United Reformed Church Alfriston
Formerly the Alfriston Congregational Church
This building is a living memorial to the early nonconformists of Alfriston.
Before 1801 a group of them had already broken away from the established church and were holding their meetings in a house now known as the Urn, in North Street.
An itinerant preacher from Heathfield called George Gilbert, addressed the villagers from the steps of the old Market Cross and inspired the group of dissenters in 1801 to build themselves a proper church. It is remarkable to record that the building was completed in the same year. The speed with which the work was finished is a tribute to the enthusiasm of its growing congregation. Money, time and labour were all freely provided. Four walls, a slate roof, a few windows, and whitewash, and all was ready. The church which was known as the Independent Church of Christ at Alfriston was opened for worship on 2nd August 1801. The Reverend Mather from Cheshunt preached at the opening service and in the afternoon and evening Mr Gilbert from Heathfield was the preacher.
The next significant date in the church’s history is 21st May 1809. On that date a certain Charles Brooker became a member of the church. The following years up to 1832 are a landmark to this gentleman’s arrival on the scene as it was during this time that much upheaval and discord took place in the church affairs, much of it due to clashes between Mr. Brooker and the then ordained minister, Mr George Betts. One incident, in fact, involved Stanton Collins, the leader of the old Alfriston smugglers.
We are told that, because of a disagreement between himself and Mr. Betts, Mr. Brooker, one Sunday, without any notice being given, arranged for another preacher named Sands to conduct the service, and on arrival at the church he was conducted to the pulpit. When Mr. Betts arrived to take the service as usual and saw what happened he quietly took his place in the family pew and the service proceeded. This same Sunday, Stanton Collins and his friends were drinking at a local inn. They had no liking for Mr. Brooker so when they heard what he had done they rushed to the church and ordered Mr. Sands to come down from the pulpit. He refused so they forcibly ejected him, breaking the balustrades of the pulpit in the scramble. They then escorted Mr. Betts to the pulpit, forcing him to stay there while they mounted a guard around him. At their request, he continued the service, starting with the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way!”
Thereafter, apart from one entry in 1825, there is a significant gap in the church records until 1832 when peace returned.
In 1836 we have the first reference to the appointment of deacons in the Church. In the 1900’s the church joined with the Pevensey Road Congregational Church, Eastbourne. In 1929 this connection was broken and in 1936 it became attached to Seaford Congregational Church. In 1939 the minister was the Reverend G.W. Cameron Price, and it is recorded that at this time Alfriston Congregational Church became independent of other churches. On 5th October1972, in line with the majority of our churches, within the Congregational Church of England and Wales, we entered into union with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church.
With reference to the building itself, between 1834 and 1837, additions were made to the interior of the church. They included the gallery, supported by pillars which were formerly ships masts, gallery steps and a pulpit to replace the earlier damaged one. In 1909 another pulpit and rostrum were built but this was found to be unsafe in 1921 and was put into good order. In 1954 the pulpit was said to be “rotting away” and a few years later the present pulpit was built.
In the years to follow additions have included the rostrum chairs, the stained glass windows, the reading desk, new lighting and more recently, the much appreciated central heating and a new Compton Cantata electronic organ. Since 1969 all-out money raising efforts and hard work by the congregation and Friends of the Church enabled essential repair work and redecoration to be carried out.
Thanks to the recent improvement works, bringing the building in line with modern requirements, the Church is now experiencing a new phase in its history and is finding new ways to serve the community whilst maintaining a link with the past. Its importance as a spiritual centre and a presence in the community should not be forgotten and we are grateful to all those who use and enjoy the building and contribute to its upkeep. We hope it will continue and thrive for many years to come.
Contributions by R. M. Boyd 1979
C R Adcock 2013