St Mary’s church at Binsted is a sacred place. As well as the faithful congregation for the church services, people come here to meditate, sitting on the bench by the south wall with their faces in the sun. They enjoy the peace and quiet, the open views up and down the valley and into the wooded countryside, and the sense of history.
It is surely the only 12th century church in the country to be built
- on top of an Iron Age earthwork, and
- on the lip of a steep, secret valley created by melting ice at the end of the last Ice Age.
How many 1000s of years back does that take us? Nearly 1000 to the church, 2000 or so to the earthwork, 11,700 years to the end of the Ice Age … Deep loops of time all crowned by one beautiful, inspiring little church.
The earthwork is part of the ‘War Dyke’ system around Arundel linked to loops of the river Arun. Its massive banks run along the edge of valley far into the South Downs. It can be clearly seen in this photo, underneath the church.
The steep, remote valley is a wildlife sanctuary – one of only two ‘Flushed Fen’ habitats in coastal West Sussex. The inside of the church is a much-loved sanctuary too, with its own history: in 1868 it was restored by Thomas Graham Jackson, with a glorious glass ‘Cosmati pavement’ in the chancel, like an Eastern carpet, in imitation of mediaeval work.
If Highways England’s Grey Route for the Arundel Bypass goes ahead, the new dual carriageway will cross the valley on a viaduct a few yards from the church, with traffic passing at the height of the top of the churchyard wall. A grimmer, more destructive placement of a new construction project is difficult to imagine.
The road plans at Arundel continue to turn people’s lives upside down and would have great personal cost. But this proposed desecration of Binsted church by the Grey route would be a cultural and historical devastation as terrible, in its own way, as digging two vast road tunnel entrances in the World Heritage Site at Stonehenge (a plan recently given the go-ahead by the Transport Secretary, although the planning process had turned it down).
When will Highways England realise that some places, including Binsted Church, are sacred?