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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SELSEY (fn. 1)
The parish is bounded on the south and east by the sea, on the north by the lagoon known as Wythering Haven and later as Selsey, or Pagham, Harbour, and on the west by a branch of this harbour which formerly connected with the sea at the south-west of the parish. It was, therefore, originally an island, connected with the mainland on the north by two fords, the Wadeway and, west of it, the Horseway, and by a ferry close to the Wadeway. The ferry is now replaced by a bridge carrying the road from Chichester, which runs south through the hamlet of Norton to meet the main local road. The latter runs north-east to the old church and south-west to the village, which seems always to have been at a considerable distance, over 1½ miles, from the church.
The soil, which is a very fertile alluvial deposit, rests on substrata which are very susceptible to the action of the sea, and few places have suffered more from erosion. About the beginning of the Christian era, at which time the island seems to have been a seat of the dynasty of Commius, (fn. 2) the point of Selsey Bill was probably at least a mile farther south. It seems likely that the shoals now known as 'the Owers' mark the site of cymenes ora, (fn. 3) where the South Saxons first landed in 477. That the ancient cathedral of Selsey lies under the sea is a tradition that may well be true, though Camden's assertion that its ruins could be seen at low tide is romantic fiction. Judging from the ascertainable loss by erosion during the past two hundred years, about ½ mile must have been washed away from the point since the time of the Domesday Survey. Side by side with this erosion the eastward drift piled up shingle in places, blocking the western exit of the branch of the harbour, mentioned above, and forcing the mouth of the harbour northwards.
The history of the harbour of Wythering (to use the best of many varied spellings (fn. 4)) is complicated. Geographically it was shared between the parishes of Pagham, Sidlesham, and Selsey, the greater part of the water at high tide and mud at low tide being in Selsey, though the mouth of the harbour was usually in Pagham. As a port it was under the jurisdiction of the city of Chichester, but rights of wreck were disputed between the Archbishop of Canterbury (for Pagham) and the Bishop of Chichester (for the other two manors) in the Middle Ages, and between the bishop and the Crown after Queen Elizabeth had forcibly acquired the manor of Selsey—but not the franchise of wreck, as the bishop proved. (fn. 5) The total area was reduced, partly through land being 'abandoned by the sea', which formed waste belonging to the Crown and was leased out to tenants who would inclose it, and partly through private attempts at reclamation. It was probably the failure of some of these early attempts that led to the drowning of so much land in Pagham and Selsey between 1291 and 1340. (fn. 6) General silting, assisted by the reduction of scour from the lessened area of water, made the harbour progressively less useful. According to the 'Armada Survey' of the Sussex coast in 1587 ships of 40 tons could navigate up to Sidlesham Mill; (fn. 7) but by the middle of the 19th century this was barely possible for boats of half that tonnage. In 1873 a company was incorporated to reclaim the whole area by building a sea-wall, some 400 yards long, from Pagham to Selsey. Of the 700 acres thus reclaimed about two-thirds lay in Selsey parish. From the start the sluices to discharge fresh water gave trouble and the whole expense of upkeep was heavy. At last a week of exceptional south-westerly gales ended on the night of 16 December 1910 in the sea breaking in and once more reducing the whole to a tidal lagoon. (fn. 8)
The sea end of the estuary or branch of the harbour on the west side of the parish having become partially blocked was converted into a mill-pond for a tidal mill. This is mentioned in 1522 as leased for 40s. (fn. 9) In 1640, when Thomas Farrington was farming the mill, questions arose as to rights of way into the island of Selsey by the mud bank on the north of the mill-pond and by the beach, and at low tide the sand, on the south. It was then said that a recent breach in the sea-wall had been caused by the over-filling of the pond consequent upon the raising of the mill-wheels 1½ ft. (fn. 10) By the middle of the 18th century the water-mill had been washed away and a windmill erected near-by to take its place; this is now derelict.
