A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3, Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) Including Crawley New Town. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1987.
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In 1073 William de Braose gave the church of Beeding, so described, to his newly founded college at Bramber. (fn. 1) Since Beeding had previously been served by the minster of Steyning (fn. 2) it seems likely that the church too was of recent creation, and that Braose was attempting at Beeding as at Bramber to carve out a 'manorial' parish from Steyning. (fn. 3) At some time apparently in the 1090s, in exchange for the restoration of Steyning's rights in Bramber, Beeding church was confirmed as a parish church, the property of the abbey of St. Florent near Saumur (Maine et Loire), to which the endowment of Bramber college had passed. (fn. 4) Meanwhile at some time before 1096 William de Braose founded another religious house, Sele priory, as a cell of St. Florent at Upper Beeding, apparently attaching it to the existing church; (fn. 5) the priory thereafter enjoyed the endowments of the mother house in Sussex. (fn. 6) A vicar was mentioned at Beeding in 1218, (fn. 7) but a vicarage was not ordained until 1261. (fn. 8) From 1897 it was held in plurality with Bramber with Botolphs. (fn. 9) The advowson of the vicarage was often exercised by the Crown during the Hundred Years' War, (fn. 10) and passed in the later 15th century with Sele priory's other possessions to Magdalen College, Oxford. (fn. 11) About 1953 it passed from the college to the bishop of Chichester. (fn. 12)
The demesne tithes of Beeding, Horton, and Tottington manors were granted in 1073 to Bramber college, and evidently later passed to Sele priory. (fn. 13) The tithes of the King's Barns demesnes were given or confirmed to the priory c. 1230 (fn. 14) by John de Braose (d. 1232), and remained with the college despite later 13th-century attempts by the canons of Steyning to seize them. (fn. 15) A portion of tithes in Beeding, however, remained part of the endowment of the Steyning rectory estate. (fn. 16)
Possibly from an early date the Braose family also settled on Sele priory the right to take underwood in St. Leonard's Forest, confirmed in 1234, (fn. 17) the tithes of pannage and herbage there, confirmed in 1235, (fn. 18) and those of calves, foals, and cheeses, confirmed in 1247, (fn. 19) together with timber for the repair of the priory. (fn. 20) The parochial revenues of the Wealden portion of the parish thereafter continued to belong to Sele priory and later to its successor, Magdalen College. (fn. 21) Tithes from Bewbush park were included by 1354. (fn. 22)
At the ordination of the vicarage in 1261 the priory as rector retained all tithes and offerings, settling on the vicar and his successors a pension of £8 a year, a house in the vill of Beeding, and any legacies received up to 6d. in value. (fn. 23) In 1291 the vicarage was said to be worth only £5 a year, (fn. 24) but in 1535 it was valued at £8. (fn. 25) By 1578 the pension had been increased to £10 a year, (fn. 26) as it remained in 1675; (fn. 27) in 1578 the vicar also received £2 from the farmer of the rectory by custom. Often after the early 17th century, however, Magdalen College leased the rectory estate to the vicar on a beneficial lease, (fn. 28) at first with the proviso that the vicar should perform the college's duty of maintaining Beeding bridge. Twice in the 18th century the vicar defrayed all or part of the cost of repairs to the bridge, (fn. 29) but in 1795 it was agreed that future vicars should pay £5 a year to escape the duty. (fn. 30)
The vicarage house was described in 1635 as so low that a man could not stand upright inside it. (fn. 31) It still seems to have belonged to the living in 1875, when it was said not to have been occupied by any vicar for centuries. (fn. 32) From the early 18th century, apparently, if not earlier, the vicars occupied the rectory house. (fn. 33) In the late 18th century the living was said to be worth £300 a year; (fn. 34) at commutation c. 1840 Magdalen College's share of tithe rent charge, excluding Lower Beeding, was £790. (fn. 35) In 1952 the college increased the vicar's stipend by £500 a year in return for the parochial church council's undertaking responsibility for repairs to the chancel. (fn. 36) Meanwhile the rectory house had been conveyed in 1951 to the Church Commissioners, (fn. 37) who sold it c. 1965, a house east of the church being bought to serve as a new vicarage. (fn. 38)
The presence of the monks of Sele priory, and later of the Carmelite friars who took over its buildings, (fn. 39) presumably enhanced the religious life of the parish in the Middle Ages. (fn. 40) After the advowson of the vicarage passed to Magdalen College most incumbents were alumni of the college, usually being former fellows. (fn. 41)
