A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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A church at Steyning is said to have been founded by St. Cuthman, (fn. 1) who perhaps flourished in the late 8th or early 9th century. The evidence is late and not completely trustworthy, (fn. 2) but is supported by 11th- and 12th-century references to 'St. Cuthman's parish' and 'St. Cuthman's port' in Steyning. (fn. 3) The church was evidently a minster church, perhaps originally serving Steyning hundred. In the late 11th century its 'parish' included Bramber, Beeding, (fn. 4) Ashurst, and Warminghurst (fn. 5) at least, and perhaps West Angmering too. (fn. 6) The presence of St. Cuthman's remains, said to have been the object of pilgrimage, (fn. 7) presumably increased the importance of the church. By the mid 9th century it was under royal patronage, King Ethelwulf (d. 858) being buried there. (fn. 8) A minster establishment perhaps existed continuously throughout the Saxon period. Later there was a college of secular canons, (fn. 9) recorded in 1185, (fn. 10) and perhaps alluded to eighty years before. (fn. 11) It apparently consisted of a provost (fn. 12) and three canons, (fn. 13) each with a prebend, which may have been assigned to specific parochial duties at Warminghurst, Ashurst, and West Angmering. (fn. 14)
The church was presumably granted to Fécamp abbey at the same time as Steyning manor, (fn. 15) but certain royal rights remained over it, as over other former royal free chapels. (fn. 16) In times of voidance the abbey's jurisdiction was exercised by the king, (fn. 17) for instance in 1259. (fn. 18) The church's status as a royal free chapel was confirmed by Edward I in 1290. (fn. 19) Because of that status the abbots of Fécamp claimed that Steyning church was exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction except that of the pope. It was so described in 1119, (fn. 20) and the exemption was confirmed in 1231. (fn. 21) In the 13th century the abbots had jurisdiction over marriages and the correction of spiritual offences. During the 1270s Archbishop Kilwardby carried out a visitation without the abbot's sanction. When Archbishop Peckham attempted to repeat it in the following decade he was prevented; (fn. 22) in retaliation he placed the church under an interdict and ordered the sequestration of its endowments. (fn. 23) The abbot appealed to the pope, and the exemption of Steyning church was upheld. (fn. 24) The exemption of the church continued after it had ceased to belong to Fécamp abbey. (fn. 25) In 1777 the incumbent still pleaded exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, paying no procurations, though he occasionally attended visitations out of respect to the bishop. (fn. 26) Procurations were still not paid in 1852, (fn. 27) though they were by 1930. (fn. 28)
About 1260 the college was dissolved, the prebendaries being pensioned off and their endowments reverting to the abbey's use. (fn. 29) The church was appropriated to Fécamp abbey by papal dispensation at the time of the dissolution of the college, and confirmed to the abbey by the Crown in 1268. (fn. 30) A vicarage was mentioned in 1291; (fn. 31) its advowson descended with the rectory until the mid 16th century. The vicars were instituted by the abbot's proctor until at least 1385, (fn. 32) and later by a 'guardian of the jurisdiction of Steyning'. (fn. 33) In 1557 the advowson was granted by the Crown, with Charlton manor, to William Pellatt, (fn. 34) and it was claimed by later owners of the manor in 1583 and 1634. (fn. 35) Nevertheless George Goring, Lord Goring, (fn. 36) presented in 1630 apparently as trustee of Sir John Shirley (d. 1631), and he is also said to have been the true patron in 1643. (fn. 37) Between 1649 and 1657 the advowson descended with the rectory, Henry Peck the elder and his son Henry presenting in the latter year. In 1677 the advowson was claimed on behalf of John Eversfield of Charlton, but Francis Munday presented. In 1683 Nicholas Eversfield presented. The guardian of Nicholas's son Charles presented in 1701 or 1702, but in the latter year James St. Amand was proved to be the true patron. From 1724 at least the advowson again descended with the rectory. Robert Hesketh presented in 1749 and 1757. In 1794 Sir John Honeywood exchanged the advowson with the duke of Norfolk, while retaining the rectory.
