WEST BLATCHINGTON CHURCH.
BY IAN C. HANNAH, M.A., F.S.A.
THE village of West Blatchington stands on the southern slope of the Downs, overlooking the Channel across the narrow eastern end of the maritime plain. It is in the hundred of Whalesbone, named from the stream (now arched over) that flows through the central valley of Brighton; its manor belonged to the de la Warrs, the church to Lewes Priory. Formerly one of the most lonely and insignificant of downland settlements, it is now deprived of any suggestion of solitude and threatened with eventual absorption by the northward creep of Hove. Though its actual population (in the village) is still under a hundred, half Brighton and all Hove are in very easy sight. Paved streets are separated by no more than the width of a good sized field.
The church of S. Peter is typical of the Downs, a small fabric built almost entirely of flint rubble. It consists of a Norman nave, a chancel that seems to belong to the fourteenth century, and the foundations of a western tower that was destined apparently never to rise more than a foot above the soil. The greater part is modern, having been rebuilt in 1890,1 after lying for many years in ruin, a henhouse having long made use of the massive walls.
Instead of being surrounded by the yard in the usual way the church has its east end flush with a farm road. This is certainly owing to the fact that encroachments have been made since the church was ruined. It is extremely unusual in Sussex (or elsewhere) for the church to be on the edge of its yard; at Preston, however, it is at the west end so that the tower stands in the manor house grounds.
The Norman work has every appearance of being early; the walling is entirely of flint with ashlar quoins; in the west wall are two very narrow little windows, their round heads each formed of a single stone, originally, it appears, closed only by shutters on the outside, for which the rabbeting remains. They are widely splayed, but unfortunately the whole. building at the time of restoration was coated within by white plaster concealing all original features.
Another Norman window in the south wall was destroyed in 1890, being too much decayed for preservation.
The Norman church had a rather elaborately moulded chancel arch of which some stones were found in a grave at the east end of the nave, and are now built into the west end of the north wall. Most display the roll mould with billeting; one had triangular members instead of the square billet. There is not enough to restore the arch with any confidence. Other later carved stones built in are not of much interest, but include a feature shaped like a bird.
The arch was apparently destroyed during the fourteenth century when a new chancel with internal length of about nineteen feet was provided. The walls are thinner than those of the nave, but inside they are continuous, the building merely becoming narrower on the exterior. A new east window of three lights was erected; this was restored with net tracery in 1890, using two original sill stones at the northern end. It is probable the Norman church had an apse- though it may, like Stopham, Shipley and Pyecombe, in the same county, have been square ended. When in 1890 the whole interior was dug out no foundations appeared, but they would certainly have afforded to the fourteenth century builders a more convenient supply of flint than could be secured elsewhere. No new chancel arch was erected.
At some time in the middle ages there are really no indications of date foundations were laid for what may have been intended as a western tower. These are about four inches narrower both north and south than the nave, but the tower would have been very disproportionately large for the church as well as being awkwardly oblong in plan. In the middle of the west wall is an opening three feet wide which it was not apparently intended to close by a door as a very low mural plinth is carried round the jambs. At Bexhill there is another Sussex example of a tower, with archway originally open to the elements. There is a much larger instance at Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.
The tower at Blatchington can hardly have been carried far, as there are no marks of its walling against the west wall of the nave, nor is any provision made for a doorway into the church. It appears to have been merely begun, and it may have been intended for almost any kind of extension to the church. Just within the opening on the grass is a perfectly plain mediaeval coffin slab, broken across.
Close to the west end of the south nave wall is inserted a late fifteenth century doorway, very plainly bevelled all round, the flat four-centered arch composed of two stones. At the east end of the nave are foundations of a wall running south for about 62 ft.; the west wall of the vestry is partly built upon it. Just east of the doorway were slight remains of another wall on which a new buttress is built. At intervals on the south of the nave are rough projections in the flint walling of slight character; their purpose is by no means clear. It seems certain that some extension on the south as on the west was actually begun.
The south wall of the nave is practically all original; the west wall is old to about half the height of the gable. Some three to five feet of the north and east walls is mediaeval; as there were no remains of any south wall to the chancel, the vestry and organ chamber was built against it. The new walling differs from the old in having small pieces of freestone built in at random. Strengthening buttresses have been erected both north and south. The new windows are of late Gothic form; Somers Clarke considered that mediaeval architecture went on improving to the end, and his own principal work, the chancel of Brighton parish church, is in the style of the early Tudors.
