Shermanbury: Church

Pages 196-198

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 little church (ecclesiola) at Shermanbury in 1086, evidently the property of the lord of the manor. (fn. 1) A tithe portion in Shermanbury later belonging to Woodmancote rectory (fn. 2) may indicate either affiliation or that the part of Shermanbury parish south of the river Adur had once tithed to Woodmancote. Shermanbury had its own rector by 1288: the advowson was held then by Robert de Buci, (fn. 3) whose successors as lords of Shermanbury continued to present rectors (fn. 4) until the 1920s. (fn. 5) The archbishop presented by lapse in 1556, the king because of simony in 1628, (fn. 6) and Thomas Comber, dean of Carlisle and master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1634, presumably on behalf of his sister-in-law Martha, who then held the manor. (fn. 7) The advowson passed between 1926 and 1930 from H. W. Coleman to the Revd. P. E. Warrington (fn. 8) and in the 1940s to the Martyrs Memorial Trust. (fn. 9) In 1978 the benefice was united with those of Henfield and Woodmancote, in the patronage of the bishop, the parishes remaining distinct. (fn. 10)

The rectory was not a rich one, being valued at £4 6s. 8d. a year in 1291 (fn. 11) and £4 19s. 3d. clear in 1535. (fn. 12) In the earlier 19th century it was said to have an annual net income of £299 and in 1867 of £387. (fn. 13) The glebe comprised a house and garden and 16 a. of arable in 1341. (fn. 14) There were 17 a. in 1635, and whereas there were then said to be no tithes belonging to the rectory, in 1675 the rector had great and small tithes worth £60 a year. (fn. 15) The tithes, payable on three quarters of the parish, were commuted in 1837 for £387. (fn. 16) The rectory house was said to be unfit for residence in 1831; there were still 16 a. of glebe in 1938. (fn. 17) The 'old, mean, and dilapidated' house was replaced by one built between 1837 and 1839, which was requistioned in the Second World War and offered for sale in 1947, afterwards being called Waterperry House. A new rectory was built further north, (fn. 18) and that also became a private house when the benefice was united with that of Henfield.

The rectory seems to have been held by chopchurches in the period 1415-18, (fn. 19) and the rector was an absentee in 1428. (fn. 20) Curates were recorded in the 1540s and 1550s, but it is not clear whether they assisted the rector or served in his place; (fn. 21) in 1563 the rector was non-resident and there was no curate. (fn. 22) Robert Frankwell, rector 1576-1617, was apparently resident for part of his 41-year incumbency, though the church was not well furnished in 1586. Gregory Roberts, instituted in 1634, (fn. 23) was apparently resident in 1642. (fn. 24) In the 1670s the rector was again an absentee and the church was again ill furnished. (fn. 25) The influence of the Gratwickes as resident patrons and lords of the manor is perhaps to be detected in the long resident incumbencies of Richard Ward, 1677-1706, and John Bear, 1711-62. (fn. 26) In 1685 every adult parishioner received the sacrament at Easter, (fn. 27) and in 1724 the church was described as more than commonly decent. (fn. 28) Miles Williams, rector from 1762, was at law with John Challen, patron and lord of the manor, in 1781 about the road to the church and with the miller in 1782 about tithes. (fn. 29) The rector Roger Challice in 1789 leased the rectory to John Challen, (fn. 30) and later the same year J. G. Challen, soon to be patron and lord of the manor, began his 46-year incumbency. In 1831 he had an assistant curate, (fn. 31) as may have been the regular practice until the early 20th century. On Census Sunday 1851 there were congregations of 143 in the morning and 170 in the afternoon, not counting the Sunday school. (fn. 32) J. M. Glubb, rector 1836-72, in whose time there was a choir and a band of musicians, and H. W. Hunt, presented by his stepmother in 1872, each served for more than 35 years. (fn. 33)

The church of ST. GILES, so called in 1341, (fn. 34) is small and simple, consisting of a short sanctuary or choir and a nave, both of rendered stone, with a weatherboarded bell turret over the west gable end, west porch, and south-east vestry. Three carved corbel heads or capitals from the 12th century are reset inside the south-west corner of the nave. A nave piscina possibly of the 13th century suggests that the nave east of it served as a chancel, and one of the four re-used tiebeams, which has late medieval embattling and moulding, might have been the head of a screen immediately east of the piscina. A flat buttress at the north end of the east wall of the nave indicates the east end of the medieval building. The renewal of the choir by Richard Ward, rector 1677- 1706, recorded on a board in the sanctuary, apparently does not relate to the surviving east end of the church. The east wall (which does not, as alleged, show evidence of timber framing, the piece of exposed timber being part of the adjoining vestry) contains two windows whose stone frames are composed of re-used stone with still later heads. The church was restored in 1710 by John Gratwicke, (fn. 35) when presumably the nave windows were remade and the royal arms of Queen Anne were put up. In 1748 a west gallery, of which the corbels remain, was put in hand, with access against the north wall, (fn. 36) probably requiring the blocking of the north doorway and its replacement, along with the south doorway which is also blocked, by one in the west wall: a late 18th-century view shows the north windows (with a buttress that was later removed in the position of the doorway), the west porch and external stairs to the gallery, the bellcote, and the sanctuary with a hipped roof. (fn. 37) The church was restored in the 1880s, (fn. 38) which is likely to be the date of the replacement of the gallery by a smaller one for the organ and of the rebuilding of the sanctuary. Box pews survive, some incorporating earlier benches, and are painted with the names of the farms whose inhabitants used them. (fn. 39) The font is 15th-century, similar in design to that at Cowfold. Some glass, perhaps put in by J. G. Challen, is of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, (fn. 40) and the sanctuary has glass by C. E. Kempe. (fn. 41) The monuments include those to members of the Lintott and Challen families and to the rector John Bear. There were three bells in 1724, (fn. 42) but only two in 1864 (fn. 43) as in 1984. The plate includes two cups, two patens, and a flagon all of the late 17th and early 18th century. (fn. 44) The registers begin in 1653, but there are transcripts from 1606. (fn. 45)

