A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1940.
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Rodmell lies on the right bank of the River Ouse, the single street of the village leaving the main NewhavenLewes road just 3½ miles from each of those towns. There is an inn on the main road, and the village stretches thence for half a mile in a north-easterly direction towards the river, which is said to have once been fordable at this point. (fn. 1) On the other side of the main road, the street is continued as a deeply cut track climbing the high Downs behind the village.
The parish contains 1,933 acres of land. The river here is tidal, and 8 acres of its water and 6 of foreshore are included within the area of the parish. The population rose steadily from 256 in 1801 to 360 in 1841, but then declined and in 1931 was 244. The highest point in the parish is Highdole Hill, 408 ft. At its summit are traces of an Early Iron Age and RomanoBritish settlement, which was explored in 1935. (fn. 2) Another, more ancient, site may be seen on Heathy Brow, along which runs the boundary between Rodmell and Iford. Tumuli and field-banks abound on the site, which excavation has dated as being of the Bronze Age. In Summersdene is a large tumulus called 'The Burgh'. (fn. 3) On Mill Hill is the site of the medieval mill of Rodmell; its successor stood in the village below. (fn. 4)
Many sheep find pasturage on the chalk Downs above Rodmell, and the loamy clay and marl in the coombes and along the river banks provides good arable land. The village street contains a number of old cottages, at least one of which has some windows with square oak bars, fixed close together, in place of mullions, this being the type of window in use before glass was available for cottage use. Rodmell Place, long the home of the family of de la Chambre, stood immediately to the south of the church, but only some cellars, now almost filled in, remain to mark the site. Above these cellars, which show stone walls, apparently of late medieval date, is an enormous mulberry tree, having several stems, each separated from the others by many feet.
Half a mile west of the church is the manor-house of Northease, once a chapelry, the northern outshoot from Rodmell corresponding to that at Southease on the opposite side of the village. The present manor-house has been very much altered and shows no traces of antiquity. It was divided up into cottages before it was again restored to its present use as a large house. Adjoining are two large aisled timber barns of perhaps 17th-century date. In the present dairy, at the northeast end of the barn nearest the main road, is the northwest angle and part of the west wall of an early medieval building, which may have been the chapel of northease, which is said to have consisted of nave and chancel, with a total length of 55 ft. (fn. 5) In 1780 it was said of it: 'the chapel of Northease is now converted, one part into a cow-stall and the chancel into a pigeon house. It stands east and west, and there are some faint remains of paintings on some of the walls towards the west end. At the south side there are some arches of free-stone in the wall. Some old men remember pieces of carved wainscot in this chapel.' (fn. 6)
Among the more notable inhabitants of this parish was the Rev. Henry Goodman, a Nonconformist preacher, who was expelled from the church at the Restoration. Subsequently on 29 May 1670 he went down to Lewes to preach at the request of his friends. 'Great caution was used to prevent danger; but some informers slyly mixed with the audience. He preached on Eph. v. 16, "Redeeming the time", whereas they fixed on the words following "because the days are evil". Mr. Goodman, living at a distance, escaped the fine; but unconscionable fines were levied on many of his hearers, and they were levied still more unconscionably.' (fn. 7)
The manor of RODMELL was held by Earl Harold before the Conquest for 79 hides. Of this, William de Warenne received 64 hides, the rest lying in the rapes of the Count of Mortain and William de Braose. In 1086 the manor was held in demesne by Earl Warenne and was assessed for 33 hides. Norman held 2 hides of the earl. There were also pertaining to the manor 44 haws in Lewes. (fn. 8)
The manor descended with the rape until 1439, when it fell to the share of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Edward Nevill, Lord Bergavenny. (fn. 9) It subsequently descended with Northease (q.v.). At the beginning of the 17th century Edward, Lord Bergavenny, demised all the demesne lands of the manor or farm of Rodmell to Sir George Goring and his assigns for three lives. (fn. 10) The estate was sold by Lord Abergavenny in 1919 and all manorial rights have now lapsed. (fn. 11)
The custom of borough English prevailed in the manor. (fn. 12)
One-sixth of a knight's fee here was held of the barony of Lewes in 1439 by the heirs of Ralph de Stopeham. (fn. 13) The overlordship fell to the Lady Bergavenny, the holder of the main manor of Rodmell, in 1439, (fn. 14) and continued in that family until at least the beginning of the 17th century. (fn. 15) This fee had descended by 1518 to John Leedes, then a ward of the Lord Abergavenny; (fn. 16) Edward Leedes also held this land. (fn. 17) In about 1618 this 1/6 fee was in the possession of John Chambers (fn. 18) or de la Chambre, who had built (fn. 19) or bought Hall Place in Rodmell about 1586. (fn. 20) At this time the 1/6 fee consisted of a tenement, a barn, and 6½ virgates lying in the common fields of Rodmell. (fn. 21) John's heir was apparently his brother, Richard de la Chambre, (fn. 22) whose son Laurence held the estate, (fn. 23) but is said to have sold Rodmell Place to John de la Chambre in 1644. (fn. 24) The family continued to be connected with Rodmell until at least the end of the 17th century. (fn. 25) Rodmell Place is said to have been held subsequently by a family named Montague and later sold, together with the estate, by the Rev. Moses Toghill to Charles Saxby, who just before 1835 sold it to the Earl of Abergavenny. (fn. 26) Presumably it was then merged in the manor.