Horsfield (History of Sussex, I., 158) speaks of the church as consisting of north and south chancels with steeple containing five bells. In all probability there was a south chapel, the foundations of whose west wall remains, on whose site in part the vestry stands.
In the interior was discovered a flint-built grave just within the limits of the chancel, before the altar step, but it is not in any way marked on the present pavement.
In it were found the stones of the chancel arch, and when these were removed there was disclosed the remains of a wooden coffin, with iron rings, which had been wrapped in canvas, then filled in all round with clay.2 The skeleton was nearly complete, but no epitaph appeared.
Horsfield (op. cit.) says the church existed (intact) in 1724, but gives no reference. Miss Harriet Hodson, whose family occupied the manor house for some two hundred years, and who left money to rebuild the church, in a short paper reprinted in the Sussex Daily News for June 30, 1891, suggests that more likely the fabric went to ruin about the time of the reformation (which the Scrase family, who then lived in the manor house, refused to accept for several generations), and the rectory was consequently attached to the vicarage of Brighton, an arrangement which still persists. The yard contains not a single grave stone that was set up before the rebuilding of the church.
The manor (or farm) house is modern and uninteresting, but at its north-west corner still remains a very massive, broad, diagonal buttress of flint and stone, dating from the fourteenth century. Close by it was formerly a trefoil-headed window (seen by the present writer, referred to by M. A. Lower, S.A.C., VIII., 5), but this has lately disappeared.
The garden wall on the west with sloping buttresses and probably some of the small cottages of the village are built of mediaeval materials, including a small amount of ashlar. The farm buildings include a windmill, erected about a century ago, but now no longer in use. It rises above barns, its battering timber tower (of "smock" form) surmounting a flintbuilt base, both octagonal. Only the hood revolved, provided with a tail-wheel. Its form is unusual, but the ordinary detached windmills are decidedly more picturesque.3
Interior and exterior views of the church are given (M. A. Lower on the family of Scrase), S.A.C., VIII.,. 4, 13. These show the walls virtually intact, including the south side of the chancel. Two pointed windows shown on the south side of the nave, and chancel, have entirely disappeared, but the woodcuts are rather vague, and not very accurate (one window was certainly Norman); neither they nor the letterpress throw any further light on the history of the fabric.
A brief and colourless reference to the ruins at. Blatchington occurs in S.A.C., XII., 119 (Rev. E. Turner on Domus Anachoritoe, Aldrington).
1It is very unfortunate that nothing was written for these collections at that time, for the architect, Somers Clarke, and others who were responsible for the restoration have
passed away, and much is now obscure that was, perhaps, in 1890 evident enough. This account is based on notes taken at the time by the present writer (then a child), a long article that appeared in the Sussex Daily News of June 30, 1891, the day after the church was reopened by Bishop Durnford-and, of course, an inspection of the actual fabric.
2 The Sussex Daily News (June 30, 1891) says that the iron rings and some pieces of clay with the impress of the cloth were to be placed in the Brighton Museum, but Mr. Toms, the curator, assures me this was not done. Among other relics found I remember an old key, but there was nothing of great importance.
3 It is illustrated in Sussex County Magazine, October, 1929, p. 711.
From Sussex Archaeological Collections LXXI,
The inquisitio nonarum shows that in 1339-40 there was in
Blatchington juxta Shoreham, or West Blatchington, a church endowed with a messuage and demesne lands. The Valor Ecclesiasticus only tells us that there was an Ecclesia
ibidem.1 Horsfield2 states, without giving any authority, that in 1724 the church, which was dedicated to St. Peter, was in existence and consisted of a north and south chancel (sic) with a steeple containing five bells. Mr. Lower commented on this passage, and gave two illustrations of the ruins of the church in his " Memoir of the Scrase family,"
3 and added that he had been unable to discover the period at which divine service ceased to be celebrated there. It is proposed in this article to throw into a connected form such materials as exist for shedding light on the later history of this church, which, as will appear, is closely intermixed with that of the Scrase family.
