Hardham is a tiny village in West Sussex. It has a level-crossing that has recently attracted some interest on YouTube. There is a video on there from May 2021 which shows the crossing with its old halogen warning lights. The lights have subsequently been replaced with modern LED ones. This has caused much gnashing of teeth from those that are keen on preserving Britain’s level-crossings.
Yes, that’s right. These people do exist. Indeed, the video has accumulated over 5,000 views, which is enough to warrant a preceding advert selling you whatever your browsing history suggests you might be interested in. It might say something about my browsing habits these days as I got an ad for garden sheds. Most disappointing in many ways, but you can’t fight the ageing process.
Apart from the excitement of the red lights flashing, the video’s unspoken narrative builds up to the dramatic crescendo of a train going by. As a further plot twist, you can just make out the driver sticking two fingers up to the amateur cameraman for distracting him.
Whilst the crossing’s much-missed halogen lights have been consigned to the big yellow skip of history, there are other treasures in Hardham that haven’t. Indeed they have been there for nearly a thousand years.
I chanced upon St Botolph’s Church In Hardham by accident; a bent road sign on the A29 to Bognor Regis that has a church pictogram and the words ‘12th Century Frescoes’. I assumed the frescoes weren’t in the hedge that the sign was pointing to, so I took a quick swerve down a small side road.
As I almost caused a major traffic accident in my excitement, you may think me as sad as the level-crossing fans. However, I do have a passion for early art. Have I mentioned my humorous new book on the subject yet?
St Botolph’s is a gem. Built around the time the Normans were enthusiastically building Romanesque churches and castles up and down the land, or it possibly dates from even earlier. It is just a very small and solid church, but what is on the walls inside makes it unique.
It has the best-preserved set of 12th Century frescoes in the land. They show the bible’s story from Adam and Eve to the crucifixion. Granted Adam and Eve look a bit scary, all those visceral ribs, but you’d get the idea if you were an illiterate peasant.
Churches of the time, with their easy-to-understand pictures, were known as the Poor Man’s Bible. Real Bibles were the preserve of the wealthy as they were expensively handwritten and illustrated by monkish scribes. Both printing and Amazon were a long way off.
The frescos were plastered over in the reformation, when all trace of papish imagery had to be eradicated, but they began to be uncovered in Victorian times. Being plastered over is not the only reason they’ve lasted so long. They are frescoes, not paintings, which means the pigment is applied to damp plaster, so it becomes bonded to the fabric of the wall and won’t flake away like normal paint on a dry surface.
By the way I wouldn’t recommend this tricky technique in your house, stick to a can of Dulux emulsion from B&Q, especially if they are having a sale.
They were probably painted by a band of travelling artists, possibly Norman (some of the figures are stylistically similar to those in the Bayeux Tapestry). There are other churches in the area with similar work, however they aren’t as complete as the ones in Hardham. Maybe those were done on a Friday and the pub was beckoning.
I was somewhat transfixed by the Hardham paintings, my wife wasn’t quite so enamoured. Indeed the increasingly noisy tapping of fingernails on a pew suggested I was spending far too long in the church.
However, as I say, some find their joy in level-crossings, some in early art.
Have I mentioned my humorous new book on the subject yet?