A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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The small parish of Coombes (fn. 1) lies in the middle of the South Downs, on the west bank of the river Adur, 2½ miles above Shoreham. It is roughly oval in shape, the long axis lying west-east, and comprises 1,280 a. (518 ha.). (fn. 2) The northern boundary was already apparently an estate boundary in 956. (fn. 3) The western boundary also seems to be old, since it follows a probably ancient downland track. (fn. 4) Part of the southern boundary is formed by the Ladywell stream. The bounds were still perambulated in 1885. (fn. 5) The soil of the parish lies mainly on chalk, overlaid in the east part by alluvial deposits, (fn. 6) and land use is divided between arable and pasture. In the west part the land climbs gradually to 350 ft., being broken by the dry valleys or coombes which gave the parish its name. (fn. 7) The strip of land along the river in the east part is reclaimed marshland. There is little woodland in the parish; it is likely that the same was true in the Middle Ages and that most of the 100 a. of woodland attached to the manor of Applesham in 1453 lay in West Grinstead in the Weald. (fn. 8)
The parish contains two settlements, Coombes village and Applesham. They lie on the edge of the flood-plain of the river, one in the north and one in the south, and probably correspond to two Saxon estates aligned east-west like Annington (in Botolphs) and Bidlington (in Bramber). Coombes was the larger settlement in 1086, (fn. 9) but it later declined. In 1677 it had 12 buildings, most of which belonged to the 4 surviving tenants of the manor, besides empty crofts where other houses had apparently stood. The village street was longer then than in 1976, continuing right up to the church; there were three side roads to the south, and one to the north. (fn. 10) A century later, though there were about the same number of buildings, some had ceased to be dwellings and had become farmbuildings; all had apparently been engrossed by the lord of the manor, so that the village was virtually an appendage of the demesne farm at Applesham. (fn. 11) Only 5 houses were left in 1840, including the parsonage. (fn. 12) In 1976 there were 7, and a number of deserted house-sites could be seen. (fn. 13) The roads shown in 1677 survived as tracks in 1875, (fn. 14) but by 1976 all but one had disappeared, and the church could be reached only by a footpath through a field. Coombes Farmhouse is a 17th-century timberframed building with later additions; the other buildings of the village are later and are mostly cottages. Though Coombes was always the more important settlement, the land round the former Applesham hamlet is the best in the parish. (fn. 15) Applesham probably became a single farm at an early date, for it was never described as a vill in the Middle Ages. Since the 17th century (fn. 16) it has been the principal farm in the parish.
Thirty-four villani, 12 bordars, and 3 servi were recorded at Coombes and Applesham manors in 1086, (fn. 17) but some of them probably inhabited outlying parts of the manors in the Weald. Fourteen persons were assessed for subsidy in 1327 and 16 in 1332, (fn. 18) and in 1378 26 persons were listed, including 8 wives. (fn. 19) Eleven inhabitants were assessed in 1524. (fn. 20) In 1642 there were 15 adult males in the parish, (fn. 21) and in 1676 24 adult inhabitants. (fn. 22) By 1801 the population was 47. By 1841 it had risen to 80, remaining at about that figure until the early 20th century. In 1931 it reached a peak of 99, after which there was a steady fall to 50 in 1971. (fn. 23)
Neither Coombes village nor Applesham seems ever to have lain on an important route. The modern motor road from Steyning to Lancing bypasses both on the east. A route leading along Coombes village street and south from the church over the downs never seems to have been more than a footpath. A number of downland roads formerly passed through the parish, from Steyning and Botolphs to Lancing, and from Botolphs and Applesham to Findon; (fn. 24) most had disappeared by 1875. (fn. 25) A 'race way' was recorded in 1677 along the Botolphs-Findon road in the north part of the parish. (fn. 26) It is not clear whether it was the same as the racecourse near Steyning where races were run in the early 18th century and later. (fn. 27)
MANORS AND OTHER ESTATE.
In 1066 there were two manors in the parish, COOMBES, held by Earl Gurth, and APPLESHAM, which Lewin had held of Earl Godwin (d. 1053). (fn. 28) The former at least belonged to William de Braose by 1073, (fn. 29) and both were held of him by William son of Norman in 1086. (fn. 30) Thereafter they apparently always descended together, being held of Bramber rape (fn. 31) under the various names of Applesham, (fn. 32) Coombes, (fn. 33) or the manor (fn. 34) or manors (fn. 35) of Applesham and Coombes.
