Earnley Church building and history

The smallest church on the peninsula, Earnley is a listed 2* building dating from the 13th century. It sits in a small graveyard within retaining stone walls in a boat shaped island in the middle of the village.

The nave is of 13th century origin and the chancel was added in the 14th century. An aumbry, fitted with a carved door, also dates to the 14th century.

The first recorded rector was in 1365 and parish records survive from 1562. Unusually Earnley is not dedicated to a saint. It is simply known as Earnley Church. 

During World War Two a German bomber returning home released its spare bombs close by to the church, blowing off the roof. The roof was replaced and the church restored. But 20 years later death watch beetle, probably feasting on some pitch pine used in the earlier restoration, was diagnosed as seriously destroying the roof. Over £30,000 was raised by a determined community and the church was saved, including the very old timbers. In the process painted medieval wall plaster was discovered in the walls.

West Sussex County Council chose Earnley Church for its award for best small scale restoration in its Building Design Award Scheme in 1997-1999. It is believed it was the first time a church had won a building conservation award in the county.

Earnley Church has been a subject for many artists. Rarely does a summer’s day go by without an easel being spotted nearby. The church itself features several significant pieces of artwork. Most striking are the Jonah window and the quatrefoil Peace window. The Jonah window in the south side of the nave was dedicated in 1987 to the memory of professional sculptor, artist and PCC Secretary Yvonne Rusbridge. The Peace window high above the altar depicts a dove descending with the Holy Spirit. Designed by Mel Howse, it is dedicated in memory of Rev John Fethney and three of his children whose ashes are buried in the churchyard.

The churchyard is also of significance to students of military history. It contains the grave of Major William Barnsley Allen V.C., D.S.O.,M.C. and Bar of the Royal Medical Corp. He was wounded seven times whilst serving as a doctor on the front in WW1.