St Michael’s has been a focus of community life for eight centuries. It has been a place of worship, prayer, inspiration and comfort for many, many thousands of people. The monuments, gravestones, registers and inscriptions record the lives and deaths of a small proportion, mainly from the 17th century. Some of them such as Gideon Mantell and Thomas Paine are still famous but there are many interesting stories to be discovered about people like Sir Nicholas Pelham who are not so well known. For many people the registers held at the Keep (the County Record Office) are the only evidence of their lives.
John de Warenne
A memorial brass showing a headless knight in armour with a lion at his feet, situated behind the font, dates from c1430. The shield in the top left corner suggests it is John de Warenne, a descendant of the William de Warenne who built the castle and founded, together with his wife Gundrada, the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras in Southover, Lewes.
Here lieth Master John Braydforde, formerly Rector of this church, who died the 9th day of the month of May A.D. 1457, on whose soul God have mercy.
..HIS BRAVE EXPLOIT IN GREAT KING HENRY’S DAYES
AMONG THE WORTHYES HATH A WORTHIER TOOMBE;
WHAT TIME THE FRENCH SOUGHT TO HAVE SACK’T SEAFOORD
THIS PELHAM DID REPEL THEM BACK ABOORD…
Mantell (1790-1853) was a local doctor who lived in the High Street, at Castle Place, close to the church. He was also an amateur geologist and is well known for having uncovered the fossilised skeleton of an iguanodon, identified as a ‘dinosaur’ for the first time, from a site in the Tilgate Forest north of Lewes. The ‘bones’ are now in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London.
Harry Phillips (1911-76) sculpted the figure of St Michael the Archangel on the tower in 1976. He was at that time a member of the congregation and had been Head of the School of Sculpture and Pottery at Leeds College of Art. He inspired Mark Knopfler to write the song “In the Gallery,” from the debut Dire Straits album.
His sons described him thus: ‘He was a fine sculptor who found himself out of step with the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. He had a great deal of respect for artisans and craftsmen who could actually make wonderful things with their own hands.’