St Nicholas, Icklesham, Sussex

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Feature Sets (3)


The 12thc. sculptural decoration of Icklesham belongs to three different building campaigns. The N tower and side aisles were added to an existing nave in the early 12thc., while the present nave arcades and the ground-chamber rib-vault of the tower were built at different times during the second half of the century. The N and S chapels are ofc.1200, and the Decorated-style chancel of the early-14thc. The church was restored by S. S. Teulon in 1848-49.


Icklesham was not mentioned in DS, and there is no evidence that a church existed before the early 12thc. Icklesham is thought to have been one of seven fees held by Humfrey de Wilicheres of the Count of Eu in 1166, but must soon afterwards have passed into the hands of Robert of Icklesham who gave 60 acres of land there to the Cistercian Abbey of Robertsbridge. Robert's son Ralph was alive in 1195, and the present nave arcades must have been constructed during the time of either father or son. Possible patrons of the earlier campaigns cannot be suggested.


Exterior Features


N tower

The third, or bell-stage of the N tower is lit by twin bell-openings on all four sides. Those to E, W and N incorporate carved capitals, while that on the S is undecorated.

E bell-opening

Of one order. The coursed central shaft supports a renewed double-scallop capital with triangular projections between the cones; the engaged semi-columnar responds carry renewed capitals with two scallops on the main face, again with triangular projections separating the cones, and a single scallop on each side. The capitals support a renewed monolithic double-arcuated lintel set within a semi-circular arch.

N bell-opening

Of two orders.

First order: the central shaft supports a worn double-scallop capital with triangular projections between the cones; the engaged semi-columnar responds carry renewed capitals with two scallops on the main face, their cones separated by triangular projections, and a single scallop on each side. The capitals support a monolithic double-arcuated lintel.

Second order: two plain, engaged nook shafts with very worn double-scallop capitals carry a round-headed arch with a plain roll.

W bell-opening

As 2(i) above.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arch

N aisle, E bay

The round-headed arch separating E bay of N aisle from N tower is supported by two fat semi-columnar responds which carry irregular multi-scallop capitals, indented to correspond to the two-order arch above. The central element of the N capital, five scallops long and one deep, carries the plain, rectangular inner order, while the lateral elements, one scallop long and two deep, carry a plain, rectangular arch on the E face and a nook roll on the W. The central element of the otherwise similar S capital is four scallops long. The majority of the cones of both capitals are separated by triangular projections which vary considerably in detail. Modern tooling reveals that both capitals have been scraped. The chamfered label on the W face of the arch is decorated with nailhead.

Transept arches

S aisle, E bay

The soffit roll of the round-headed arch separating the E bay of S aisle from S chapel is carried by engaged half-columns with carved capitals. Both capitals have pronounced bells and broad, fluted leaves issuing large, spherical angle volutes. The centre of the main face of the N capital is carved with fruit emerging from two symmetrical, semi-unfurled leaves. The shallowly fluted leaves of the S capital terminate with four rounded tips in the centre of the main face. The attic bases have waterleaf spurs.



N arcade

E respond: The E respond capital is carved with a row of schematized trees (round, palmette or spade-shaped forms on stems) in fluted, round-headed compartments. It includes modern insertions.

Pier 1: The capital of pier 1 is carved with a worn row of salient triangles surmounted by a single row of fluted leaves. Some of the triangles retain traces of incisions along their edges.

Pier 2: Pier 2 is a round multi-scallop capital with a palmette on each shield and a V-shaped sheath on each cone.

W respond: The W respond capital is a semi-circular multi-scallop capital with a V-shaped sheath on each cone.

S arcade

E respond: The semi-circular E respond capital is carved with a continuous row of spade-shaped leaves enclosing smaller almond-shaped leaves and connected by loops at the bases of their stems. The triangular spaces between the tips of the leaves are filled by concave leaves with rounded tips.

Pier 1: The pier capital is carved with a row of triangles surmounted by two overlapping tiers of slightly concave leaves with round tips. The triangles and the lower tier of leaves have incisions along their edges.

Pier 2: The capital of pier 2 is carved with three superimposed tiers of fluted leaves. The leaves of the upper two tiers overlap, creating a row of hollow triangular cells and wedge shapes.

W respond: The W respond capital is carved with a row of approximately lozenge-shaped compartments which can be read as the superposition of two meanders or as the meeting of a lower band of zigzag with an upper band of salient cusping.

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Ground floor chamber, N tower

In the NE and SE angles triple shafts with water-leaf capitals carry the formerets and ribs. In the SW and NW angles the ribs are received by corbels carved with grinning animal heads, while the W ends of the N and S formerets are received by double-scallop capitals which appear to have been carved on three faces. There is no W formeret.

Interior Decoration

String courses

Ground floor chamber, N tower

String course below N window in ground chamber N tower, partially incised with lozenges.


The neo-Norman N doorway of the N tower must be ignored, as it replaced a simple wooden door-frame 1847-1852, when the church was restored under the supervision of S S Teulon. The E, W and N bell openings and interior W arch of the tower, all incorporating scallop capitals with projections between the cones, belong to the initial tower campaign, datable to the second quarter of the 12thc. The rib vault of the ground-floor chamber of the N tower was inserted in the second half of the 12thc. The corbels and scallop capitals carrying the formerets and ribs in the NW and SW angles of the bay were probably reused from the initial tower campaign as the scallop capitals, with astragals too large for the shafts which now support them and possibly carved on three sides, have the same form as those on the twin bell openings. The original location of these pieces is difficult to establish, but the capitals may have come from the blocked S bell opening. The waterleaf capitals carrying the ribs and formerets in the NE and SE angles of the bay, however, were carved expressly for the rib vault, and are so similar to capitals in the chancel of Bishopstone that the same team of masons must have been involved. While most traces of medieval painting would have disappeared from the sculpture when whitewash was removed from the interior of Icklesham in the mid-19thc., Churton noted `traces of blue colouring' on the waterleaf capitals in 1882. The nave arcades were built slightly later than the rib vault and are of a type found elsewhere in Sussex, (for example at Bexhill and Steyning). The Icklesham arcade is closest to Bexhill, and was possibly carved by the same workshop,c.1160-75, slightly before Steyning. That the capitals of the arch leading from the S aisle into the S chapel belong to the same campaign as the nave arcades is suggested by details such as fluted leaves with rounded tips, although the voluted form of the capitals already announces those employed in the arcading of the chapels and chancel,c.1200. All of the sculpture appears to be carved from Caen stone (Livett,p.50)


  • Victoria County History: Sussex. 9 (Rape and Honour of Hastings). 1937, 187-89.
  • Anon., The History of Icklesham Parish Church, 1947 or later.
  • Dr G. Barr, The History of Icklesham Parish Church.
  • J.C. Poole (ed), All Saints Church Icklesham, Sussex, 1964, (2nd reprint 1982), Rye.
  • G.M. Livett, `Three East Sussex Churches Battle, Peasmarsh, Icklesham. A Study of Their Architecture; Part III, Icklesham', Sussex Archaeological Collections, 48, 1905, 38-64.
  • I. Nairn and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex. Harmondsworth 1965, 542-43.
  • T.T. Churton, `Icklesham Church', Sussex Archaeological Collections, 32, 1882, 105-22.
Church Plan


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TQ 877 164 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Sussex
now: East Sussex
medieval: Chichester
now: Chichester
now: St Nicholas
medieval: All Saints (1497)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Kathryn Morrison