Hugh of Coombes, perhaps William's son, occurs locally between c. 1096 and 1153, (fn. 36) and John of Coombes held land in Coombes c. 1180 and in 1206. (fn. 37) Another Hugh, presumably John's son, succeeded to his father's lands c. 1209 (fn. 38) and in 1242 held 4 knights' fees apparently in Applesham and Hawksbourne, in Horsham. (fn. 39) Michael of Coombes, recorded locally c. 1250, (fn. 40) had died seised of what was presumably the manor by 1261. His son John (fn. 41) held the manor in 1280, and was succeeded c. 1286 by his brother Hugh, who had it in 1301. (fn. 42) Niel of Coombes, Hugh's younger brother, (fn. 43) who had it in 1316, (fn. 44) was succeeded c. 1335 under a settlement of 1316 by his nephew Richard, (fn. 45) who in turn was succeeded in 1349 by his daughter Joan. (fn. 46) Joan's first husband Robert Halsham (fn. 47) held the manor between 1361 and 1372, (fn. 48) and her second husband Robert Tregoze, (fn. 49) assessed for 20s. in the parish in the 1378 poll-tax, (fn. 50) apparently still held the manor in 1389, when he exercised the advowson which descended with it. (fn. 51) John Halsham, son of Robert, (fn. 52) had it in 1395, (fn. 53) and died seised of it in 1415. (fn. 54) It was settled on another John Halsham in 1440 and 1453, (fn. 55) and later passed under the second settlement to Joan Lewknor, who had it between 1485 and 1490. (fn. 56) Sir Henry Roos, a cousin of the same John Halsham, had succeeded to it under the same settlement by 1502. (fn. 57)
By 1515 (fn. 58) the manor was in the hands of John Shelley (d. 1527), thereafter descending with Michelgrove, in Clapham, until in 1786 the executors of Sir John Shelley (d. 1783) sold it to George Wyndham, earl of Egremont. (fn. 59) By that date the estate comprised practically the entire parish. (fn. 60) The manor afterwards descended in the Wyndham family (fn. 61) until in 1920 (fn. 62) Charles Wyndham, Lord Leconfield, sold it to the occupier, W. J. Passmore, whose descendants still owned the lands in 1976.
The 1½ hide held of Applesham manor by two knights in 1086 (fn. 63) may be the same as the lands which later belonged to Merton priory (Surr.), since no other large estate is known in the parish. The priory had the lands by 1206. (fn. 64) In the 1530s they apparently amounted to over 100 a. (fn. 65) In 1552 they were granted to John Bowyer, a former bailiff of the priory. (fn. 66) Later they came into the hands of the Leeds family of Wappingthorn in Steyning, (fn. 67) descending with that manor until at least 1677, when they comprised 65 a. (fn. 68) By c. 1775 they had been bought by the Shelleys. (fn. 69) Members of the Merrow family, perhaps originating from Merrow near Guildford, who were recorded in the parish between the 13th and 15th centuries, were apparently successive farmers of the priory lands. Thomas of Merrow occurs locally c. 1275, (fn. 70) and was the priory farmer in 1288. (fn. 71) William of Merrow was highly assessed for tax in the parish in 1296. (fn. 72) The same or another William was said to hold ¼ fee in Coombes in 1346, (fn. 73) and Walter Merrow was recorded in the parish between 1378 and 1416. (fn. 74)
Twenty-seven villani and 4 bordars held of Coombes manor in 1086, and 7 villani and 7 bordars of Applesham manor; there were also 2 servi at Coombes and 1 at Applesham. One bordar held of the sub-manor of Applesham. (fn. 75) In 1335 free and servile tenants of the combined manor paid 60s. 3d. in rent; 17 customary tenants owed harvest works worth 51s., and services during the rest of the year were valued at 18d. (fn. 76) The arable land of the parish in the Middle Ages, as in Botolphs and Bramber, lay in its central part, around and between the settlements of Coombes and Applesham. Coombes manor had 8 ploughlands in 1086, worked by 12 teams, and Applesham 5 plough-lands worked by 5 teams. (fn. 77) Possibly each settlement originally had its own open fields, but if so the fact was not discernible in the layout of the fields as they existed later. There was presumably then as later common pasture both on the downs and in the