Under an Inclosure Act of 1819, the Award of which was not issued until 1830, some 670 acres were inclosed. (fn. 11) Most of this lay in the common fields—North Field, with Hill Field, Mill Field, and Deane (formerly Danner) Field to the south, and Upper and Lower Cotlands on the east—but 134 acres were greens or pasture land. Two new roads were laid out; one, Hillfield Rd. (now New Rd.), continuing the High Street south-westwards to the sea, the other being an extension of West St. from the point where the old High Street ended. Other new roads came into existence with the development of Selsey as a sea-side resort. With this development the remote situation of the church at Norton, over 2 miles from many of the new houses, was found so inconvenient that in 1864 it was decided to remove the body of the church and re-erect it at the north end of the High Street leaving the old chancel to serve as a cemetery chapel. Just south of the rebuilt church on the west side of the High Street is a long low building with walls of stone rubble (Mixon Rock) with brick dressings and a thatched roof. It is probably of the early 17th century, lengthened to the north in 1728 and since then much modernized. The original central chimney-stack has wide fire-places, one with an iron crane. A brick doorway in the front of the north part is inscribed PH 1728. 'Malt House' nearly opposite is another long building, facing south, with walls of Mixon Rock and brick dressings but much modernized. Hale Farm, farther south on the west side, has lime-washed walls of stone and flint with brick dressings. The east gable end towards the road is inscribed TS 1699. (fn. 12) 'The Homestead', farther south (north of West St.), is an early-17th-century house of brick with a thatched roof. It has been almost completely restored with modern brickwork, but in the back wall of the main block is an original window with oak diamond-shaped mullions. The central chimneystack has a wide fire-place. Some nine or ten other buildings in the street, chiefly of stone and brick with thatched roofs, are probably of the 17th century. There are also five or six old barns now put to other uses. Most of them have stone and brick walls and thatched roofs.
East St. leads to the fishermen's quarters and life-boat station. Most of the older buildings are small and are built of stone or beach-cobbles with brick dressings. Some of the roofs are thatched, others tiled. Fish Shop Farm, by the Albion Inn, is represented by a fine large barn of nine 10 ft. bays with aisles, the walls being or squared stones and the roof thatched.
North of West St. at Crablands is 'Ivy Cottage', a 17th-century building facing west, with walls of stone rubble and flints, brick dressings, and a thatched roof. The central chimney-stack has wide fire-places and the open-timbered ceilings have heavy beams and joists.
The Manor Farm, formerly the Manor House, a little to the north of the church and village, probably retains some part of the building erected or enlarged by Bishop Robert Sherburne early in the 16th century, but it has undergone many changes and it is not possible to trace the original plan of the house. It now consists of two parallel ranges forming together a rectangular plan facing west. The front is faced with squared rubble of Mixon Rock with flint chippings in the joints and has brick dressings to the windows and the angles, and a brick eaves cornice, all of the end of the 17th century. This range has two rooms with a stair and entrance hall between them. The southern room, which has a remodelled great fire-place at its south end, has an open-timbered ceiling. The joists are not very old but the original main cross-beam has the filled-in mortices of much earlier wide flat joists, probably of the 15th or 16th century. Similar mortices appear in the beam over the north partition between the chamber and the stairhall, all suggesting that the two originally formed part of a two-storied hall-place of 30 ft. in length. It is probable that the range extended farther to the south. The northern chamber has, in the front wall, the splays of two brick windows that were blocked and replaced by the present single window between them. The open-timbered ceiling and the fire-place are modern but the back wall of the room is of irregular stone and flint rubble that appears to be medieval. The back or eastern range, of the same length, is partly or wholly of the early 17th century; it is possible that the stone-paved hall forming the south half of it is part of the earlier building; its outer east wall has been faced with masonry similar to the west front, and its open-timbered ceiling restored. The north half, containing the kitchen and scullery and a passage-way west of them, has its east wall of flint rubble with some stone, and brick dressings. The kitchen has a 17th-century ceiling-beam and a wide fire-place. In the hall is a 17th-century staircase with 2¾ in. turned balusters. Another 17th-century beam remains in the upper story of the west (front) range, but the roofs show no distinctive trusses, only ancient plain purlins. Some early-17th-century panelling remains in the corridor and the north-west room. Another lower stone wing, apparently of some age but recently pulled down, abutted the east wall of the hall; the mark where its gabled roof met the main wall is still visible. A 19th-century extension with a cellar and two stories projects to the south of the east range. The roofs are tiled and the chimney-stacks rebuilt.
The Grange, ½ mile south of the old church, is built of the same material as the late-17th-century walls of the Manor Farm and there are no traces of any earlier work in the building unless it be ancient rubble foundations. The main block faces north; in the back wall of the middle room is a wide fire-place with corner seats. A back wing at the east end also has a wide fire-place. A barn of seven bays with an aisle has stone and brick walls and a thatched roof.
On the opposite (north) side of the road are remains of a derelict roofless house of c. 1540, its south front being of mixed flint and stone rubble with angles of thin bricks with wide joints. The windows, of similar brickwork, were mullioned, their brick labels treated with plaster to imitate stonework, an unusual feature in this county but common elsewhere in 16th-century houses. The bottom of a central chimney-stack had two wide fire-places back to back.
