The cathedral close: The deanery and other buildings

Pages 153-158

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

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


In this section


The DEANERY was erected in 1725 by Dean Thomas Sherlock. (fn. 1) It is built of red brick with stone dressings, the south front being plastered, and is of two stories and attics. The roof is covered with slates. The former deanery is said to have been destroyed in the siege of 1643.

The north front has a slightly projecting central bay which has a pediment, in front of a low-pitched gable to the whole front. There is a brick stringcourse at the first and second floor levels and a stone course at the level of the first floor window sills. The entrance doorway has rusticated stone jambs and a flat lintel with an entablature. In it is a heavy oak panelled door. The windows are tall narrow sashes. The west side also has a wide, low-pitched gable, and three windows to each story. The south front towards the garden has windows like those to the north front, but one has been altered to a wide modern window. To the east there are later additions and offices.

The entrance hall is lined with white painted panelling of the period and contains the main staircase to the first floor, which has thin turned and twisted balusters with a square central block. The newels are of Doric column form and the moulded handrail is carried over the lowest in spiral form. The north-west room also contains similar panelling, and a marble fireplace with a moulded shelf. Most of the remainder of the house has been modernised.

The Entrance Gateway on the south side of Canon Lane has brick posts with stone caps and a welldesigned pair of wrought-iron gates.

The Deanery garden extends southwards to the city wall. At the south-west corner was the medieval Deanery. It was built both north and south of the wall, part of which was cut away for it. Some fragmentary walling still exists south of (i.e., outside) the wall in a rectangular plan about 74 ft. long and 20 ft. deep. There appears to have been a doorway in the east wall against the city wall, and there are traces of a window in the south wall.

The city wall, west of these remains, is pierced by a doorway (now modern) and next east of this is a small medieval window now blocked. All traces of the building north of the wall are lost.


The RESIDENTIARY east of the Deanery, on the south side of Canon Lane, is probably of medieval origin, but has been so completely altered in later times that its original plan is not at all certain. The plan of the present building is L-shaped, and Mr. Hannah suggests that the wing extending south contained the early hall, which may have been of the 15th century. (fn. 2) The part fronting the lane is probably of early-16thcentury date. It is coated with plaster or cement and has at each end a gable head. The eastern gable retains a 16th-century carved barge-board with a running vine pattern and, at the apex, two human faces. The entrance is of early to mid 18th-century date with a fanlight. Near the east end is a small blocked loop-light to the upper floor; the other windows are modern. There are dormer windows in the roof, which is tiled. The east wall also has a gable head above which is an 18th-century chimneystack.

The south elevation has two gables like the front and also a blocked loop-light. The south wing is built of flints and brick of the 18th century, mostly plastered, but appears to have been originally of timber framing. At its south end is a modern bay window. It has a roof of three bays now entirely concealed; the trusses have chamfered cambered tiebeams which carry king-posts with four-way struts below a central purlin and collar-beams, a very common form of construction in the 15th century. (fn. 3) The vestibule has some 16th-century linen-fold panelling reset in the 18th century.


The CHANTRY, which was, it is considered, the house of the Chanter or Precentor, (fn. 4) on the south side of Canon Lane, is an early-13th-century building which had a great hall about 38 ft. from east to west, by 31ft. wide, and east of the hall a wing at right angles to it about 30 ft. by 15½ ft. To the north of the latter and overlapping the hall is a smaller wing of two stories, the upper of which formed a chapel or oratory; the western portion of the lower story is a porch with an entrance to the former 'screens' passage of the hall. The walls are of flint with stone quoins. A modern wing extends to the east of the main block.

The north front has an entrance archway to the porch with moulded jambs and four-centred head with a moulded label; it may date from the 15th or early-16th century, but has been treated with cement. The west angle of the porch has a diagonal buttress, partly restored.

The upper story has a large window said to have been brought from Halnaker House; (fn. 5) it is of four trefoiled ogee-headed lights and semi-quatrefoils in a square head. The lower part of it has been filled in with masonry because the sill was too low for its present position. Farther east is another window with a cinquefoiled three-centred arch in a square head of 15th or early-16th century date.

The porch is vaulted in two bays and has moulded transverse and diagonal ribs of a section very similar to those of the north aisle of the quire of the cathedral and of much the same date. They are carried on plain, half-round concave-pointed corbels. The inner doorway is modern.

The chamber west of the porch is vaulted in 18th-century brickwork.

