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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The old parish of Bersted, originally part of Pagham, contained 2,750 acres, which was reduced to 2,228 acres when Bognor was constituted a separate parish; and under the West Sussex Review Order of 1933 part of Bersted was added to the Urban District of Bognor Regis, so that the present area of the parish is 1,562 acres. (fn. 1) Its eastern boundary is formed by a small stream that joins the Aldingbourne Rife, which itself forms the west boundary for a short distance before turning south-east to run across the parish. The church and village of South Bersted lie between the road to Aldingbourne, here running north-east, and that to Chichester, running north-west. Just off the latter road is the hamlet of North Bersted, with a mission church of the Holy Cross, built in 1904. In the north of the parish is the hamlet of Shripney.
South-west of the church at South Bersted is a cottage built partly of yellow ragstone and partly of cobbles with brick dressings and with a thatched roof. The stone part has a panel inscribed FB 1726. Farther north-east on the same side is an 18th-century house of red and black brickwork, and next it a thatched house of L-shaped plan with flint and brick walls, probably of the 17th century. Another on the east side farther north of similar material has a 17th-century brick chimney-shaft.
Among the buildings in the North Bersted main street are six or seven flint and brick thatched cottages of the c. 1700 period.
The Manor House at Shripney is an interesting early-17th-century building that has been much altered, at least in appearance. The plan is rectangular, facing south. The original building was of timber-framing, some of which survives in the north wall covered by the later parallel out-shot aisle. In 1675 there was some remodelling, including an extension to the west. The west wall is of flint and brick and has a chamfered plinth and string-courses at the first and second floor levels. The head is a 'Dutch' gable with ogee-curved sides with plain brick copings and a pedimental capping of moulded brick on which is carved the date 1675. The south wall is a thick one, probably mainly of 1675 but covered with rough-cast cement. There is a middle entrance and ranges of eight windows with modern sash-frames. The east wall is gabled and has an early-17th-century projecting chimney-stack with crowstepped sides of thin bricks and two diagonal shafts which may have been rebuilt. The entrance opens into a hall which is stone-paved and contains an early-17th-century staircase; this has 4-in. turned balusters and square newels with moulded heads and knobs with diamond facets. The room next east has a wide fireplace with an oak bressummer cut to form a shallow arch. The easternmost room is now one with this and there is no fire-place in the projecting chimney-stack. Behind this room is a similar staircase, presumably a later copy.
Near by at the west end of the north side of the village street is a house, now two tenements, built of flint with brick dressings. It has a stone in the front inscribed M/TG 1669 and an entrance doorway of red brick with a moulded pediment carved in relief with the initials TG and date 1699, partly restored and originally bearing the same date as the stone. The windows have original brick outlines but are otherwise restored. The roof is thatched and above it is a rebated chimney-shaft.
Bersted with Bognor and Shripney formed part of the estate of Pagham (q.v.), granted by Caedwalla, King of Wessex, to Wilfrid and subsequently conveyed to the see of Canterbury. (fn. 2) The overlordship continued in the hands of the Archbishops until 1542, when Cranmer exchanged Bersted and Shripney with Henry VIII for lands in Canterbury. (fn. 3) The manors were temporarily reunited with the see when Queen Mary gave them in March 1556 to Cardinal Reynold Pole, but the grant was personal and was made only for his life. (fn. 4)
The archbishop's manor is definitely called NORTH BERSTED in 1397, (fn. 5) and it was by this title that it was exchanged to the Crown in 1542. It was settled on Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1617, (fn. 6) having apparently been previously held by his brother Henry. Charles I in 1628 granted it to Edward Ditchfield and others, (fn. 7) who in 1630 sold the lordship of North Bersted to William, Lord Craven, (fn. 8) and, with an interval of forfeiture during the Commonwealth, it remained in the hands of this family until 1785, when the then Lord Craven sold the manor to Richard Barwell of Stansted. (fn. 9) In 1812 the devisees under the will of Richard Barwell sold it to William Brereton, under whose will, proved in 1820, it passed to John Ballett Fletcher. From him it passed, after the death of his widow in 1899, to his son William Holland Ballett Fletcher, (fn. 10) who died in 1941.
