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Tapsel (Or Tapsell) Gates - Frequently Asked Questions

Sunday 11 January 2015

One of the special features of the Church of St Pancras in Kingston near Lewes is the east gate into the churchyard.  Unlike the west gate into the churchyard, which is an open ‘lych-gate’, the east gate is of an unusual design known as a ‘Tapsel gate’

What is a ‘Tapsel gate’?

Unlike most other wooden gates, which are hinged on one side, a Tapsel gate is balanced on a central pivot made of wood, or wood reinforced with metal fixed firmly into the ground.  It can be swung through 180 degrees. Stop posts on each side of the entrance gap allow the gate to be secured with a catch.

 

What are the advantages of a Tapsel gate rather than a normal swing gate?

There are a number of advantages inherent in the design of a Tapsel gate – it avoids the use of a conventional, ‘five-barred gate’ that requires a much wider arc to open;  it can be opened in two directions at one time to allow passage;  it can be closed and opened with much greater ease than other designs, and its design deters large farm animals from entering the churchyard.

 

What are the origins of the name ‘Tapsel’?

Tapsel is a Sussex surname which has a long history. The name is found spelt in a variety of ways from the sixteenth century onwards in church documents – variants include Tapsel, Tapsel, Tapsayle, Tapsaille, Tapsil, Topsil, and Topsel.  The surname is still to be found in Sussex today.

It would seem likely that the Tapsel gate took its name from its original, and very inventive, designer.  Who this was and whereabouts in Sussex he (or she) lived and worked has interested Sussex historians down the years and various suggestions have been put forward.  There is no firm documentary evidence available, however, that can tie the name to a particular person.

 

When did the term ‘Tapsel gate’ come into use?

When the term ‘Tapsel gate’ came into being in churchyards is not known, but the earliest reference to a Tapsel gate in church records is actually for Kingston itself.  In 1729, in the accounts kept by the churchwardens of the Church of St. Pancras, an entry reads ‘P(ai)d for setting up the Tapsel gate 1s.6d.’  So, at least, we know that by 1729 this type of gate was in existence – but for how long Tapsel gates had been in use before 1729 is a mystery.  Tapsel gates only seem to have been used for the entrances to churchyards.

 

Where are Tapsel gates to be found in Sussex?

There are six examples of historic Tapsel gates known from Sussex.

Kingston near Lewes

The Tapsel gate at the Church of St Pancras in Kingston near Lewes has been replaced on a number of occasions since it was first constructed in 1729. It was last replaced in October 2010.

Jevington, near Eastbourne

The Tapsel gate at St. Andrew’s Church in Jevington was the only gate in Sussex set with an integral stile.  It was removed during repairs as it caused additional wear on the central pivot.  The gate was restored in 1933.  In 2000, Willingdon & Jevington Parish Council adopted the gate as its official logo.

East Dean, near Eastbourne

The Tapsel gate at the Church of St. Simon and St. Jude in East Dean is said to be of original construction.  It is very similar in design to the gate at Jevington.

Friston, near Eastbourne

The Tapsel gate at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, at Friston, reflects the design of those at East Dean and Jevington, but is distinctive in having a wooden arch set over it, the sides of which act as the stop posts for the gate.  Like the one at East Dean, it is said to be of original construction.

Coombes, near Lancing

The Tapsel gate at Coombes Church, near Lancing, is also said to be of original construction.  Near Coombes, a modern Tapsel gate links the churchyard of St Botolph's Church, in Botolphs, with the adjacent burial ground.  It was installed in late 2003 and dedicated by the Bishop of Horsham in 2004.

Pyecombe, near Brighton

The Tapsel gate at the Church of the Transfiguration in Pyecombe, near Brighton, is a replica of the original.  Its design differs to that of the other Sussex gates, which are all barred.  The Pyecombe gate is in the style of a picket fence with cross braces. The top of a Pyecombe crook - a shepherd’s staff - is fitted as a handle at one end of the gate;  it was made in a forge opposite the church.

Given the wear and tear that Tapsel gates receive, it seems likely that some of those thought to have been of original construction have actually been replaced at different times, like the examples at Kingston and Pyecombe.  While the six historic gates survive either as originals or replicas, it is perfectly possible that, originally, there were others in different locations in Sussex that were replaced later with more conventional gates – but the evidence is lacking to support this suggestion.

Do Tapsel gates appear elsewhere in the country?

 

There are variant types of Tapsel gate known from other counties, e.g. Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire, but these are usually integrated into lych-gates and have weight and pulley mechanisms to close the gate automatically.