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Remembering Sussex’s Charles Eamer Kempe

With his studios producing more than 4,000 windows and with designs for altars, church furniture and furnishings, lichgates and memorials, Sussex-born Charles Eamer Kempe helped to define 19th Century Anglican style. This month, one Mid Sussex church is celebrating the life of the man behind the stained glass and to coincide with this celebration RH History Uncovered remembers Charles Eamer Kempe.


Born in Ovingdean in 1837, Charles Eamer Kempe bought Old Place in Lindfield, using it as a base to entertain, he continued to live in Sussex for most of his life. However, Kempe’s contribution to church architecture stretches beyond Sussex, examples of his work can be found in English cathedrals including Chester, Gloucester, Hereford, Wells, Winchester and York.

Sussex churches are proud of their Kempe windows, each carrying, usually in a small corner at the bottom left, what became a trademark – a wheatsheaf, his family emblem. Kempe passed away at the age of 69 in 1907 and is buried in Ovingdean. Following his death the firm C E Kempe and Co Ltd was founded to continue his work. Run by distant relative, Walter Tower, newer windows carry a wheatsheaf which features a tower and the business operated until the 1930s.

James Nicholson from The Friends of Horsted Keynes Church said of Kempe’s work: “The windows are beautiful. The designs are rich in colour, even the poorest of characters portrayed are dressed in grand and decorated robes, and their faces especially are very finely produced. Yet colours do not predominate. Windows continue to serve their main function – to provide light.” A special celebration at St Giles Church in Horsted Keynes takes place this month following the church’s windows being cleaned. There was a time when window cleaning was part of the general spring clean, however, partly because of the danger, but mainly because the windows are so delicate this does not take place as frequently, a team of specialist were employed to undertake the important cleaning work.

Photograph by David Lamb


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Horsted Keynes Celebrates
On Friday, October 5 at 7.30pm in the village’s St Giles Church, there will be a presentation by Adrian Barlow entitled C E Kempe – Stained Glass and Sussex. Adrian Barlow who recently retired as a director of the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education is an authority on Kempe and has written a biography of the designer and manufacturer. Tickets to the event which cost £8 include wine and light refreshments are available from Sarah Cooper, call: 01825 791571, and James Nicholson, call: 01825 790777. [/box][/one_half_last]

Speaking about the work at St Giles, James added: “The work took a week, and everyone is delighted with the result. All the windows are gleaming now, and some restoration work has been carried out. The Friends of Horsted Keynes Church raised the £5,000 necessary with an auction of promises. Many villagers and other supporters have paid for the window cleaning and restoration.”

By Jacob White

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