Shermanbury: Economic history

Pages 195-196

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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In 1086 Shermanbury and Sakeham each had land for 2 ploughteams. Possibly the Adur was the boundary between the estates. At Sakeham there was no demesne recorded, and a villanus and 2 bordars had between them only a pair of oxen. At Shermanbury there were 2 teams, 1 belonging to the demesne, which had 4 servi, and 1 to a villanus and 3 bordars. (fn. 1) Later both Ewhurst, which is not identifiable in 1086, and Shermanbury manor had substantial demesne farms. In 1274 the demesne of Ewhurst had 200 a. of arable, 20 a. of meadow, and 20 a. of pasture, yielding nearly a third of the total value of the manor, (fn. 2) and it had apparently increased by 1306. (fn. 3) The Shermanbury demesne in 1361 amounted to 162 a. of arable, 21 a. of meadow, and 32 a. of pasture, to which another holding of nearly 200 a. had been added by purchase. There were 30 a. of coppiced woodland which were cut every 10 years. (fn. 4)

Shermanbury is one of the parishes in the Sussex Weald which are known to have had open fields. (fn. 5) The fields of Wyndham mentioned in 1288 were in Bramber rape (fn. 6) and therefore in Shermanbury parish. The description of fields and furlongs in Ewhurst in 1352 suggests that the open fields extended into that manor. (fn. 7) Of the Shermanbury demesne arable only 100 a. of the 162 a. were sown in 1361, the rest lying fallow and in common; land described as sterile because on the Weald may have been outfield that had reverted to health. (fn. 8) Shermanbury was one of eight rural Sussex parishes that paid no tax for the year 1340 on the value of fleeces or lambs. (fn. 9) Hay was then an important crop, (fn. 10) as in 1352 when calves, pigs, geese, and cheese were also mentioned. (fn. 11) In 1393 animals found dead in Ewhurst manor were 1 ram, 1 ewe, 2 beasts, and 10 pigs; pannage was paid for pigs in the lady of the manor's wood, and the hayward impounded straying geese. (fn. 12)

Shermanbury's farmers in the mid 18th century were said to specialize in breeding cattle and to prefer oxen to horses for their carts and ploughs. (fn. 13) That is not borne out by the record of stock on four small or middling farms between 1723 and 1735, where the value of the wheat and oats was high in relation to that of cattle. The wheat was worth twice as much as the oats and the oats twice as much as the hay. None of the oxen, which were only slightly more numerous than the horses, were specified as working animals. Only one farm had a bull. (fn. 14)

In 1801 the Shermanbury Park estate had a home farm of 53 a. and Ewhurst Place farm of 300 a. which was let to a tenant. (fn. 15) The parish was then presumably mainly arable, but it supported a considerable stock of animals: up to 79 fattening oxen, 49 cows, 85 heifers, 343 sheep, and 260 pigs. (fn. 16) Of the cultivated area, slightly less than a quarter, 350 a., was reckoned in 1837 to be grassland; the 1,150 a. of arable lay in small fields separated by wide hedges whose overhanging oaks damaged the crops; (fn. 17) woodland amounted to 430 a. and waste and common to 30 a. There were 14 farms, of which 6 were 40-90 a., 7 were 100-240 a., and the home farm of Shermanbury Park and Ewhurst was 414 a., the average being 125 a.; the home farm, let to a tenant, had 5 farmyards, another had 2, there was less than 10 a. attached to each of 2 farmyards (though they were at the edge of the parish and may have had land across the boundary), and some farmhouses were described as tenements, so there is likely to have been much consolidation of holdings in the later 18th or earlier 19th century. (fn. 18) In 1831 only 9 agricultural occupiers lived in the parish, 8 of them employing labour: (fn. 19) there may have been further consolidation, and some of the holdings were presumably farmed from homesteads outside the parish. Thereafter the number of holdings remained relatively constant but the distribution of land between them changed considerably: returns were made of 16 holdings in 1875 (fn. 20) and of 14 in 1909, when 7 of them were between 5 and 50 a., 1 was less than 5 a., and 1 was more than 300 a., evidently the home farm of Shermanbury Place. In 1909 exactly half the land returned was owner occupied, (fn. 21) but in 1910 nearly two thirds of the total acreage of the larger holdings was tenanted. Much the largest holding included the 516 a. of the Shermanbury Place estate and the 195 a. of Park farm which was let to the owner of Shermanbury Place; there were seven other farms of more than 50 a., of which Abbeylands at 231 a. was the largest. (fn. 22) The Shermanbury Place estate amounted to 546 a. in 1922, but the main farm, centred on Ewhurst Manor, was only 286 a., the parkland and woodland in hand making up another 183 a. (fn. 23) In 1938 Ewhurst farm, Abbeylands, and Oaklands were each more than 150 a. (fn. 24) In 1975 returns were made for 17 holdings in Shermanbury, but their combined area was greater that that of the parish by 100 ha.: only 7 holdings were run by full-time farmers of whom three had 50-100 ha. and two had 100-200 ha. More than three quarters of the land returned was owneroccupied. (fn. 25)

