West Thorney

Pages 195-197

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1953.

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West Thorney, sometimes called Thorney Island, lies between two limbs of the estuary of Chichester Harbour, Thorney Channel on the east and Emsworth Channel on the west. On the north the two channels are connected by the Great Deep. Until the 19th century this was crossed by a causeway leading to Emsworth, which was only completely uncovered at low water of the spring tides, but was otherwise 'nearly half-leg deep at low water'. (fn. 1) There is now a road across the old 'wade way', and another farther east. In 1341 it was reported that 20 acres of arable and as much of meadow had been ruined by the sea in the last fifty years; (fn. 2) the process has now been reversed and a considerable acreage has been reclaimed from the sea. The soil is excellent corn land. Most of the parish has been taken over for a Royal Air Force Station. Off the extreme southern point is the small island of Pilsey, chiefly of interest to naturalists as a centre of bird life.

The common fields, constituting the greater part of the parish, were inclosed under an Act of 1812. (fn. 3)


The manor of THORNEY was a member of the Chapelry of Bosham, and Domesday records that in 1086 'Mauger holds of the land of this church 12 hides as one manor; it is called Tornei and pays geld for 8 hides'. (fn. 4) The overlordship remained with the Bishops of Exeter, of whom it was held as 2 knights' fees. These fees were held in 1212 by Richard de Thorney, (fn. 5) son of William. He died c. 1222 without issue, and his heirs were his sister Cecily with her husband Gilbert Marshal, William Aguillon, son of another sister, Margery, and Richard de Grensted son of a third sister, Emma. (fn. 6) Early in 1223 they assigned to Richard's widow Maud dower in Thorney, consisting of 52 acres of demesne and 16⅓ virgates of villeinage, with the reversion of ⅓ of the lands then held in dower by Mabel widow of Richard's father William de Thorney. (fn. 7) In 1242 the 2 knights' fees were said to be held by Richard de Grensted, (fn. 8) whose mother therefore seems to have been the eldest of the three sisters. His daughters and coheirs Margery and Christiane married respectively Elias de la Faleyse and Adam de Clothale and sold their shares of the manor to the Bishop of Exeter, (fn. 9) whose successor acquired the Aguillon ⅓ from Richard de Weston, Richard Jeudewyne, and Maud wife of Henry de Bulkestrode, the heirs of Richard Aguillon's granddaughter Juliane. (fn. 10) The shares so acquired constituted the manor of Thorney which was sold by the Bishop of Exeter in 1548 to Thomas Fisher, (fn. 11) and by him next year to Henry Bickley. (fn. 12) It then followed the descent of Chidham (q.v.) until the death of Richard Barwell in 1805, being sometimes known as the manor of THORNEY BICKLEY, by which name ⅓ of the manor was conveyed to William Butler in 1814 by Edward Miller Mundy and Catherine his wife (fn. 13) (the widow of Richard Barwell). About 1860 it was bought by Frederick Padwick, in whose family it has descended.

In 1416 Henry fitz John, of London, and Beatrice his wife, probably representing the Aguillon interest, conveyed to John Hexham and Joan his wife ⅓ of the manor of WEST THORNEY and of the advowson of the church, for which they were to pay a rent of 60s. during the lives of the grantors. (fn. 14) Three years later Henry and Beatrice sold their life interest in this rent to Richard Fust, (fn. 15) the rent being then payable by Walter Fust and Joan his wife. The estate evidently remained in this family, as in 1470 John Fust conveyed the ⅓ manor to John Stanney. (fn. 16) In 1545 another John Stanney and Mary his wife sold it to Agnes Bradshawe, widow. (fn. 17) She may have left coheirs, as Bradshawe Drewe (fn. 18) died in 1614 seised of a moiety of ⅓ manor of WEST THORNEY AGLANDS, held of Thomas Bickley's manor of West Thorney by rent of 23d. (fn. 19) This moiety passed with Densworth in Funtington [q.v.] to Sir Gregory Norton and Martha (Drewe) his wife, (fn. 20) and on Sir Gregory's death in 1652 was sold to William Baldwyn (fn. 22) and by him to Thomas Bickley in 1667. (fn. 23) Brune Bickley in 1719 sold to Richard Goodwin, (fn. 24) who in 1730 conveyed what is here called ⅓ manor of West Thorney Aglands to Susan and Margaret Peachey. (fn. 25) It seems to have been acquired about this time by John Farhill, whose eldest son the Rev. George Parker Farhill held it in 1779. (fn. 26) Robert Harfield held 'the manor' about 1815, (fn. 27) and it was subsequently acquired by Sir Charles Taylor, bt., who died, leaving no male issue, in 1876. (fn. 28) His trustees held it until about 1916, when it was bought by R. Metherall; Mr. A. C. Lundy is named as lord of the manor of West Thorney in 1934. (fn. 29)

The ⅓ of the manor of Thorney held by Cecily sister of Richard de Thorney was sold by her in 1252 to Humphrey de Aluredesfeld, (fn. 30) who in 1263 sold it to Hugh Bigod. (fn. 31) His son Roger, Earl of Norfolk, held the manor of THORNEY of the Bishop of Exeter as ⅓ knight's fee, (fn. 32) and from that time it has descended with Bosham [q.v.]. (fn. 33)

In 1313 Edith, Prioress of Easebourne, did homage to the Bishop of Exeter for tenements in the Isle of Thorney, rents from which had been granted to the priory by Cecily daughter of William de Thorney, when a widow, and by Isabel daughter of Richard de Warneford. (fn. 34)

Parish Church of St Nicholas Thorney


The parish church of ST. NICHOLAS (fn. 35) stands by the waterside on the east edge of the island; it is built of flint rubble with dressings of ashlar, mainly Caen stone, and is roofed with tile, except the tower, which is shingled.

