A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1953.
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The parish contains 1,814 acres of flat low-lying land. Its northern boundary is formed by the channel of Chichester Harbour and a small stream running into this channel past a tide-mill. On the west at Shipton Green and south near Hundredsteddle Farm the boundaries of this parish and those of West Itchenor and the Witterings are curiously involved. The church and village are slightly north of the centre of the parish, connected by a short road eastwards with the main road running north-east to Chichester past Manhood End, where the farm-house is a 17th-century building of red and black bricks on stone foundations, with a thatched roof. There are a few other houses of about the same date, including Hammond's Farm, west of the church, and Lippering, farther south, which has a fine barn of timber framing with weather-boarded walls.
About 360 acres of Birdham Common were inclosed in 1791. (fn. 1) The Tithe Award of 1847 shows that the customary acre in use here was ¾ of the statutory acre.
Birdham was included among the places given by Caedwalla for the endowment of the monastery of Selsey, (fn. 2) but by the time of Edward the Confessor the manor of BIRDHAM was held as an alod by Alnod. In 1086 it was held under Earl Roger by William and of him by Nigel as 3½ hides. There was a mill yielding 20s., and two fisheries. A certain Anschitel held 1½ hides of the manor. (fn. 3) William's lands later constituted the honor of Halnaker, with which the lordship of Birdham descended. Nigel seems to have been succeeded by the family of Sartilli, (fn. 4) and Geoffrey de Sartilli gave to Boxgrove Priory 1 virgate in Birdham. (fn. 5) This was at 'la Hulle' (now Hill Land) and was leased in about 1220 by Prior Nicholas to Thomas de Chesney, (fn. 6) who later surrendered it to William St. John in his court of Halnaker, (fn. 7) after which it became part of the main manor (fn. 8) held by the St. Johns in demesne. (fn. 9) In 1329 'the heirs of Robert de Sortell' held ½ knight's fee in Birdham, (fn. 10) and this was held in 1336, (fn. 11) and (as 1/12 fee) in 1349 (fn. 12) by Robert de Bromore. (fn. 13) This probably represents the manor of BIRDHAM BROOMER, which came into the hands of the Earl of Arundel and was given by the executors of Earl Thomas in 1423 to the hospital of Holy Trinity, Arundel. (fn. 14) On the suppression of the hospital it came into the hands of the Crown and in June 1546 it was granted, as the manor of Birdham, to Sir Richard Lee, (fn. 15) who a year later sold it to Thomas Carpender, (fn. 16) and he alienated it in 1561 to Thomas Shelley, (fn. 17) who promptly sold it to Sir Richard Sackville, by whom it was conveyed, with his other manor (see below) to the Crown. It was given in 1565 by Queen Elizabeth, in exchange for other property, to the Cathedral of Chichester. (fn. 18) It remained with the Dean and Chapter, except during the Commonwealth, when it seems to have been sold to William Cawley and others and by them transferred to Thomas Butterie in 1655; (fn. 19) it is now held by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The grant to the Dean and Chapter in 1565 included also 'the other manor of Birdham', presumably that known as BIRDHAM COURT BARNS, which descended with Birdham Broomer, except that during the Commonwealth it was acquired by John Downes. (fn. 20)
An estate in Birdham and East Itchenor, consisting of a messuage, a mill, and 2 carucates of land, was granted in 1269 by Joan de Chanceus to Thomas de Chanceus, (fn. 21) probably her son. He was sued by Agnes, widow of Robert de St. John, and Joan, whom he called to warrant, said that the land was given to her when she married Giles de Chaunceus at Basing Church by Robert de St. John, (fn. 22) which suggests that she was a daughter of Robert. John, son of Robert de St. John, said that it was not so given, but was sold to Giles and Joan. (fn. 23) Agnes seems to have married John de Turevylle, as in 1278 he and Agnes his wife remitted to Thomas de Chanceus ⅓ of this estate, claimed as dower of Agnes. (fn. 24) Nine years later William de Cumpton and Mary his wife sold it to John de St. John, (fn. 25) when it was presumably reunited with the main manor. In 1318 Giles, son of John de Chanceus, claimed the manor of BIRDHAM against John de St. John and Isabel his wife, (fn. 26) but evidently without success, as it was held by Hugh St. John at his death in 1337 and was granted for the minority of his son Edmund to William Trussel. (fn. 27) It then descended with Halnaker (q.v.) as a demesne manor (fn. 28) to Thomas West, Lord de la Warre, who exchanged it to the Crown in 1540. (fn. 29) In December 1557 the manor of Birdham was granted to Sir Richard Sackville to hold as 1/40 knight's fee, (fn. 30) and he had licence to alienate it in 1564. (fn. 31) In 1565 he conveyed this manor and the other that had belonged to the hospital of Arundel to the Crown. (fn. 32) Sir Richard Lewkenor died in 1616 seised of the manor, then said to be held of the king in socage: (fn. 33) his grandson and heir Richard made a settlement of it next year when he married Mary, daughter of Thomas Bennett, alderman of London, and died in 1635, leaving a son John Lewkenor, then 11½ years old. (fn. 34) After this it descended with the manor of West Dean (q.v.).