It is possible that this 1/6 fee represents the manor held by members of a family who derived their name from Rodmell. As early as 1203 Ralph de Radmelde held half a hide here, (fn. 27) and in 1340 William de Rademeld sued John de Parys and Margaret his wife (who was widow of William's father, John) (fn. 28) for waste, including destruction of a hall, a chamber, a latrine, a barn, and other buildings at Rodmell, committed during their tenancy of ⅓ of the manors of Rodmell and Allington, which Margaret held in dower. (fn. 29) Lands in Rodmell were held for life by Richard Weyvile and Agatha his wife, daughter of John de Radmelde, (fn. 30) in 1400; (fn. 31) in 1412 Richard was returned as holding a manor of Rodmell; (fn. 32) he died in 1417, (fn. 33) and Agatha subsequently married John Broke and died in 1433. (fn. 34) The estate presumably reverted to the trustees by whom it had been settled on Richard and Agatha and may have been sold to a member of the family of Leedes, but direct evidence is lacking.
The manor of NORTHEASE (Northhese, Northeise, North Hes), later NORTHEASE CUM IFORD, extends also into the parish of Iford (q.v.). The tithe of Northease was confirmed to Lewes Priory by William II de Warenne between 1091 and 1098. (fn. 35) In the early 13th century, Isabel, wife of Gilbert de Laigle (de Aquila), received one-third of the manor from her brother, William, 5th Earl Warenne, in exchange for lands in Yorkshire. (fn. 36) She gave this third in frankalmoign to Michelham Priory, and, after her death, the priors held it of successive Earls Warenne until 1367 when their representative, Richard, Earl of Arundel, obtained it from the then prior. (fn. 37)
At the partition of the Warenne estates in 1439 the manor of Northease and the vill of Iford fell to Elizabeth wife of Edward Nevill. (fn. 38) Edmund Lenthall was to receive from it an annual rent of £12 12d., 2/3 of a penny and 2/3 of a halfpenny, (fn. 39) and the Duke of Norfolk, 36s. 2d. (fn. 40) Nothing more is known about the Lenthall rent. It seems likely that the other rent belonged to the Mowbrays until the death of John, 5th Duke of Norfolk, in 1476. (fn. 41) It was probably the same rent which, by the name of the manor of Northease, Elizabeth his wife quitclaimed to Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, in the same year, (fn. 42) and which, subsequently, was settled upon Anne, the daughter of John, 5th Duke of Norfolk, and upon Richard, Duke of York, at the time of their marriage. (fn. 43) In the 17th century, the Earls of Surrey and Derby shared a rent of 36s. 2d. issuing from the manor. (fn. 44)
The manor of Northease cum Iford descended with the Bergavenny portion of the rape. At about the beginning of the 17th century the site of the manor and the demesne lands were leased for three lives, at a rental of £10 per annum, to Sir George Goring, later Earl of Norwich. (fn. 45) He afterwards borrowed money from Sir Samuel Jones upon security of his office of Secretary to the Council of the Marches of Wales, and when the Civil War deprived him of this office, the manor of Northease cum Iford with other estates was taken as security. (fn. 46) The manor appears to have been in danger of sequestration, owing to Goring's staunch support of the king, and it was perhaps for this reason that Sir Samuel Jones and George Pierrepont conveyed the manor, together with Rodmell, in 1653, to Hatton Berners and John Scrimshire for the lives of Charles Goring and Diana wife of George Porter, (fn. 47) the children of the Earl of Norwich. In 1664 Jane Dove and Sir James Phymer complained that Sir Samuel Jones, like themselves a creditor of the Earl of Norwich, continued to exact a return from the manor of Northease for his debt, although fully satisfied. (fn. 48) In October 1717, however, George, Lord Abergavenny, was seised of the manor, (fn. 49) which continued to descend in the family (fn. 50) until 1919 when the estate was broken up and all manorial rights have since lapsed. Northease farm is the property of Mr. J. C. Robinson. (fn. 51) Northease House is owned by Captain F. W. Hartman.