An original, perhaps single-chamber, building of the 12th century was expanded early in the 13th into a church with chancel, nave, north and south aisles, and west tower. Both aisles have been destroyed since, the north perhaps first, as it seems to have left no trace of its foundations; the south aisle, of which the foundations have been traced, may have been pulled down in 1608, when the church and chancel were 're-edified and beautified'. (fn. 36) The present church is, therefore, a long, narrow rectangle of chancel, nave, and tower, with a modern south porch.

In the east wall of the chancel is a lancet triplet having plain rear-arches and concentric splays, of the 13th century. In the north wall are lancets of similar design and date; between the second and third is a narrow window with round-arched head and no provision for glazing; the outer stonework of this is of the 12th century, the inner is modern. The windows of the south side of the chancel resemble those of the north, save that the narrow window, though otherwise of 12th-century form, has a pointed head. In this wall (fn. 37) are also two piscinas, of doubtful date, and neither now having any drain, and a priest's door with round head and segmental rear-arch, of the 13th century. There is a Mass dial on each jamb of this, and another at the south-east corner of the chancel. The westernmost window on each side has been converted into a low side window by subsequent lengthening, the original sill remaining as a transom; these interrupt the string-course which otherwise runs all round the chancel. There is no chancel arch. The roof consists of trussed rafters and two tie-beams, each with braces, king-post, and collar purlin.

The north arcade of the nave was of four bays of pointed arches, probably of one order, resting on cylindrical piers with moulded bases and caps, (fn. 38) the form of the responds is unknown. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arches are still traceable outside, as are the 2nd and 3rd piers. In the 1st bay now is inserted a lancet with moulded jambs and uncusped head, perhaps 14th-century; in the 2nd is a lancet with semi-elliptical head and pointed rear-arch, probably a 13th-century aisle window reused; built into the splay of this window is what is perhaps the capital of an 8-in. shaft. In the 3rd is a lancet with round head; in the 4th is a doorway with pointed arch and hood-mould with nailhead moulding resting directly on plain jambs; both these are 13th-century work refixed. Of the south arcade the east respond survives; it has the form of a half-pier, (fn. 39) and has a moulded base but no cap surviving. Three buttresses to this wall (of 1608 or later) each have two stages with sloping offsets. In the first bay is a lancet with round head and pointed rear-arch, in the 2nd a similar lancet having a rear-arch of approximately four-centred form, in the 3rd a lancet with pointed head and approximately semicircular rear-arch which does not fit the splay. (fn. 40) In the fourth bay is the south door, (fn. 41) of similar design and date to the north, but with no nailhead moulding on the hood-mould. The roof of the nave resembles that of the chancel.

The south porch (modern) is of wood on a stone base; west of it there remains a small part of the west wall of the south aisle.

The tower arch is pointed, of two chamfered orders resting on responds with clustered shafts and moulded caps and bases; in contrast to the caps of the north arcade these have abaci of unusual thickness; on plan they are square with the corners cut off. On each of the north, west, and south faces of the tower is a single lancet with plain rear-arch and concentric splay. The upper stage of the tower has a window on each of the same faces; a plain pointed arch incloses a two-light opening having pointed arches resting on a central shaft with moulded cap and base and on responds having the same form as the shaft. All this work, and a corbel table under the eaves of the pyramidal cap, is of the 13th century.

The altar table has turned legs and heavy rails; it is of the 17th century, perhaps of 1608.

Between the 3rd and 4th bays of the nave are refixed the remains of the 14th-century rood screen. On slender turned shafts (modern) rests a continuous band of tracery consisting of trefoiled ogee arches having their heads linked by semicircles. Each of the tadpole-shaped figures thus formed is subdivided into three openings, each with two cusps. The panelling at the base contains some linen-fold work, and some framing of 17th-century date; the top beam is modern. A somewhat similar screen is now fixed in the tower arch; in this the tadpole-shaped openings are not divided, but each has four cusps; the top beam, ancient, has a battlemented moulding.

The font is tub-shaped, ornamented partly with shallow round-arched arcading, partly with cheveron ornament; it is of the 12th century.

