A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3, Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) Including Crawley New Town. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1987.
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Woodmancote lies north of the South Downs and south-east of Henfield. (fn. 1) In 1881 it comprised 2,239 a. and in 1971 it had 905 ha. (2,236 a.). (fn. 2) In 1985 some land in the south-east was transferred to Albourne and Poynings parishes. (fn. 3) Woodmancote ancient parish, with which this article deals, was roughly rectangular in shape and c. 2¾ miles long by 1½ mile wide. Much of the southern boundary and part of the eastern boundary followed roads; another part of the southern boundary followed a stream. The north end of the western boundary near Woolfly Farm in Henfield was irregular, as was the eastern boundary with Albourne at Wick Farmhouse, which was bisected by the boundary; in 1267 Wick manor was apparently said to be in Albourne, (fn. 4) though later it seems always to have been described as in Woodmancote. (fn. 5) The place name Eaton Thorn, previously Heathen Thorn, on the northern boundary, may allude to an Anglo-Saxon boundary marker. (fn. 6)
The centre and much of the southern part of the parish, including the sites of settlement at Woodmancote Place, Blackstone, Bilsborough, Wick Farmhouse, and Nutknowle Farm, lie on the Lower Greensand. The rest of the parish, including the settlement sites at Morley and Park farms, lies on clay, which is overlain by some alluvium near Park Farm. (fn. 7) Two streams which drain north and west to the river Adur meet in the north-western corner. The sandstone knoll which is the site of Blackstone hamlet lies between them; the more easterly forms a pond south of Wick Farmhouse. In the south the Henfield-Brighton road follows a ridge of sandstone; the highest land, at just over 160 ft., is there, near the indicatively named Nutknowle Farm. (fn. 8)
There was woodland yielding 13 swine at Woodmancote manor in 1086, (fn. 9) and 12 a. of woodland were listed at Wick manor in 1318. (fn. 10) In 1434 there were 8 a. of woodland at Woodmancote manor and a wood of 20 a. called Morley bushes at Morley manor. (fn. 11) About 1840 there were c. 300 a. of woods in the parish, chiefly in the south, (fn. 12) as later. There was a park of 80 a. in 1434 at Morley manor, (fn. 13) which had presumably existed earlier, since a parker was mentioned in 1422. (fn. 14) In 1639 it comprised 103 a. lying south of the modern Park Farm, which occupies the site of a lodge, on rising ground. (fn. 15) The park was mentioned as a road destination in the later 17th century, (fn. 16) but the date of disparking is not clear. A close west of Wick Farmhouse was called 'Warren' in 1768 and later; (fn. 17) free warren had been claimed at Wick manor in 1279 by John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, (fn. 18) and had been granted over the demesne lands of Wick manor and over Nutknowle farm to Robert of Ardern in 1327. (fn. 19) There were parks in the 19th century and earlier 20th at Woodmancote Place, (fn. 20) and at Bramlands in the south-west corner of the parish. (fn. 21)
The church and Woodmancote Place, the chief manor house, lie close to the parish boundary in the south-west, on land that falls away northwards from the Henfield-Brighton road. The final element of the place name Woodmancote indicates a settlement, (fn. 22) but the only buildings in the parish recorded nearby are the two successive rectory houses, (fn. 23) the school, and the house called Rectory Cottage in 1984, which was converted in the 20th century from the 19th-century outbuildings and stables of the earlier of the two rectories. (fn. 24) The place name in any case had the early variant form Woodmansthorn. (fn. 25)
Nucleated settlements, however, grew up at Bilsborough and Blackstone in the centre of the parish. A tithing of Bilsborough was apparently mentioned in 1262-3, (fn. 26) and a deed was dated at Bilsborough in 1345. (fn. 27) Persons described as of Bilsborough c. 1300 or later (fn. 28) may merely have resided within the tithing, but by the earlier 17th century there were several houses forming a hamlet, for in 1626 Edward Scrase, the occupier of one of them, was said to have pulled down three others. (fn. 29) By 1675 his house too had gone, as many others were also said to have done, (fn. 30) though three families may still have lived at Bilsborough then. (fn. 31) In 1780 four or five houses remained, (fn. 32) including the house called Bilsborough, (fn. 33) and Little Bilsborough and Holders nearby, both of the 17th century or earlier. All three survived in 1984. Several new houses were built to the north-east in the mid 20th century. (fn. 34)
A tithing of Blackstone was mentioned in 1262-3. (fn. 35) Some of those described as of Blackstone from the mid 16th century (fn. 36) may merely have been resident within the tithing, but a hamlet was recorded in 1595, (fn. 37) and the place name Blackstone Street mentioned in 1558-9 indicates a nucleated settlement. (fn. 38) At least eight families were apparently living there in the early 1670s. (fn. 39) In 1724 there were buildings on both sides of the Henfield-Hurstpierpoint road, (fn. 40) several of which, including Old Timbers, Yeomans Hall, Stockmans, and Blackstone House, survived in 1984. Yeomans Hall is a four-bayed late medieval house of three-roomed plan in which the dais beam and part of the roof survive. It was remodelled in the early 17th century, when a chimneystack and upper floor were put into the hall, the service end was enlarged by outshuts, and a new parlour wing was added. Blackstone House has a probably mid 18th-century front of five bays and two storeys with end chimneys; there is a reset panel with the date 1674. A terrace of cottages at the west end of the hamlet is 18th- or 19th-century, and two others, one slatehung and the other weatherboarded, were built at the east end in the mid 19th century. (fn. 41) Further buildings were put up in the later 19th century and the 20th, including some council houses at the north-east edge.
