St Helen's Church, Hangleton

Photo:Photo of Terry taken outside his childhood home in 9 Spencer Avenue. He was visiting for the first time in 40 years.

Photo of Terry taken outside his childhood home in 9 Spencer Avenue. He was visiting for the first time in 40 years.

Photo from the private collection of Terry Walls

Memories of the 1950s

By Terry Walls

Spencer Avenue in the 1950's
"I do not have that many memories of being a child in Sussex although there are some things that stick in my mind. I was just a little over six years old when we left England for Australia - well to be exact 6 years and 2 months and 19 days. My brother Rob was nine and my younger bother Andrew was three. Rob of course remembers a lot more and Andrew almost nothing.

One of the things that I do remember is living in Spencer Avenue which in 1950 was a new housing estate. There were no houses then on the other side of the road and a short distance away was this old church which my mother used to tell me was over 900 years old. Now when one is 5 years old, 900 is an enormous number - older than your grandad even.

It is called St Helen's. It is thought that Helen was a Briton who married a Roman and became mother of Constantine the Great - the first Christian Caesar. There is a site of a Roman villa only a kilometre away.

Rise and fall of the Church
The church itself is reported to have been originally built by Anglo-Saxons in the 10th or 11th Centuries (pre-Norman of course). It is built of flint and tile. As is often the case with the Anglo-Saxon churches in Sussex, the original church became the nave of a Norman church, in the 13th Century the tower was added, in the 14th Century the chancel with tri-foiled lancets and the east window were also added. The church was part of a village that included Hangleton Manor, with the manor being built in 1540 from stones taken from Lewes priory that was demolished in 1537.

A pictorial history of Hove provides this caption to an old print: "St Helen's Church stands a little way off from the settlement around the manor, but once a thriving village clustered by the church. Fire and Black Death have been suggested as the causes for the decline in population, but the young men may have just left to find work elsewhere. Whatever the reasons, the church fell into disrepair I have read in another book about the "hidden villages" of England that Hangleton disappeared after it became no longer viable in the 17th Century following the large-scale enclosure of land.

Restoration and the ghost
Despite this, the church survived and was eventually restored in 1876. A small spire was added to the typically Norman tower to keep out the weather. When I returned to the UK for the first time in over 40 years in 1992 you could just see the spire over the tops of the housing estate which has now been built right up to it.

Why this church was so imprinted on my mind and why I needed to go back and see it was because of THE GHOST. As I mentioned earlier, St Helen's (Hangleton) Church was just across the road from Spencer Avenue. This Norman Church has an old graveyard with only a handful of graves in it. One wintry afternoon as it was getting dark (about 4pm) someone suggested that if you went into graveyard and poured water over a grave you could "conjure up a ghost". Now this didn't really appeal to me but I went along reluctantly. Someone had obtained a small jar of water and our small team of 6-9 year olds ran around the graveyard calling out and pouring water over the graves.

Nothing seemed to happen so we adjourned to climb onto a small haystack in the field next door.

All of a sudden someone called out "ghost; a ghost!" At this stage and in a state of absolute panic, we all saw a whitish shadow of a figure emerge above the largest of the graves. Four or five boys screamed and abandoned the haystack faster than one could say - "aaaaghh". We all stampeded back to our houses and I remember sitting on the floor of the sitting room with my back to the wall (for safety) absolutely breathless. My concern was dissipated fairly quickly by the commencement of an episode of "Dick Tracy" on the radio (or wireless as Mum would have described it).

About a year or two after we were settled in Sydney I remember my mother telling me that when they came develop the land opposite, the builders found a skeleton under the ground in a shallow grave. She believed it to be a murder victim but just maybe it was an extension of the ancient graveyard. Now I must get to the bottom of this! "

