Alien houses: Collegiate church of Steyning

Pages 121-122

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



It is rather remarkable that the list of religious foundations in England drawn up about 1200 by the chronicler Gervase, mentions only three 'decanatus' of secular canons, those namely of St. Martin's, London, Wells, and this of Steyning.

Yet its claim to notice rests rather with its antiquity than with its size or importance, and its history is meagre and obscure. The church and manor of Steyning were granted to the Norman abbey of Fécamp by Edward the Confessor, taken from them by Harold (fn. 1) and restored by William the Conqueror. (fn. 2) According to an inquisition made in 1290 the church was a royal free chapel exempt from the jurisdiction alike of the archbishop and of the bishop of Chichester, and had so been from the time that it was bestowed upon the abbey of Fécamp 'by King Alfred (sic),' the abbots having cognizance of matrimonial and similar cases by their bailiffs. (fn. 3) By 1290, apparently, the college had been dissolved and the church appropriated to the abbey, but before that time there were three separate portions, or prebends, to which when vacant the abbots appointed clerks at their pleasure, instituting them through their bailiff without presentation to any ordinary. (fn. 4) This exemption of the 'canons and clergy' of Steyning from episcopal jurisdiction had been confirmed at an earlier date, (fn. 5) apparently about 1230. (fn. 6) Possibly the collegiate establishment may really have dated back to the time of King Alfred, as the church of Steyning was evidently of importance in his time, his father Ethelwulf being buried there. (fn. 7)

In 1254 there was a dispute between the priory of Sele and Nicholas de Plumpton and his fellow canons of Steyning concerning tithes in the neighbourhood of Steyning, decision (fn. 8) being given that the tithes belonged to Sele and should remain 'as in the time of William de Faukeham, canon of Steyning.' This Nicholas occurs as a canon of Steyning in 1250, when he was licensed to hold a cure of souls with his canonry, (fn. 9) and also in 1252, when he is termed 'provost of the church.' (fn. 10) During the primacy of Robert Kilwardby (1272-8) the archbishop's commissioners contrived to enter the church without the knowledge of either the abbot of Fécamp or his bailiff and held a visitation, but a similar attempt by the deputies of Archbishop Peckham was foiled by the abbot's bailiff, whom Peckham excommunicated, (fn. 11) as he did also the prior of the Dominicans of Chichester, who preached at Steyning and declared his interdict void and of none effect. (fn. 12) This was in 1283, and, as already noticed, it seems as if the college had been absorbed between that date and 1290, after which year no further reference is found to these canons.

The seal appended to the deed of 1254 is a pointed oval; three heads in pale, with the sun and moon on both sides in the field. Legend:—



  • 1. Dom. Bk. fol. 17.
  • 2. Cal. Doc. France, 38.
  • 3. Chan. Misc. Inq. file 49, No. 4.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. P.R.O. Trans. vol. 140 a, fol. 350.
  • 6. Suss. Arch. Coll. v, 122.
  • 7. Asser, Life of King Alfred (ed. Stevenson), 132.
  • 8. Mun. of Magd.Coll. Oxon. 'Bidlington,' No. 19.
  • 9. Cal. Papal Let. i, 261.
  • 10. Feet of F. Suss.
  • 11. Chan. Misc. Inq. file 49, No. 4.
  • 12. Reg. Epist. Peckham (Rolls Ser.), ii, 620.