The proportion of arable in the parish fell from nearly two thirds in 1875 to less than one third in 1909, while that of grass rose from less than a third to two thirds: half of the grass in 1909 was used for hay. (fn. 26) The proportions on the Shermanbury Park estate between 1874 and 1922 followed a comparable reversal: arable from nearly two thirds to less than a quarter, gráss from one third to half (including parkland), while woodland increased from one fifteenth to one fifth. (fn. 27) In 1935 three quarters of the parish was meadow and permanent grass; (fn. 28) more than half was under grass in 1975. Between 1875 and 1909 the proportion of the arable sown with wheat and clover remained roughly the same at about three eighths and one fifth respectively; oats and roots, a quarter and a sixth respectively in 1909, though declining in fact, had increased proportionately at the expense of peas and beans. In 1975 the area under barley (115.4 ha.) was precisely three times that under wheat. The number of cattle increased from 272 in 1875 to 327 in 1909 and 995 in 1975, when one farm specialized in dairying; 348 sheep were returned in 1875, 632 in 1909, none in 1975, and there were more than 40 pigs in each of the three years. (fn. 29) Poultry were raised in the 1930s, (fn. 30) but only 125 laying hens were recorded in 1975. (fn. 31)

In the early 19th century between 42 and 45 families were supported mainly by agriculture compared with 9-12 supported mainly by trade, manufacture, or handicrafts. (fn. 32) A tailor was recorded in 1596, (fn. 33) a shoemaker (fn. 34) and a blacksmith in the 1670s. (fn. 35) Another blacksmith died in 1742, and a shopkeeper who stocked clothing, grocery, hardware, and chandlery in 1754; a farmer who died in 1725 had a sideline as a cooper. (fn. 36) A carpenter's shop was recorded in 1815 and 1825. (fn. 37) There were wheelwrights from 1755 (fn. 38) until 1908 or later, blacksmiths until 1941 or later, two shopkeepers in 1867, and four in the 1930s, when there were also a garage and a carpenter. (fn. 39) It is possible that glass was once made at Ewhurst, (fn. 40) presumably in the 17th century.

A water mill recorded in 1611 (fn. 41) was presumably on the same site as the one near Shermanbury church in 1724; (fn. 42) John Gratwicke, lord of Shermanbury manor, appears to have been running it himself c. 1700. (fn. 43) It was a corn mill with two wheels in 1874, (fn. 44) a saw mill in 1896 and 1910, (fn. 45) and was in decay by 1924; (fn. 46) a breast-shot wheel had been removed by 1947, when a pit wheel survived. (fn. 47)


  • 1. V.C.H. Suss. i. 447.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 133/4, no. 15.
  • 3. Ibid. C 133/122, no. 7.
  • 4. Cal. Inq. p.m. xi, p. 59.
  • 5. P. F. Brandon, 'Common Lands and Wastes of Suss.' (Lond. Univ. Ph. D. thesis, 1963), 222, naming Shermanbury as the only certain example; but cf. V.C.H. Suss. vi (2), 54, 68, 213.
  • 6. P.R.O., JUST 1/924, rot. 61d.
  • 7. Magd. Coll. Oxf. Mun., Grinstead and Stanford 6 (TS. cat.).
  • 8. Brandon, 'Common Lands and Wastes of Suss.' 94, 222, 277, 279, citing P.R.O., C 135/158, no. 26, calendared in Cal. Inq. p.m. xi, p. 59.
  • 9. S.A.C. lxxv. 131.
  • 10. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 391.
  • 11. Magd. Coll. Oxf. Mun., Grinstead and Stanford 6 (TS. cat.).
  • 12. E.S.R.O., SAS/A 573.
  • 13. S.A.C. viii. 257.
  • 14. E.S.R.O., W/INV/1604, 1801, 2051, 2623.
  • 15. Ibid. SAS/EG 353.
  • 16. Ibid. LCG/3/EW 1, f. [IV.]; LCG/3/EW 2, f. [50v.].
  • 17. P.R.O., IR 18/10462.
  • 18. Ibid. IR 29 and 30/35/234; for the home fm. cf. E.S.R.O., SAS/EG 358.
  • 19. Census, 1831.
  • 20. P.R.O., MAF 68/433, no. 11.
  • 21. P.R.O., MAF 68/2371, no. 3.
  • 22. Ibid. IR 58/94117.
  • 23. B.L. Maps 135. a. 42.
  • 24. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1938).
  • 25. M.A.F.F., agric. statistics, 1975.
  • 26. P.R.O., MAF 68/433, no. 11; MAF 68/2371, no. 3.
  • 27. B.L. Maps 135. a. 42; 137. b. 10. (14).
  • 28. [1st] Land Util. Surv. Map, sheet 133.
  • 29. M.A.F.F., agric. statistics, 1975; P.R.O., MAF 68/ 433, no. 11; MAF 68/2371, no. 3.
  • 30. S.C.M. iii. 747; Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1930, 1938).
  • 31. M.A.F.F., agric. statistics, 1975.
  • 32. Census, 1811-31.
  • 33. P.R.O., REQ 2/268/17.
  • 34. Ibid. E 134/26 Chas. II Mich./41.
  • 35. E.S.R.O., SAS/Acc 1046 (deed, 1673).
  • 36. Ibid. W/INV/1801, 2864, 3069.
  • 37. Ibid. SAS/EG 356 (TS. cat.); W.S.R.O., Raper MSS., deed, 1825 (TS. cat.).
  • 38. E.S.R.O., SAS/Acc 1046 (abs. of title, 1755-1822).
  • 39. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1867 and later edns.); cf. S.C.M. xv. 239.
  • 40. S.C.M. iv. 996.
  • 41. W.S.R.O., Raper MSS., agreement, 1611 (TS. cat.).
  • 42. 250 Yrs. of Mapmaking in Suss. ed. H. Margary, pl. 6.
  • 43. W.S.R.O., Par. 167/6/1.
  • 44. B.L. Maps 137. b. 10. (14).
  • 45. O.S. Map 6", Suss. XXXVIII. NW. (1899 edn.); P.R.O., IR 58/94117.
  • 46. Roadmender's Country (Southern Rly. 1924), 57.
  • 47. S.C.M. xxi. 83-6.