marsh. Other marshland which was held severally in the Middle Ages had presumably been inned by individuals, or comprised the sites of former salterns; (fn. 78) one parcel of 20 a. belonging to Applesham manor was lowly valued in 1335 because liable to flooding. (fn. 79) Evidently there had also been pasture land attached to Coombes and Applesham manors in the north of the county, where Chesworth and Sedgewick manors in Horsham and Nuthurst and land at West Grinstead and at Hawksbourne and Nutham in Horsham later belonged to or were held of the combined manor. (fn. 80) Crops grown in the parish in the 14th century included apples, hemp, and cabbages or cauliflowers (cholectum). (fn. 81)
At the end of the 16th century there was at least one copyhold tenement held for lives by yearly rent and heriot, (fn. 82) and copyhold tenants were also recorded in 1615 (fn. 83) and 1670. (fn. 84) In 1677 (fn. 85) there were 5 smaller estates in the parish of between 16 a. and 65 a., including the glebe land. The rest of the parish belonged to the Shelley family, being occupied as a single farm, Applesham farm. At that date there were c. 235 a. of arable land in the parish, most of it lying in 19 common-field furlongs, whose names included North Hanger, Hame furlong, Black Burrow furlong, Horselands furlong, Brade Green, and Stony Bottom. (fn. 86) Most strips were of 1 a. or less; the largest furlong comprised 33 a., but most were of less than 15 a. Two other furlongs had been inclosed, one belonging to Applesham farm, the other being glebe land, and a pasture close called Farney field was perhaps another former furlong. There were 249 a. of common sheep down in the parish, but nothing is known about common rights there.
There were also c. 180 a. of brookland pasture in Coombes in 1677, which lay in three strips, each inclosed at a different period. First, going from west to east, there were c. 115 a., all apparently severally owned, small amounts by three small landowners, and the rest by the Shelleys. Though no common rights are recorded then, however, some of the Shelley closes seem from their names (Ox Brook, Copyhold Brook, North and South Cow Brooks, and Coombes Mow Brook) to have been originally commonable. Next there were 3 demesne closes called the New Brook, inclosed by a dam or river wall, and comprising 30 a. They probably included the 20 a. belonging to the manor in 1595, called Coombes marsh, which may very likely be the same as the parcel of demesne marsh mentioned in 1335. In 1596 what may have been the same land was said to be liable to flooding at every high tide, the retaining wall being very expensive to maintain. (fn. 87) Another 20 a. of demesne marshland lying in a bend of the river was said in 1634 to have been inned within the last 20 years, and to be also subject to regular flooding. (fn. 88) The most easterly land of the parish, lying outside the river-wall in 1677, was salt marsh also belonging to the Shelleys and comprising 33 a.
Wheat, barley, oats, peas and tares were grown in the parish in the 17th and 18th centuries, and more than 1,000 sheep were recorded in the parish on three occasions. (fn. 89) Further inning of marshland was apparently in progress in 1732. (fn. 90) In 1708 the demesne land comprised two farms, Applesham and Coombes; (fn. 91) but in 1733, (fn. 92) and apparently always after that date until the early 20th century, it was a single farm, with the farm-house at Applesham. (fn. 93) In the mid 18th century Applesham farm was held on a 21-year lease, like other farms on the Shelley estates. (fn. 94) By c. 1775 the entire parish except for the glebe land belonged to the Shelleys. As a result all the arable land had been consolidated into 16 closes, of up to 59 a. in area, and many of the old field-names had been replaced by new ones. The glebe land still lay in strips, but they had been occupied with the rest of the arable land for so long that their size and whereabouts had been forgotten. All rights of common on the downs had been extinguished. (fn. 95)