The custom of Borough English obtained in this manor. (fn. 52) In the 17th century the tenants of Northease had a sheepdown of about 231 acres upon which they were allowed to keep 26 sheep for every yardland, 'with the help of the grottons'. (fn. 53) The tenants had also 22½ acres of meadow near Strawberry wall, 122 acres of brookland, and a half of the common brook called Pullbar, containing in all about 160 acres. In the common land of this manor the cottagers had no share. (fn. 54)
In the manor of Rodmell the tenants had a sheepdown of about 233 acres and 149 acres of marshland in the Brooks, as well as 15 acres called the 'Hubberds' for which last they paid 15s. yearly to the lord. (fn. 55)
The church of ST. PETER stands a little to the east of the end of the village street of Rodmell. It consists of a nave and chancel, each with a south aisle, and a western tower having attached to it a baptistery formed by extending the south aisle of the nave. The nave has a south porch, and the chancel a modern vestry at its north-east corner. The wall-facing shows flint with stone dressings. The general plan of the nave and chancel appears to belong to the middle of the 12th century, and the south aisle of the chancel, with the remains of its west door, may also be contemporary with the original church. The south aisle of the nave and the west tower were added at the very end of the century, the pressure of the new south arcade necessitating the rebuilding of the chancel arcade soon after. The whole of the north wall of the nave was re-fenestrated, if not entirely rebuilt, during the 19th century, and the south aisle wall, with its porch, is also almost entirely a rebuilding.
The east wall of the chancel is lit by a large threelight window of the end of the 15th century. Jambs remaining on either side of this show that the original arrangement was probably three lofty single-light windows similar to those at the neighbouring churches of Iford and Piddinghoe, which are of late-12th-century date. A modern buttress supports the south arcade of the chancel. The east window of the south chapel is a restored two-light window of 14th-century date. The south wall of the chapel seems to have been much restored, and contains a small 14th-century door of simple character. West of this is a modern pseudo-14thcentury single-light window, which may replace an original. The south wall of the nave aisle has been considerably restored, and now shows three modern singlelight windows similar to that in the south chapel. The south porch is a modern rebuilding of the original structure. The north wall of the nave shows three large single-light windows with a large round quatrefoiled light at each end of the wall. These are all 19th-century pseudo-Gothic. The tower is plain and unbuttressed; its ground-floor is lit by a single light in the west wall, and the belfry has similar windows in its north, west, and south walls. A steep conical roof or spire, covered with shingles, caps the tower.
Within the chancel, at the east end of its north wall, may be seen one of the original windows, a single, deeply splayed light of early- or mid-12th-century date. Just west of this is a modern round-headed doorway leading into the modern vestry, within which may be seen the exterior of the little window. The south arcade of the chancel consists of two obtusely pointed arches, springing from the east and west walls of the chancel, and meeting over a curiously squat column, restored, but originally, if the restoration was accurate, of mid13th-century date. The two arches are quite plain, having small chamfers at their edges, stopped at the ends. The arcade is not original, having been erected after the failure of its predecessor, owing to the pressure of the nave arcade having almost overturned the east wall of the nave, crushing the chancel arcade, and necessitating its rebuilding. (fn. 56) The original impost moulding may be seen at the east end of the chancel arcade. It is of rather primitive form, having merely a chamfer and a quirk, which suggests that the chapel is contemporary with the chancel itself. That the former is earlier than the south aisle of the nave is shown by the fragment of very early masonry, with its plinth, remaining at the north-eastern corner of that aisle. This masonry was apparently once external, and appears to have formed part of the northern jamb of the original western door of the south chapel, once the private chapel of Place House, to the south of the church. (fn. 57) At the west end of the north wall of the chancel is a large single-light 14th-century window with a foliated head, which appears to have replaced an earlier window, the scar of which remains externally. (fn. 58) In the east wall of the chancel, next the south arcade, is a fine 14th-century piscina with shelf and foliated head, and in the south wall of the south chapel is a small plain piscina which may be of early date.
