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13 February 2018

St Peter's Church, West Blatchington.

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2018)

copyright © D. Sharp
St Peter's Church, West Blatchington in February 2018.

An Ancient Edifice

In the 1980s John Holmes carried out some archaeological investigations and the results were published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections Volume 126; this established that the church was in fact older then was thought previously. For example, the Victoria County History stated the church was of 12th century construction and thus was a Norman building. Whereas Mr Holmes asserts it was built in the 11th century during Saxon times. Evidence for this deduction lies in the rubble of the flint walls. The rubble contains fragments of Roman tiles and other objects associated with the Romano-British villa sited around 500 yards from the church. There were also stones from the furnace flues of corn-drying kilns. Apparently, it was common practice for builders of early Saxon churches to use re-cycled material in this way.

copyright © D. Sharp
One of the two slit windows on the west wall
 that have been identified as Norman work.
Further evidence rests in the two blocked-up windows still visible in the south wall, one being above the porch, and there was probably a third window to the west. These windows display Saxon characteristics because they are round-headed and double-splayed. The latter phrase meaning the windows widened outwards to both the interior and the exterior. The windows were placed high in the walls and did not have a facing of dressed stone.

The two jamb stones in the doorway deserve special attention because they were not quarried stones but sarsens worked to fit their designated place. The wall was only two feet and six inches thick. The Normans would have thought such a meagre thickness to be far too thin but it was quite normal in a Saxon church.

The church was rectangular in shape, around 35 feet in length and 16 feet wide. There was no chancel because before 1000 A.D. it was common practice to have the altar in the middle of the church. The ideas of incorporating a chancel into a church did not arrive until later on. In the wheel of fashion it is interesting to note that today the distant altar is now considered out-of-date while the old Saxon norm of having the altar nearer the congregation is considered desirable.

By the end of the 11th century, the church had been re-modelled into a Norman edifice complete with chancel. Two slit windows have been identified as Norman work and are single-splayed.

The Priory of St Pancras, Lewes

The church at West Blatchington was one of many churches that came under the shadow of the great Clunaic Priory of St Pancras, Lewes. Within 55 years of the Norman Invasion of 1066, Ralph, Bishop of Chichester, had assigned several churches to pay dues to the Priory for the support and maintenance of the monks. Besides West Blatchington, other local churches in the same boat were Brighton, Patcham, Falmer, Rottingdean, Clayton, Keymer, Pyecombe and Poynings. The tithes of Portslade and Hangleton had already been assigned to the Prior in 1077.

In 1218 it was recorded that West Blatchington provided thirty shillings pension for Mary, widow of Lewes. When she died or re-married the money would revert to the Priory.

In 1257 there was a dispute between the ‘men of religion’ at the Priory and Hamo, rector of West Blatchington. It seemed West Blatchington had fallen behind in paying a yearly pension of thirty shillings to the Priory. The Bishop of Chichester had to intervene to settle the dispute but the unfortunate Hamo was made to stump up the pension debt by paying ten shillings a time at Whitsun, Michaelmas and Candlemas ‘so long as he shall hold the said church’. As for the arrears, Hamo agreed to pay twenty shillings at Easter 1258 and the same amount at the same time for the following two years. The Prior of St Pancras graciously permitted Hamo to forget about the rest of the arrears amounting to fifty shillings. But this was only because the Countess of Arundel had made a special plea on Hamo’s behalf. The Countess of Arundel no doubt owned land in the area and considered the Priory’s action too harsh. A later Countess of Arundel owned land in Portslade and when she died in 1439 her coat-of-arms was mounted on the north wall of the nave at St Nicolas, Portslade, and the indentation of its position can still be seen today.

In 1535 it was recorded that the Priory of St Pancras, Lewes, was the richest Clunaic House in England and the wealthiest monastery out of the seventeen situated in Sussex. In 1537 the Priory was formally surrendered to Henry VIII and was destroyed the following year.

  copyright © Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
Clem Lambert (1855-1925) painted this charming watercolour. Brighton-born Lambert was a prolific and popular artist and in this scene the mill is depicted with other farm buildings while St Peter’s Church is in the foreground and the sea is in the distance.