In the Act Books ex offi cio-mero of the Arcbdeaconry Court of Lewes is an entry showing that at the Court holden 13th September, 1592, Mr. Richard Scrase, as churchwarden of West Blatchington, was to bring in his bill of presentments. This is followed by minutes under the dates 5th November, 1593, and 15th July, 1595, and other days, indicating that in both those years " Magister Richard Scrase" was resisting being appointed churchwarden of the parish. The same thing happened in 1596, when a cause, in which the office of the judge was promoted against him for not accepting and taking the oath to duly perform the duty of churchwarden, arrived on 23rd October, 1596, at the stage of hearing evidence. On that day three witnesses were examined on his behalf. The first of these was John Ampleford, of Portslade, yeoman, resident there and at Hangleton over 50 years, born in Old Shoreham, and aged 60, who deposed " That for these 48 years and upwards he hath knowne well that Chappell of Blachington duryng which tyme he hath not knowne nor hard of any churchwarden to serve or execute the office of churchwardenshippe there, neyther of any parish church there otherwise than the said Chappell in question, nor Bells, Belfry, ffonte, pulpitte, christeninge nor burying, nor any dwelling nor mansion house besides that Mr. Richard Scrase partye articulate and his predecessors have dwelled and inhabited in, and those departynge and coming into the worlde and borne there were always christened and buried in parishes neare adjoyming and specially in the parishes of Preston and Hangleton, but for christening hee ys not altogether sure whether sometymes any have been christened out of [i.e., outside] the parish of Blachington. It is now 48 yeares since he went to schoole in Blachington with Magister Sir Henry Hornely cler then Vicar of Portslade and parson of Blachington since which he hath dwelled all his tyme neere the same within a mile and a half, and at that tyme his said maister used to sound a little bell he carried in his hande when he was to call the householder or others to come to churche." Another witness was John Woolger, aged 50, of " Hoove," where he had resided 30 years, who confirmed the above, and added that he hathe hearde the saide Chappell was built by the ancestors of Mr. Scrase." The third witness was John Jackson, of Blatchington, husbandman, servant of Mr. Scrase, resident there 30 years, born at Petworth and aged 56, who deposed that "there is no dwellinghouse in Blachington but Mr. Scrase's with whom and with his father he hath dwelled these 30 yeares."5
Before this date the Scraes had certainly been buried, as a rule, either at Preston or, at a later period, at Hove. The practice, however, of burial at Preston had commenced before they settled at Blatchington. Richard Scrase, senior, of Hangleton, by his will dated 21st February, 1480., and proved at Lambeth 27th November, 1487 (P.C.C., 5, Milles), directed that he should be buried °' in ecclesia parochiae sancti Petri de Preston juxta Aliciam et Malmam uxores meas defunctas." He left to the fabric of the church of Preston 20s., to the cathedral church of Chichester 3s. 4d., to the altar of the church of St. Helen of Hangleton 3s. 4d., and to the fabric of that church 5s., and numerous legacies to monasteries and friaries and also to each parish church from the bridge of Bramber, " ° usque ad pontem levvie (Lewes) in longitudine et a limite maris usque ad sagittatum sub collibus in latitudine," 3s. 4d., but does not specifically mention the church of Blatchington. It is not improb-able that he had resided at Preston before he went to Hangleton. His son and executor, Richard Scrase, also of Hangleton, by his will, already particularised, directed that he should be buried in the church of St. Peter at Preston beside his father and mother. He bequeathed to the reparation of the church of Preston 13s. 4d., to the church of Hangleton 6s. 8d., to the high altar of that church for tithes forgotten 5s., to the church of Aldrington 10s., to the church of Hove 10s., to the church of Aldrington a cope, price 16s., and to the church of Henfield 3s. 4d., but does not mention the church of Blatchington. His son, Richard Scrase, the lessee of 1529, in his will dated 15th March, 1549, and proved 4th July, 1549 (P.C.C., 34, Populwell), is described as of Blatchington, but gave no directions as to his burial and no legacies to churches. He was buried at Preston 5th April, 1549, and his widow, Mary (de la Chambre) was buried there 15th September, 1552. His son, Edward Scrase, also of Blatchington, by his will dated 25th April, 1576, and proved 5th June, 1576 (P.C.C., 11, Carew), directed that his body should be buried in the church of Preston, and he was buried there 10th May, 1576. He made no bequests to churches, but gave 40s. to the poor men's boxes at each of Preston, Hove and Portslade, and 20s. to the poor men's box at Aldrington. He was the father of Richard Scrase, the party to the cause of 1596. The earliest recorded burial of a Scrase at Hove is that of Alice Scrase on 21st February, 1577/8.
