The Church Building and Churchyard
Fairwarp Christ Church has an unusual history. The original church – a simple, barn-like structure of local stone, now the nave – was built in 1880 at a cost of £2,000 and consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester in 1881. It was to act as a ‘chapel of ease’ for those in the Duddleswell and Fairwarp areas. Parishioners here who lived some miles from their parish church at Maresfield might otherwise have been unable to attend church.
Fairwarp along with Duddleswell became the new parish of Fairwarp in 1901, which meant that a dedicated vicar was now able to minister to the village communities. The church building itself changed dramatically in the 1930s. The family of Sir Bernard Eckstein, Bt. had come to this country after the First World War from South Africa, where they had acquired significant wealth through the diamond mining industry. They had taken up residence in Oldlands Hall, Fairwarp, and in 1935 Sir Bernard was instrumental in driving through major changes to both the internal and external appearance of the church.
Sir Bernard’s generosity funded a tower with a fine peal of bells, an extension of the chancel to the East, a transept and vestry area, and vaulting to the nave. The remodelled church was dedicated by the bishop of Chichester on July 18th 1936; and the church today remains much as it was then.
The major feature of the building is the chancel, which has no East windows, the ‘blind’ East end behind the high altar being hung with a powerful envisioning by the South Devon weaver Vanessa Robertson of ‘Christ Ascending over the Forest’. This ‘dossal’ or hanging was hung in 1986, replacing an earlier one; it has a powerful impact on the building as a whole.
The choir stalls and spacious chancel give a traditional dignity to what is, after all, a fairly recent church building. Pews and choir stalls are constructed of well-carved light oak; the floor is laid with travertine marble; and there is a feeling of quiet order to the whole building. A nave altar, donated in 1985, means that the Eucharist can be celebrated with the priest facing the congregation – the dominant liturgical style since the 1970s.
The churchyard is sheltered by the surrounding trees of the Ashdown Forest, and is still used for burials and for the interment of ashes in the garden of remembrance. Most of the grave monuments are modest, and many graves have no headstone; but on the North side of the church there are three large and impressive monuments to the Eckstein family created by Sir William Reid Dick. The most poignant is the bronze statue of young Hermione Beatrice Eckstein.
Churchyard maintenance is often a particular issue for country churches. Here, the wider community through the Fairwarp Community Society have Spring and Autumn working parties which ensure that the churchyard is in good order throughout the year.