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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This parish, which contains 1,113 acres of land and 140 acres of foreshore, is bounded on the south by the sea, and the portion lying upon the coast formerly constituted the independent parish of Bracklesham. Owing to the weakness of the geologically interesting 'Bracklesham beds' (fn. 1) this district suffered severe erosion, and by 1518 the parochial chapel of Bracklesham was said to have few, if any, parishioners (fn. 2) and to be likely to have still fewer in future. The chapelry was therefore annexed to East Wittering. (fn. 3) Dallaway (fn. 4) speaks of the chapel as 'now (1815) totally dilapidated', but it is doubtful if the site was known at that time; it may be under the sea, or it may have been near Bracklesham Farm, a house which retains its 17th-century central chimney-stack and a few other contemporary features and stands on foundations of probably medieval date. The coastal district is now largely occupied by modern bungalows and small houses.
To the east of Bracklesham lies East Thorney, a detached portion of East Wittering (formerly Bracklesham) separated from the body of the parish by a very narrow strip of Earnley, which here reaches the sea. In 945 King Edmund gave to Alfred, Bishop of Selsey, 4 hides in Bracklesham and 2 in Thorney. (fn. 5) It was presumably here that Henry de Garlaunde, Prebendary of Thorney, in 1298 was allowed by the Prebendary of Bracklesham and his tenants to build a water-mill on the existing mill-pond, in which they reserved their rights of fishing. (fn. 6) The mill was valued at 20s. in 1340. (fn. 7)
EAST WITTERING was presumably included in the 'Wihttringes' given by Caedwalla, King of Wessex, to Bishop Wilfrid for the endowment of the minster of Selsey. (fn. 8) At some date before the Norman Conquest, however, 1 hide of the 15 hides had become separated and was held by two freemen as two manors. In 1086 this hide was held of Earl Roger by Robert [fitz Tetbald] and of him by Ralph; there was 1 haw in Chichester attached to it. (fn. 9) It was evidently recovered by the Bishops of Chichester, whose overlordship is recorded as late as 1520. (fn. 10) Of them the manor was long held by a family who took their name from the place. In 1166 Oliver de Wystringes held part of a knight's fee of the bishop; (fn. 11) Alan de Wideringe occurs in the time of King John; (fn. 12) about 1260 Simon de Wystryng held 2 hides; (fn. 13) about 1290 John, and in 1300 and 1310 William Wystryng held 4 hides 1½ yardlands (the yardland being 32 acres) attached manorially to Cakeham in West Wittering. (fn. 14) In the subsidy rolls of 1327 and 1332 John de Wyghtryng appears, (fn. 15) John Wystryng held ¼ fee of the bishop in 1428, (fn. 16) and finally in 1481 William Wyghtryng and Joan his wife are found conveying the manor of East Wittering to Sir Thomas Seyntleger and others, probably trustees for a settlement, (fn. 17) as Joan's son Robert Wyghtryng in 1507 sold the manor to Sir John Ernle, (fn. 18) who died in 1519. (fn. 19) His son William died in 1546, having settled the manor on his wife Bridget, daughter of Thomas Springe of Lavenham, who survived him. (fn. 20) William's elder son Francis died the following year (fn. 21) and was succeeded by his brother Richard. The manor remained in this family until at least 1628, when Richard Ernle and Susan his wife conveyed it to Thomas Hide. (fn. 22) In 1637 John Ashburnham and Francis his wife sold the manor of East Wittering to Thomas Alcock, clerk, with whose descendants it remained till 1807, when the Rev. William Alcock conveyed it to George Copis. (fn. 23) The latter was possibly acting as agent for John Helyer, (fn. 24) from whom the manor seems to have been acquired by the Duke of Richmond and leased to Henry Sparkes, the tenant in 1835. (fn. 25)
Three manorial estates in this parish formed the endowments of prebends in Chichester Cathedral to which they gave their names—SOMERLEY, BRACKLESHAM, and [EAST] THORNEY. Of these Somerley is entered in the Domesday Survey as 1 hide which had been held before the Conquest by Helghi, whose successor in 1086 was Rainald, who held it of Earl Roger. (fn. 26) How it passed to the cathedral and became a prebend is not known. All three were held continuously by the prebendaries, being in later times usually leased for three lives, until they were taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
In 1498 Thomas Payne and Margaret his wife, and Elias Thurwell and Joan his wife conveyed to John Dawtry a moiety of the manor of STUBCROFTE (fn. 27) and of tenements in East Wittering and other parishes. (fn. 28) In 1548 this manor was sold by Sir Francis Dawtry to Thomas and John Bysshopp, (fn. 29) but in the contemporary conveyance it is called 'the messuage or farm of Stubcroft', (fn. 30) and on the death of Thomas Bysshoppe in 1560 the 'manor or messuage of Stubcroft' was said to be held of the Earl of Arundel as of his manor of Bignor. (fn. 31) The manor descended with Hunston (q.v.), being held by Sir Thomas Bysshopp, bt., at the time of his death in 1626. (fn. 32) His son Sir Edward in 1637 conveyed it to trustees for sale. (fn. 33)
The church of THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (fn. 34) stands inland, away from the village, and consists of a modern chancel and a nave of the 12th century. It is built of rubble with ashlar dressings, and is roofed with tile; the sides of the bell-cote are tilehung and the small broach spire shingled.
