by Wagner or his successors until, in the 1930s, Walsingham became a popular place of pilgrimage for Anglo-Catholics. This generated new activity at St Mary's and a statue of Our Lady, identical to one at Walsingham, was dedicated in 1932.

The chapel screen was removed, thus modifying the chapel's sacred proportions, when various alterations and additions were made to the east end of the church and the vestry in 1952 (the screen was stored in the church hall before it was later reinstated). Despite this, in 1964 the Buildings of England volume for East Sussex still described St Mary's as 'lavishly furnished'; later in that decade, however, many interior features were removed including an altarpiece by GF Bodley.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: St Mary the Virgin Church is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a handsome and well-detailed late-Victorian church constructed of flint with a prominent south-western tower * Historic associations: sponsored by Arthur Douglas Wagner, a prominent Anglo-Catholic churchman of the second half of the C19


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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