Contributed by e-mail 28/6/01.
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
Do you remember the walk over the old tracks to the Dyke? Many a Sunday or schoool holiday my granny and I would make that walk past the old Bull and the many farms and the golf. And do you remember the Fitzherbert's (Royalty) family vault is in St Helen's grave yard?
By Cait (22/05/2004)
My family would love walking over the Dyke. Funnily enough, the walk, as led by my father, would always end up at a pub down in a hollow. I think it may have been called the Shepherd and Dog. I remember it had a great garden to play in. I went back there many years ago with my family to spread my father's ashes over the hill that overlooked that place.
By Steve (01/12/2005)
I moved to 47 Spencer Avenue when I was about 4 or 5 years old from 6 Florence Avenue The houses in Spencer Avenue were made up of council flats at the St Helens Church end, then there were private bungalows on one side of the road and police houses on the other. There were a few cottages by the side of St Helens Church and a lady called Sally Upton lived in the first one that ran by the side of the clinker laid pathway, her husband worked on the farm next to the cottages - Sally is my sister Dianna's godmother. We don't know where they moved to and I expect she has passed away by now. I remember the farmer had a huge bull, I have an old photo of it and one of the field belonging to the farm with cows in, which I found in amongst my dad's possessions when we cleared the house in Amberley Drive. I remember the Home and Colonial at the Grenadier, they used to have a pully system which took the money to the office, I used to love watching these little cylinders whizzing across the ceiling. Also - someone on the Amberley Drive section of this website wanted to know what was the name of the wool shop that seemed to sell everything - it was called G and H Kerr at 3 Queens Parade. How do I know this? Believe it or not I still have a knitting pattern from the shop, this was many moons ago! My best friend who lived opposite me in Spencer Avenue was called Christine Langridge, I never did know where she went, so Christine - if you ever get onto this website, I still remember you! Also there was a family called Frances that lived opposite - they were Thelma and Don, Andre and Marissa Frances, they were a lovely family. We had one of the upstairs flats and this old lady named Mrs Hawkes lived downstairs. She was frightening and had many a fight with my Mum over my sister Dianna going down the stairs on her bottom - she was only about 2 years old - and Mrs Hawkes could hear the thump thump in her flat. Oh happy days!
I attended the Hangleton Infants and Junior schools. The headmaster's name was Mr Jones. He was Welsh and used to sing to us. I always thought he had a lovely voice. I can also remember one of my teachers: Mrs Feast. I was age about 10 years when we left Spencer Avenue and moved to Amberley Drive. I loved living in Hangleton and would move back there again if I could even though it has changed quite a bit. It is still a great area to live, not far from the countryside and great walks. Thank you for starting this website.
By Carole Greenfield (nee Freeman) living in Sydney Australia (16/07/2009)

Hello there, I also went to Hangleton Jnr school, in 1954-57; Mr Jones was the headmaster, also a Mrs Pyle and a very old man, Mr Toby. I remember my mother, claiming she couldn't control me, asked Mr Jones to belt me when I needed it, he caught me climbing shops rooves near the old Grenadier pub, and beat the b'Jesus out of me. But that was long ago. We lived in Clarke Ave, Hove 4 and used to 'ramble' over the downs, to the dew pond, Devil's Dyke etc. Great times. Now in Melbourne Australia.

By Mike Hamilton (29/03/2010)

I knew a boy called Michael Hamilton who lived two houses down from us. We were at 67 next to the Sampsons. Mr Sampson drove an old taxi. Would you have lived at 63 or 71? I can't remember which way the numbers went. Anyway the Hamiltons went to Australia in the 50s and I wondered if after all these years if you might be that boy. I remember your dad taking us to the boxing at the Hove Town Hall. I too live in Australia, near Brisbane and my email is; stanmill@bigpond.net .au if you'd like to send me a mail.

By Stan Brand (30/04/2010)

Stan - this is wonderful. Your dad was a postman - correct? And Jimmy Sampson was a stuck-up brat, then a few doors from where the Akehursts who ended up in Port Lincoln, South Australia (bit of an outback town). I remember that night at the boxing. And now you're in Oz as well.... stand by for email. Settled in Latrobe Valley (coal mining district), worked in the power station and open cut. Went to night school and studied journalism and ended up on Today Channel 9, then ABC and Channel 7. Cheers.

By Mike Hamilton (07/05/2010)

Thank you so very much for this great programme because you have reunited two childhood friends who last saw each other 53 years ago. When my friend left England in 1957 I never thought I'd see him again. Keep up the great work you are doing, I'm sure many other people have been reunited because of you wonderful people. Thanks a million.

By Stan Brand (16/06/2010)

Congratulations on the page. It's reunited two mates from Hove now in Australia. Where would we be if we had stayed in Hove? We were very close and are now catching up. I'm a documentary producer and Stan a retired Royal Marine. Well one out of two isn't bad for being useful to his country but show me a shonky used car dealer and I'm there- 53 years. Ouch that makes me feel like an old man. Wait around and I'll find you one... boom boom... seriously though... Thank you

By Mike Hamilton (17/06/2010)

I have just found your page and enjoyed reading it. I grew up (23 years) on Northease Drive, adjoining Spencer Ave, so was always hanging around St Helen's (or passing it delivering papers to Hangleton Valley). The church is just fabulous - I visited it for Sunday service a couple of years back and it brought back all of those memories as a child. As another expat (I've been living in California for the last 6 years) the beauty of that place never fades.