Since the late 18th century, the parish has been almost continuously occupied by three families, the Gells (c. 1786-1836), (fn. 96) the Hamptons (1837-c. 1886) (fn. 97) and the Passmores (since 1901). (fn. 98) Under Francis Gell, the very enterprising farmer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, (fn. 99) arable land in the parish was greatly extended at the expense of pasture. A new river wall was constructed c. 1792 outside the saltmarsh in the east part of the parish, which was thereby made cultivable. (fn. 100) On the downs c. 180 a. of pasture was broken up for leys in 6 large closes, (fn. 101) the fertility of the land being increased by the extensive application of raw chalk to counteract the acidity of the clay-with-flints soil. (fn. 102) Two hill barns had been built by 1840, (fn. 103) and three others were built during the next 35 years. (fn. 104) The former saltmarsh was still being cropped in 1840, (fn. 105) but later reverted to pasture. (fn. 106) To the crops previously grown in the parish Gell added potatoes, clover, turnips, and sainfoin. (fn. 107) More than 1,000 sheep were recorded in the parish at the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 108)
At some time during the early or mid 19th century the Applesham farm buildings were rebuilt as a model farm, parts of which, including the wheel-house, survived in 1977. In 1851 the farm comprised 1,260 a. and employed 52 men. (fn. 109) Between c. 1886 and c. 1892 it was in hand, (fn. 110) evidently because of difficulty in finding a tenant; in 1890 between 25 and 35 workmen were employed. (fn. 111) Since 1921 there have once again been two farms, Applesham farm, comprising c. 600 a. in 1960 and 800 a. in 1976, and Church farm comprising c. 1,000 a. in 1976. (fn. 112) In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the chief crops were said to be wheat, barley, oats, and turnips. (fn. 113) Dairying was carried on until c. 1950, to supply the London and Brighton markets. (fn. 114) Sheep-rearing was also important in the 1920s and 1930s. (fn. 115) In 1960 there were both sheep and beef cattle at Applesham farm. Exceptionally heavy yields of wheat, oats, and barley were taken there, partly as a result of Gell's work 170 years before, and rape, clover, and lucerne were also grown. (fn. 116) In the 1960s, as in Botolphs and Bramber, the alluvial brookland in the east part of the parish was again turned over to arable as a result of improved drainage. In 1976 the downland was farmed in 30-50 a. closes on a 3-year grass, 3-year corn rotation, and about 180 beef cattle and 800 breeding ewes were kept at the two farms. (fn. 117)
A mill at Applesham was mentioned in 1086 (fn. 118) and 1490. (fn. 119) The only industry ever recorded in the parish was salt-making. In 1086 two salterns at Applesham yielded 5s., and an unstated number at Coombes 50s. 5d. (fn. 120) There were still at least three a century later. (fn. 121) Some mounds representing the débris from the operation survived in 1962. (fn. 122) In the early 19th century all those in employment were supported by agriculture, (fn. 123) but a wheelwright and a blacksmith were recorded in 1851, (fn. 124) and a beer retailer in 1882. (fn. 125)
A court of Applesham manor is said to have been still held in 1701, but there are no details of it. (fn. 126) There were two churchwardens in 1507. (fn. 127) Between 1560 and 1625 there were occasionally two, but more often only one, and after 1625 there was apparently always only one. (fn. 128) Between 1627 and 1686 at least the office went by rotation among householders, but could be filled by proxy. (fn. 129) During the 18th and 19th centuries there were many long periods of office, since in the 19th century at least there was often only one parishioner suitable to serve. (fn. 130) In 1815 the sole occupier, Mr. Gell, paid all the expenses of maintaining the poor without a rate. (fn. 131) The parish joined Steyning union in 1835, (fn. 132) and Steyning West rural district in 1894. (fn. 133) After 1933 it formed part of Worthing rural district, (fn. 134) and in 1974 it was placed in Adur district.