The Priory of Tortington possessed property in Birdham which was worth £1 16s. 8d. yearly at the time of the Dissolution. (fn. 35) This was bought by Henry Best and Robert Holland, who sold it in 1600 to William Ottley, acting for Sir Richard Lewkenor. (fn. 36)
The Shropshire Priory of Wenlock had tithes of land at Whitestone in Birdham (probably 'the yardland which Siward held') (fn. 37) and in 1258 made them over to the Dean and Chapter of Chichester in exchange for a yearly payment of 14s. (fn. 38)
The early history of EAST ITCHENOR is very obscure. In 1332 William de Hunston paid the subsidy for 'the tenement of Itchenor' under Birdham. (fn. 39) This presumably represents the 'lands in Birdham' demised to him by John de St. John (d. 1329), (fn. 40) on the strength of which Thomas de Hunston claimed rights of wreck as lord of the manor of Birdham. (fn. 41) In 1428 William Wappelade was returned as holding ¼ fee in 'Ichenore', formerly belonging to Edmund St. John, (fn. 42) and this is shown to have been East Itchenor by the fact that William Whaplode and Elizabeth his wife in 1376 conveyed to William Blakemore and others, probably trustees, some 150 acres in East Itchenor and Bracklesham. (fn. 43) It first appears as a manor in 1567, when Edmund Wyndsor and Agnes his wife conveyed it to Roger Hale. (fn. 44) Richard Hale and Grace transferred it in 1626 to John Grenefield. (fn. 45) Henry Peckham of East Hampnett married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Grenefield, (fn. 46) and in 1648 they conveyed the manor to his brother Thomas Peckham. (fn. 47) It descended in this family, (fn. 48) passing on the death of John Peckham in 1782 to his daughter Mary and her husband Charles Hewitt Smith, who were dealing with the manor of East Itchenor in 1820, (fn. 49) but the subsequent history is obscure.
The church of ST. JAMES (fn. 50) stands west of the village; it consists of chancel, nave with south porch, and west tower; the chancel is of ashlar, the nave and tower of rubble with freestone dressings, the porch of wood on a stone base; the roofing is tile. The present nave appears to be of the 14th century, the tower was built c. 1545, (fn. 51) the chancel and porch have been rebuilt in modern times.
The chancel (entirely modern) has a buttress in the middle of each side wall. The east window is of three lights with traceried head in early-14th-century style; two single-light windows on each side have trefoil heads. The single roof truss consists of principals, collar, and arched brace, springing from stone corbels. The chancel arch is of the 14th century, having two moulded orders dying away into plain jambs; on the west side these have wide chamfers ending in bold ornamental stops.
The nave is divided externally into three unequal bays by buttresses set square to the walls; there is a pair of buttresses at the north-western corner, and there was the like at the south-western before the tower was built; a modern buttress has been added on each side in the western bay. At the east end of the south wall is a small trefoil-headed piscina. Over this is a modern two-light window with Perpendicular tracery under a segmental arched head; in the next bay is a similar window, also modern, and the south doorway, a plain opening of one order with pointed head and rather high segmental pointed rear-arch. In the third bay is a window with three cinquefoil-headed lights under a square head; the stonework of this is entirely modern, but may be a copy of a window of the same design, perhaps 15th-century, shown here in a drawing of c. 1805. (fn. 52) On the north side, in the second bay is a similar window, part of the exterior stonework of which is ancient, though the inner jambs are entirely modern. This has been moved, as the Sharpe drawing shows such a window in the eastern bay, where there is a modern patch in the masonry; this was presumably done when the organ was placed in the eastern bay. West of this is the ancient north door, now blocked, of the same design as the south door, but narrower, and so much lower that it can hardly have had any but a ritual use for the exit of the Devil. (fn. 53) In the west bay is a single lancet, in spite of its form probably 14th-century work, shown in situ in the Sharpe drawing.