By Robert James Johnson (14/03/2011)

There is a stone moulded face at the top of the church tower which I was told to keep away. You can just make it out on the left hand side but you do need a good eye.

By Wayne Wareham (09/05/2011)

Regarding last note: The mask was put there to keep away evil spirits and is based on the first Vicar.

By Wayne Wareham (10/05/2011)

Hello All. St Helen's holds fond memories for so many people, and has been serving the parish of Hangleton since the days of the Domesday book. It is therefore shocking to know that it is currently under threat of closure! I am part of a small group who is trying to stop this from happening, but we need help. No contribution or effort too small - if you are interested, or could even spread the word, we are holding a meeting at the church hall on Tuesday 30th August at 7.30pm. Please feel free to contact me for further details. Many thanks.

By Eva Placey (09/08/2011)

Wonderful to read all the comments about Hangleton. In the late 40's and early 50's I lived at Hangleton Manor which my step-father, Noel Gower, ran as a hotel. It was a wonderful old house and full of atmosphere and ghosts. My mother and I used to walk up the hill to the church, and I was told not to look at the bull in a field because of its enormous appendage! I think the vicar was a Bill Peters at that time. By the way, in the story at the top of this page, I think it was Dick Barton, not Dick Tracy. Sorry.

By David Cartwright (08/02/2012)

Further to Eva's comment, the Friends of St Helen's is now up and running and gaining in strength every day.  Please take a look. Details on how to become a Friend are on there. I lived in Hangleton on and off from 1960 until 1988, (I am still an active member of St Helen's though) with my parents Dawn and John Ayles, who are both sadly no longer with us (and whose ashes are buried at St Helen's), at 4 Hangleton Valley Drive, just down the road from The Manor, which we used to explore before it was 'done up' and reopened as a pub. My friends were Michelle Knight (still my best now) who lived at No. 2, Julie Knell, who lived opposite and Jane (Moggie) Mortimer at No. 12. We were 'pestered' constantly by horrible boys, David Smee (No. 6) and Graham Warburton (No. 2a). I was at school at Hangleton Infants and Juniors. Mrs Jenkins was headmistress of the Infants and was really scary. I remember she sat over me one lunchtime trying to force me to eat liver until it was cold and congealed and to her I now attribute my total dislike of all offal today. Mr. Evans was Head of the Juniors. A lovely Welshman with a scary corgi who kept guard outside his office. He used to make us stand on our chairs and sing Lord of the Dance at the tops of our voices! Such wonderful memories and Hangleton will forever have a very special place in my heart. I am fortunate that when I met and married (at St Helen's) my husband, he lived very close by in Westdene, Brighton where we are today, so I can still worship at St Helen's.

By Sarah Beardshaw (07/03/2012)

Thanks, David Cartwright, for putting my younger brother, Terry, straight on that radio serial. You are right of course. I think Dick Tracy was a later Australian memory. When we first moved to Spencer Avenue, there was nothing but green fields between us and St Helens. I have vivid memories of seeing a scarlet coated fox hunt traverse the fields parallel to the avenue in full "view halloo". This would have been about 1949.

By Rob Walls (25/10/2013)

I was born and brought up in Hangleton and lived in Summerdale Road my maiden name was Hansford.

I was Christened, Confirmed and Married at St Helens. I then lived in Essex for 42 years and 10 years ago retired with my husband to Saltdean. My three sons all have moved down to Sussex with their jobs.

Wonderful memories of St Helens, Christmas Eve service, Sunday school. Remember Rev Bide and Taylor. My maternal Grandparents are buried in the churchyard.

My sister and I would go and see the farm on our way back from Sunday and I also remember the big bull, frightening!

The dew pond was also another favourite place to play especially in the winter when it would freeze over and we would walk and slide across it. When I think about that now we must have been fearless or stupid!

Many happy memories and I still have occasion to pass by the church when I am in the area.

By Susan Tanner (14/09/2015)

Great memories! I live in Bournemouth now but still meet up with Dave occasionally - great memories of St. Helens and the manor where Ken the alchie used to employ me behind the bar - loved it! 

By Michael Bridger (23/03/2017)

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