In the tower is the former south door of the church, of feather-edged boarding nailed to a continuous layer of horizontal boarding; the hinge straps are of the usual medieval form with cheveron ornament made with the chisel. In the tower are also a 3 ft. chest with carved front, early-17th-century; a 4 ft. chest with plain front, of uncertain date; a 4 ft. settle with arm rests, the back forming a cupboard with panelled doors, having two drawers below the seat, perhaps mid-17th-century; and a table made up of old altar-rails. There are also the royal arms, as blazoned 1714–1800.

On the site of the former south aisle are four tapersided ledger stones of the 13th century.

There is one medieval bell, inscribed IHESVS. (fn. 42)

The chalice and paten are of 1861; there are also another paten and a flagon of pewter. (fn. 43)

The registers begin in 1571.


The benefice of West Thorney was a rectory, valued in 1291 at £20 (fn. 44) and in 1535 at £10 8s. 2d. (fn. 45) The glebe in 1341 consisted of 64 acres of arable, and the rector had pasturage rights, as well as a messuage and garden worth 20s. (fn. 46) The descent of the advowson is complicated by the subdivision of the manor. In 1265 it was agreed that presentations should be made alternately first by Hugh Bigod, then by William Aguillon, and then by Elias de la Faleyse as husband of Margery with Adam de Clothale as husband of Christiane, and their representatives. (fn. 47) Six years later Elias de la Faleyse sold his sixth part of the advowson to the Bishop of Exeter, (fn. 48) as did Adam de Clothale and Christiane in 1289. (fn. 49) The Aguillon third descended with the manor of West Thorney Aglands and passed to the Bickleys, who had also acquired the Bishop of Exeter's interest (see above). (fn. 50) By the middle of the 17th century, therefore, the Bickleys held two turns in three presentations, and the Earls of Berkeley, representing Hugh Bigod, had the third. The Bickley interest was sold with their other estates in 1720 by Brune Bickley and came eventually to the Rev. Cornelius Greene, who presented in 1833 and shortly afterwards sold it to Philip Lyne, who also bought the other third. When the latter's grandson refused the offer of the living, the advowson was sold in 1862 to Frederick Padwick and has descended with the main manor. (fn. 51)


  • 1. Gent. Mag. 1797, p. 457.
  • 2. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 366.
  • 3. Award, 1818: Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxxviii, 147.
  • 4. V.C.H. Suss. i, 392.
  • 5. Bk. of Fees, 71.
  • 6. Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxix, 49.
  • 7. Suss. Rec. Soc. ii, 187.
  • 8. Bk. of Fees, 690.
  • 9. Add. MS. 39375, fol. 180, citing De Banco R. Trin. 10 Hen. IV, m. 195; Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxix, 50.
  • 10. Add. MS. 39375, fol. 150.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1548–9, p. 403.
  • 12. Common Pleas, Deeds Enrd. Trin. 3 Edw. VI, m. 2d.
  • 13. Suss. Rec. Soc. xix, 99.
  • 14. Ibid. xxiii, 2861.
  • 15. Ibid. 2882.
  • 16. Ibid. 3188, 3193.
  • 17. Ibid. xx, 485.
  • 18. He was son of Dorothy Drewe, widow, who died 1595: ibid. xiv, 432.
  • 19. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cccxli, 75.
  • 20. Ibid. cccclvi, 51; cccclxvii, 67.
  • 21. Add. MS. 39386, fol. 107.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Suss. Rec. Soc. xx, 485.
  • 24. Elwes and Robinson, op. cit. 238.
  • 25. Suss. Rec. Soc. xx, 485.
  • 26. Elwes and Robinson, loc. cit.
  • 27. Dallaway, Rape of Chichester, 81.
  • 28. Elwes and Robinson, loc. cit.
  • 29. Kelly, Direct. of Suss.
  • 30. Suss. Rec. Soc. vii, 525.
  • 31. Ibid. 712.
  • 32. Cal. Inq. p.m. iv, 434.
  • 33. Chan. Inq. p.m. 7 Ric. II, 15; ibid. (Ser. 2), cccxxix, 195; Suss. Rec. Soc. xix, 55.
  • 34. Epis. Reg. Exeter, Stapledon, 387.
  • 35. Add. MS. 39366, fol. 134 v, Chiche ster Cons. Ct. wills, v, 10, and ix, 24.
  • 36. Parish register.
  • 37. These windows were evidently blocked, and the splay jambs and reararches done away with, in the 13th-century reconstruction.
  • 38. These are peculiar because, though otherwise of characteristic 13th-century profile, they have no abaci.
  • 39. Its great height is due to worked stones from the former piers, found in the course of restoration, having been used to heighten it.
  • 40. All this makeshift mason's work suggests a late date, which may well be 1608.
  • 41. The doors may have been shifted from a bay farther east when the aisles were pulled down.
  • 42. Suss. Arch. Coll. xvi, 226.
  • 43. Ibid. liii, 258–9.
  • 44. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 135.
  • 45. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 309.
  • 46. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 366.
  • 47. Suss. Rec. Soc. vii, 718.
  • 48. Ibid. 786.
  • 49. Ibid. 1042.
  • 50. Ibid. xxiii, 2861, 3193.
  • 51. Add. MS. 39469, fol. 306–12.