Thereafter the advowson passed with Steyning borough, Frederick William Hervey, marquess of Bristol, presenting in 1840 for a turn by virtue of a grant of 1816. In 1869 Henry FitzAlan-Howard, duke of Norfolk, sold it to C. T. Lucas, who sold it in turn to G. T. Congreve in 1881, from whom it passed in 1898 to his daughter, Mrs. Pridgeon, who still held it in 1918. Since 1922 it has belonged to the Martyrs Memorial Trust. (fn. 38)
In 1291 (fn. 39) and 1341 the vicarage was worth £8, the sum on the latter occasion being made up of £2 from offerings, £2 5s. from 30 a. of glebe, and £3 15s. from tithes. (fn. 40) In 1535 its valuation from the same three sources was £15. (fn. 41) In the mid 17th century the endowment of the vicarage included a house and 36 a. of glebe land adjoining it, vicarial tithes, Easter dues of 2d. per communicant, and the fees for marriages, churchings, and strangers' burials. (fn. 42) By 1794 the glebe land was valued at £88 a year gross, the vicarage house having recently been rebuilt. (fn. 43) The average net income c. 1830 was £308, (fn. 44) the glebe land being described a few years later as of the best quality and generally occupied by the vicar. (fn. 45)
The former vicarage house, called The Old Priory in 1976, is a timber-framed building probably of the late 16th or early 17th century which retains elements of a cross-passage plan. Its site is presumably identical with that of the medieval college. (fn. 46) In the mid 17th century it was in poor repair, (fn. 47) but it apparently mostly survived in 1781. (fn. 48) About 1790 (fn. 49) it was considerably enlarged on the south side, the south end of the roof also being heightened. The vicarage was sold in 1961, when a new one was built near by. (fn. 50) A room with a 16th-century ornamental ceiling recorded in 1781 (fn. 51) presumably contained the elaborate carved panelling dated 1522 (fn. 52) and sharing some of the same decorative motifs, which survived in the new vicarage in 1976.
The demesne lands of Charlton manor were said on the evidence of old inhabitants in the late 16th century to have always been tithe-free as a former possession of Syon abbey. (fn. 53) The assertion was repeated in 1701, (fn. 54) but the matter continued in doubt, and the vicar's claim to tithes from Charlton farm was upheld in a lawsuit at the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 55) Huddlestone farm, however, which had also formed part of the Charlton demesne, remained tithe-free (with the exception of 8 a.) in 1839. (fn. 56) A modus was payable to the vicar in lieu of the demesne tithes of Wappingthorn apparently from an early period; it was raised in 1568 from 28s. to 40s., (fn. 57) but had lapsed in favour of payment in kind by 1839. The vicarial tithes were commuted at that date for £414. (fn. 58) In the 1870s the net income of the living was said to be between £450 and £500. (fn. 59)
The idea often expressed (fn. 60) that there was once another church in Steyning derives from a misconstruction of a passage in Domesday Book. (fn. 61) Since Steyning church was a minster church the existence of another in the town seems in any case unlikely. Wappingthorn, however, seems later to have had some kind of ecclesiastical independence within Steyning parish. In 1568 it had an oratory or chapel, where the lord of the manor unsuccessfully claimed that the vicar of Steyning was bound by ancient custom, composition, and grant to celebrate divine service regularly. (fn. 62) In 1600 one of the churchwardens elected for Steyning refused to serve, claiming that he belonged to Wappingthorn parish. (fn. 63)
A chantry of St. Mary, in existence by the end of the 13th century, was connected with Wyckham manor: David its chaplain (fn. 64) seems to be identical with David Cubbel, chaplain, life-tenant of twothirds of Wyckham manor c. 1300, and the advowson or a mediety of the advowson of the chantry descended with a moiety of Wyckham manor in 1406 (fn. 65) and 1446-7. (fn. 66) In 1467 several patrons and founders were mentioned. (fn. 67) Additional endowments included 87 a. of land at Coulsdon (Surr.) given in 1406. (fn. 68) In 1548 the large endowments consisted of lands rented at £8 15s. 4d., a chantry house, apparently near Chantry Green, and goods worth £10 13s. 4d. (fn. 69) The brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, for both men and women, existed by 1424. (fn. 70) It possessed an altar in the church in 1467, and was the object of later bequests. (fn. 71) In 1548 its total endowments, including the brotherhood house in Church Street, later the grammar school, were worth £17 6s. 8d. net; a priest received £7 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 72) The lands of both chantry and brotherhood were sold in 1548 to Henry Polstead and William More of Surrey. (fn. 73)
