St Nicholas'

St Nicholas Church is located in Mid- Lavant on the A286 Midhurst road between Chichester and West Dean. See this map for the location - the church is in the centre of the map.

From early January 2023 the Church will be open to the casual visitor during the day and is of course open for services and for community activities.

Further information on the history of the church can be found below. In the meantime you will find some additional information about the statue of Lady Mary May in the PDF document on this page.

Short History

ST NICHOLAS' CHURCH was originally the parish church of Mid-Lavant until the parish was united with East and West Lavant in the late 19th century.

It was built mainly in the 12th and 13th centuries but it is believed that a church existed on the site in Saxon times. The church was restored considerably in the 19th century when the north aisle and south porch were added and the nave lengthened. The chancel, built in the 13th century, was altered significantly in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1981, the church interior was re-ordered to allow a more flexible use for the benefit of the people of Lavant. The chancel and nave were re-floored, the old pews and pulpit were removed and a barrel vault ceiling was placed over the chancel where new lighting was installed. During the re-flooring of the chancel, access was made to the May family vault below the floor.

Entry to this vault is by a steeply inclined ramp between the two pillars supporting the chancel arch. It is a large space, (15.5 feet by 10 feet by 8.3 feet), built of chalk blocks set in a lime mortar with the head of the entrance built of thin hand-made, probably 17th century, bricks. The floor is of stone slabs laid directly on the soil.

Members of the May family were buried in the vault during the 16th and 17th centuries and when the vault was opened disintegrating coffins and the John Bushnell statue of Dame Mary May with the cartouche were discovered.

In the centre of the chancel floor is a large slab in memory of Derby Leary with an inscription in quaint doggerel dated 1681.

The old pews now surround the walls of the chancel and many of the new chairs which provide the main seating were given in memory of parishioners. On the wall of the Rector's vestry, at the west end of the north aisle, are the brass coffin plates of the May family who lived at Rawmere in Lavant.

Amongst them is one commemorating Hugh May who was Controller of Works to Charles II and in charge of Windsor Castle. He also assisted with the reconstruction of London, including St Paul's, after the great fire.

The Rector's desk was made from the old pulpit which was itself constructed from panelling taken from Rawmere House built by the Mays in the 16th century.

During 1987, an extension to provide a choir vestry with a new entrance on the west side of the church was constructed. At the same time the unique 17th century sculpture of Dame Mary May was lifted from the vault under the chancel where it had been placed by a Victorian Rector. After cleaning, it was installed in a specially built niche between the north aisle and the new extension. The statue of Dame Mary May was sculpted before her death by a famous 17th century sculptor, John Bushnell, who brought back from Italy the special art of undercutting marble. Very little of his work survives and Lavant is fortunate to have this unique and beautiful sculpture which had been hidden for 100 years.

2022 Changes

In 2022 the existing kitchen was found to be inadequate for it's current usage and had reached the end of it's service life and was replaced. In addition, we were able to replace the rather antiquated and inefficient night-storage heaters with modern wall mounted electric heaters.

Also in 2022, the interior of the church the was refurbished and redecorated. This project is made possible with The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, for the first time in over 40 years, we have been able to repair damage to the walls and other structures and apply specialist heritage lime-wash "paint to re-establish the church to it's former glory.

Images taken during the work to the interior of the church