Parishes: Telscombe

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1940.

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'Parishes: Telscombe', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes, ed. L F Salzman( London, 1940), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Parishes: Telscombe', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Edited by L F Salzman( London, 1940), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Parishes: Telscombe". A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Ed. L F Salzman(London, 1940), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.

In this section


Titelescumb (x cent.); Tetelescombe (xiii cent.); Totelescoumbe, Thekelescumbe (xiv cent.); Tellescomb, Tilescomb (xvii cent.).

Telscombe is a small village lying at the head of a coombe which rises from the right bank of the River Ouse about 2 miles above Newhaven. The only approach by road, however, is from Southease, a mile farther up-stream, whence a road climbs the slopes of Southease Hill, a mile and a half from the village, and drops steeply into the head of the coombe in which lies the village of Telscombe. The cottages forming the village are ranged along this road, which, passing the manor house and church, climbs the Downs beyond to lose itself on the open common known as Telscombe Tye, rather more than 300 ft. above the sea. The southern edge of the Tye is the main road from Newhaven to Brighton, which, passing along the edge of the sea-cliffs, forms the base-line of the modern bungalow colony of Telscombe Cliffs, which extends inland for a mile or so. In the western corner of the parish is the Portobello Coastguard Station. A footpath runs from beside the church, and along the ridge of Bullock Down, to Piddinghoe, with which village Telscombe is now joined ecclesiastically.

There is a large farm and racing-stable at the head of the village street opposite the church. Some of the cottages are old; Oak Cottage has good timber ceilings with even the secondary joists chamfered and stopped, and Box Tree Cottage has also good ceilings and part of its plaster 'chimney' remaining in the first floor, although the medieval fire-place on the ground floor is a modern insertion. The manor-house, on the east side of the road, has been very much altered, but there are still a few remains of its original timber construction, probably of the late 16th century. On one of the beams is carved the date 'mdix', but the carving appears to be modern. The southern slopes of Southease Hill show medieval lynchets. To-day, however, the land is mostly pasture for sheep, the Downs to the north-west of the village being also used for the training of racehorses, which is the chief occupation of the inhabitants. The parish contains 1,180 acres of land and 79 of foreshore. In 1931 the population was 585, compared with 120 in 1901.

There is still much common land within the parish, notably the Tye, upon which the rector may graze as many tegs as 3 acres will support. (fn. 1) By an Act of 1810, 454 acres of common field arable and 236 acres of pasture were enclosed. (fn. 2)

The occupation of the parish is largely agricultural, although gravel and sand have been worked in Telscombe Cliffs. At the end of the 18th century the parish was said to be almost exclusively inhabited by smugglers. (fn. 3)


The manor of TELSCOMBE and 10 hides of land were granted together with the manor of Southease (q.v.) in 996 by King Edgar to the abbey of Hyde. (fn. 4) This grant was perhaps a confirmation of an earlier one made by King Edred. (fn. 5)

Telscombe followed the descent of Southease until January 1546, (fn. 6) at which date John Keme was appointed bailiff by the king. In 1551 the capital messuage and demesne lands were granted to Sir William Thomas, one of the clerks of the Privy Council, (fn. 7) and the demesne lands were in the possession of Sir Richard Sackville at his death in 1566. (fn. 8)