On 26th June, 1609, Richard Scrase, the party to the above cause, was ordered presumably as churchwarden to bring in " the register of baptisms &c.," for West
Blatchington.'6 He was buried at Preston 21st June, 1625, and his eldest son, Tuppen
Scrase, was buried there 9th December, 1633, after which apparently the latter's younger brother, Henry
Scrase, was in possession of the manor or farm of Blatchington. The Act Books ex-officio 'hew that at the Court holden 31st July, 1635, when the pressure under Archishop Laud's proceedings was sharp, this Henry Scrase was ordered to take the oath as church-warden. In the same Books, under the date 5th April, 1636, and under the name of Henry
Scrase, described as churchwarden, of Blatchington, is the entry of a presentment that " our churchyard is not well fenced nor hath bin Tyme out of minde because it hath not been used for a buryall place." At the Court holden 14th June, 1636, Henry
Scrase, gent., as churchwarden, was admonished as to the churchyard fence and his
"billa." On 28th March, 1637, Henry Scrase was only in default "pro
billa," which rather suggests that the churchyard fence had in the meantime been amended.
The earliest of these is headed "A register of the names of all such as were baptized," &c., and the latest is headed "A register bill for ye yeare 1640," headings which rather suggest that the documents were not copies of a register. Each of these " transcripts " is signed by George Butler as rector, and by Henry Scrase, presumably as church warden. Henry Scrase, the father of the above three infants, was a son of Richard Scrase, the party to the cause of 1596, and married in 1627 with Joan, daughter of Robert Androwes, of Hove, the license at Lewes for the marriage dated 24th November, 1627, providing for its solemnisation at West Blatchington. Their first. child Susan was baptised at Hove 28th September, 1628, and buried there 2nd February, 1629. The place of baptism of his second child Henry is unknown. The marriage of John Roberts, who was of Cuckfield, with Elizabeth Scrase, who was of Portslade, was pursuant to a license dated 5th May, 1638, defining Blatchington as the place of marriage. It is noteworthy that in addition to this there were at least six and probably seven other licenses for marriage at West Blatchington granted at Lewes ranging in date from 26th March, 1608, to 17th October, 1628. The earliest, however, of these, which was between Richard Ockenden, of Rottingdean, gent., and Barbara Scrase, is entered in the Rottingdean registers as having been solemnised there 28th March, 1608.
cler., B.A., of Trinity College, Oxford, was ordained priest 5th June, 1626, instituted to West Blatchington 10th August, 1628, on the presentation of his father, Christopher Butler,
cler., vicar of Wisborough Green, and Thomas Care, of Oving, cler., inducted 15th August, 1628, in the presence of Edward
Blaker, Richard Scrase and others, and was 4th July, 1635, licensed to preach by Archbishop
Laud.8 On 6th November, 1628, George Butler had a son, John, baptised at Brighton, where he probably then resided, and he signed episcopal transcripts for New Shoreham, presumably as curate there, for each of the three years between 25th March, 1629, and 24th March, 1632 1-. On 22nd March, 1637, he was examined as a witness in a cause of defamation between Thomas Hunter, coachman at Hangleton to the Earl of
Thanet, and Mary, wife of Henry Joyne, of Southwick, and he stated that he was and had for three years been resident in
Portslade, and for three years previously at New Shoreham. Mathew, son of George Butler and Joan, his wife, was baptised at Portslade 25th July, 1635. It may therefore be safely assumed that
during the rectorship of George Butler there was no habitable parson-age at West
Blatchington. But from 1568 to 1593 the successive Rectors of West Blatchington, Edward
Crakenell, Henry Shales and Thomas Wilshaw, were also rectors of and probably dwelt at
Hangleton, where there was a parsonage house until its destruction by fire 31st May, 1666. On 9th June, 1585, the benefices of West Blatchington and Hangleton were united, but apparently this union only subsisted till
1590.9 John Sisson was instituted to West Blatchington 13th December, 1593, on the presentation of Mary Bellingham, widow, and inducted 2nd January, 1594, in the presence of Richard Scrase and
others.10 He appears to have resided at New Shoreham, where his children were
baptised. His successor, Thomas Heyney, was also Vicar of Arundel, and Alan Carr, who followed him as Rector of West
Blatchington, and who was a brother of the above-named Thomas Carr, appears to have been incumbent or curate of
Lingfield, co. Surrey, 1624-1628, and thenceforward Rector of West Chiltington, when he died 1668. He married Mary Butler at
Lingfield, 22nd September, 1624, and his eldest child, Robert, was baptised there 27th June, 1626, and his second child, Alan, was baptised there 6th February, 1627/8.