United Parishes

On 9 June 1585 Archbishop Whitgift united the parishes of West Blatchington and Hangleton. It was a formalisation of what had already taken place because the population was far to small to merit a priest in each parish. In fact, one clergyman had been looking after both churches since 1556 and Revd Edward Crakell (rector 1556-1585) was the last rector to actually live in the parish.

Defence of the Realm

In 1612 Revd John Sysson was obliged by Parliament to contribute towards the defence of the realm. He shared this duty with the Rector of St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington, and they provided a ‘musquet furnished’.

Patronage

copyright © D.Sharp
Richard Bellington, the Patron of St Peter's, family memorial in St Helen's Church Hangleton.
The monument depicts Richard Bellington and his wife Mary at their devotions, kneeling at a prie-dieu with a book open on either side. A line of small sons stretches behind Richard; they are Edward, Richard, Henry and John. Five daughters knelt behind Mary; they are Mary, Jane, Dorothy, Margaret and ?.  five more children who died in infancy are shown in their shrouds,  The family's speech ribbons read ‘Jesu Mercy’,

Richard Bellingham died on 20 December 1593. He owned the advowson (patronage) of both St Helen’s, Hangleton, and St Peter’s, West Blatchington. He lived at Hangleton Manor and owned land there as well as in Hove, Pevensey, Warminglid and Slaugham.

In March 1707 a subscription of £300 was raised in order to purchase the advowson of West Blatchington. It might seem strange that the patronage of a ruined church would be worth anything at all. However, there was still money to be earned in association with it. For instance, in 1650 the value of the living was given as £40 a year, quite a respectable sum in those days.

The idea behind the subscription was that the benefice would be added to Brighton. The vicar of Brighton would gain financially, his income being rather low at that time. Henry Pelham of Lewes, John Morley Trevor of Glynde, Peter Courthope of Danny, and Peter Goff, the elder, of Stanmer, signed the deed of trust. The two benefices of Brighton and West Blatchington were then held in plurality.

In 1712 Revd William Colbron was instituted as rector of West Blatchington, having been already become vicar of Brighton in 1705. When Revd Colbron resigned in 1744 it was decided that the two benefices should be united and the deed was dated 1 August 1744. The deed received the seals of Matthias (Bishop of Chichester), Henry Campion and his wife (patrons of the rectory), William Campion (heir), Revd William Colbron (rector), and Revd Henry Michell (vicar of Brighton). The patronage of the united benefice was to be exercised alternately between the Bishop of Chichester and the Campion family.

This arrangement only lasted until 1804 when Revd Robert James Carr was the last priest presented by the Campions. It is some indication that the twelve priests appointed to the united benefice were hardly of inferior calibre because subsequently five became bishops, two became archdeacons and one was Dean of Chichester.

Decay

  copyright © D.Sharp
The above plaque is set into the east wall of St Nicolas Church Portslade was taken from the ruins 
St Peter's Church in the 1600s reads:- 
Here lyeth buried Rychard Scrasce late of hangleton, gentlema whiche died in ye yeare of our lord god one 1499.
Here lyeth buried Rychard Scrasce of Blechington gentlema which died in ye yeare of our lord one 1519. 
Here lieth buried Edward Scrasce of blechington gentlema who died in ye yeare of our lord 1579. 

St Peter’s Church, West Blatchington, began to fall into a state of decay from the fifteenth century onwards. In 1596 it was recorded that the church was disused and there was only a single dwelling in the parish.

On 5 April 1636 Henry Scrase, churchwarden stated ‘our churchyard is not well fenced, nor hath bin Tyme out of mynde, because it hath not been used for a buryall place.’ (sic)

By 1686 the Episcopal Commissioners reported that the church was ‘utterly ruinate’.

By 1782 the nave roof had long gone although the chancel roof was still in place. But by 1802 the chancel roof had also gone.

A report in the local Press for January 1840 stated that it was ‘in contemplation to apply to the Church Building Society for a grant in aid of the church at West Blatchington, near this town (Brighton) which has been too dilapidated for Divine Service to be performed in it during the last century.’ But it seemed nothing came of this.

