Steyning: Local government and public services

Pages 237-240

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.

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



Edward the Confessor's grant of Steyning manor to Fécamp abbey apparently included full royal privileges, (fn. 1) explicitly described in a possibly spurious charter of 1072 × 1078, (fn. 2) which was confirmed in 1154-5 and later. (fn. 3) In 1279, (fn. 4) however, the prison which the abbot had had in 1262-3 (fn. 5) and perhaps earlier (fn. 6) was ordered to be demolished. In 1262-3 the abbot also had gallows at Steyning, (fn. 7) and in 1274-5 he was reported to be fining tenants in absentia. (fn. 8) A new prison was built in the town by the abbess of Syon c. 1450, (fn. 9) and was in use in 1476-7. (fn. 10) There was still apparently a prison in the town in 1556 after the resumption of the lordship by the Crown. (fn. 11)

Until the early 14th century or later courts were held for Steyning manor as a whole, (fn. 12) but the manor was later divided, as described above, into Steyning borough, for which there are court rolls or draft court rolls for 1461-84, 1495-1500, 1548, 1550, 1572, and 1675-1786, (fn. 13) and Charlton manor, for which there are court rolls or draft court rolls for 1437, 1473-5, 1484-5, 1495-9, 1502-9, 1548, 1550, 1558-82, 1605, 1617, 1619, and 1750-1909. (fn. 14) The borough had already existed in 1066, though its ambiguous status as part of the manor was indicated by the fact that the burgesses did villein service at the lord's court. (fn. 15) It remained a manorial borough. It was represented separately at the eyres of 1248 and 1262-3, (fn. 16) but for a period after that it was often considered to form a single borough with Bramber, both at the eyre and for taxation purposes. (fn. 17)

In the late 15th century a view of frankpledge was held twice a year, and an adjournment of it called the court of morrowspeech usually met a few days or weeks afterwards to endorse its decisions. The business of the two courts occasionally overlapped, but the view always apparently elected the constable and bailiff and usually dealt with breaches of the peace and of the assize of bread and of ale, while the court of morrowspeech usually elected the ale-taster, and on one occasion a clerk of markets and fairs, and dealt with obstructions to roads and streams. The court of morrowspeech was last recorded in 1482. (fn. 18) Various ancient customs of the borough are mentioned in the proceedings of the court of morrowspeech, concerning especially the regulation of nuisances, (fn. 19) and both the court and the view also made by-laws about nuisances, the sale of ale, and husbandry. On one occasion a paid official was elected to oversee nuisances. (fn. 20) At the same period a court baron, which dealt with tenancies, was usually held once or twice a year, sometimes on the same day as the view.

Between the late 15th century and the early 17th the court baron of Charlton manor, dealing with tenancies, was held up to four times a year. The manor also enjoyed view of frankpledge, which occurred about twice yearly and dealt with breaches of the assize of bread and of ale and the maintenance of the roads. A headborough and a beadle were elected by either court, (fn. 21) and the view on one occasion appointed two de facto surveyors of highways. (fn. 22) Just as there was no clear territorial division between Steyning borough and Charlton manor, so there was no clear demarcation of jurisdiction. In 1472 the burgesses in general were ordered by the borough court of morrowspeech to repair the roads of the borough. (fn. 23) About the same time Charlton tithing was enjoined by the same court to repair various streets, (fn. 24) but in 1508-9 a fine imposed by the borough for the repair of Sheep Pen Street was respited because of doubt in whose jurisdiction it lay. (fn. 25)

By the early 18th century the borough and manor courts had lost much of their importance. The court baron of the borough met yearly between 1703 and 1723, (fn. 26) but apparently lapsed between 1730 and 1792. (fn. 27) For most of the period between 1705 and 1792 the borough view was held yearly. (fn. 28) The borough officers continued to be appointed: a constable, whose office was said in 1792 to descend with a particular tenement, (fn. 29) a headborough, two leather-searchers and sealers, and two ale-tasters. (fn. 30) The leather-searchers and sealers and ale-tasters continued to exercise their offices, at Bannister's tanyard and the Chequer inn respectively. (fn. 31) Most of the business of the view, however, was with roads. The parish surveyors of highways were frequently ordered to mend the roads in the town, and were occasionally amerced for not doing so. (fn. 32) The traditional boundaries of the borough were still perambulated in the late 18th century. (fn. 33) The court baron and the view were both said to be still held annually c. 1832. (fn. 34) The last borough constable was recorded in the mid 19th century. (fn. 35) During the late 18th century courts baron of Charlton manor were held about every other year, and between 1811 and 1846 five courts were held, after which business was conducted out of court. (fn. 36) No view of frankpledge is recorded at Charlton after 1619, but the manor was still said to have leet jurisdiction in 1675. (fn. 37)