A church was recorded at Coombes in 1086. (fn. 135) A priest was mentioned c. 1180, (fn. 136) but the first reference to a rector is of about fifty years later. (fn. 137) Since 1910 the rectory has been held in plurality with Lancing vicarage. (fn. 138) The advowson of the church was apparently held with the manor in 1261, (fn. 139) and was so thereafter until the 20th century. (fn. 140) During the forfeiture of the Shelley estates after 1587 presentations were made by Elizabeth Holland in 1590, by the Crown in 1593, and by William Wady under a grant from Jane Shelley in 1602. Richard Caryll presented for a turn in 1677. (fn. 141) After 1910 representatives of the Wyndham family presented alternately with the bishop of London, patron of Lancing, until c. 1973 when their right of presentation was resigned to the bishop. (fn. 142) The living was valued at £8 in 1291. (fn. 143) Though some demesne tithes had been granted to Bramber college in 1073, (fn. 144) the rector apparently owned all the tithes by 1341. At the same date he had 12s. from offerings and mortuaries and 19 a. of glebe. (fn. 145) The living was valued at £10 in 1535. (fn. 146) There was a glebe house in 1635, (fn. 147) evidently the timber-framed building called the Old Rectory in 1977, which is of medieval plan but of the 16th century and later in date. It was still in use in 1724 (fn. 148) but was described as unfit for residence c. 1830. (fn. 149) By the early 20th century it had become three cottages. (fn. 150) From at least the 18th century the glebe land, which comprised 17 a. c. 1840, was occupied with the rest of the parish. (fn. 151) The average income of the living was £201 c. 1830, and £212 in 1851. (fn. 152) There may have been a chapel of ease at Applesham in 1261. (fn. 153)
The rector of Coombes was resident in 1428. (fn. 154) Two mid-16th-century rectors presented by the recusant Shelley family were crypto-Papists: George Shelley (1526-57) and John Wall (1557-8). (fn. 155) Shelley, who was also incumbent of Parham and Wiston, (fn. 156) apparently served through a curate. (fn. 157) John Arnold, rector 1558-90, was also rector of Wiston, but was resident in 1563 and 1579. (fn. 158) After 1590 most rectors were graduates. (fn. 159) Because of the poverty of the living and the smallness of the population, many held other livings too, for instance one mid-17th-century incumbent was vicar of Goring, and another was rector of Welby (Lincs.). (fn. 160) Isaac Wilmer, rector 1658-60, was a member of a locally important nonconformist family. (fn. 161) A later 17th-century rector was deprived as a nonjuror in 1689 and apparently became a Roman Catholic. (fn. 162) He and his two successors all held Sompting too; William Brownsword (1707-49) (fn. 163) resided there, but supplied Coombes himself with a service and sermon each Sunday. (fn. 164) Thomas Collins, rector 1753-1804, resided at his other cure of Graffham, serving through curates. (fn. 165) At the beginning of the 19th century Lord Egremont paid the curate's stipend out of the rent of Applesham farm. (fn. 166) Two early19th-century rectors were also non-resident, one being incumbent of Wisborough Green. (fn. 167) Coombes continued to be served by curates, some of whom were incumbents of neighbouring parishes. (fn. 168) The vicar of Lancing, for instance, served in 1825, and the chaplain of St. Paul's, Worthing, in 1828. (fn. 169) In 1865 there was a service every Sunday, in the morning in winter, and alternately in morning and afternoon in the summer; communion was held four times a year. (fn. 170) After 1874 the rector resided at Lancing, (fn. 171) but almost invariably served Coombes church himself. (fn. 172) Communion was celebrated 6 times a year c. 1884. (fn. 173) The Hamptons, who held Applesham farm from 1837 to c. 1886, were strong supporters of the church; after their departure church life in the parish declined, especially since the Passmores, farmers from 1901, were Wesleyans. (fn. 174)
Coombes church, of unknown dedication, (fn. 175) is built of flint rubble with ashlar dressings, and has a chancel and a nave with south porch. The small nave is probably of the late 11th century and retains its original south doorway and chancel arch. The former west tower may have been of the same date. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th or early 14th century, when new windows were also put into the nave. In the 15th and 16th centuries more new windows were put into the south side of both nave and chancel and into the east wall. The south porch was added in the 16th century. The west tower still stood in 1677, (fn. 176) but in 1724 it and part of the church were said to have lately fallen down and the parishioners were allowed to rebuild the nave on a smaller scale. (fn. 177) The chancel was repaired shortly before 1762. (fn. 178)
The church is remarkable for the large amount of surviving wall painting. Much of it is of the 12th century, but there is also work of later periods down to the 18th century. The 12th-century work, discovered in 1949, includes New Testament scenes in the nave and decorative patterns in the chancel, and has stylistic similarities with work at Hardham and Clayton churches. (fn. 179) There is one bell, possibly of the 12th century. (fn. 180) The remains of a medieval crucifix found in the churchyard in 1877 hang near the pulpit. (fn. 181) The font consists of a circular bowl on a brick plinth and is apparently 19th-century. (fn. 182) There are mural monuments and floor slabs to members of the Wyatt and Gell families among others. There are a silver cup and paten cover of 1568. (fn. 183) The registers begin in 1538. (fn. 184)
A dame school was attended by 10 or 12 children in 1818, and another by 10 children in 1846, when it was supported by subscriptions. (fn. 185) In 1833, however, the children of the parish had been sent to school in Lancing at the expense of Mr. Gell of Applesham farm, (fn. 186) and five years later there was said to be no school in the parish. (fn. 187) Since the late 19th century the children have attended schools at Bramber, Lancing, Shoreham, or Steyning. (fn. 188)