The Old Rectory, now 'Norton Priory', south of the original parish church, is of medieval origin but has been altered so often that its development can only be conjectural. The middle block of c. 30 ft. facing north is probably the site of a timber-framed medieval hall, rebuilt with brick and heightened late in the 17th century. The foundations are of ancient stonework. At the first-floor level is a string-course. A low porch with a four-centred entrance is perhaps earlier. In the main wall west of the porch is a scrap of herring-bone brickwork, perhaps a little of the brick nogging (as at Neals Farm, Pagham) that survived the refacing. There were east and west wings with gables in the front flush with the main wall; there are straight joints between them and the middle part. These were built or rebuilt early in the 16th century in brickwork and had stone windows, fire-places, &c. The west wing had a projecting fire-place in the north front now a recess: it had a moulded stone Tudor fire-place (fn. 13) which is now reset in the central chimney-stack. On it is cut a casual inscription WL 1539. Next east of the recess is a blocked square-headed stone window with hollowchamfered jambs and head and a moulded external label. Next west of the recess is a projection that had a garde-robe on each floor. In its gabled head is a small original stone quatrefoil ventilation. The projecting chimney-stack is gathered in at the sides and has two square brick shafts springing from well below the main gable-head. Another ancient survival is a blocked four-centred stone doorway at the south end of the west wall of the same wing. In the same wall is a projecting chimney-stack of the early 17th century with a chamfered brick plinth. The east wing was approximately similar to the other but has been more altered. A projection in the gabled front with gathered-in sides probably had a lower fire-place but now is a recess with a window. Above it is a rebuilt single shaft. Against the east side of the projection is an old buttress. The interior has been much renovated; in the upper story is a 16th-century moulded oak door-frame opening on to the main staircase. The stair-hall behind the main block, in the angle with the west wing, is built of stone rubble and rises three stories; it has a gable head. It is probably an 18th-century addition. Adjoining the east side of the stair wing is a small porch and lower addition, probably of the 17th century. Behind the original east wing is a larger 17th-century addition that contained the former kitchen. It has a 9½ ft. fire-place at the south end with a cambered oak bressummer. The brick shaft above is square with a sinking on each face.
North of the Old Rectory, on the slight rise where the church stands, is an earthwork, at present crescentic in form but perhaps originally extending into the churchyard. It consists of a ditch, about 9 ft. deep, and a vallum, mainly constructed of shingle, rising to 18 ft. above the bottom of the ditch. Some rather desultory and inconclusive excavations (fn. 14) in 1911 tended to confirm the local tradition that it was a fortification thrown up in 1587 against the coming of the Spanish Armada. Traces of an earlier massive building, and of Roman occupation were found within the ramparts.
About a mile to the south of the Old Rectory, Park Farm marks the site of the bishop's park, to which there are many references in medieval times and later. Here as late as the end of the 18th century there was a considerable coppice, the only woodland in the parish.
In 1897 Selsey was connected to Chichester by a light railway, known as the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, (fn. 15) which title was changed to West Sussex Railway in 1924. This continued to operate, in a somewhat erratic fashion, until January 1935, when it succumbed to the rivalry of buses and other road traffic.
Wilfrid, Bishop of York, being exiled from his northern see, came to Sussex, where he was received by the local king, Æthelwalh, in 681. Shortly after this Caedwalla, King of Wessex, established his authority over the South Saxons and when Wilfrid wished to found a monastery it was Caedwalla, with the assent of Æthelwalh, who endowed it in 683 with extensive territories, including Selsey, (fn. 16) which became the seat of the abbey and later of the see, until this was moved in 1075 to Chichester. At the time of the Domesday Survey SELSEY was a manor of the Bishop of Chichester, assessed at 10 hides, of which Geoffrey held 1 hide and William ½ hide and ½ virgate; there were 6 haws in Chichester attached to the manor. (fn. 17) From this time the manor remained attached to the see until 1561. In that year Queen Elizabeth, by virtue of an Act passed in her first parliament, compelled the bishop, William Barlow, to surrender a number of manors, including Selsey, then valued at £53 4s. 10½d. clear yearly value, in exchange for various rectories and tithes. (fn. 18) In 1635 Bishop Richard Montague made a vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to recover the manor. (fn. 19)