His son and heir, Thomas, Earl of Dorset, is said to have been seised of the manor in 1603 (fn. 9) and his grandson, Richard, Earl of Dorset, was dealing with it by fine in 1610 and 1616. (fn. 10) In 1623 the earl sold the manor to William Garfoot, (fn. 11) who in 1630 sold it to Richard Gurnard, or Gurney, clothier of London, Lord Mayor in 1641, when he was created baronet. (fn. 12) Sir Richard Gurney parted with most of the lands of the manor, and by his will, September 1647, directed that the lordship should be sold. (fn. 13) In 1652 the manor was conveyed to Stephen Penkhurst, (fn. 14) but in January 1657 Robert Plumer held his first court and was succeeded in October 1680 by James Plumer, (fn. 15) who sold the manor to Henry Shelley in 1686. (fn. 16) The latter died in December 1691, (fn. 17) and was apparently succeeded by Richard Shelley, (fn. 18) who died in May 1716. (fn. 19) His heir was Henry Shelley, who died in 1735; (fn. 20) and his son Henry held courts there until 1775. (fn. 21) His son Henry died seised of the manor in 1805. (fn. 22) His son, yet another Henry, died unmarried in 1811, (fn. 23) after which the manor appears to have been divided between his three sisters, Elizabeth and Cordelia Shelley, and Eleanor Dalbiac. (fn. 24) In 1824 George John Dalbiac and Eleanor conveyed their third to the two other sisters. (fn. 25) In 1853 Cordelia Shelley was sole owner. (fn. 26) She bequeathed the property to her three nephews, the sons of her sister Eleanor and George John Dalbiac. (fn. 27) On 15 December 1900 Mrs. Mary Dalbiac (a widow), conveyed the manor to Mr. James Ambrose Harman, who subsequently, on 1 September 1924 conveyed it to Mr. Charles William Neville the present owner. (fn. 28)

Shelley. Sable a fesse engrailed between three whelk-shells or.

A windmill formerly stood in the parish, beside Prestway. (fn. 29) In 1558 it belonged to Thomas Gratwick. (fn. 30)

The custom of Borough English prevailed in Telscombe. (fn. 31)


The church of ST. LAWRENCE stands on the hill-side at the head of the village street. It consists of a nave and chancel, both with north aisles, a west tower, and a south porch balanced by a porch-like vestry on the north of the nave. The nave and chancel are probably of the mid-12th century, to which the aisles and tower were added at the very end of the century. The porch and vestry are modern. The church was restored in 1903 and again in 1922.

The east end of the chancel is lit by a restored two-light 14th-century window with trefoil-headed lights and quatrefoil above within a two-centred arch. The single-light window at the east end of the south wall of the chancel shows as a 14th-century light externally, but internal indications suggest that it is a remodelled mid-12th-century window. West of this is a restored single-light window which may have originally been low-side. (fn. 32) The south-east window of the nave is a two-light 15th-century window with a square head and label-mould. The one to the west of it is a modern copy of it. The porch is modern, but covers a 14th-century south door. The east window of the north aisle is a curious circular-headed iron casement of modern date. The whole of the north wall of the church, with the vestry, is modern, and the masonry of the west wall of the aisle suggests that the aisle was widened when it was rebuilt. The west window of the aisle is a tall narrow light with a semicircular head, dating from the end of the 12th century. The west window of the tower is similar, and the south is modern. The tower itself is very plain, capped with a pyramidal shingled roof, and the belfry is lit by narrow lancets. The lower part of the tower and the west wall of the aisle show a facing of iron-stone rubble, but the remainder of the church has a flint facing with stone dressings.

The whole of the interior of the church has been painted with oil paint, during a recent restoration, when false stone-work was drawn in paint over the original stone dressings. There is an interesting piscina, having a square projecting marble bowl with carved acanthustype leaf-work on its underside. It appears to be of the 12th century. The north arcade of the chancel is of two obtusely pointed arches. (fn. 33) The central pillar has a square capital, designed for a central shaft and four surrounding shafts. The column has no shafts, however, so the secondary capitals are supported by small corbels carved with stiff-leaf foliage to match that on the bell. The eastern respond is similar, but the shaft of the column is segmental on plan. The type of capital is that which may be seen at St. Anne's Church, Lewes, and at Rodmell. The western impost of the chancel arcade has no respond, being merely a corbel resembling part of a scalloped capital, which, together with the other two capitals of this arcade, has been much restored. The chancel arch is a pseudo-Norman monstrosity, thickly covered with paint. The frescoes on the east walls of chancel and nave are modern. The north arcade of the nave has three plain arches, clumsily rebuilt during the restoration and thickly painted with impossible stone jointing. The two columns, however, are original, and date from the end of the 12th century. They are circular, have simple capitals with hollow, uncarved bells and astragal. They are very similar to those in the chancel at Piddinghoe. The tower arch is plain, obtusely pointed, and has no responds; a modern string-course forms imposts.