An anchorite was recorded at Steyning in the late 13th century and another in the early 15th. (fn. 74) In the latter period there were frequent changes of incumbent, 13 presentations being made to the vicarage in 32 years. (fn. 75) Five incumbents are recorded in the troubled years between 1551 and 1559. Stability was restored during the long incumbency of John Banks, 1559-99, who seems to have resided constantly and to have held no other benefices. (fn. 76) His successor, Stephen Vinall, was one of the ten Puritan incumbents in the diocese deprived in 1605. (fn. 77) The next vicar was also vicar of West Angmering and chaplain to the earl of Northumberland, but his successor was constantly resident, diligent, and a licensed preacher. In 1640 there was an assistant curate who also apparently resided; communion was then celebrated four times a year. (fn. 78) In 1643 the advowson is said to have been usurped by an Anabaptist hatter of the town, and a coachman intruded as minister, Robert Childs, (fn. 79) who is recorded at Steyning until 1656. An extreme Puritan, he had the Solemn League and Covenant read in church for all the parishioners to subscribe. (fn. 80)
Charles Blackwell (d. 1677), minister of Steyning in 1656 (fn. 81) but not admitted to the living until the following year, was ordained in 1661 and subscribed in 1662. In that year he was constantly resident, had no other benefices, and preached every Sunday. (fn. 82) A later 17th-century vicar was suspended for a time in 1691, apparently for failure to carry out his duties, but was later reinstated. (fn. 83) In 1724 there was a service every Sunday, with two sermons during the summer, and communion was celebrated four times a year, with between 50 and 80 communicants. (fn. 84) Two successive assistant curates are recorded between 1749 and 1753, (fn. 85) but John Hoper, vicar 1757-90, though also rector of Pyecombe, near Brighton, lived at Steyning in 1762. (fn. 86) From 1790 to 1792 the cure was briefly held by Thomas Winstanley, later professor of Arabic at Oxford, (fn. 87) who served through curates. (fn. 88) John Penfold, vicar 1792-1840, was also rector of Pyecombe from 1818 and chaplain to the duke of Sussex, (fn. 89) but was living at Steyning in 1838, when he had an assistant curate. (fn. 90) During Thomas Medland's long incumbency, 1840-82, the frequency of communion increased to monthly by 1844, (fn. 91) and three times monthly by 1878. (fn. 92) In 1847 there were two full services every Sunday, with an average congregation of 450 or 500, (fn. 93) and by 1875 there were three Sunday services. (fn. 94) There was an assistant curate during the 1850s and 1860s, (fn. 95) and there were two by 1873. (fn. 96) In 1898 outlying parishioners went to church at Ashurst or Wiston. (fn. 97)
The church of ST. ANDREW (the dedication, first recorded in 1263, (fn. 98) replaces the original one to St. Cuthman), (fn. 99) is built partly of ashlar and partly of flint with dressings or diapering of ashlar. It has a chancel with north vestry and south organ chamber, aisled and clerestoried nave with south porch, and west tower. Nothing remains of the pre-Conquest church of wood which St. Cuthman is said to have built, (fn. 100) unless some oak fragments excavated in 1956 belonged to it. (fn. 101) Coffin slabs used in the foundations of the later church evidently came from the Saxon building. (fn. 102)
The church was rebuilt by Fécamp abbey on a cruciform plan between the late 11th century and the mid 12th. (fn. 103) Building began with the aisled chancel and proceeded westwards. There was presumably a central crossing tower, as there certainly was later. (fn. 104) In style the church was comparable with contemporary churches in northern France, (fn. 105) and the scale and quality of the surviving work indicate that it was one of the outstanding churches of the area, reflecting the status of Fécamp abbey, which in 1086 was wealthier in English possessions than any other foreign religious house. (fn. 106) The chancel of the Norman church extended east of the present churchyard, (fn. 107) and since the ground falls away sharply was evidently carried on an undercroft, (fn. 108) which presumably incorporated the shrine of St. Cuthman. (fn. 109) The nave extended at least one bay further west than at present, (fn. 110) and probably terminated in an elaborate west front. The present west arch of the nave is of c. 1900; (fn. 111) the Norman south doorway however survives.