None of the other manors in Steyning is known to have had courts. (fn. 38) Other jurisdictions, however, extended into the parish and even into the town, namely those of King's Barns manor in Beeding, (fn. 39) of which much land in the north-east of the parish was held, and Bramber borough, burgages of which lay in the eastern angle between Church Street and High Street. (fn. 40)

The former town hall, so called c. 1841, (fn. 41) in High Street (fn. 42) was mentioned in connexion with borough government in 1655, (fn. 43) but may also have been the meeting-place of the medieval borough courts. The borough court leet met there at the end of the 18th century, (fn. 44) and elections were held there in 1708 and later. (fn. 45) Its alternative names, Sessions House (fn. 46) and Market House, (fn. 47) indicate that quarter sessions were held and market tolls collected there. The present building is 18th-century and comprises three bays end on to the street. (fn. 48) In the early 19th century it housed the stocks and the lock-up, and was also used as a temporary police station for the county constabulary (fn. 49) until the provision of a permanent building c. 1860. (fn. 50) After the disfranchisement of the borough in 1832 and the lapse of the borough courts the building ceased to be used for public business. Before 1840, apparently, the clock from the clock-tower at Michelgrove in Clapham was presented to the town by the duke of Norfolk. (fn. 51) In 1848-9 a new clock-turret was constructed over the town hall by public subscription, (fn. 52) and thereafter the clock and turret were parish property, though the building continued to belong to the lord of the borough. (fn. 53) The borough mace and constable's staff, kept in a case in the church in 1976, were made in 1685. (fn. 54)

There were 'guardians of the works and ornaments of the church in 1417, (fn. 55) and churchwardens, apparently always two in number, are recorded from 1519. (fn. 56) In the 16th and 17th centuries yearly terms of office were usual, but afterwards, especially from the late 18th century, much longer terms were common. (fn. 57) During the early 16th century the churchwardens employed several methods to raise funds, including the holding of church ales and of a performance called the 'king's play'. (fn. 58)

Two surveyors of highways were elected between 1610 and 1670 and between 1837 and 1844. (fn. 59) There were also surveyors in the 18th century. (fn. 60) In 1619 it was agreed that one surveyor should always be the borough constable, and that policy was followed later. (fn. 61) Between 1646 and 1650 two inhabitants of the town, who were perhaps the surveyors, were twice ordered by quarter sessions to repair the highways, on the first occasion by levying a rate. (fn. 62)

There were two collectors for the poor in the parish in 1578 (fn. 63) and frequently after 1594, and two overseers from 1611 until 1662. Thereafter until the early 19th century there were four, of whom two were described in 1678 and 1679 as chosen by the justices. Only two of the four were active. In the early 19th century there were often more than four, sometimes as many as twelve. (fn. 64)

The various methods of poor relief used between the 17th and 19th centuries included disbursements to individuals in money or in kind (usually clothing), (fn. 65) the provision of medical care, (fn. 66) and apprenticing. (fn. 67) Apprentices were evidently assigned by lot or in rotation, (fn. 68) and in the 18th century could be refused on payment of £10. (fn. 69) Only about a quarter of the 91 masters recorded between the 17th and 19th centuries had trades more specialized than those of husbandman, housewife, or mariner. More than a quarter lived outside the parish, many of them in Brighton. (fn. 70) In 1729 the parish officers borrowed £100 to buy a workhouse, (fn. 71) which seems usually to have been farmed thereafter by the year on a per capita basis. (fn. 72) In 1758 the farm agreed was £140, the parish promising to maintain certain incapacitated paupers and to pay 2s. a week for each pauper child over the age of nine. (fn. 73) In 1829 the master was to receive 3s. 6d. a head a week, with a minimum of £227 10s. a year, the parish providing wheat if required at an agreed price. (fn. 74) An agreement of 1734 provided for the poor of Beeding parish to be housed in the Steyning workhouse during the next seven years; each parish was to provide its own clothing and medical care, but the poor were to be employed at the common expense, those who went out to work being allowed to keep a sixth of their earnings. (fn. 75)

