5.1.3 Spoil Bank

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Early on in the plans for the Guild, Gill identified the mound on the triangular area of unused land bordered by Folders Lane, the road to Ditchling and the Newhaven Railway Line as a place where they could announce their presence to the world. This mound was made of soil dug out when the railway cutting was made, and so became known as the Spoil Bank. The first thought was a hilltop chapel, perhaps reflecting frequent medieval practice that churches be built high on a hill, where they could be a shining light of faith. This however was not a realistic notion, the spoil bank was of insufficient size to accommodate any sizeable building. Eventually, the plan was scaled down to a crucifix alone, which could be seen from both the road and the railway. This was to stand for some twenty years, and it inspired the following poem by Gill’s sister Edith:

There was a cross on Calvary
And stark against the sky,
There hung the Christ of all the world:
Men Saw and passed it by.
There is a cross on the wide Downs
High on a hill it stands:
And men have carved and placed it there,
With love inspired hands.
They left him dead on Calvary
But he is living still:
His cross against an English sky
Christ, on a Sussex hill.
Gill’s original drawing for the Spoil Bank, including a chapel, a concept that was soon abandoned as impractical. For a time, a hut which acted as a schoolroom stood by the crucifix.
Adopted from the original drawing with the chapel removed and the sky darkened.
The crucifix at close quarters. This was carved and painted by Gill himself.
A fascinating photograph of the junction between Folders Lane (ahead) and the Ditchling Road (left) 1920’s. The gate by the cottage was a toll gate, sometimes operated by the Guild children. The roads are little more than tracks; the Crucifix is clearly visible to the left.
Rather busier and more overgrown today, the cottage is still there however, the roofline just visible

During World War Two, The Guild was instructed to remove the Crucifix as it was seen as a landmark which could to used to help German bombers orientate themselves. Either in removing the figure or possibly while it was in storage, the arms were lost and it was never re-erected. In the 1960s it was sold to Rensselaer Newman Foundation (a University cultural centre in New York State) where it is hung on the back wall of the Chapel.

The Cricifix figure in 1948, outside the workshops. The arms are no longer in place.
The chapel of the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, to the right on the back wall is the figure as it is today.
The plinth of the Crucifix is still on place at the summit of the Spoil Bank, the last remnant of the Guild’s communal buildings. This photo was taken around 1998; it is less overgrown today.