The font has a square bowl mounted on a square pedestal having on each face two rectangular recessed panels, each containing a tall, narrow trefoil-headed panel. The lead settings for the locking-staples of the cover remain on the upper surface of the bowl. The font is apparently of the 13th century, and resembles that at Piddinghoe. In the north aisle is a chest of late16th- or early-17th-century date, and, over the south door, are the royal arms, very well carved in high relief. The technique suggests that of a ship's figure-head, and the work is probably of the 17th or 18th century.

There is one bell, by John Palmer, dated 1649. (fn. 34)

The church possesses an Elizabethan communion cup with a pre-Reformation foot. (fn. 35)

The register of baptisms dates from 1684, that of marriages from 1701, and the register of burials dates from 1697.

In the late 18th century Burrell wrote:

'This is another of those buildings nicknamed pigeonhouses. When I was there, I found a large breach in the Roof of the Body of the Church, the Room and seats [which were almost destroyed] defiled with Birds' Dung, and a Pigeon on the Communion Table. On inquiry, I found that the Rector lived in London, that there was no register kept according to the forms prescribed by Act of Parliament and that the Births, Marriages, and Burials are entered promiscuously.' (fn. 36)


In 1389 it was stated that the abbey of Hyde had held the advowson with the manor from time immemorial. (fn. 37) The church was valued at 20 marks in 1291 (fn. 38) and at £13 13s. 4d. in the 16th century. (fn. 39)

After the Dissolution the advowson appears to have been retained by the Crown, since in 1557 the king and queen presented. (fn. 40) In 1559 the advowson was granted to Richard Baker and others. (fn. 41) Thomas Lord Buckhurst presented in 1578–9 (fn. 42) and in 1604, (fn. 43) and the advowson remained in the Dorset family until 1710, (fn. 44) although presentations were made in 1664 by the Crown, (fn. 45) in 1680 by Mary, widow of Francis Chaloner, (fn. 46) in 1694 by Elizabeth, widow of John Chaloner, (fn. 47) and in 1697 by the Crown again. (fn. 48)

In 1715, and again in 1718, the advowson was quitclaimed by Simon Jones and Elizabeth his wife, and John Webb and Jane his wife, to Jeremiah Junnys. (fn. 49) In 1727 the patron was Richard Mills. (fn. 50) He was succeeded by James Mills, who with his wife Elizabeth quitclaimed the advowson to Richard Stanton and Edward Weedon and the heirs of Richard Stanton. (fn. 51) Thomas Crew was patron in 1740, (fn. 52) and Thomas Crew and John Philpott presented in 1779. (fn. 53) Six years later, the latter was sole patron. (fn. 54) Presentation was made in 1825 by John Michell together with James Charles Michell, the nominee of Martha Michell, widow of James Hutchins, (fn. 55) although John Philpot was said to be patron in 1835, at which time the rector was the Rev. James Hutchins, (fn. 56) who was also patron and vicar of Piddinghoe (q.v.). (fn. 57) The living was united to that of Piddinghoe by an Order in Council dated 30 April 1877, and in June of that year George Hutchins was instituted on his own presentation. (fn. 58) He sold the advowson in the following year to Pierre de Putron. (fn. 59) The latter conveyed it in 1884 to his son Geoffrey or Godfrey (fn. 60) who continued to present until January 1901. Between September 1910 and August 1931 presentations were made by the late Ambrose Gorham. (fn. 61) The living is now in the hands of the Gorham trustees, namely the Rector of Telscombe and the Town Clerk of Brighton, ex officio, one member elected by the Parochial Church Council, and three aldermen elected by the Brighton Corporation. (fn. 62)


Gorham's Gift. Ambrose Gorham, by will proved 6 Sept. 1933, gave his residuary estate (real and personal) including his grazing rights at Telscombe, his advowson of the united parishes of Telscombe and Piddinghoe, the Village Club, and land at Telscombe, and all other his freehold property at Telscombe to the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of Brighton upon trust, to hold the same upon the trusts mentioned therein.

