04 June 2017

Lullington: the smallest church in Britain

When I visited my friend Jill back in October 2014, she took me to see one of the loveliest churches I had ever seen, St Michaels and All Angels in Berwick. During my visit a few weeks ago, Jill took me to see another, just as lovely, and this one has the distinction of being the littlest church in the nation.

To reach it we walked from the picturesque town of Alfriston, along a public footpath, across the River Cuckmere, alongside fields of crops, and up a hill, with glorious views back towards Alfriston and across the Cuckmere Valley.

Veering off the fields, we passed through a small wooded area and then up a short path to a clearing and there it stood, the Church of the Good Shepherd ... or, at least, what’s left of it. The reason it’s the smallest church in Britain is because the church is really just the chancel of a much larger building that was destroyed by fire many centuries ago. You can see some of the stonework that marks the extent of the original church in my photo.

Measuring just 16 feet (5 metres) square, the church now seats around 20 people. Though it has no electricity for light or heating, regular services are still held there during the summer months. And, when extra people turn up, as frequently happens for the Harvest Festival, the congregation sits in the churchyard.

According to the British Listed buildings website, the church was probably built in the late 12th or early 13th century, of flint with a tiled roof. 

Initially, its isolated location made the church the perfect retreat for the monks of Alciston, but control was later handed over to the monastery at Battle Abbey. 

Later still, in 1251, the church was transferred to the Bishop of Chichester.

Nowadays, there are only a couple of houses near the church; they are all that remains of the village of Lullington, whose population was apparently much affected by the Black Death in the early 1330s.

Legend has it that the church, apart from the chancel, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the 1650s but there are no historical records to confirm that tale.

The Church of the Good Shepherd sits in a wonderfully tranquil setting and it’s a lovely walk to and from Alfriston, so I’d definitely recommend the stroll if you’re in the area.