A photograph taken in 1880 reveals the sorry sight of blocked-up windows and doors and crumbling walls. It fulfilled a prosaic use, being utilised as a hen-house.

copyright © D. Sharp
St Peter's Church, West Blatchington viewed from the south in February 2018

Restoration

The decay of St Peter’s has been unfairly placed at the door of the Scrase family because they were Quakers and therefore not interested in the fate of the local church. But the cause was really the de-population of the parish over a long period of time. Also, there is the record of Henry Scrase being a churchwarden in 1636 and presumably he was interested in what happened to church and churchyard because his office meant he was responsible.
copyright © Parish of St Peter's West Blatchington
A view from St Peter's ancient south doorway
towards West Blatchington Windmill

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a fact that it was a descendant of the Scrase family that came to the rescue of St Peter’s. Miss Harriot Hodson must have been acutely aware of her family history and of its association with the area over the centuries. She died on 21 June 1880 leaving a legacy large enough to enable the church to be restored in 1890.

Before this could happen of course, an architect had to be chosen, the building properly surveyed and plans drawn up. Somers Clarke, junior, was the architect chosen for the undertaking. Perhaps he was in the public eye because in 1886 he had designed the beautiful sandstone reredos in St Patrick’s Church, Cambridge Road, Hove.

Clarke carried out a careful survey of St Peter’s to ascertain which features could be preserved for future generations.

During restoration work, a coffin was uncovered from inside the church that had once rested in an important site beneath the chancel arch. The skeleton was nearly complete but there was no indication as to the occupant. The wooden coffin had iron rings that ‘had been wrapped in canvas, then filled in all round with clay.’ The iron rings and the pieces of clay bearing the imprint of cloth were supposed to have been placed in Brighton Museum but apparently this was not done.

It was thought possible that the coffin might have belonged to one of the Wavill family who held the manor in the 13th century. Perhaps it was the Wavill family who were responsible for building a new chancel because some of the old chancel arch stones were discovered under the remains of the coffin and built into the west end of the north wall. Most of them had a ‘roll mould with billeting’. It is interesting to note that in 1324 Revd Henry de Wayvill was rector of Aldrington. It is claimed that Field Marshal Earl Wavell (1883-1930) was one of his descendants.

 copyright © D. Sharp
The 1890 three-light chancel window in the west wall

Some later carved stones were preserved for the restoration and one of them had bird-like feature. The three-light chancel window was restored in 1890 with net tracery using two of the original sill stones.

On the west wall there is a tablet inscribed This church, dedicated to St Peter, was re-opened for Divine Service by Richard, Lord Bishop of Chichester on St Peter’s Day June 29 MDCCCXCI (1891) John Julius Hannah MA.

There is also a tablet to Revd J.J. Hannah who was rector of the parish for seventeen years and became Archdeacon of Lewes. He was born in 1818 and died in 1888.

Churchyard 

copyright © D. Sharp
The south-west corner of St Peter's churchyard.

In 1934 part of the churchyard was surrendered for road improvements. It was a triangular piece of ground measuring 140 square yards. A tablet recording this information was let into the adjacent wall.

In September 1934 a wedding was to be held at St Peter’s but the path leading to it was so muddy that a kind-hearted farm-worker laid down some sackcloth.

Extension

copyright © D. Sharp
St Peter's Church from the south-west showing north extension.

West Blatchington did not regain its status as a single parish until the Second World War. The Order
in Council dis-uniting the benefice was dated 1 January 1940. A new rector was instituted 15 May 1940.

copyright © D. Sharp
The 1960 foundation stone

West Blatchington was no longer an isolated village in the Downs with few inhabitants, whereas in 1931 there had been precisely 91 people living in the parish, by the 1950s there had been such an increase that the church was bursting at the seams. Another indication of population growth is the war memorial inside the church. In the Great War four parishioners were killed while the Second World War claimed the lives of sixteen servicemen. In most war memorials the losses in 1914-1918 far outnumber those killed in 1939-1945.

