St Clements, Old Town Hastings

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The site in the north east part of the Old Town was acquired in 1286 after an earlier church had been destroyed by the sea The replacement was destroyed in the raid of 1377 and nothing remains – unless it is some rough masonry in the north wall. The church has much in common with All Saints, also rebuilt after the raid.  However, perhaps because as the Borough church it had certain civic purposes, this was rebuilt quicker.  Aisles and nave are of equal height.  This was late C13 and thus contemporary with the previous church here, which, conceivably, was also a hall church. Because of the line of the street, the west wall of the north aisle is diagonal with a tower at the west end of the south aisle.  Lower and squatter than at All Saints, this has flint and stone chequerwork in the walls and south and west windows with panelled tracery.  The larger west one has four lights and a transom and appears correct in form, though renewed – Nibbs shows it blocked with a smaller one inserted.  The doorway has a square hoodmould with shields in the spandrels.  The short belfry stage has double openings, battlements and a tiled cap.  Inside is a star-vault, as at All Saints, which may be renewed.  It is the simpler and probably the earlier of the two, but taken with the shafts on the rere-arch of the south window, the elaboration of this area suggests that it had a special function.

The big aisle windows with panelled tracery are mostly renewed but accurate – this includes the unusually elongated heads; the shafted rere-arches look original.  As nave and aisles are the same height, the interior proportions are low and there is no chancel arch to interrupt the arcades – the west bay of the north one is narrower because of the diagonal west wall.  Piers of four hollows and four shafts are late C14 in form.  They are not all opposite each other and the tower arches in the west bay of the south aisle are taller and more massive.  They are like the arcades, but the north one has foliage at the top of the hollows of the piers.  A recess in the west wall of the nave may indicate a doorway, but there is no trace outside.

The aisles extend eastwards as chapels and only a cinquefoiled lowside to the north and canopied niches each side mark the start of the two-bay chancel.  Late C15 alterations to the chancel are likely, for the windows, still with panelled tracery, are four-centred with a string-course linking the sills.  Because of the fall in the ground, there is a sacristy beneath with a groined vault, reached by a stair to the north.
Between the C16 and the early C19 the church was kept in good repair, despite a bombardment by the French in 1690 which probably led to the removal of tracery from the windows.  Some windows were partially blocked, though the openings were unaffected, and the stone was said to be very weathered .  The chancel roof had been painted in 1721 with ‘a variety of beautiful female figures, the representatives of the virtues’ by R Mortimer, the ‘Salvator Rosa of Sussex’ .

As with All Saints, W Butterfield restored the church between 1872 and 1876).  However, as at that church, there was some earlier work – in c1851 new south windows and a porch, replaced at a cost of nearly £300.  Work at this time also included some attention to the tower and ‘Mr Carpenter of Hastings’ replaced the east window in 1856.    Butterfield replaced the roofs and most fittings and rebuilt the south porch along the old lines.  The interior was dark until bombs in 1943 blew out the stained glass (not apparently of any great distinction except one window by H Holiday of 1915. [Information thanks to Sussex Parish Churches web site]

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