The chancel (entirely modern) has an east window of two trefoil-headed lights under a quatrefoil opening, and two lancet windows in each side wall. The chancel arch (13th-century) is of two chamfered orders, the outer resting on square responds, the inner on moulded corbels, the abacus moulding of which is continued on to the respond as an impost. The upper part of the responds is chamfered, but the chamfer-stops show that a dwarf wall about 4 ft. high once served as chancel screen.
The south wall of the nave has a single-light window with pointed trefoil head; next to this is a window of two lights of similar design; west of the doorway is a third window of like design to the easternmost; these windows are modern, but old stones have been reused in them, particularly in the splay jambs. The south doorway (12th-century) is of two orders with hoodmould; the latter has a zigzag ribbon ornament; the outer order has a form of multiple cheveron ornament, resting on nook shafts with square abaci, scalloped capitals, and moulded bases; the inner order, the arch of which is segmental, is quite plain, and may be a later reconstruction; the rear-arch is semicircular. In the north wall are two modern lancet windows, the splay jambs incorporating old material. West of the eastern of these is the head of a 12th-century window, now blocked, the semicircular head being visible on the outside and the concentric arch of the splay within; west of this the remains of a similar window are visible on the inside only. The north doorway, now blocked, has the remains of a plain pointed arch and jambs without imposts externally, and a segmental rear-arch; it was perhaps 13th-century.
The west end of the nave is screened off to form a vestry; in the west wall are two lancet windows with a quatrefoiled opening above, all modern.
The roofs, the bell-cote at the west end, and the font and fittings are modern.
The single bell was cast by C. & G. Mears in 1846. (fn. 35)
The communion plate includes a silver cup and paten cover of 1613. (fn. 36)
The registers begin in 1658.
The church seems to have originated as the private chapel of Oliver de Withringes, who held the manor. About the end of the 12th century it was given by him, with the house and croft of the chaplain, to the establishment of the cathedral of Chichester. (fn. 37) The advowson of the rectory, which was valued at £5 in 1291, (fn. 38) remained with the dean and chapter until 1518, when the vicarage of Bracklesham was united to East Wittering, (fn. 39) the advowson of the joint benefice being reserved by Bishop Robert Sherburne to himself and his successors. The Bishops of Chichester continued to hold the patronage until 1858, when it was acquired by the Bishop of London. In 1924 the living was united to that of Earnley, and since that time the Bishop of Chichester presents on two out of three turns and the Bishop of London on the third. (fn. 40)
In 1291 the rectory of Bracklesham was part of the prebend, which was valued at £16 13s. 4d.; (fn. 41) the vicarage was not taxed, as its value was only £4 6s. 8d. (fn. 42) In 1340 the prebend of Thorney (rated at £10 in 1291) had rents in Bracklesham of £3 4s. 8d. and 80 acres of arable, worth £6. (fn. 43) At this time the prebend of Somerley (£8 in 1291) included land in that part of East Wittering worth £4 and 50s. rents. (fn. 44)