In the Middle Ages Wyndham hospital had a church and a graveyard. (fn. 46) A reference to the church of Ewhurst in 1405 (fn. 47) presumably either refers to the chapel in the manor house (fn. 48) or is meant to link Ewhurst with Shermanbury as the name of the parish church. (fn. 49) An iron mission room was built at Wyndham in 1891 and remained in use until 1938 or later. (fn. 50) It was on the west side of the road, and therefore just within Shermanbury parish, a little under a mile north of Wyndham bridge, and was demolished c. 1947. (fn. 51)

The churchyard of the parish church was replaced for burials in 1888 by a cemetery with a small brick chapel, under the parish council, (fn. 52) near the rectory house in Frylands Lane. In earlier centuries many Shermanbury parishioners had been buried at Cowfold, where some also were baptized and married. (fn. 53)


One papist family and two Baptist families were recorded in 1724, (fn. 54) and there was a single male papist in 1767. (fn. 55) At that period the Baptists of Shermanbury contributed nearly a quarter of the total sums given by the various localities to the Baptist church at Horsham, (fn. 56) but later activities have not been traced.


  • 1. V.C.H. Suss. i. 447.
  • 2. Above, manors.
  • 3. Reg. Pecham (Cant. & York Soc.), i. 73.
  • 4. e.g. Cal. Close, 1389-92, 505; 1435-41, 8; S.A.C. lv. 224, 236, 272; Chich. Dioc. Kal. (1873), 114-15; (1876), 47.
  • 5. Crockford (1926), 390.
  • 6. Rymer, Foedera, ed. G. Holmes, viii (3), 29.
  • 7. S.A.C. lv. 261; D.N.B.; Comber, Suss. General. Horsham, 63-5.
  • 8. Crockford (1926), 390; Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1930).
  • 9. Crockford (1940), 341; (1947), 853.
  • 10. Inf. from Chich. Dioc. Regy.
  • 11. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 136.
  • 12. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 335.
  • 13. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 282-3; Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1867).
  • 14. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 391.
  • 15. W.S.R.O., Ep. II/17/132-3.
  • 16. P.R.O., IR 29/35/234.
  • 17. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 282-3; Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1938).
  • 18. W.S.R.O., Ep. II/41/116; ibid. SP 40; O.S. Map 1/25,000, TQ 23/33 (1975 edn.).
  • 19. Dallaway & Cartwright, Hist. W. Suss. ii (2), 327.
  • 20. Feud. Aids, v. 165.
  • 21. S.R.S. xxxvi. 142; xlv. 106.
  • 22. S.A.C. lxi. 115.
  • 23. Ibid. xi. 226; liii. 4; lv. 236.
  • 24. S.R.S. v. 151.
  • 25. Ibid. l. 18.
  • 26. Above; S.A.C. lv. 224, 272; cf. ibid. liv. 257.
  • 27. W.S.R.O., Ep. II/15/7, f. 11v.; but cf. ibid. Ep. II/ 15/5, ff. 26v., 54v., 72 and v.
  • 28. V.C.H. Suss. ii. 40.
  • 29. Horsham Mus. MSS. 314, 317.
  • 30. W.S.R.O., Raper MSS., deed, 1789.
  • 31. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 282-3; above.
  • 32. P.R.O., HO 129/86/2/10/15.
  • 33. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1905, 1938); S.C.M. ii. 564; S.A.C. lx. 26, 33.
  • 34. Cal. Inq. p. m. xi, p. 419.
  • 35. Cf. S.A.C. xlvi. 231-3; S.N.Q. xiii. 62, which suggests the plan of an earlier chancel without evidence or argument.
  • 36. W.S.R.O., Ep. II/27/9.
  • 37. B.L. Add. MS. 5677, f. 63.
  • 38. In 1885 according to Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1905); a restoration of 1882 was mentioned in W. Suss. Gaz. 16 Nov. 1882.
  • 39. Cf. S.C.M. xii. 143.
  • 40. V.C.H. Suss. ii. 353, 356; S.A.C. xliv. 39; lxxii. 221; Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1849).
  • 41. Nairn & Pevsner, Suss. 320-1.
  • 42. S.N.Q. xv. 17.
  • 43. S.A.C. xvi. 223.
  • 44. Ibid. liv. 257.
  • 45. S.N.Q. x. 13.
  • 46. Above, intro.
  • 47. Hist. MSS. Com. 8, 9th Rep. p. 48.
  • 48. Above, manors.
  • 49. Cf. S.R.S. xlv. 105: 'of the parish of Ewhurst of the parish of Shermanbury'.
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1905, 1938).
  • 51. Local inf.; O.S. Map 6", Suss. XXXVIII. NW. (1899, 1952 edns.). The iron bldg. beside the Royal Oak was there when the mission was in use.
  • 52. Kelly's Dir. Suss. (1905).
  • 53. S.R.S. xxii, passim.
  • 54. Dallaway & Cartwright, Hist. W. Suss. ii (2), 327.
  • 55. H.L.R.O., papist return (inf. from Mr. T. J. McCann, W.S.R.O.).
  • 56. E. Kensett, Hist. Free Christian Ch., Horsham, 1721- 1921, 74; V.C.H. Suss. vi (2), 196.