St Mary Magdalene, West Lavington

west lavington2Though almost in Midhurst, West Lavington belonged to the parish of East Lavington, the seat of the Wilberforces, where Henry Manning was rector, until it became a separate parish in 1851 (VCH 4 p65).  Manning’s curate Charles Laprimaudaye gave most of the money for the church, though he had gone over to Rome before it was finished in 1850 and Manning preached his last sermon here before he followed.  The architect, W Butterfield (BN 44 p491), sympathised with the high church party, but remained an Anglican.  The site was a rabbit warren, which was terraced for its new purpose (1 p69).  Among the graves near the south east corner of the chancel is a simple stone to Richard Cobden (d1865), the great free trader, who was born at Heyshott.  His associate John Bright and Gladstone attended the funeral (ibid).

Butterfield placed the church at the top of the churchyard, which, though small, it dominates.  Built of stone, it consists of an aisled nave and chancel, with a shingled belfry in the local idiom.  The length of the chancel at this date reveals the high church sympathies of all concerned.  Butterfield takes the gothic of c1300 as his departure, but uses conventional forms in his own way, for example the abnormally tall and narrow intersecting tracery of the west window or the elongated quatrefoil at the apex of the tracery of the east window, which contrasts with the normally proportioned ones beneath.

The interior contains some of the best detail and finest fittings of Butterfield’s early career, though the walls were misguidedly repainted in pastel shades and most of the screen of marble, said to be from Sussex, was removed in 1968 (VSA 1968-69 p22).  The internal proportions are unexpectedly tall with a broad chancel arch and complex roof timbers.  Both arcades have a western bay with double-chamfered heads dying into the responds and two further bays with octagonal piers and leaf capitals.  The carving throughout is remarkable.  That on the arcades includes head- and foliage-stops and large corbels with foliage on the east responds; that on the south side, carved with fern leaves, is especially fine.  The culmination is the even larger and more ornate conical corbels, resting on narrow shafts, on the chancel arch of grey-green marble, which was intended to harmonise with the screen. The foliage is more stylised here and derives from C13 examples at Teversham, Cambridgeshire, which Butterfield is known to have sketched (Thompson p456).

In 2008 the Church Council initiated a proposal to declare the church redundant, because its structural condition made major and expensive repairs unavoidable.   This took effect the following year when the church was closed and the parish joined to Cocking.

Inside the church is a war memorial to those from the village who fell in the two world wars.