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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There was a church in 1086, (fn. 1) and by the mid 1220s the benefice was a rectory. (fn. 2) From 1958 it was held in plurality with Albourne, (fn. 3) and in 1978 it became part of the united benefice of Henfield with Shermanbury and Woodmancote, the parishes remaining distinct. (fn. 4)
The advowson was given by Simon le Count in the mid 1220s to the Knights Templar, (fn. 5) passing in the early 14th century to the Knights Hospitaller. (fn. 6) The Crown presented in 1308 and 1311. (fn. 7) After the Dissolution the advowson remained with the Crown except during the Interregnum. (fn. 8) Since 1978 the patronage of the new united benefice has belonged to the bishop. (fn. 9)
The living was valued at £10 in 1291, including 13s. 4d. in tithes from a ploughland at Truleigh in Edburton. By 1341 those tithes had passed to the rector of Edburton, (fn. 10) but Woodmancote rectory then owned a portion of tithe corn worth 7s. a year in Shermanbury, (fn. 11) and in 1675 the rector received hay tithes from 2 a. in Edburton and 2 a. in Henfield. (fn. 12) The living was valued at £13 1s. 10d. net in 1535. (fn. 13) On one occasion at least in the earlier 17th century the rectorial tithes were farmed. (fn. 14)
The glebe was valued at 13s. 4d. in 1341. (fn. 15) There was a house in 1405, (fn. 16) and in 1635 and later a house and c. 24 a. forming a compact estate around it. (fn. 17) The glebe house in the 1670s had at least five rooms besides offices; the rector, Edmund Cooper, was then rebuilding it with his own money 'to make it of a doghole a habitation for a man'. (fn. 18) Between 1711 and 1724 it was again 'beautified and improved', additions also being made. (fn. 19) It was described in the 1830s as large, convenient, and elegant, and as one of the most desirable glebe houses in the county. (fn. 20) The building stood south-east of the church c. 150 yd. north of the Henfield-Brighton road. (fn. 21) It was replaced in the mid 19th century by a new red brick building closer to the road, which was sold c. 1975. (fn. 22)
The rector in 1316 was given leave to travel overseas on the king's service; (fn. 25) in 1317 he became a canon of Ripon (Yorks.). (fn. 26) A successor in 1405 was licensed to celebrate mass in an oratory at the glebe house because of infirmity. (fn. 27) Thomas Farncombe, rector from 1534, (fn. 28) was suspected in 1538 of poaching at Ewhurst park in Shermanbury. (fn. 29) Assistant curates were mentioned in 1530 (fn. 30) and 1563. (fn. 31) Two later 16thcentury rectors also held other benefices. (fn. 32)
Edmund Cooper, rector 1666-82, (fn. 33) had continuous squabbles with parishioners in the 1670s, the churchwardens presenting him in 1679 for, among other things, not wearing canonical habit, not catechizing children, not keeping the register correctly, and detaining the church key; he was cleared on all counts. A chief source of contention was the pew of the West family, lords of Woodmancote manor, which stood in the chancel. About 1676 Cooper was preventing the widow of Henry West (d. 1674) from sitting in it, and in 1678 he had it demolished; as a result he was arrested for trespass and indicted at the assizes by her son Jacob. In another episode Cooper caused damage to the graves of the Floyd family in carrying out paving work outside the east wall of the chancel. (fn. 34)
Cooper's successor Benjamin Hoffman (fn. 35) was similarly at odds with the churchwardens, who presented him in 1685 for, among other things, failing to hold two Sunday services at Woodmancote. (fn. 36) Both he and Cooper also held Albourne rectory. (fn. 37) In the 18th century incumbents continued to hold other livings, (fn. 38) and assistant curates were often recorded. (fn. 39) John Rideout, rector 1793-1838, (fn. 40) apparently usually resided, though he had an assistant curate, (fn. 41) but his successor, an illegitimate son of Lord Wellesley, apparently lived in Oxford for most of the 22 years of his incumbency. (fn. 42)
Two Sunday services, one with sermon, were held in 1724, when communion was celebrated five times a year with 30 or 40 communicants. (fn. 43) In 1808 and in the 1850s, however, Sunday services were held alternately in morning and evening. (fn. 44) R. C. Hales, rector 1860-89, (fn. 45) instituted two Sunday services and monthly communion, and also greatly increased the size of congregations. (fn. 46) An assistant curate was recorded in 1873 and later. (fn. 47) A mission room was built before 1903 in the north-east corner of the parish; it survived in 1909. (fn. 48) In 1980 there were still weekly services at Woodmancote church. (fn. 49)
The church of ST. PETER (the dedication is first recorded in 1886) (fn. 50) is of flint with stone dressings with a Horsham stone roof, and consists of chancel with north vestry and nave with south porch; there is a shingled bell turret with broach spire. The building owes much of its present appearance to a restoration of 1869-73. The north wall of the nave, which is of coursed flint rubble, and the blocked, undecorated north doorway are 11th- or early 12th-century. The chancel was reconstructed in the 13th century, when the nave was refenestrated. The south doorway and some windows were replaced in the 15th century, (fn. 51) and one window with heraldic stained glass, apparently of that time, survived in 1830. (fn. 52) The nave has a late medieval crown-post roof. The steeple mentioned in 1685 (fn. 53) was probably the bell turret with pyramidal cap depicted in 1777 and later. (fn. 54) A west gallery was erected c. 1723, (fn. 55) and in the following year the chancel was said to have recently been ceiled, floored, and beautified. (fn. 56) The building was in poor condition in 1811. (fn. 57) Between 1869 and 1873 (fn. 58) it was restored and refenestrated to the designs of Henry Woodyer: the chancel was extended, the probably 18th-century south porch (fn. 59) was rebuilt, and the cap of the bell turret was replaced by a spire.
The square font, partly of Sussex marble, on five cylindrical shafts, is 12th-century, and a medieval piscina also survives. In the churchyard the Dennett family are commemorated by a line of table tombs which descends the hill north of the church.