The Church at Heckfield is The Parish Church of St Michael (at one time the dedication was likely to have been to St. Michael and All Angels).
A Saxon Church at Heckfield is mentioned in the Doomsday survey of the 11th century. The present church has its origins in the 13th century or perhaps even earlier. It has changed over the centuries so there are few of the old details left to tell us their story. There have been several additions and restorations. In the 14th century it appears that the chancel was rebuilt and then renovated in the 15th and 16th centuries. A new chancel window was added in 15th century and in 16th century a chapel, aisle and tower were added. Major restorations were undertaken in both 1831 and 1876-7.
For a small village, Heckfield has a remarkably large Church, which clearly shows that Heckfield was formerly a place of greater size and importance; a memorial in the Church to John Cresswell (1518) refers to him as "lord of this towne at the tyme of the byldyng of this stepyll and the newe yle and chapell in this cherche".
The Church is approached through the Churchyard, which was closed for burials in 1885: a modern addition is the Garden of Remembrance, which lies to the right of the path.
The Church is entered by the main North door, close to the Tower, which, apart from renovation in 1935, has stood as it is today since about 1500: like other Church Towers, it has been a look-out post in times of danger from the days of the Armada to the days of WW2. Although much of the brickwork in St Michaels is covered (and due to restoration is not original), the brickwork in the tower is visible and is mainly from the C16th. It is a mix of brick and puddingstone (the pudding refers to the resemblance to plum pudding), and is a conglomerate that consists of pebbles whose colours contrast with the silica core, in this case the dark colour is due to iron. Puddingstone is a type of sedemntary rock, and the pebbles are typically flint.
In the Tower are hung five bells which are run anti-clockwise, the earliest bell dated 1336 and the latest 1641 which, indicates that there must have been some sort of belfry or tower before the existing one. The third and fourth bells are listed in the Council for the Care of Churches ‘Schedule of Bells for Preservation’
The church at Heckfield is dedicated to St Michael. Unlike most saints, Michael is an angel, a messenger of God. St Michael is the leader of the Archangels, and churches dedicated to St Michael are generally on high ground (reflecting St Michael looking down on the other angels). In fact 'Heck-feld' is saxon for high ground.
In Revelation Michael defeats Satan (in the form of a dragon or a serpent) and throws him out of heaven. St Michael is also often depicted with a weighing scales and a flaming sword, where Michael is weighing the souls of the departed on the judgement day, to see if they should go to heaven or hell. Michael is powerful enough to intercede for people and save them from hell. Michael is seen as the protector and leader of the army of God over the forces of evil, and is the patron saint of the police, the militiary, and paramedics.
The St Michael window is in the chancel near the altar, and was installed in 1884. It was made by Messrs Heaton, Butler and Bayne. It is in memory of General Sir William Codrington GCB of the Coldstream Guards. He was involved in Crimera, was an MP and Governeror of Gibraltar between 1859 and 1865, he died in 1884 in Heckfield.
Inside the Church
Immediately inside the Church is the Font which is dated 1350 and is made of Purbeck marble. Although it has suffered some damage throughout its history, it is still used today for baptisms.
By the north door there is a memorial to Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940 who spent his last few months at Highfield Park and who died there at the end of 1940.
The west window was put up to mark the marriage of King Henry VII to Elizabeth of York in 1486. It is predominately of red and white roses, which are the emblems of the Houses of Lancaster and York.
There are three very striking renaissance style stone memorials – of marble or alabaster – on the walls of the nave, chancel and sanctuary, all erected in the years 1607 and 1608, and all probably the work of one craftsman. There is an intriguing omission in the one on the left of the sanctuary: it was erected by Prudence Humphrey in memory of her parents and of her husband, the latter dying in 1608; she left a space for the date of her own death but it was never filled, because fifteen months later she married again!
On either side of the window are a number of memorials: on the left is one to the Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, who was one of the Duke of Wellington's Generals in the Peninsular War and was an MP in both the Irish House of commons and British House of commons. He lived and died in close-by Highfield Park, only a few miles from his old chief at Stratfield Saye. On the right is a memorial to William Milton, Vicar of the Parish for 51 years: he was quite a handyman, designing a safety device to prevent the wheels of stage coaches falling off, and he also had a hand in the planning of Bristol Docks: his daughter Francis, married Thomas Anthony Trollope in Heckfield in 1809, and their son was Anthony Trollope the novelist.
On the southside of the nave is an 1885 window by Morris & Co which was designed by Edward Coley Burne–Jones, the painters were: the figures by Bowman, the tree-work drawn by Dearle and painted by Stokes according to the Dec 1885 entry in Morris & Co's catalogue of designs. This window depicts Faith and Charity.
The Charity cartoon (BJ 136) was originally produced by Burne–Jones for a church in Calcutta in 1874. In Faith cartoon (BJ 148) the face of Faith is modelled on Maria Zambaco, Burne–Jones received £7 for the cartoon in 1871. Both designs have been used a number of times: Charity was used 10 times, and Faith was used 31 times!
The window in St Michael's is dedicated to Mary Ann Marston of Highfield Park, by her children Emily and Frederick. Mrs Marston contributed £100 to the Butterfield restoration of the Church.
In the sanctuary and the North Chapel (now a store room) you will find 16th century piscinas. A piscina is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, used for washing the communion vessels. The purpose of which is to dispose of water used sacramentally, by returning these particles directly to the earth.
The Butterfield Restoration Work (1876/1877)
The restoration of 1876/77 lasted from May 1876 until 4 March 1877. The architect overseeing the restoration was a Mr Butterfield. The church appears to have fallen into a bad condition before the reconstruction of 1876 took place, as a result during the restoration large parts of the church were rebuilt. The entire cost for the work between 1876 and 1877 was £2,257 15s. 2d.
During the restoration traces of the 13th century building were found notably wall foundations and a 12th or 13th century piscina was found in the north chapel. For some unknown reason this was covered up during the restoration so that this cannot be verified.
The east wall of the chancel was rebuilt, and the east window was raised up by 60cm and restored. The south-east corner of the chancel, where the wall had cracked was rebuilt. The opening into the chapel from the chancel, was enlarged and a new arch inserted. The space within the altar rails was raised and a step put for the table. The chancel arch was opened to its present width and rebuilt and the roof of the chancel was replaced by an entirely new one.
The chapel had new windows inserted, the doorway was altered, a solid wood screen at its west end removed, and a new archway put in, and the present vestry formed by a new screen.
The south wall of the nave was pulled down to within three or four feet of the ground, and rebuilt with a slight curve to accommodate the roof line being a little crooked. The south doorway was removed. Three windows from the previous rennovation were replaced. The four octagonal brick shafts and the heavy arches of the north aisle, were removed, and replaced by the present lighter stone pillars and arches. The north aisle wall was pulled down altogether in its whole length (its foundations were not deep relying on its thickness for stability) and a thinner wall was build mainly using the old materials in a slightly different position reducing the size of the church. In the old wall the tracery of a window thought to be from the 14th century was uncovered, but was too dilapidated to be re-used, and was copied in the new north windows. The north entrance was moved to its present position, and the porch built; two windows in the north wall, from the previous renovation, were replaced by new ones; and the roof of the aisle, formerly gabled, was replaced by a lean-to leaded one.
The south doorway in the tower, which had been blocked up, was opened out and enlarged; and new oak treads were put to the steps of the stair, otherwise the tower was left unaltered.
Other work completed at this time included the retiling of the floors, reseating, a new pulpit, and the monumental brasses were moved to their present positions