A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1940.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Newhaven, now a town of importance because of its continental traffic, is situated on the right bank of the estuary of the River Ouse. It is about 6½ miles south of Lewes and 9 miles east of Brighton. The last mile and a quarter of the river was recut and straightened in recent years, the original course having made a wide S-curve, the centre of which was just north of the present swing-bridge. A hundred yards to the west of this bridge is an older one, crossing the original rivercourse, and marking the site of the ancient ferry of Meeching. Its immediate predecessor was an iron bascule bridge, depicted on the tombstone of Tipper, a famous brewer, in the churchyard. (fn. 1) The old coast road descended the hills west of the church, past it to the bridge, across which it continued to join the main Lewes-Seaford road at Denton. Except for a deviation to allow of its crossing the swing-bridge over the new river-course, the road still takes this route. The main street of the town rises westwards from the old bridge towards the church on the hill, just below which it receives the main road from Lewes. At the foot of the street are the old wharves, lining the course of the old river as far as the new bridge, beyond which all is new. East of the river are the quays of the cross-Channel port, with its offices, custom house, and other associated buildings, including the maritime railway station, between which and the town station next the bridge are sidings and railway sheds. The houses of the town stretch for a quarter of a mile along the Lewes road and from it, across the present Brighton road, to the old road past the church. On the south side of the main street, side roads lead to the wharves on the right bank of the river, and towards the headland of Castle Hill, at the summit of which is a large fort erected in 1864. Below this is an esplanade terminating in a concrete breakwater half a mile long, corresponding to a much shorter one on the east side of the harbour. Both breakwaters have lighthouses at their extremities. Between the headland and the town are coastguard and life-boat stations. West of the church is a workhouse, and, half a mile along the Lewes road, a cemetery. The new church, Christ Church, was built in 1881, and the Roman Catholic church in 1898. There is a nunnery just to the east of the old parish church. There is a Congregational chapel, a Baptist chapel, and two Methodist chapels.
The hill behind the church, an outlier from the Downs, rises to just below 300 ft., and its slopes provide some pasture and arable land. Several ancient sites have been discovered in the west and south of the parish. Prehistoric middens were found when the fort was built on Castle Hill, on the site of earlier fortifications, probably of prehistoric date. (fn. 2) Roman remains have also been found there, as well as on farm-land to the west of the town, where the remains of a building were discovered. (fn. 3)
Several of the shops on either side of the main street are remodelled cottages of a much older date, and some of the wharves and warehouses lining the right bank of the old river are probably of some antiquity. On the waterside just above the old bridge is a building having a lower story built in fine squared ashlar work, which looks as if it might be medieval.
A quarter of a mile south of the main street, on the road towards the headland, is Meeching Court House, which may be the manor-house of the old village. It is a two-storied building of squared chalk rubble with flint facing. The quoins and plinth-course are of brick, and most of the original windows remain with their cutbrick mullions, now covered with plaster. The building appears to date from the beginning of the 17th century. It runs north and south, the entrance front being on the east, facing the river. The main hall has a parlour to the north, the two rooms sharing the same internal stack, next which, towards the back of the house, is the square oak newel-stair. On the east of the stack is an entrance lobby, connecting the two rooms, and having in it a doorway with a four-centred brick arch, possibly rebuilt, but representing an original feature. The adjoining parlour has an open fire-place with a cambered chimney-beam, apparently a portion of the rib of a ship. The fire-place of the main hall is entirely covered with a modern surround enclosing a range. At the opposite angle of the hall to that occupied by the entrance door is an old doorway formed in a timber cross-partition, leading to a small closet, beyond which is another large parlour, the original east window of which has been replaced by a large 18th-century one. There is no old fire-place in this room, the existing stack being an addition. East of the lobby noted above is another which contains an 18th-century staircase, and, in its outer wall, another doorway exactly similar to that farther north. At the back of the hall and the north parlour is an outshot aisle, between which and the main rooms is a half-timber partition carrying the main roof. Under the south parlour is a cellar, access to which is from the lower end of the main hall and between the two small lobbies. An attic story has been formed in the roof, which has raking struts at intervals passing through the attic. The whole building is in bad condition, being half deserted and only used in part as tenements.
