The Grade II listed 17th century Bewbush Barn is the only significant building which remains of Bewbush Manor Farm. Much of the building’s original frame construction still exists, preserved for all to see as the Barn Church.
The original moated Bewbush Manor, a timber-framed farmhouse, was built by wealthy ironmasters who transferred their wealth into the land when ironworking declined in Sussex in the late 17th century. The existing Manor House, which stands opposite the Barn Church today, is of much later construction but is reputed to occupy the original Bewbush Manor site.
During the 19th and early 20th century, Bewbush farms were operated on a family basis, rotating crops and providing pasture for sheep and cattle. The Barn was used for the storage of grain and hay, for animal shelter and other general purposes. When the area became the subject of a compulsory purchase order for the further development of Crawley, the barn ceased to be used and with the passing of time became derelict.
The modern-day story of the church began in 1989, when the then Rector of Ifield, the Reverend David Parker, was searching for somewhere to build a church.
Where does Ifield come in? Every part of the country belongs to a parish, and the area on which the neighbourhood of Bewbush was built is part of the Parish of Ifield, along with St. Margaret’s (Ifield), St. Alban’s (Gossops Green) and St. Leonard’s (Langley Green).
Until Bewbush, every neighbourhood in Crawley was built with its own shops, pub, school, doctor’s and dentist’s surgeries and church. Bewbush had all of the above except the church.
Since 1985, a worshipping Church of England community had been meeting in Bewbush Community Centre, but without a church building as a focus it had not been able to expand.
David Parker’s vision was for such a church building. One day, he chanced upon the derelict barn and made his way inside (with much difficulty, due to its derelict state). A shaft of sunlight was streaming in through a crack in the roof, and David knelt down, scooped up a handful of earth and vowed to return it once the building became a church.
True to his word, in July 1999 Bewbush Barn Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester, and David Parker returned the earth to its rightful home before the final tile was cemented into place in the corner of the church. You can see the plaque to commemorate this in the back corner.
Those ten years between 1989 and 1999 witnessed a series of ups and downs in the life of the church. The grade II listed building was purchased for £1 from Crawley Borough Council, and the serious work began.
A fund-raising committee was set up. Appeals were made to various bodies, including other churches dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene (Rusper being one of them). All sorts of fund-raising activities were held in the Parish of Ifield, including a series of coffee mornings run by a lady from St. Margaret’s church. Like the widow’s mite, the amounts raised were small but they kept coming in.
The downside was that almost all of this initial money was swallowed up in architect’s fees, planning applications etc. The realization of the actual building seemed to get no nearer.
The original plans had envisaged a wing on the side of the building and a gallery above the community room. However, largely due to financial constraints horns had to be drawn in and plans revised and simplified.
Our final salvation came in the shape of the National Lottery. One of the committee members, Ray Buck, painstakingly put together an application to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for a grant.
As we know, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and the money came with strings attached. Various stipulations were made, in particular that the character of the barn must be retained by making it possible for the structure of the building to be visible, and for the whole barn to be viewed as one – hence the glass panels between the three areas and the visibility of all the original timbers.
When the physical work began, the first thing to be done after clearing the site was to jack up the building in order to give it secure foundations and footings. At the same time, some of the old timbers were replaced.
Once the building was completed, members of the church had the pleasant task of choosing the floor tiles and furniture. Where possible we involved local craftsmen. The altar table, credence table, presidential chair, font and lectern were all commissioned from John Hollis of Horsham; the flower stands were made by the blacksmith at Pound Hill; a carpenter from the congregation of St. Alban’s, Gossops Green, made the book stand; and a parishioner from Ifield carved the representation of Christ you can see in the foyer.
Our church is very precious to all those involved in its construction and all those who have made it their place of worship. So much loving care and work has gone into the making of it, and our hope is that all who come here will find it a welcoming place, a place of peace and a place in which to worship God who has given us so much.