The east end of the chapel is gabled and has two lancet windows, partly restored, and, in the gable head, a plain quatrefoil. The west end above the adjoining roofs also shows a lancet, now blocked, and a quatrefoil like the eastern.

The south side of the former hall is built of split flints and has modern windows and doorway.

The south end of the east wing is gabled. In it is a three-sided bay window of ashlar and of early-16thcentury date, also said to have come from Halnaker. The bay is of two stories with a tiled roof, and has five lights with moulded jambs, mullions and transoms to each floor. The cornice in front is carved with Tudor roses and running foliage, and in the splays with roses and grotesque heads.

Internally the chief evidence of the original arrangement—apart from the thick walls—is in the roofspaces. The original east gable of the hall is hidden beneath a higher and later roof; it is built of flints— about 20 in. thick—and has against its east face an ancient chimney-shaft, of ashlar, which rose from a fireplace in the south-east wing. Against its north side is a modern brick stack. The gable was probably exposed to the open originally.

The roof itself is probably of late-17th or early18th-century date. Rising through it is a central chimney-stack which was inserted in the 16th century in the hall. (fn. 6)

The roof of the south-east wing is of 15thcentury construction. It is of two bays with three trusses with tiebeams carrying king-posts and longitudinal struts under a central purlin and collar-beams. The king-posts in the two end trusses are also strengthened by cross-struts rising from the tiebeams. The north bay is about 17 ft. span, the south bay about 13½ ft.; the north end is a thin partition of old lath and plaster, so that the roof probably originally continued to the chapel-roof as at present.

There was probably a valley between this roof and the end of the hall.

The roof of the chapel, apparently reconstructed in modern times, contains some old re-used timbers. The roofs are now concealed by the first floor ceilings.

The internal fittings in the lower rooms are mostly modern. There is no visible evidence as to when the first floor was inserted in the hall to make it of two stories, but it would probably have been done when the 16th-century central chimney was built. The fireplaces in this stack are modern. A hall of this exceptional width would doubtless have included aisles with wood posts or trusses, to support the roof, rising from the floor. It would probably have been of two 15 to 16 ft. bays, with a half-bay to the 'screens.' There are no traces of these, but perhaps the position of one of them is marked by a buttress against the north wall, which is concealed in the modern offices.

The south-east wing has a 16th or 17th-century stop-chamfered ceiling beam, and on the west wall of the north half of the wing is a stone aumbry or cupboard with rebated jambs and segmental head. It projects from the wall and is probably an alteration from an earlier fireplace, the ashlar flue of which is seen in the roof space against the hall gable.

The south room has a stone fireplace from Halnaker which has a four-centred arch in a square head, the spandrels being carved with a capital H, and a mitre and staff respectively.

One wall in a lobby has some reset panelling of the early 17th century. The garden of the house, like that of the deanery and other houses on this side of Canon Lane, extends to the city wall. In the south-west corner are the remains of an arbour in which is a reset window of two trefoiled lights and a quatrefoil in a two-centred head with a hood-mould; it is probably of late-14th-century date, and is now rather badly weather-worn.

In a garden wall adjoining the east end of the chapel wing is a 13th or 14th-century pointed archway reset and somewhat altered; it has a chamfered reararch.


The range containing the VICARS' HALL, ETC., extends eastwards of, and more or less in line with, St. Faith's Chapel, but separated from it by some 15 ft. The hall was about 35 ft. long (east to west) by 21 ft. wide and formed the middle part of the upper story of the range. The extension west of the hall (about 41 ft. long), which was afterwards thrown open to it, probably contained dormitories and offices; the remainder of the range (about 26 ft. by 28 ft. wide) at the east end was known as the Vicars' Parlour and is built, with part of the hall, above a vaulted undercroft about 40 ft. long.

The undercroft or vaulted cellar is of late-12thcentury date, and is thought to have been part of the former Gilden Hall which was granted by Richard II to Bishop Mitford in 1394 (fn. 7) for the vicars.

The vaulting is of quadripartite plan, three bays in the length by two bays in width; the ribs are chamfered and form pointed arches between the compartments. They are carried on two short round columns with plain chamfered capitals and bases. The diagonal ribs form semicircular arches, and where they intersect have iron rings for lamps.

In the north wall are three round-headed windows, and there is a blocked doorway in the south wall. The entrance is by a doorway in the east wall on the South Street frontage.