Henry Holcroft, son of Sir Henry Holcroft, Kut., by Lettice, daughter of Frances Lord Aungier, was a brother of Douglas, the wife of Anthony Stapley, of Patcham, a son of the regicide. He was rector of Cliff at Hoo, co. Kent, 1652,15 and was ordained priest by Thomas Bishop, of Candida Casa (Whithern, co. Wigton), 17th January, 166°/1, instituted to the Vicarage of Patcham, on the presentation of the Crown, 2nd July and inducted 12th July, 1662. He was instituted to the rectory of West Blatchington, on the presentation of Sir John Stapley, Bart., 7th May, and inducted 8th September, 1664.16 He died 3rd December, 1712, aged 92, and was buried at Patcham, where he evidently resided. On 5th October, 1686, the Episcopal Commissioners, as to repairs to churches, parsonage houses, &c., reported that the church and chancel of Blatchington were " utterly ruinate." In 1694 John Dunstall, described as patron of the rectory of West Blatchington, took proceedings against Henry Holcroft for not repairing the buildings belonging to the rectory. On 12th February, 1694/5, Holcroft appeared and being sworn said, that until about the tyme of the commencement of this suit he did not know that there was a parsonage barne standing or belonging to the rectory or parsonage.17 On 15th October, 1700, John Dunstall, cler., promoted the office of the judge against the parishioners of Blatchington, complaining that "there is no churchwarden duly sworne from year to year to repaire the churche as need requires; that there is no churchyards fence, no doors nor windows to the church nor chancell, no pulpit, reading deske, books, bell, communion table, cloathes, nor ornaments," and prayed a monition to Henry Holcroft. On 12th November, 1700, Holcroft appeared by his proctor Asty, and the Judge decreed, apparently in the absence of John Scrase, that John Scrase should take the office of Churchwarden for the year 1700.18 Now John Scrase was and had on 10th February, 167/89/00, been presented at the Court for being a Quaker.19 On 26th November, 1700, John Scrase, gent., of Blatchington, not having appeared to take the office of churchwarden, was pronounced contumacious, and on 10th December, 1700, was excommunicated therefor. On 4th February, 1700/1, however, he appeared and sought to be absolved from the sentence of excommunication, and he, promising obedience to the mandates of the Church, was absolved, and being admonished to find a sufficient deputy,20 he nominated Thomas Cooke, of Patcham, who was admitted, and admonished in detail to do the repairs, and to certify what had been done before next Pentecost. Cooke did not certify, and on 5th July, 1701, the matter was ordered to stand over, Dunstall in the meantime to certify the bounds of the churchyard, Asty, then his proctor, " alledging that they doe plainly appeare." The case seems after this to have dropped.
The inferences to be drawn from the foregoing materials seem to be:-That there was no resident rector of West Blatchington after the middle of the sixteenth century; that the parsonage house had before that time ceased to exist or to be habitable, the rectors not keeping either it or the chancel in repair; that the members of the Scrase family who inhabited the only place of residence in the parish were careful not to levy any tax for the reparation of the body of the church, or of its appurtenances, because such tax would exclusively fall upon them personally; that though in the time of Archbishop Laud, whilst George Butler was rector, some form was gone through of appointing a churchwarden, and transmitting transcripts to the Bishop's Registry, there was really nothing done to make the building fitting for the services of the church; which it certainly was not in 1596, if the witnesses of that date are credible. and that by 1686 it had become utterly ruinate, although there is no suggestion even as late as 1700 that the structure was roofless. Between the bare walls and under the roof of this church were solemnized such few baptisms and marriages as took place there in the seventeenth century, and it is observable that no charge in the Archdeaconry Court was ever made against the rector for the time being that he did not perform Divine service.
The present Dean of Chichester, who was vicar of Brighton (to which West Blatchington was annexed in 1789), when the reconstruction of the church of West Blatchington was effected, has kindly informed the writer that to the best of his knowledge no human remains were found in the course of the work.
1 Vol. I., pp. 327 and 332. From Sussex Archaeological Collections
From Sussex Archaeological Collections
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