Between 1772 and 1841 weekly doles were apparently the other chief method of relief. (fn. 76) A parish pest-house south of the town was burnt down in 1856 and was not rebuilt. (fn. 77) Whole or partial rent subsidies were common at the same period, (fn. 78) and at least one parishioner was given assistance towards emigrating in 1830. (fn. 79) Parish work for the outside poor was also provided: weaving and spinning in the 1770s and 1780s, the cloth or thread being sold for the benefit of the parish, (fn. 80) and flint-digging in the 1820s and 1830s. (fn. 81) In 1803 143 persons were receiving permanent relief, about an eighth of the population, and the proportion had increased greatly by 1813. (fn. 82)

When Steyning union was created in 1835 the town workhouse was set aside for children only, the other paupers going elsewhere, but the attempt to enforce that segregation caused a serious riot in the town as a result of which four parishioners were sent to prison. (fn. 83) The building ceased to be used as a workhouse soon afterwards and was sold in 1837. (fn. 84) In 1894, when Steyning union was divided, the parish became part of Steyning West rural district, (fn. 85) and in 1933 it was transferred to Chanctonbury rural district. (fn. 86) In 1974 it became part of Horsham district.

The parish clerk in 1640 received wages. (fn. 87) One notable occupant of the office died in 1793 after more than 60 years' service. (fn. 88)

By c. 1800 the parish had come to take over a number of functions appropriate to the borough. Regular payments were made to a town crier, who cried royal proclamations and the times of vestry meetings, and for the maintenance of the town fire-engine and clock. Those payments moreover were made by the overseers, not the churchwardens, a clear division between the expenditure of the two sets of officers not always being made at that time. (fn. 89)

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries vestry meetings were held either in the vestry room or in the various inns of the town, apparently by rotation. (fn. 90)

During the Middle Ages and later such public services of the town as existed were the responsibility of the borough. In the late 15th century there seem to have been at least three watchmen. (fn. 91) In the 18th century the borough was still responsible for the upkeep of the town's two wells, (fn. 92) which provided an almost constant supply of water, (fn. 93) Singwell at the east end, (fn. 94) called Sewyngwell in 1498 (fn. 95) and probably identical with St. Mary's well mentioned in 1749, and Britain's well at the west end. (fn. 96) At the same period the borough oversaw the paving of the main streets of the town, (fn. 97) and provided rails to keep carts off the footway along some streets. (fn. 98) In the early 19th century there was a town fire-engine which was kept in the town hall. (fn. 99) It seems likely to have been the responsibility of the borough originally, but by that date the officer who attended it was being paid by the parish. (fn. 100)

The town's two wells had had pumps attached by the late 19th century. (fn. 101) After 1897 the Steyning and District Waterworks Co. supplied water from a well in Upper Beeding. (fn. 102) In 1928 the company also served Bramber, Upper Beeding, and other near-by parishes. (fn. 103) An additional reservoir was constructed at the foot of Chanctonbury Hill c. 1960. (fn. 104) The town fire-engine, which had been taken over by the parish council, (fn. 105) and which in the early 20th century was drawn by horses from the White Horse inn, (fn. 106) was later replaced by a motor fire-engine, (fn. 107) which from 1936 was housed in the Chequer inn yard. (fn. 108) In 1961 a new fire-station was built by the county council at the north-west end of High Street. (fn. 109)

The Steyning Gas Co. was formed in 1859 (fn. 110) and constructed the gas-works at the north-west end of the town. By 1861 the vestry had adopted the Lighting and Watching Act, 1833, for the urban area of the parish, (fn. 111) and in 1894 the company supplied 100 consumers and 42 public lamps. (fn. 112) Its area of supply in the town was extended in 1899, (fn. 113) and in 1935 the company was authorized to supply six neighbouring parishes. (fn. 114) The gas-works ceased production in 1958, (fn. 115) but the site was used for storing gas until 1971. (fn. 116) The Steyning and District Electric Lighting, Heat, and Power Supply Co. began to supply electricity in 1914. (fn. 117) In 1921 its successor the Steyning Electric Light Co. was authorized to supply Steyning, Bramber, and Upper Beeding parishes and to build a generating station near High Street. (fn. 118) The area of supply was extended to include several neighbouring parishes in 1930. (fn. 119) The generating station ceased production before 1948. (fn. 120)

A thrice-weekly postal service from London was begun in 1675. (fn. 121) A postmaster was mentioned in 1768, (fn. 122) and in 1791 there was a cottage called the post office. (fn. 123) A daily post from London began in 1800. (fn. 124)

A district nursing association founded in 1917 was taken over by the county council in 1948. (fn. 125) A health centre was opened in 1973. (fn. 126)