Behind or west of this vault is the basement of the remainder of the range. It is probably of late-14thcentury date, the entrance to this portion being through a doorway of that period from the east crypt. In the north wall are two square-headed windows each of two lights. On the south side is a projecting small chamber, the entrance to which is through a depressed archway in the south wall. The chamber is barrel-vaulted, and there appears to have been originally a similar archway in its outer wall. Against the west side of the projection is a small square addition of which the lower story is of timber framing with brick or flint nogging; the upper story is tile-hung. It contained a staircase, but the steps no longer exist. Two oak posts and brackets carry the heavy central beam of the floor of the hall above, but the posts are for the most part buried in a wall which supports two later longitudinal parallel vaults, built in brick below the hall floor. The west end is in two sections, the southern being entered from a small lobby which has a 15thcentury stone doorway in the south wall and a wooden doorway in the west wall.

The Vicars' Hall: Lavatory

The Vicars' Hall on the upper floor is lighted by four windows, two in the north and two in the south wall, each of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights in a square head with external labels. Farther west in the north wall is a projecting lavatory basin, 4 ft. 5 in. wide and 1 ft. 8 in. projection, carried on a grotesque head corbel. It is set in an ogee-headed recess which has moulded jambs and arch and a hood-mould terminating in a foliated finial. The back of the recess is pierced by a late-17th-century window with leaded lights.

The Vicars' Close: North-west Corner of Court

Between the two south windows is a small projecting square bay; it is carried by the vaulting of the undercroft and served as a pulpit. The entrance to it is by a four-centred doorway which is divided by a mullion from an opening west of it for the preacher or reader. The back of the bay is pierced by a window of two trefoiled pointed lights. (fn. 8) The soffit is plastered.

Opposite the lavatory, in the south wall is the entrance to the rectangular chamber, above that already described in the basement, which formed the landing at the top of the former staircase. Walcott says it was used to contain the vicars' statute chest, plate, etc. The doorway has moulded jambs and a four-centred head. At the west end of the chamber is a plain doorway from the former stair-head, and at the east end is set a small stone cross (fn. 9) 1 ft. 8 in. high on a small corbel.

The roof is open-timbered and has three trusses with braced moulded tie-beams on corbels, carrying king-posts and struts below a central purlin which supports the collar-beams. The side purlins have curved wind-braces.

The west extension is now lighted by late-17thcentury tall windows with oak frames and transoms, and in the west wall is a large fireplace. There are slight traces of earlier windows filled in. One blocked window in the north wall above the adjoining roof, from its height in the wall, seems to have lighted an upper story in this portion. The chamber is entered by an 18th-century staircase and doorway in the south wall. The roof has a series of king-post trusses.

The Vicars' Parlour, at the east end, has in the north wall a blocked doorway with a four-centred head; this must have opened into a northeast wing that has now disappeared. Farther west is a modern four-light window, west of which is a small skew window which may also have borne some relation to the former north-east chamber; in its sill is a small drain of rough workmanship. It is possible that the buttress west of this window marks the place where the west wall of the wing met the present north wall.

The east end of the range towards South Street is of modern red brick, with a hipped slated roof. In the wall is the segmental-headed doorway to the undercroft, of which the inner stonework is ancient, the jambs and arch being chamfered.

The space between the Vicars' Hall range and St. Faith's Chapel was filled in in the 18th century with a brick dwelling-house of L-shaped plan.

The Vicars' residences originally formed a long narrow quadrangle south of the hall, but only the houses in the west range and one in the east range serve their original purpose, the remainder on the east side having been converted in 1825 into shops facing South Street. The existing houses are said to retain the late-15th-century front walls, but were otherwise much altered in the 18th century.

There was a south range and gateway to Canon Lane, but the gatehouse and the west part of the range were demolished in 1831; the western portion remains as a much-altered dwelling-house. Near the west end of its south wall is a small niche, about 8 ft. above the ground, with a trefoiled ogee head, and above it are the jambs of an ancient stone window now blocked.


  • 1. Ibid. 137.
  • 2. S.A.C. lxviii, 139.
  • 3. Ibid. 139–143.
  • 4. Ibid. 143.
  • 5. Halnaker is supposed to have been mainly built early in the 16th century, but this window has decidedly a 14thcentury appearance, except for the label, which is later.
  • 6. The bricks are of the same size as those in the 16th-century north-west wing of the Bishop's Palace.
  • 7. See above.
  • 8. A sketch by Sir Gilbert Scott shows there was formerly another window above this, set in a gabled head. This does not now exist.
  • 9. Walcott, Mem. of Chich. Cath. 57, says 'above a water drain.'