St Mary's, resting on the slope of the Bourne stream, was built late in the 12th century with Caen stone from Normandy. It was considerably enlarged in the 14th cent. and extensively restored in the 19th century.
Copies of the new 'Pitkin' Guide Book are now available in church from the Verger.
Standing at the crossing the view to the east is dominated by the Norman style chancel arch with chevron decoration. Near the capitals are the marks where a rood screen and lft spanned the arch.
High on the south wall is a rare rood loft piscina. Access to the loft from the south was by an entrance in the south pier and from the north by a later turret-stairway.
On each of the piers there is a niche, originally containing pictures of saints. The one on the north pier is now occupied by a modern statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and child.
This was given in memory of Tom Hudson the Verger for many years.
The pillars of the chancel and nave are alternately round and octagonal of Caen stone with Romanesque style capitals.
Still standing at the crossing, we can see the 14th century parclose screens of the chancel which are of particular note. The eastern end of the north screen incorporates part of the old rood screen door. The lectern in the form of an Eagle, the symbol of St John the Evangelist, is a copy of a medieval one in Holy Trinity Coventry. This was given in 1878 by Canon Thomas Pitman, vicar from 1828-1890 and marked the 50th year of his vicariate. During this time the population of Eastbourne rose from 2,000 to 35,000.
The arches of the nave arcading are composed of alternate voussoirs of greensand and Caen stone this may indicate part of the 14th century rebuild.
Turning around one sees the contrasting 14th century arch of the baptistery which is part of the 14th century addition of the tower. Examining the most western pillar capitals of the nave arcading one can see the 14th century work of the additional bay contrasting with the original 12th century work.
The massive greensand tower, housed in 1651, six bells and in 1818 the peal was increased to eight with the tenor weighing 15 3/4 cwt.
Below the stone barrel vaulting stands a square greensand font hewn from a local quarry in the 14th century - similar examples exist at Arlington and Wilmington.
On the north wall is a list of incumbents dating from 1054 and on the south wall copies of plates from two medieval books owned by the church.
Looking back towards the High Altar we can see that the line of the chancel is deflected to the south - a feature said to symbolise the inclined head of Christ on the cross.
Crossing to the south aisle we see on the south wall an unsigned bust attributed to Sir Robert Taylor (1714 - 88) commemorating the death of Henry Lushington, eldest son of Dr. Henry Lushington, vicar (1734 –79) and builder of the the former Towner Art Gallery. Henry a member of the East India Company died in Patna in 1763 having survived the Black Hole of Calcutta in 1756. This bust is facing away from the altar as it was moved from the Easter Sepulchre during the Victorian Restoration.
On the west wall are memorials to the Mortimer family, two of whom were Thomas, an inventor of horizontal windmills and his son John Hamilton, Eastbourne’s only Royal Academician.
Opposite the south door, in the springing of the arch, a head, possibly a self-portrait of the mason, greets those who enter the south door.
Further to the east over the old entrance to the rood loft, there is a more rotund and humorous head the second of six in the church.
The south aisle chapel is dedicated to SS Margaret & Bartholomew, a dedication derived from Margaret and Bartholomew Badlesmere, 14th century holders of the Manor of Bourne. In this chapel, set aside for private prayer, the Reserved Sacrament is now kept. The resurrection window, designed by Douglas Strachen was installed as a thank-offering for the survival of the church during 1939-45 war.
The tomb in the south wall, is thought to be a founders tomb.
A squint pierces the arcade so that the celebrant at the high altar could be watched by those in the chapel.
In the sanctuary there is much 14th century additional stonework. On the south is a sedilia and piscina, in the east wall is the entrance to the medieval vestry, This extension was built against the east wall to house the vestry meetings which governed the parish.
Behind the altar is a niche for a statue and also a recess which may have been used as an aumbry. An Easter sepulchre occupies much of the north arcade and below and to the east of this is the oldest surviving brass in the church, commemorating the death of John King in 1445.
High on the wall of the north arcade is an escutcheon of the Royal Arms of King George III and on the south are the hatchments of the Cavendish family including the First Earl of Burlington.
Through the north screen we enter the Gildredge chapel, where lie the holders of the Manor of Eastbourne Gildredge.
The east window by Hugh Easton depicts the archangel Michael, fighting the dragon representing the devil. This replaces a medieval window destroyed by enemy action in 1943 and commemorates an early dedication of the church at Bourne.
On the north wall there is a 17th century memorial to Katharine Gildredge and her two infants, signed “Ed Marshall” , who was master– mason to king Charles II.
In the panelling north of the entrance in the chapel screen are two sets of holes possibly used for confessions. Nearby on the north wall is a tablet to the outstanding Cornishman, Davies Gilbert M.P. (1767-1838) formerly Davies Giddy, whose accomplishments included involvement in the Menai and Clifton Suspension bridges, Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames and the standardisation of weights and measures.
The three small north windows depicting SS Richard, Wilfred and Francis came from the now demolished daughter church of St. George , which is commemorated in a fourth window designed by H. Buss, a local artist. The last window opposite the organ consol commemorates the second millennium.
Also in this chapel is a 17th century chest carved with the initials“E.B.” Some parish papers were destroyed in 1818 but the registers survive from 1558 and record many persons of note.
Notable visitors to the church include King George V and Queen Mary. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters, the present Queen and her sister Princess Margaret.
West of the north door a tablet records the Hart family’s unbroken service as vergers for 202 years. The north door opens into the war memorial cloister, which leads to the Old Parsonage - a 16th century Rectory Manor.
The “Barn” and former cart lodge, the only other survivors of the Manor farm, form the east and north boundaries of the church car park. The tithe barn was on the site where Lawns Avenue now stands.
At the eastern end of the churchyard there is a Celtic cross brought from Cornwall by Davies Gilbert in 1817 and the old village cross later converted to a sundial.
The north-west corner of the churchyard once called Pigeon House Garden was added in 1846, it has some memorials, but is now used as a Garden of Rest for cremations.