  • 1. Cod. Dipl. ed. Kemble, iv, p. 229.
  • 2. Cartae Antiquae, ii (Pipe R. Soc. N.S. xxxiii), pp. 147-8; Reg. Regum Anglo-Norm. i, p. 29.
  • 3. Cal. Doc. France, ed. Round, p. 44; Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, 321-2; Cal. Close, 1399-1402, 140.
  • 4. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 749.
  • 5. J.I. 1/912A rot. 42d.
  • 6. J.I. 1/909A rot. 24d.
  • 7. J.I. 1/912A rot. 42d.
  • 8. S.A.C. lxxxii. 30.
  • 9. S.C. 6/1034/13 m. 4.
  • 10. S.C. 6/1035/12 m. 6; S.C. 6/1100/17 m. 5v.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1555-7, 227.
  • 12. Westm. Abbey Mun. 4012.
  • 13. S.C. 2/206/43, 45; W.S.R.O., PHA 933, 935; ibid. Wiston MS. 5213; Arundel Cast. MS. M 724; K.A.O., U 269/M 112, m. 13.
  • 14. B.L. Add. Ch. 8903, 8906; S.C. 2/206/45; W.S.R.O., PHA 933, 935; ibid. Wiston MS. 5200; K.A.O., U 269/M 110-16.
  • 15. V.C.H. Suss. i. 392; cf. A. Ballard, Dom. Boroughs (1904), 57.
  • 16. J.I. 1/909A rot. 24; J.I. 1/912A rot. 42d.
  • 17. e.g. J.I. 1/924 rot. 61; Feud. Aids, v. 140; Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 131.
  • 18. S.C. 2/206/43, 45.
  • 19. S.C. 2/206/43 mm. 9v., 14, 17, 19v.
  • 20. S.C. 2/206/45 mm. 1, 5.
  • 21. B.L. Add. Ch. 8903, 8906; S.C. 2/206/45; K.A.O., U 269/M 113-16.
  • 22. S.C. 2/206/45 m. 5v.
  • 23. S.C. 2/206/43 m. 11.
  • 24. e.g. ibid. m. 18.
  • 25. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/3657 m. 6.
  • 26. Arundel Cast. MSS. M 571-2.
  • 27. Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 271.
  • 28. Arundel Cast. MS. M 572; W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213; Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 265-6, 345.
  • 29. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 4457.
  • 30. Arundel Cast. MS. M 572; W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213; E.S.R.O., QCR/2/1/EW 2.
  • 31. Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 269, 401.
  • 32. e.g. Arundel Cast. MS. M 572; W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213, f. 88.
  • 33. Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 400.
  • 34. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1832-4), 1052.
  • 35. S.C.M. xxvii. 276; cf. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1862).
  • 36. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5200.
  • 37. Ibid. 2441.
  • 38. The reference in W.S.R.O., MP 150, f. 24v. to ct. rolls of Wyckham man. is a mistake, the entries described being in the King's Barns man. ct. bk.: ibid. Add. MS. 381.
  • 39. See above, Introduction.
  • 40. See s.v. Bramber.
  • 41. W.S.R.O., TD/W 118.
  • 42. Butler, Steyning, 27, states wrongly that the town hall formerly stood in the middle of High St.
  • 43. S.A.C. xvi. 72-3.
  • 44. B.L. Add. MS. 5686, f. 92.
  • 45. C.J. xvi. 93; Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 336.
  • 46. e.g. C.J. xvi. 93.
  • 47. e.g. W.S.R.O., Add. MS. 1484; Wiston MS. 5653.
  • 48. Lacey & Lacey, Timber-framed Bldgs. p. 163.
  • 49. Duke & Cox, Steyning, 86-7.
  • 50. W.S.R.O., QAC/4/W 6.
  • 51. Duke & Cox, Steyning, 87.
  • 52. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/7/3; Elphick, Bells, 390.
  • 53. Cf. W.S.R.O., MP 172, f. 17.
  • 54. S.C.M. xxvii. 276-9.
  • 55. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/24/2; cf. Magd. Coll. Oxf. Mun., Ashurst and Lancing 7 (TS. cat.).
  • 56. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/9/1, a vestry min. bk. which includes some chwdns.' accts. The 6 chwdns. who presented their accts. on one day in 1519 were apparently the officers of the previous 3 years: ibid. f. 9; cf. ibid. f. 17.