The manor-house and demesnes of North Bersted were leased by the Crown to John Edmond and John Knight in 1561, but ten years later this lease was surrendered and a new one made to John Knight for twenty-one years, reserving all courts, &c., and with a proviso that he should provide food and lodging for the steward and his household four days in the year if he came to hold a court. (fn. 11) The lease was renewed for a similar period in 1576, (fn. 12) and on its expiry the lands seem to have been leased first to Sir Robert Wood and then, in 1614, granted to John Wotton and George Bingley to hold for a fee farm rent of £12 19s. 7d. (fn. 13) The manor-house and farm were acquired by the Ashfields of Shripney (see below) and were sold by Sir Richard Ashfield in 1678 to Sir Gabriel Roberts. (fn. 14)
A so-called manor of SOUTH BERSTED is said to have been held by Edward Maning in 1608, (fn. 15) but otherwise it is not heard of until 1701, (fn. 16) when, as on all later occasions, it is associated with Shripney.
SHRIPNEY is named as one of the members of Pagham in the charter of Caedwalla. It is referred to as a manor in 1328, when certain persons poached in the park attached to it, (fn. 17) and in 1535 the farm of the manor, including commuted work-services in South Bersted, was £37 5s. 9½d. (fn. 18) In 1536 the manor and demesnes were leased to Richard Knight for fifty years at a rent of £23, (fn. 19) and in 1570, the manor having passed to the Crown with Bersted by the exchange of 1542, Queen Elizabeth granted to Robert Cotton a lease of the manor-house and demesnes of Shripney, and of land called Heyghwood, for twenty years following on the expiry of Knight's lease. (fn. 20) In 1584 she gave to Thomas Knight a similar lease to date from the expiry of Cotton's, and in 1589 sold the reversions of the estate, and of Dudmer and Barnebrooke, portions of the manor separately leased, and lands in South Bersted to Richard Sutton and Matthew Kingston. (fn. 21) Sir Richard Sutton died in 1634, leaving as his heir a daughter Elizabeth formerly wife of Sir James Altham and then of Sir John Ashfield, bart. (fn. 22) Sir John died in 1635 and Elizabeth subsequently married Sir Richard Minshull. (fn. 23) On her death, c. 1655, her son Sir Richard Ashfield succeeded. He married twice; by his first wife, a daughter of Sir Richard Rogers, he had a son, later Sir John, who died without issue in 1714; (fn. 24) his second wife Dorcas, daughter of James Hore, survived him and in 1701 settled the manors of Shripney and South Bersted on herself for life with remainder to her daughters Dorcas wife of Maurice Kendall and Frances wife of John Isham. (fn. 25) After the death of Dame Dorcas, about the end of 1709, the manors were held jointly by her two daughters and their husbands until 1746, (fn. 26) when John Isham bought the Kendall share. By his will, dated in that year, the manors passed, after the death of his widow in 1755, to his nephew Euseby Isham, D.D., rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, who also died in 1755, when his son (later Sir) Justinian Isham inherited the manors of Shripney and South Bersted, which he sold in 1776 to William Stocker. (fn. 27) He mortgaged the estate to John Pott of London, oilman, who in 1781 foreclosed and obtained possession. (fn. 28) He seems to have left coheirs, whose shares were acquired in 1826 by William Pott, (fn. 29) and by his representatives the manorial rights were sold in 1843 to Thomas Brittain Vacher, (fn. 30) with whose descendants they have remained.
Although Chalcroft, south of North Bersted, was styled a manor in 1473, when Agnes Weston died seised of it, (fn. 31) it does not appear to have been more than a freehold estate.
The parish church of ST. MARY MAGDALENE (fn. 32) stands south of the main road to London in what is now part of the built-up area of Bognor Regis; it is built of rubble, largely beach boulders, with ashlar dressings, and is roofed with tile, except the broach spire, which is shingled. It consists of chancel, north vestry and organ chamber, nave of five bays with aisles, north porch, and west tower, all, except the vestry and porch, of the 13th century.
The chancel has low single-stage buttresses with sloping offsets at each east corner; in the east wall is a lancet triplet, wholly modern, in the Early English style. In the south wall are three lancet windows of the 13th century; between the two eastern is a buttress of one stage with sloped offset, contemporary; a similar but larger buttress farther west is perhaps 16th-century, but much restored. In the north wall is one similar lancet window (now covered externally by the vestry) of the 13th century; west of this a modern arcade of two pointed arches of two chamfered orders, resting on a cylindrical pier with moulded capital and base, gives access to the vestry. An ancient moulded string-course runs round three sides of the chancel, rising to clear a contemporary trefoil-headed piscina of rather unusual depth. The trussed rafter roof is entirely modern and there is no chancel arch, a single (modern) tie-beam taking its place.