The parish of Newhaven has an area of 933 acres, including 26 acres of water. (fn. 4) In 1881 part of Denton was brought under the control of the Newhaven Local Board which was then created. (fn. 5) Since 1894 the town has been administered by an Urban District Council formed in accordance with the Local Government Act of that year. (fn. 6) By the East Sussex Review Order (1934) a further portion of Denton and the western portion of Bishopstone parish (in the Rape of Pevensey), together with a portion of Piddinghoe, adjoining Newhaven cemetery, were added to the Urban District. (fn. 7)
Although there has long been a harbour at Newhaven, the present one is of recent construction. The East Pier light was set up in 1862. (fn. 8) By the Customs Consolidation Act (1876) Newhaven was declared to be a port after November 1881. The building of the breakwater was begun in 1880. The breakwater lighthouse was built in 1892 and the West Pier lighthouse in 1895. (fn. 9) The harbour and breakwater are the property of the Southern Railway Company.
The town attained its present importance during the 19th century, its increasing prosperity bringing with it a rapidly growing population. In 1801 there was a population of 584; in 1851 it had risen to 1,358, but the most rapid increase occurred between 1871 and 1881 when the number rose from 2,549 to 4,009. (fn. 10) At the census of 1931 there were 6,404 residents. (fn. 11) Most of the industry of the town to-day is connected with the cross-Channel trade. Large quantities of fruit and vegetables, in particular, pass through Newhaven on their way to the London markets. There is also in the town a ship-yard where small boats are made, a chalk quarry, and a brick-yard.
In former times, Newhaven carried on a foreign trade of its own, supplying the merchants of Brighton, Lewes, and elsewhere, but already by the beginning of the 19th century this trade was declining; on the other hand, the import of coal, which was mainly distributed by barges up the Ouse and its branches, nearly doubled between 1814 and 1823. (fn. 12) In the 17th century, a certain amount of ordnance and shot manufactured in the Sussex foundries was exported from Newhaven, often, it would appear, in spite of the government regulations which restricted the manufacture of guns and shot, and required that they should first be brought to Tower Wharf, London, to be licensed. (fn. 13) In the early 19th century poor people collected boulders which were exported to the pottery districts of Staffordshire. (fn. 14) At that time, also, the town had two extensive breweries and was noted for the excellence of its beer. (fn. 15) In the Middle Ages there were two mills in Meeching; (fn. 16) and a map of 1823 shows a windmill on the western side of the road leading to Brighton, (fn. 17) but none now exists.
Originally the place was called Meeching, and the River Ouse entered the sea at Seaford, for centuries a harbour of some importance. About the middle of the 16th century the old mouth of the Ouse became blocked and a fresh mouth was opened, possibly by the action of storms, near the Bishopstone Tidemills, forming the 'New Haven' first mentioned in 1566. (fn. 18) In the Register of Coasting Traders compiled in 1572 by Thomas Colshill, surveyor of customs, Meeching and Newhaven are entered separately. (fn. 19) Before 1620 another cut had been made, farther west near the present outlet, (fn. 20) and this, although frequently choked by shingle, eventually became the port round which the town of Newhaven grew up.
The town does not appear in national affairs until 1545, when the French, under Claude d'Annebault, descended on it after being repulsed in the Isle of Wight. And here, as Stowe records, (fn. 21) 'landed manie captaines and souldiers who by the valientnes of the gentlemen and yeomen were slaine and drowned in the Hauen a great number of them and of the rest hardly recouered their ships and gallies'.
In 1587, when the Spanish invasion was imminent, a survey of the coast was made and the Commissioners recommended the construction of entrenchments and batteries. (fn. 22) The passage of the Spanish fleet past Newhaven in the following year caused a great deal of alarm in the neighbourhood. In 1589 one ship from Newhaven took part in the expedition of Norreys and Drake, which attempted, with the queen's unofficial blessing, to place Don Antonio on the Portuguese throne. (fn. 23) In the same year Newhaven was selected as the port of embarkation for part of the English army sent to assist Henry IV of France. (fn. 24)
Until comparatively modern times the people inhabiting this region appear to have been extremely lawless, for the records frequently mention acts of pillage committed upon merchant ships cast away upon the coast, and to this were added, as time went on, complaints about the activities of smugglers and privateers. (fn. 25) The inhabitants, however, do not seem to have been active during the Civil War, except that a Covenant (fn. 26) bearing 51 signatures was drawn up in March 1644 and entered in a Register Book, by which the parties undertook to extirpate popery, to preserve the reformed religion of the Church of Scotland, the rights and privileges of the parliament and the liberties of the kingdoms, and to defend the king's person and authority 'that the world may bear witness . . . that wee have noe thoughts or intentions to diminnish his Majestie's just power and greatnesse'.