The charity is now regulated by a Scheme of the High Court, dated 10 Dec. 1935, which appoints a body of six trustees to manage the property and administer the charity, and directs that after payment of the expenses of management the income shall be applied:

(a) one moiety in augmentation of the stipend of the incumbent of Telscombe;

(b) the remaining moiety to be applied as follows:

(1) £50 to the incumbent and churchwardens for distribution among ten of the deserving poor of the village of Telscombe.

(2) £100 for the repair and maintenance of Telscombe Church.

(3) £100 for the repair and maintenance of Telscombe Church Schools.

(4) £100 to the committee of Telscombe Club for the repair and maintenance of the club premises.


  • 1. Information supplied by the Rev. H. Martyn Harries.
  • 2. Slater, Eng. Peasantry and Enclosure of Common Fields, 302.
  • 3. Add. MS. 5684.
  • 4. Liber de Hyda (Rolls Ser.), 203.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. ii, 436b (ed. 1817–30).
  • 6. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xxi, g. 156b.
  • 7. Cal. Pat. 1549–51, pp. 421–2.
  • 8. Inq. (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxxiii), 23.
  • 9. Add. MS. 5684.
  • 10. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xix), 73; (xx), 323.
  • 11. Add. MS. 39503, fol. 50.
  • 12. G.E.C. Baronetage, ii, 147.
  • 13. Add. MS. 39503, fol. 55.
  • 14. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xx), 433.
  • 15. Add. MS. 5684.
  • 16. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xx), 433.
  • 17. Comber, Suss. Gen. (Lewes), 250.
  • 18. Add. MS. 5684.
  • 19. Comber, loc. cit.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Add. MS. 5684.
  • 22. Comber, op. cit. 251.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xx), 433.
  • 26. Suss. Arch. Coll. vi, 188–9.
  • 27. Comber, loc. cit.
  • 28. Ex. inf. C. W. Neville, Esq.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xxi (1), 1537 (20).
  • 30. Inq. (Suss. Rec. Soc. iii), 6.
  • 31. Suss. Arch. Coll. vi, 188–9.
  • 32. See paper by P. M. Johnston in Suss. Arch. Coll. xlii, 162.
  • 33. In a drawing of c. 1785 (Add. MS. 5677, fol. 45, here reproduced) the arches are shown as round; the aisle had then disappeared and the arcade was blocked.
  • 34. Suss. Arch. Coll. xvi, 266.
  • 35. Suss. Arch. Coll. liv, 236.
  • 36. Add. MS. 5698, fol. 309.
  • 37. Suss. N. & Q. iv, 116.
  • 38. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 136.
  • 39. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 333.
  • 40. Add. MS. 39348, fol. 93.
  • 41. Ibid. 5698, fol. 309. See under Kingston near Lewes in Swanborough Hundred.
  • 42. Ibid. 39348, fol. 93.
  • 43. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 44. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xix), 272–4.
  • 45. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 46. Add. MS. 39348, fol. 98.
  • 47. Ibid. fol. 95; Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 48. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 49. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xix), 182.
  • 50. Add. MS. 39348, fol. 99.
  • 51. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xix), 182.
  • 52. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 53. Ibid.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. Add. MS. 39348, fol. 100.
  • 56. Horsfield, Sussex, i, 191.
  • 57. Ibid. 196.
  • 58. Ex inf. the Registrar of the diocese of Chichester; cf. Add. MS. 39348, fol. 100.
  • 59. Ibid. fol. 101.
  • 60. Ibid.
  • 61. Ex inf. the Registrar of the diocese of Chichester.
  • 62. Ex inf. the Rev. H. Martyn Harries, the Rector.