The vestry (19th-century) has a modern doorway with plain pointed arch in the north wall, and two reused 13th-century lancet windows, one in the east wall and one in the north.
The nave, of the same breadth as the chancel, has a trussed rafter roof without tie-beams, which is, to judge by the roof-mark on the east wall of the tower, a 19th-century reconstruction on a higher level than the ancient. On each side is an arcade of five bays, the piers being alternately round and octagonal with moulded caps (circular even on the octagonal piers) and bases with angle spurs; the responds are square, with corbels to carry the inner order; the pointed arches are of two chamfered orders; this work is all of the 13th century. The west wall has a pointed arch formerly opening into the tower, into which is inserted (perhaps as a crutch at the time when the state of the tower gave occasion for anxiety) a smaller pointed arch of one order with chamfered imposts; shallow pilaster buttresses also show on the east wall of the tower.
In the east wall of the south aisle is a lancet window of the 13th century over a coeval string-course (continued no farther) and a like lancet in the west wall; in the south are four square-headed two-light windows with cinquefoil heads and no tracery; these are now almost entirely modern renewals, but perhaps date originally from the 16th century. Between the third and fourth is a plain pointed doorway of doubtful date, perhaps 13th-century. Grimm's drawing of 1790 (fn. 33) shows this aisle wall much higher than at present, and having a second tier of windows and three buttresses; evidently the upper tier lit the gallery erected in 1764; (fn. 34) the present third window was then of far greater height, and presumably lit the gallery stairs.
The north aisle resembles the south, but in the east wall is a modern half-arch opening into the organ chamber, and the two easternmost windows, now mainly 19th-century renewals, were originally of the 14th century. There is no evidence for a gallery on this side.
The tower is of the 13th century; its lowest stage has a west doorway with pointed arch of two orders, now blocked and converted into a cupboard recess; there is a lancet window in each of the north and south walls. The upper stage has a single lancet on each face, that on the east being now masked by the roof-framing of the nave. At some later date the condition of the tower gave ground for anxiety, and massive buttresses, each of two stages with sloping offsets, were built on the north, west, and south sides; this work may have been the 'reparations of the steeple' mentioned in 1541. (fn. 35)
The north porch is entirely modern.
At the west end of the nave is an inscription commemorating Sir Richard Hotham who died, aet. 77, in 1799, and is described as the 'founder' of Bognor.
In 1776 the font was of the usual 12th-century form; (fn. 36) it has now been replaced by a somewhat florid piece of modern work in the Decorated style. In the tower is a church chest of normal 13th-century form with three-plank front bearing roundels of chipcarving; a modern oak lining has been added. On the west wall of the nave are the Arms of the See of Canterbury (with no personal arms impaled, consequently not datable, but perhaps 18th-century) which possibly once occupied the place of the more usual Royal Arms; the other fittings are modern.
In the tower are preserved the former stocks and pillory.
Next to the north porch in the churchyard is a massive stone slab, probably from a medieval altar, and a taper-sided tombstone of the 13th century.
There are three bells: (fn. 37) (1) by Mears of London, 1833; (2) by Thomas Giles, 1614; (3) by Edmund Giles, 1610.
The communion plate (fn. 38) includes two silver chalices of 1828, and a silver alms-basin with Dublin hall-marks of 1727, presented in 1828.
The registers begin in 1564.
Bersted was originally a chapel of Pagham. A vicarage had been ordained before 1291, when it was valued at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 39) The right of presentation was in the hands of the rector of Pagham until about 1360, but from 1382 onwards the Archbishop of Canterbury was patron. (fn. 40) The right of burial seems to have been acquired in 1405, when the Bishop of Chichester consecrated the church and churchyard. (fn. 41) It was styled a parish church in 1465, (fn. 42) but this status was definitely denied in about 1535, (fn. 43) at which time the vicarage was rated at £7 18s. 8d. (fn. 44) The advowson has remained with the archbishop.
In 1536 a bequest was made to a Brotherhood of the Holy Rood, (fn. 45) and in 1548 property to the value of 28s. in the parish, (fn. 46) probably belonging to this brotherhood, was seized as being given for superstitious uses.