At the time of the expropriation of the manor the demesne lands and park were held by John Lewes under a lease for eighty years granted in 1535. (fn. 20) He died in 1567 and left the lease to his (second) wife Mary for her life and then to his daughter Bridget and her husband Thomas Lewknor. Their son Sir Lewis Lewknor seems to have had a fresh lease from the Crown in 1587 of 'the Grange of the Island of Selsey, called the Bury'; which lease he surrendered to the Crown in 1612. Meanwhile the manor had been granted first in 1603 to Queen Anne, consort of James I, and then in 1619 to trustees for Prince Charles. After his accession it was assigned, with much other property, in 1628, to the City of London in return for loans made by them to the king. Eventually the manor was bought by Sir William Morley in 1635, to hold by a fee-farm rent of £56 2s. 0½d. His son and namesake sold it in 1700 to William Elson. After some involved proceedings in Chancery the manor and estates were acquired by William Glanville, who sold them in 1736 to John Peachey. He succeeded his brother Sir Henry Peachey as second baronet in 1737; his son, Sir John, was succeeded by his brother Sir James, who was created Baron Selsey in 1794 and died in 1808. On the death of the third baron in 1838 the baronetcy and peerage became extinct and the manor passed to his daughter Caroline Mary Peachey, who married the Rev. Leveson Vernon Harcourt. On her death in 1871 the manor passed under her will to Ulick John, Marquess of Clanricarde, who sold one half to Edward Paine and Richard Brettell and the other half to Osmond Barnard, and they at once sold to James Henry Legge. He sold in 1878 to Frederick William Grafton, on whose death in 1890 the estate was vested in trustees, who sold the manor in 1909 to Wilhelm Karl Ferro. (fn. 21) About 1920 it was bought by W. A. Thornton, (fn. 22) who was lord of the manor in 1940. (fn. 23)
It is possible that the sub-tenants Geoffrey and William mentioned in the Domesday Survey were prebendaries of Chichester Cathedral. Three prebends drew the major part of their endowments from this parish. The Prebend of Selsey, valued in 1291 at £21 6s. 8d., consisted mainly of tithes. This led to disputes between prebendaries and rectors until in 1526 Bishop Robert Sherburne ordained that in future the rector should have all the tithes and other emoluments and should pay £10 yearly to the prebendary. (fn. 24) The Prebend of Thorney, taking its name from East Thorney in the adjacent parish of East Wittering, had estates in the west of the parish at Crablands. (fn. 25) The estates of the Prebend of Waltham lay near the old church at Norton and in the common fields and constituted what was often called the manor of BERKELEYS. (fn. 26) These prebendal estates, of which many leases exist, passed eventually, under the Act of 1840, to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
From a number of entries in the accounts of the hospital of God's House in Southampton between 1297 and 1309 it appears that that institution held either property or tithes in Selsey; (fn. 27) but no details are known, and it was possibly a temporary benefaction by a prebendary.
Till 1864 the parish church of ST. PETER (fn. 28) stood at Church Norton on the south bank of Pagham Harbour; it consisted of chancel, aisled nave, south porch, and an incomplete tower rising about 8 ft. above ground. It was built of flint rubble with ashlar dressings, and roofed with tile. (fn. 29) In that year this church, with the exception of the chancel, was demolished, and the materials used for the construction of a new church at the northern end of the village at Selsey.
The earliest work existing in 1864 consisted of two arcades of three bays each between the nave and aisles, of the late-12th century; hardly was this finished when it was decided to lengthen the church by one bay westward. (fn. 30) The present chancel is of slightly later date, early-13th-century. Whether the aisles of that date had the width that they afterwards had is uncertain; the position of the lancet windows in the west wall makes it likely. The date when the tower was begun is unknown, (fn. 31) and all the ashlar had been removed from it before 1864. A sacristy or flanking chapel on the north of the chancel had disappeared before the 19th century.
The chancel (at Church Norton) has clasping buttresses at each east corner, a small buttress (apparently modern) near the west end of the north wall, and buttresses (the remains of the east walls of the aisles) to north and south of the west wall. The east window is of three trefoil-headed lights with Perpendicular tracery, perhaps late-14th century; the rear-arch may be that of a former lancet triplet. In the south wall are two pointed-headed niches with chamfered arrises, the eastern is now a credence, the western a piscina; though the style of these suggests a later date than the 13th century the original moulded string-course which runs round the south, east, and north sides of the chancel rises to clear them. Next are two 13th-century lancets with segmental rear-arches, and a priest's doorway with plain pointed exterior arch, 13th-century but much repaired with cement, and segmental rear-arch; this is now blocked externally, and its recess serves as a cupboard. Next is a two-light window without tracery, the lights having semicircular heads, perhaps a 17th-century enlargement to light a reading-desk, the inner part of the splay and the rear-arch being those of a 13th-century lancet. In the north wall are two lancets like those in the south; perhaps a third, now blocked, exists west of them. On the outside of this wall there is a weather-mould where the roof of a building adjoined it on the north.