Two early 16th-century incumbents later achieved high office: John Hygdon, vicar 1502-4, was a future president of Magdalen College and dean of Christ Church, Oxford, who apparently did not reside at Upper Beeding, (fn. 42) a 'reader' serving as curate in 1504, (fn. 43) and Owen Oglethorpe, vicar 1531-6, was later bishop of Carlisle. (fn. 44) Of later 16th-century incumbents Ralph Barnes (fl. 1551-61) and Ralph English (d. 1602) seem to have resided, since both were buried at Upper Beeding, (fn. 45) but the living was served by a curate in 1563. (fn. 46) Hugh Holden, vicar from 1644, was apparently deprived by parliament. (fn. 47) Two post-Restoration incumbents held canonries at Chichester: Malachi Conant, (fn. 48) vicar from 1667, spent some time abroad as chaplain to Lord Holles; his successor, Henry Allen (d. 1720), was apparently non-resident since he was buried in Dorset. (fn. 49)
Between 1720 and 1891 the cure was served by only six vicars. During the 18th century they were apparently usually resident, though curates served sometimes after 1750. (fn. 50) In 1724 there were two services every Sunday and communion five times a year with about 30 communicants. (fn. 51) From 1831 to 1861 the incumbent was not often resident; (fn. 52) c. 1830 the curate's stipend was equal to the net income of the living excluding the lease of the rectory, (fn. 53) and Thomas Calhoun, vicar 1841-61, lived apparently and was buried at his other cure of Goring. On Census Sunday 1851 the morning service was attended by 90 besides Sunday schoolchildren and the afternoon one by 137. (fn. 54) In 1856 there was monthly communion. (fn. 55) J. R. Bloxam, vicar 1862-91, 'the real originator of the ceremonial revival in the English Church', (fn. 56) was resident and did much for the parish. (fn. 57) A former curate and lifelong friend of J. H. (later Cardinal) Newman, who visited him at Beeding, he adorned the sanctuary of the church in imitation of Newman's at Littlemore (Oxon.), inaugurated hymn-singing and installed an organ c. 1875, and had instituted a harvest thanksgiving by the 1880s. (fn. 58) Bloxam's successor, H. D. Meyrick, in 1892 rented 2 a. which he leased to the poorer parishioners as allotments; by 1913 their management had passed to the parish council. (fn. 59)
In 1875 the Sunday morning service was said to be patronized chiefly by farmers, and the afternoon one by women. Inhabitants of Small Dole then sometimes went to church at Henfield or Edburton, (fn. 60) but by the 1890s a weekly service, apparently in the schoolroom, had been instituted there, and communion was held weekly by 1903. (fn. 61) An iron mission hall on the west side of the Shoreham road had been opened by 1909 for the benefit of workers at the cement works; it was sold c. 1960, and later demolished. (fn. 62) In 1937 a curate was being employed to help serve the combined parishes of Upper Beeding and Bramber with Botolphs. (fn. 63)
The church of ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL (originally dedicated to St. Peter alone) (fn. 64) comprises chancel, nave with south aisle and south porch, and west tower. Nothing survives of the church mentioned in 1073, (fn. 65) though the north wall is 12thcentury and in 1981 many Norman architectural fragments were visible in the churchyard wall and elsewhere nearby; the north wall, which abutted on the priory buildings, had no window or doorway in 1864. (fn. 66) The arch between nave and tower is apparently 13th-century, but may have been altered; the tower itself, which is not in the centre of the west nave wall, is probably 14th-century, though a belfry had been mentioned in 1283. The nave was used by the parishioners, (fn. 67) and there was a medieval south aisle demolished between 1627 and 1802. (fn. 68) The chancel was the monks' church; it was rebuilt c. 1308, when north and south chapels dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and to St. Mary respectively were added to it. (fn. 69) The chancel was again rebuilt in the 16th century; it incorporates plain and decorative stonework in its east and south walls of early 14th-century character, notably, in the latter, a fragment of arcading possibly from the cloister and an arched door. The north chancel chapel seems to have survived in 1733. (fn. 70)
In 1821 the building was damp, and despite attempts to ventilate it was covered internally in 'verdure'. (fn. 71) It was restored c. 1852, a new south aisle being added to replace the lost medieval one, and post-medieval accretions being removed, including a west gallery, (fn. 72) and a flat ceiling installed in 1778. (fn. 73) A screen which existed in 1830 (fn. 74) was also evidently removed; pieces of pierced tracery on the west wall of the nave in 1981 were perhaps parts of it.
The octagonal font is late medieval. Of the eight bells two are 14th-century and the rest 19thcentury. (fn. 75) The plate includes two silver patens of 1669 and 1794. (fn. 76) The registers begin in 1544. (fn. 77)