The wall between nave and chancel now contains an elaborate pseudo-Norman chancel arch which is entirely modern. It replaces an arch which was pointed instead of semicircular, as at present, but had mouldings which have been exactly reproduced in the modern arch. (fn. 59) South of the arch is a curious squint, roughly square, and with a central shaft formed out of part of a black basalt column having elaborate cheveron ornament, and supporting the inverted base of a shaft, with spurs. The shaft-stone stands on a drum from another, larger, column. The form of the shaft-stone and base is identical with those which were discovered in the ruins of the cloister lavatory of Lewes Priory, (fn. 60) and the whole squint is obviously made from material taken from the priory after its destruction in 1537. The elaborate ornamentation of the stonework of the chancel arch suggests that it, too, came from the priory, and these facts, coupled with the appearance of the walling, suggest that the whole of the lower part of the wall between nave and chancel was rebuilt in the 16th century or later. The arch between the south aisle of the nave and the south chapel is semicircular and a modern rebuilding, although the imposts of the original late-12th-century arch remain and show a broad hollow chamfer and quirk. Behind the choir stalls, on the south side of the chancel, may be seen the remains of a 14th-century parclose screen which is believed to have once filled this arch. Corbels to carry the rood-beam remain at either end of the wall between chancel and nave, and there appears to have been another beam across the arch into the south chapel. Above the chancel arch is a small single-light window with a round bulls-eye on either side, all apparently of late-12th- or early-13th-century date.
The south arcade of the nave consists of two very large semicircular arches, with plain soffits chamfered and stopped. The arcade has been cut through the original south wall of the nave, a portion being retained at the west end to serve as impost. There is no respond at the east end, the arch springing from a simple moulding of hollow chamfer and quirk similar to that at the west end of the arcade. The central pillar of the arcade is of unusual interest. It is of a type which is best seen in the church of St. Anne, Lewes. The capital is square and elaborately ornamented with stiff-leaf foliage. The bell is planned for a centre column and engaged shafts. The actual column, however, has no shafts, so the little secondary capitals are supported by beautifully carved corbels of stiff-leaf design. The north-eastern corbel, however, has a tonsured head in place of stiff-leaf carving. The column rises from a water-holding Attic base on a square plinth. The arcade is badly distorted, and has almost overturned the east wall of the nave. The tower arch is plain, pointed, has no responds, and was apparently cut through the west wall of the nave at the end of the 12th century. The tower has been clumsily built up against the arch, hiding part of the chamfer on its western face. The arch at the west end of the south aisle has been rebuilt, although its responds appear to be of the end of the 12th century. It is later than the tower, however, as the external plinth of the latter may be seen within it. The west window of the baptistery is also of the end of the 12th century, being a single tall light, which may, however, have been removed from the end of the aisle when the baptistery was built. The structure has been so much restored at this point that it is difficult to tell the period at which this was effected, but the walls are medieval. The font has only been here since the modern vestry was built.
The roofs of both nave and chancel appear to be modern, though the queen-post trusses of the former may be original. The font has a simple square bowl ornamented with rather crudely incised arcading, and is of the end of the 12th century. There is a simple four-panelled cover of late-16th-century date. On the north wall of the baptistery is an old weather-vane from the tower, a fine piece of 18th-century ironwork, of which the present vane is a copy. A palimpsest brass hangs on the north respond of the arch between the south aisle and the south chapel. (fn. 61)
The church has three early bells, one uninscribed, one by Bryan Eldridge, 1641, and the third dated 1664. (fn. 62)
The church possesses a communion cup and paten bearing the mark for the year 1568, and another paten dating from about 1680. (fn. 63)
There was a church at Rodmell at the time of the Domesday Survey. Between 1091 and 1095, William II of Warenne granted the church to Lewes Priory. (fn. 64) The advowson appears afterwards to have passed to the Bishop of Chichester, who has been patron at least since 1305. (fn. 65) In 1291 the church was valued at 23 marks, (fn. 66) and in 1535 at £15 6s. 0½d. (fn. 67)