The chancel arch is pointed, of one order so far as can be seen, and rests on square responds with plain imposts. It is now walled up, and in the wall is inserted an ancient doorway with a plain pointed arch. The roof has three plain ancient tie-beams resting on a moulded plate, and is ceiled with plaster in coved form. In the floor are five taper-sided tombstones, some with crosses yet visible, of the 13th century. (fn. 32)
In the north wall is the niche tomb of John 'Lews' and wife Agnes, 1537. The niche has moulded jambs and a very depressed four-centred arch, from which the moulding has disappeared; a central panel at the back of the niche, possibly with a representation of the Trinity, has also disappeared. The figures of John Lewes, west, and Agnes, east, of this kneel at prayerdesks; he is represented as bare-headed and in contemporary armour, she as wearing mantle and kirtle and kennel head-dress; the epitaph is partly written on the front edge of the niche, partly on two scrolls above the heads of the figures. Behind John is a relief of St. George, on foot, trampling on the dragon, behind Agnes the martyrdom of St. Agnes. Below the niche on octofoil square panels are i. (Gules) three bars nebuly (or) a canton ermine; ii. Lozengy (or and azure) a cheveron (gules); iii. on a chief two molets, impaling (argent) a cheveron between three bugle-horns (sable).
The chancel of the present church in Selsey is, in the main, a modern copy of that at Church Norton, but the east window consists of three lancets with a common rear-arch; the piscina is the ancient one formerly in the south aisle at Church Norton; there is no priest's door on the south side, where a lancet replaces the two-light window at Church Norton; on the north side a door and a wide arch give access to a vestry and organ chamber.
The nave arcades are both those from Church Norton rebuilt; the first three bays have pointed arches of one order and somewhat lofty cylindrical piers with moulded capitals and bases; the east respond on the south side has a scalloped half-capital resting on an inverted cone, contemporary with the arcade, that on the north side is a modern copy of it; the west responds have the form of half-piers. Backing against these are the east responds of the extra bay, these, both east and west, have the form of half-piers of the arcade east of them; the arches are of two chamfered orders. In the west wall is a doorway with a pointed arch and one moulded order, part ancient, and a pair of modern lancet windows. The roof is the Church Norton roof re-used; it has five tie-beams carrying king-posts supporting a collar purlin and trussed rafters. At the west end is a shingled bell-cote.
The north aisle has in the east wall a window of three lights with Perpendicular traceried head, evidently brought here from Church Norton (though the deviation from the square has not been reproduced), in the north wall four pairs of lancets (fn. 33) of modern design, and a single lancet, partly of 13th-century date, in the west. The south aisle resembles it, save that the east window is a modern copy, and a modern pointed doorway occupies the west bay, outside which there is a modern stone porch.
The bell which was at Church Norton in 1864 had been cast by Mears & Co. in 1844; two more from the same foundry were added in 1866. (fn. 34)
The communion plate (fn. 35) includes an interesting Elizabethan silver cup with conical bowl and strap ornament, and a cover paten; probably of local manufacture (? Chichester) of c. 1568. There is also a paten of 1688.
The advowson has been continuously in the hands of the Bishop of Chichester. The rectory was valued in 1291 at £13 6s. 8d.; (fn. 36) after 1526, as already mentioned, it was charged with a yearly payment of £10 to the prebendary, and on the institution of a perpetual vicarage (said to have been noviter erectam in 1513, (fn. 37) when John Hungerford was instituted to it) the rector had to pay his stipend of £8. After deducting these two charges, and a few small fees, the rectory was worth £11 3s. 4d. clear. (fn. 38) Although the rectory is called a sinecure and the vicarage is said to be in the gift of the rector in the 18th century, (fn. 39) no vicar seems to have been instituted after 1663, though Barré Phipps, who held the benefice from 1817 to 1863, was the first incumbent to be styled 'rector and vicar'. (fn. 40)
There was a Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, which in 1547 held a quarter of an acre in Selsey, yielding only 4d., and property in money and stock worth 41s. 4d. (fn. 41) There was also a cottage and garden called 'the Bedehouse', which paid 8d. to the Easter Sepulchre light; and a rent of 5s. from a farm at Norton was paid for the obit of John Boys. (fn. 42)
In 1330 John Arundel, Bishop of Chichester, had licence to alienate a messuage and 49 acres of land in Selsey for a chaplain to celebrate in the cathedral for his soul after his death. (fn. 43)