In the mid 15th century new windows were inserted in the aisles and the south porch was built; (fn. 112) the porch originally had an upper storey. (fn. 113) Other building work done at the same date seems to have included rebuilding the chancel. (fn. 114) Both then and later Syon abbey paid 13s. 4d. yearly towards the repair of the church. (fn. 115)
Altars to St. Thomas, St. Michael, and the Virgin Mary, the last-named in the chantry chapel, were mentioned in the early 16th century, (fn. 116) besides lights to St. Peter, St. Christopher, and The Salutation of Our Lady. (fn. 117) After the Dissolution the east parts of the church fell into decay as Syon abbey's annual payment for maintenance lapsed. (fn. 118) In 1578 it was ordered that the chancel aisles and chapels should be demolished and their materials used to repair the chancel and steeple, (fn. 119) and the work was evidently carried out. (fn. 120) The chancel was still standing in 1602, when it was said to have been long disused and to be 'a common haunt for pigeons'. (fn. 121) It was apparently demolished soon afterwards, however, along with the crossing tower and transepts, a new east wall being built, with a window of ten lights in two storeys under a straight hood-mould. (fn. 122) At about the same time the west end of the nave was also demolished and a new tower built on its site using old materials including some ornamented stonework. (fn. 123) A spire mentioned in 1712 (fn. 124) was later removed. A brick parapet was removed in 1888. (fn. 125)
Between the 16th and 19th centuries there were two chief sources of finance for church repair. A church rate was mentioned between 1584 and 1749. (fn. 126) There was also rent from land and buildings, principally 4 a. in the Shooting field and 2 a. in Perrotts furlong. (fn. 127) In the mid 16th century a piece of bridal jewellery was also hired out by the churchwardens to raise funds for the same purpose. (fn. 128) In the 1830s the income from the 6 a. mentioned was enough to make a church-rate unnecessary. (fn. 129) In 1810 it was estimated that the church could seat 1,000 people. (fn. 130) The chancel was rebuilt in Gothic style apparently before 1830, and perhaps before 1815, (fn. 131) and was altered again in 1846. (fn. 132) The interior of the church was refitted shortly before 1833. (fn. 133) A thorough restoration, financed chiefly by subscriptions, was carried out in 1863-4 by G. M. Hills, after cracks had begun to appear in the structure. (fn. 134) Among other work done a new east window was inserted. Galleries built possibly at that date and certainly before 1870 (fn. 135) were removed c. 1909. (fn. 136)
There are surprisingly few monuments in the church of before the 19th century. The font is Norman, comprising a square bowl on a round base with four corner columns. Of the eight bells five date from 1724, the rest being later. (fn. 137) The plate includes a silver communion cup and paten of 1676. (fn. 138) The registers begin in 1565 and are mostly complete; (fn. 139) between 1653 and 1658, in pursuance of an Act of the former year, two civil marriages a month on average were celebrated at Steyning, many couples being from other parishes. (fn. 140)