In July 1664, when the need for providing a good harbour at this point on the coast had been felt, licence was granted to John Russell and others to scour and make navigable the river at Newhaven and Lewes, to erect a pier, lighthouses, fortifications, and slaughterhouses. At the same time wharfage and other dues were granted to them in return for a yearly payment of £5. (fn. 27) The work of building the harbour, however, did not progress smoothly and, in 1669, the king was petitioned by some of the inhabitants of Newhaven to order an inquiry to discover to what persons money was owing for materials and the lodging of workmen. The petition went on to complain that there were dissensions in Newhaven as to who should carry out the scheme. (fn. 28) Subsequently, in 1672 and 1673, prize-ships were granted to Russell towards defraying the cost of the harbour. (fn. 29) Concerning the harbour, Andrew Yarranton wrote, in 1677:
'I conceive one great reason why this so beneficial a work was not perfected was the want of an Act of Parliament to support the doing thereof, as also it is possible that the Engineer first employed was not so knowing as was requisite in so great an undertaking, for, as the thing now stands, there was one Peer made which is on the North, but had the West Peer been first Finished then the quantities of sand now lodged in the mouth of the harbour had been carried away to sea.' (fn. 30) Following upon this unsuccessful experiment came further protests, in 1689, about the choking of the harbour. (fn. 31) But it was not until 1731 that Parliament took the matter in hand. In that year an Act was passed, and with the improvement of the harbour the prosperity of the town increased. (fn. 32) In 1784 an Act of Parliament (fn. 33) was obtained for the building of a bridge over the Ouse at Newhaven to take the place of the ancient ferry whose history can be traced back to the 13th century. (fn. 34)
In 1764 the Government bought Castle Hill of Hester Gibbon and fortified it, but there had been guns there earlier. (fn. 35) The present fort was constructed 1864.
During the Revolutionary Wars great numbers of militia men, who had been levied for the defence of the country, were stationed in this neighbourhood. The provision of food became a serious problem and in April 1795 mutiny broke out among the Oxfordshire militia in consequence of the high price of provisions. (fn. 36) After seizing all the flour, bread, and meat they could find in Seaford and Bishopstone Tidemills, they took possession of Newhaven. Here they obtained 300 sacks of flour from a sloop which had, by their orders, been moored in the river. The Lancashire Fencibles from Brighton and the Horse Artillery from Lewes were sent to subdue the rioters, who, at first, seemed determined to make resistance, but after two field-pieces had been discharged at them, they were thrown into confusion and easily disarmed. Two soldiers were afterwards shot and one transported for life for this escapade.
In the following year, when each county was required by Parliament to provide a quota of men for the Navy, Newhaven supplied 17 of the Sussex total of 223, Rye supplying 90, and Shoreham 28. (fn. 37)
The manor of MEECHING is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but by about 1212 it was held in demesne by William de Warenne, (fn. 38) and descended with the rape. After the death of Beatrice, Countess of Arundel, in 1439, the manor, together with the vill of Piddinghoe, fell to the share of John, Duke of Norfolk. (fn. 39) It is uncertain, however, whether John, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who died in 1461, ever had possession of the manor as, in 1448, Katherine, his mother, was stated to hold the lands in dower for life of his inheritance with reversion to the duke. (fn. 40) In 1462, Elizabeth wife of John, 5th Duke of Norfolk, a minor, was granted the rents and profits of the manor as part of her jointure. (fn. 41) The duke died in 1476, and the manor followed the descent of the rest of the Mowbray share of the barony, although in 1477 Katherine, widow of the 3rd duke, appears still to have held it in dower. (fn. 42)
The moiety that finally came into the hands of the Arundels was sold in 1641–2 by Thomas, Earl of Arundel, his wife, and Henry, Lord Mowbray, to Lionel, Earl of Middlesex, Henry, Lord Pierpoint (afterwards Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull), Sir William Playters, and Sir Richard Onslow, (fn. 43) who mortgaged it to Richard Evelyn, (fn. 44) and afterwards to Robert Heath, (fn. 45) and finally sold it to William Lane of Southover (fn. 46) sometime before Trinity, 1657. (fn. 47)
