Arundel Rape: South-western part

Pages 7-9

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 5 Part 1, Arundel Rape: South-Western Part, Including Arundel. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1997.

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ARUNDEL RAPE (South-western Part)

The south-western part of Arundel rape, the hundred of Avisford, lies west of the river Arun, partly on the dip slope of the South Downs but mostly on the coastal plain. The river formerly made a wide estuary, while other inlets rendered Yapton, Climping, and Ford a peninsula and Felpham and Middleton perhaps once an island. The valleys were gradually reclaimed from the early Middle Ages. Both the river Arun and other watercourses were followed by parish boundaries, the Ryebank rife separating several parishes and a former detached part of a parish, and south-flowing streams dividing Walberton from Binsted and Eastergate from Barnham. Much land was lost to the sea in historic times along the whole coastal frontage, and erosion and inland flooding remained problems in the late 20th century.

The area has been densely settled from an early period. The configuration of parish boundaries may suggest the existence of larger pre-medieval jurisdictional and tenurial units: Barnham, Eastergate, and Yapton appear to go together, Binsted and Tortington with Walberton, and Ford with most of Climping, while the Ryebank rife may have been the northern boundary of a unit including Felpham, Middleton, Cudlow (in Climping), and the detached parts of Littlehampton within Climping. Many parishes in the Middle Ages had more than one nucleated settlement, and two villages, Barnham and Walberton, show evidence of a planned layout. Many settlements later shrank or disappeared altogether through the movement of population or sea erosion.

The only town in the hundred, Arundel, perhaps originated as a late Anglo-Saxon burh in succession to Burpham nearby. After the Norman Conquest, in the shadow of its castle, it was the head of a feudal honor which included Chichester rape as well as Arundel. The town remained small, but partly because of self-consciously antiquarian rebuilding in the 19th and 20th centuries became one of the county's chief tourist attractions.

The 19th and 20th centuries have seen a great growth in population in the rest of the area. Felpham and Middleton developed as seaside resorts and places for residence and retirement, especially during the 20th century, when both were joined physically to Bognor Regis. The opening of Barnham station in 1864 led by the early 20th century to much building in Eastergate. Walberton and Yapton villages also greatly expanded in the later 20th century. After 1964 the area of the 'five villages', including Barnham, Eastergate, Walberton, and Yapton, (fn. 1) was characterized by a mixture of countryside and suburbia; much land was given over to market gardens, farm shops, riding stables, and paddocks. Other leisure activities, which included a marina at Ford, centred on roadside or riverside inns and tea gardens, and on two hotels in former country houses, Bailiffscourt in Climping and Avisford House in Walberton.

Both arable and brookland pasture in the area have long been highly regarded. Arable was dominant in the mid 14th century and early 19th, but in the later 19th and 20th centuries pasture increased to supply growing urban populations with milk and meat. Most open fields were inclosed early by agreement, but Eastergate and Walberton commons remained uninclosed until the late 18th century. The northern part of the area carries much woodland, and parkland, especially in the north, has been an important land use since medieval times.

The Eocene and later deposits of the coastal plain supported brick- and tilemaking from the 14th century, (fn. 2) and after the later 19th the favourable climate led to a great expansion in market gardening, especially in the 'five villages' area, to serve local towns, London, and places further afield. The sea provided much employment, both in fishing and in maritime trade, with small harbours or landing places at Felpham, Middleton, and Cudlow (in Climping). The port of Arundel had commercial links with various parts of the Continent, but declined in the 19th century in favour of Littlehampton at the mouth of the Arun. Arundel's other economic activity before the 19th century related chiefly to its agricultural hinterland or to the port.

In the early 20th century an aircraft factory at Middleton and an airfield at Ford were constructed to take advantage of the flat terrain. The site of Ford airfield in 1996 accommodated two industrial estates, and there were also small rural business estates in other places as well as an industrial estate in Arundel. In the 19th and early 20th centuries many residents in the area worked for the great landed proprietors, but by the later 20th century large numbers travelled daily to work elsewhere, especially in London and the coastal towns.

Arundel's medieval markets and fairs were eclipsed after 1882 by Barnham market in Eastergate near the railway junction, but the later revival of road transport helped cause the closure of Barnham market itself.

Some parishes in Avisford hundred had only a single manor, while in others, notably Yapton, the manorial structure was more complex. In the Middle Ages much property belonged to religious houses, among them Sees abbey (Orne), Tortington and Boxgrove priories, and Arundel priory and college. The extensive estates of the earls of Arundel and dukes of Norfolk are mentioned above. (fn. 3) Other important landowners in the area were the St. John and Poynings families in the Middle Ages and the Edmundses in the 16th and 17th centuries. Parts of the area belonged at different periods to the estates centred on Goodwood House near Chichester, Slindon House, and Dale Park in Madehurst. Christ's Hospital in London had lands at Ford and Climping in the 18th and 19th centuries which eventually comprised most of those two parishes, while shorter-lived great estates in the 19th and 20th belonged to the owners of Walberton House and Avisford House in Walberton and Bailiffscourt in Climping. Distinctive estate cottages mark the extent of the Christ's Hospital and Arundel castle estates.

A possibly pre-Conquest minster church at Arundel was succeeded in the later Middle Ages by a group of religious houses in and around the town. A remarkable proportion of churches in Avisford hundred were dedicated to St. Mary. Two medieval parishes ceased to exist and were incorporated in Climping by the 16th century; both their churches have disappeared, as has the medieval church of Middleton because of coastal erosion. There were medieval chapels of ease in Felpham and Yapton, long disused.

Nonconformists, especially Presbyterians, were prominent in Arundel in the mid 17th century. Dissent was further encouraged by Anglican stagnation during the 18th, when many incumbents did not reside and several parishes were without glebe houses. Anglicanism revived during the 19th century. All the churches underwent restoration between c. 1850 and 1900, though at Binsted and at Middleton, where a new site was found further inland, the potential congregations hardly justified the work. New clergy houses were provided after c. 1840 at Barnham, Binsted, Eastergate, Felpham, and Yapton. After the mid 19th century there was a striking growth in Roman Catholicism in and around Arundel.

The Roman road from Chichester to Brighton passed through the northern part of the hundred, and in the Middle Ages was succeeded by the great road from Southampton to Canterbury which used the lowest bridging point on the river Arun at Arundel. (fn. 4) Some north-south routes evidently linked manors near the coast with outlying holdings in the Weald, but there was no reliable north-south route in the Arun valley until the arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century. The road from Chichester via Eastergate to Climping was important in the Middle Ages and later, but other road communication in the south part of Avisford hundred was poor. No coast road was ever provided, and direct communication between Bognor and Littlehampton only became possible from the 1820s.

The river Arun was used by passenger as well as commercial transport, with a wharf at Ford besides the port at Arundel; there may also have been coastal passenger routes, and the beach itself could be used by horses and wagons, even the Arun estuary being fordable at low tide. New east-west routes through the area were provided in the 19th century first by the Portsmouth-Arundel canal and then by the Brighton-Portsmouth railway.


  • 1. Char. Com. files, for the Five-village soc. founded in that yr.; the 5th village is Aldingbourne.
  • 2. Below, Binsted, econ. hist.
  • 3. Above, Arundel Rape.
  • 4. Cf. V.C.H. Suss. vi (1), 203.