The settlement at Wick was called a hamlet in 1315 (fn. 42) but not later. A resident at Cuckolds Green ½ mile north-east of the church was mentioned in 1716, (fn. 43) the green itself having been recorded in 1684. (fn. 44) Two houses were depicted there in 1780. (fn. 45) In 1984 there were a few scattered buildings including one small timber-framed cottage.
Other pre-19th-century buildings in the parish not mentioned elsewhere include the timber-framed Eaton Thorn in the north, Holmbush, formerly Little Holmbush Farm, in the south-east, and Swains Farm in the west. (fn. 46)
The turnpiking of the Henfield-Brighton road and of the road from Crouch Hill in Henfield to High Cross in Albourne (fn. 47) had resulted in 1813 in ribbon development, (fn. 48) which continued later. Many detached houses and bungalows were built along the former road in the 1920s and 1930s. (fn. 49) Most were in traditional architectural styles, but Dragons on the south side was an important example of the 'Modern Movement'; its concrete exterior had, however, been weatherboarded by 1965. (fn. 50) New houses and bungalows were also built in the 20th century in Bramlands Lane further south. (fn. 51) Larger houses of the 19th century and earlier 20th included Bramlands itself, an apparently early 19th-century villa, incorporating earlier work, for which a park had been laid out by 1875. (fn. 52)
Twenty persons were listed at Woodmancote manor in 1086, another at an unidentified submanor of Woodmancote, and two more at Morley manor. (fn. 53) Twenty-seven inhabitants were taxed in 1524, (fn. 54) and in 1603 there were 110 communicants. (fn. 55) Fifty-four adult males took the protestation in 1642, (fn. 56) and 80 adults were listed in 1676. (fn. 57) In 1724 there were c. 30 families. (fn. 58) From 231 in 1801 the population rose, rapidly in the 1810s and 1820s, to 378 in 1841. Between 1851 and 1921 it fluctuated between 300 and 350, afterwards rising from 332 in 1921 to 462 in 1951. By 1981 it had fallen to 436. (fn. 59)
The Roman Greensand Way passed through the southern part of the parish; remains of the agger were found near Terry's Cross in the south-west corner. (fn. 60) The chief east-west road between the 15th and 17th centuries was that which followed the sandstone outcrop through the centre of the parish; it was called the Henfield-Hurstpierpoint road in 1469, (fn. 61) but in 1984 it was only a track. A branch road led north from Blackstone towards High Cross in Albourne. (fn. 62) Blackstone bridge, between Blackstone and High Cross, (fn. 63) was mentioned from 1288. (fn. 64)
A road from Woodmancote Place northwards to Park Farm by way of Bilsborough was mentioned in 1581 and later, (fn. 65) and mostly survived, as a track, in 1984. Another north-south road further east led from Blackstone by way of Cuckolds Green to Terry's Cross, mentioned in 1647. (fn. 66) In 1628 it was called the broad street leading from Blackstone to Shoreham. (fn. 67) The modern Henfield-Brighton road existed in the parish in the 17th century. (fn. 68) In 1724 the west part, together with the road from Terry's Cross to Blackstone and High Cross, was part of a route from Bramber to Lindfield. (fn. 69)
The Henfield-Brighton road was a turnpike between 1777 and 1876, together with the branch road from Poynings common to High Cross which forms part of the eastern boundary of the parish. (fn. 70) The road from Crouch Hill in Henfield to High Cross, which runs along part of the northern boundary, was a turnpike between 1777 and 1868. (fn. 71)
The Holmbush inn on the Brighton road in the south-east corner of the parish flourished between c. 1800 and 1845. (fn. 72) The Wheatsheaf, on the Crouch Hill to High Cross road, existed by c. 1840 (fn. 73) and was still an inn in 1984.
There was a reading room in the parish between 1913 and 1938. (fn. 74) The former school south-east of the church became the parish hall in 1957, (fn. 75) and was still so used in 1984. A playing field at Blackstone was opened c. 1981. (fn. 76) In 1983 there were cricket, football, and stoolball clubs in the parish. (fn. 77)
Piped water was supplied from Steyning by 1928, supplementing wells, some deep, which gave a poor yield. (fn. 78) By 1974 there was a reservoir north-west of Bilsborough. (fn. 79) Main drains were laid at Blackstone c. 1962, (fn. 80) a sewage works being constructed northeast of the hamlet. (fn. 81) The Hassocks and District Gas Co. was empowered to supply gas in 1936, (fn. 82) and electricity was available in 1938. (fn. 83)
Two parishioners were martyred under Mary I in 1556. (fn. 84)