The other moiety was sold with the Derby portion of the barony to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, in 1576–7, (fn. 48) and descended with it in the Dorset family until 1624. (fn. 49) Edward, brother and heir of Richard, Earl of Dorset, conveyed a moiety of the manor in 1630–1 to Matthias Caldicott (fn. 50) and in 1648 Richard Caldicott and others conveyed it to John Rowe. (fn. 51) The nature of these transactions is, however, not quite clear, since by 1663 a portion of the manor is said to have come into the hands of John Tufton, 2nd Earl of Thanet, (fn. 52) who had married Margaret daughter of Richard, Earl of Dorset. (fn. 53) Courts were held in October 1664 and in December 1669 in the names of Margaret, dowager Countess of Thanet, and William Lane. From August 1682 until August 1729 the sole lords appear to have been the Lanes. (fn. 54) In 1730 William Lane and Elizabeth his wife quitclaimed the manor to Edward Gibbon. (fn. 55) He was succeeded as lord of the manor by Hester Gibbon, who held courts until 1775, and sold the manor to John Holroyd, Lord Sheffield, in 1777. (fn. 56) The manor descended in the Sheffield family through the 19th century. (fn. 57) In 1903 the late Mr. Thomas Colgate bought the manor from the then Earl of Sheffield, whose steward he had been. Mr. Colgate died at the end of 1936, (fn. 58) and the manorial rights are now in the possession of his legal representatives. (fn. 59)
In the manor of Meeching cum Piddinghoe the custom of Borough English prevailed. (fn. 60)
The church of ST. MICHAEL stands on the hill-side at the western edge of the town. It consists of an apsidal sanctuary with an axial tower over the adjoining chancel, all of the early or mid 12th century. (fn. 61) West of this is a double-aisled nave, built in 1791 on the site of the medieval nave, which was completely removed. At the east end of the south aisle is a modern porch, and the corresponding position on the north is occupied by a modern vestry. The old work is faced with flint and rubble and the new nave with flint, both having dress ings of stone. The apsidal sanctuary has two narrow pilasters to the east and two very wide ones next the tower, all rising from a chamfered plinth. It was originally lit by three small single-light windows, but the two side ones have been replaced in the 14th century by larger lights. The sills of the original windows are joined by a double-chamfered string-course. The walls of the apse seem to have been slightly reduced in height, and the roof is modern. The tower has, in its south wall, the jambs of a narrow early-Norman doorway, in the filling of which a later single-light window has been inserted. The tower has a set-off immediately above the roof of the apse. Above this, the belfry is lit by twolight windows in the north, south, and east walls, the shaft of the latter having a mid-wall shaft with an annulet. The tower has a shingled broach-spire, rising from a very interesting corbel-table, most of the corbels of which are figure-heads. The nave and aisles are modern and of no interest. The interior of the apse shows the deep splay of the Norman east window, beneath which is a string-course similar to that on the exterior. The tower arches seem to have been restored at some time, especially at the imposts, which are formed with simple quirk and hollow-chamfer Norman moulding. The jambs facing the interior of the tower have shafts with belled capitals, up each of which is carved a row of studs between two vertical lines. On the south side of the tower-space is the narrow blocked Norman doorway, filled with a later window, and opposite this are the deep splays of a Norman window. The nave side of the west tower arch has been much mutilated and restored. The stones at the angles have been renewed without the shafts, which are thus curtailed at different heights above the floor. The imposts have been much mutilated and altered. The only remarkable feature of the nave is its arcades, which have square timber posts with foliated spandrels of the same material. The nave and north aisle date from 1791, the south aisle being added in 1854, when the church underwent restoration.
The tower contains a bell by R. Phelps, dated 1737. (fn. 62)
The plate is all modern, consisting of two silver chalices with patens, of 1876 and 1897 respectively, and a silver flagon of 1856. (fn. 63)
The church is a discharged rectory which was valued at £5 6s. 8d. in 1291 (fn. 64) and at £13 3s. 3½d. in the early 16th century. (fn. 65) The advowson and tithes were granted by William de Warenne II to the Priory of St. Pancras, Lewes. (fn. 66) The priory presented to the church until 1537, when the advowson was conveyed to the king. (fn. 67) In the following February it was granted to Thomas Cromwell. (fn. 68) Upon his downfall, the advowson reverted to the Crown, and was still so vested until it was bought in 1863 by the Rev. Ebenezer Pleasaunce Southwood, (fn. 69) who had formerly been curate and was in 1856 promoted to be rector of the parish by the Lord Chancellor. He supplied the church with plate. He died on 22 March 1900, but in 1899 another rector had been presented to the living. By 1901 the patronage had come into the hands of the Church Patronage Society, where it has since remained. (fn. 70)