The roof is in five bays. The easternmost truss consists of principals, tie-beam, and collar, the collar and a collar-purlin being braced by four braces in a horizontal plane. The second and third trusses are of like design but have also king-posts which are braced to the collar and collar-purlin, the horizontal braces of the first truss being omitted. Of the westernmost truss nothing is visible but the lower part of two modern arched braces. (fn. 54) A collar-purlin, the western part modern, runs the length of the nave; there is plaster ceiling on the underside of the rafters and collars; the roofing may be of the 14th century; a cresting, in battlement form, on the tie-beams appears to be modern.
The tower arch is of three orders, each having hollow chamfers; the outermost rests on a square respond, the inner two on clustered shafts with moulded capitals and bases; the shaft bearing the innermost order has a second series of base mouldings about 2 ft. 6 in. above the first. Access to the upper floors is by a spiral staircase of stone in the south-east corner. The west doorway is pointed, of two orders moulded, with an exterior hood-mould. Above is a window of three lights with cinquefoil heads and normal Perpendicular tracery, save that there is a small pointed oval quatrefoil light just below the arch head. There is a diagonal buttress at each west corner.
The second stage of the tower has nothing but a small lancet window on the west side; the third has single-light trefoil-headed windows in square framing south, west, and north. There are modern battlements.
The communion table has turned legs and heavy rails, and is perhaps of the late 17th century; the altar rails have turned balusters of oak, coeval with the table, or a little later, set in modern rails.
The communion plate includes a small straight-sided cup of about 1660; a fine paten, on a foot, made in 1699 but given to the church in 1702; and another paten, square, of 1727. (fn. 57)
The church of Birdham was among those given with that of Boxgrove to the Abbey of Lessay by Robert de Hay in 1105. (fn. 58) It was confirmed to the Priory of Boxgrove by William and Robert de St. John in 1187, (fn. 59) the same confirmation including also the church of (East) Itchenor, which already belonged to the priory some 30 years before. (fn. 60) The rectory of Birdham was worth only £5 6s. 8d and that of East Itchenor £8 in 1291. (fn. 61) By the 15th century the income and population of East Itchenor had dwindled, and on 17 April 1441 Bishop Praty united the parish to that of Birdham. (fn. 62)
Shortly after the union the advowson appears to have been acquired by Sir Thomas Poynings, Boxgrove Priory retaining an annual pension of £1 3s. 4d. (fn. 63) It passed with Halnaker to the Crown and was included in the grant of the manor to Sir Richard Sackville in 1557, (fn. 64) and by him was transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Chichester in 1564. (fn. 65) They retained the advowson until late in the 19th century, (fn. 66) when it was transferred to the Bishop, who is the present patron.
About the beginning of the 13th century there was a dispute between the parishioners of East Itchenor and their rector over his claim to exact a mortuary on the burial of any parishioner; a compromise was made by which a man should pay 3s. and a woman 2s. by way of mortuary. (fn. 67) In the course of the dispute the witnesses all said that their ancestors heard divine service and had holy bread in the chapel of Cowdry (la Codre). Of this chapel nothing else appears to be known.
'Old Ichynore' cemetery was in the tenure of Roger Hale in 1575, (fn. 68) and its church was presumably the 'chappell of Ease demolished' which is mentioned in 1640, (fn. 69) and the chapel 'with only naked walls' which was 'sometimes called the School house' in 1708. (fn. 70)
Land called Kings Croft in Birdham was seized by the Crown in 1548 as having been given for the upkeep of a lamp in the church. (fn. 71) There was at this time a brotherhood in the parish, whose property was worth 32s. 8d.; (fn. 72) this was in existence in 1523, when its stock was valued at £6. (fn. 73)
John Preston of Lurgashall before his death in 1454 ordained an 'Almes Howse' in Birdham 'for poore peple to be logged in be nyght', (fn. 74) and a reference to 'the Master of the Almys House' occurs in the will of Simon Tronall in 1544. (fn. 75)