  • 57. W.S.R.O., MP 147.
  • 58. Ibid. Par. 183/9/1, ff. 9v. 10, 13.
  • 59. Ibid. ff. 21-40, 128v.-138.
  • 60. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213.
  • 61. Ibid. Par. 183/9/1, ff. 22v., 29, 34.
  • 62. Q.S. Order Bk. (S.R.S. liv), 107, 122, 134, 197.
  • 63. C 2/Eliz. I/S 26/48.
  • 64. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/9/1.
  • 65. Ibid. Par. 183/31/1; Par. 183/31/2, ff. 2, 124.
  • 66. Ibid. Par. 183/9/1, f. 50; Par. 183/31/2, f. 17.
  • 67. Ibid. Par. 183/33.
  • 68. Q.S. Order Bk. (S.R.S. liv), 194.
  • 69. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/9/1, ff. 80v., 83.
  • 70. Ibid. Par. 183/33.
  • 71. Ibid. Par. 183/9/1, f. 68v.; Wiston Archives, p. 162.
  • 72. e.g. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/37/1, f. 7; Par. 183/31/2, f. 69v.; Par. 183/31/3, ff. 14, 38, 113.
  • 73. Ibid. Par. 183/37/1, f. 7.
  • 74. Ibid. f. 22.
  • 75. Ibid. f. 6.
  • 76. Ibid. Par. 183/31/2-4, passim.
  • 77. Ibid. Par. 183/9/1, f. 145; Par. 183/31/3, f. 132v.; ibid. TD/W 118.
  • 78. e.g. ibid. Par. 183/31/2, f. 2v.; Par. 183/31/4, f. 84.
  • 79. Ibid. Par. 183/31/4, f. 40.
  • 80. e.g. ibid. Par. 183/31/2, ff. 1-2, 11V., 107, 147v.
  • 81. Ibid. Par. 183/31/3, ff. 168v., 171; Par. 183/31/4, f. 80v.
  • 82. Poor Law Abstract, 1804, 518-19; 1818, 456-7.
  • 83. W.S.R.O., MP 150, f. 119v.; Duke & Cox, Steyning, 76-7.
  • 84. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 2386.
  • 85. Ibid. OC/CC 6/1, ff. 87-9.
  • 86. Census, 1931 (pt. ii).
  • 87. W.S.R.O., Ep. 1/22/1 (1640).
  • 88. S.C.M. iii. 99.
  • 89. W.S.R.O., MP 150, ff. 110-11; ibid. Par. 183/31/2; Par. 183/31/3, f. 166.
  • 90. Ibid. Par. 183/31/2-4, passim.
  • 91. S.C. 2/206/43 mm. 5v., 19v.
  • 92. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213, passim.
  • 93. Magna Britannia, v (1730), 477.
  • 94. Wiston Archives, p. 184.
  • 95. S.C. 2/206/45 m. 5.
  • 96. W.S.R.O., Wiston MSS. 2719; 5213, f. [132].
  • 97. Ibid. 5213, f. 102; Fraser, Controverted Elec. Procs. ii. 400. For the town pavement, cf. Horsham and Steyning Rd. Act, 4 Geo. III, c. 44 (Priv. Act).
  • 98. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5213, ff. 102, [130, 170].
  • 99. Duke & Cox, Steyning, 86.
  • 100. W.S.R.O., MP 150, ff. 110-11.
  • 101. Ibid. MP 172, f. 6.
  • 102. Steyning and Dist. Water Order, 1897; Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1899).
  • 103. Edmunds, Wells and Springs of Suss. 33-4.
  • 104. Grigg, Memories of Steyning, 34.
  • 105. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/44/1, f. [9].
  • 106. W.S.R.O., MP 172, f. 6.
  • 107. Cf. ibid. Par. 183/44/2, ff. [14-15].
  • 108. G. H. Recknell, Steyning, Suss. (1965), 25.
  • 109. W.S.R.O., Par. 183/54/7.
  • 110. Ex inf. the secretary, SEGAS.
  • 111. Local Taxation Returns, H.C. 496, pp. 362-3 (1863), xxx.
  • 112. Gas Wks. Statistics (1894), 36-7.
  • 113. W.S.R.O., CP 5.
  • 114. Steyning Gas Order, 1935.
  • 115. Shoreham Herald, 31 Oct. 1958.
  • 116. Ex inf. Mr. D. H. F. Burchell, SEGAS.
  • 117. Ex inf. the curator, Milne mus., S.E.E.B., Tonbridge.
  • 118. Steyning Electricity Supply Special Order, 1921.
  • 119. Steyning Electricity (Extension) Special Order, 1930.
  • 120. Local inf.
  • 121. J. Greenwood, Posts of Suss., Chich. Branch (1973), 57, 74.
  • 122. S.A.C. lxxi. 20.
  • 123. W.S.R.O., Wiston MS. 5653.
  • 124. Greenwood, Posts of Suss. 75.
  • 125. W.S.R.O., MP 172, f. 8.
  • 126. Local inf.