On 8 May 1960 the Bishop of Chichester laid the foundation stone of a new extension to be built on the north side of the church. Care was taken that the new part should not be a ‘carbuncle’ stuck onto a venerable building and flints were used in the exterior to match the old fabric.

copyright © Parish of St Peter's West Blatchington.
The nave and sanctuary in St Peter's north extension

Church Bells

In 1556 it was stated that for the past 48 years there had been no church bell. When Horsfield wrote his History of Sussex in 1830 he mentioned a steeple being in place at St Peter’s containing no less than five bells. This seems highly unlikely, given the small size of the church and the de-population of the parish. Even the larger and richer parish of Portslade only mustered three bells. A single, small bell seems more probable. When restoration work was being carried out in 1890 and a bell turret constructed, a small sacring bell was discovered inside the church; it only measured 2 ¼ inches. Today the church has one bell inscribed C. & G. Mears London 1844.

Notes on Some Rectors

Butler – Revd George Butler was born in Wisborough Green and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1626 Lewis, Bishop of Bangor, ordained him deacon and priest. On 10 August 1628 Revd G. Butler was instituted as rector of West Blatchington on the presentation of Revd Christopher Butler of Wisborough Green, and Revd Thomas Carr of Oving, and inducted on 15 August 1628.

Carr - Robert James Carr D.D. later Bishop. of Chichester and subsequently Bishop. of Worcester.

Chisholm – Revd C.F.G. Chisholm who was rector for seven years in the 1940s became rector of Ardingly.

copyright © Parish of St Peter's West Blatchington.
The iconic West Blatchington Windmill as viewed from
the east wall of St Peter's Church.
Colbron – Peter, Bishop of Winchester ordained Revd William Colbron on 21 December 1690. He became vicar of Brighton in 1705. He was instituted as rector of West Blatchington on 16 March 1712 on the presentation of Henry Morley, John Morley Trevor and Peter Courthope, and inducted on 27 March 1713. His wife Jane was buried at Brighton on 14 October 1746 and Revd Colbron was buried at Brighton on 22 July 1750.

Crackell – In 1558 Revd Roland Harryman, vicar of West Hoathly, bequeathed to Revd Edward Crackell, parson of Blatchington, some personal effects including a horse, saddle and bridle plus a feather bed, bolster and covering. Revd Crackell was executor of the will. From 1569 Revd Crackell was also vicar of Hangleton.

Farrow – Revd Robin Farrow was inducted ro St Peter’s on 29 June 2000, having formerly served as curate in the parish of Lancing with Coombes.

Friess – Revd Herbert Frederick Friess was rector of St Peter’s from 1959 to 1963. He later became rector of Crossmolina, County Mayo.

Hamilton – Revd Spencer Hugh Hamilton was only at West Blatchington for a year before departing in 1941 to become vicar of St Elizabeth’s, Eastbourne.

Hannah – Revd John Julius Hannah was rector from 1888 to 1902. He later held the posts of Dean of Chichester and Archdeacon of Chichester.

Hicks - Fredrick Cyril Nugent Hicks D.D. later Bishop. of Gibraltar and subsequently Bishop. of Lincoln.

Holcroft – Revd Henry Holcroft was rector from 1664 to 1713 and thus fell just short of celebrating 50 years in the same parish. He was also vicar of Patcham.

Hoskyns – Revd George Benedict Hoskyns was rector from 1902 to 1917. He later became Archdeacon of Chichester.

How – Revd John Howard Halland How was rector from 1935 to 1938. He later became Bishop of Glasgow,

Ingolf – Revd Simon Ingolf became rector in 1405, having previously been the priest at Hangleton.

Michell – Revd Henry Michell was rector from 1744 to 1789. The Gentleman’s Magazine commented thus about him. ‘From the uncommon strength of his understanding, the excellence of his social qualities and his unrivalled superiority in literary attainments, he seemed to be formed for a higher sphere than the parochial duties of a country town.’ On 27 May 1784 Revd Michell’s daughter Anne Elizabeth married Henry Melchior Wagner at St Nicolas Church, Brighton. She became the mother and grandmother of the famous Brighton Wagner church-building family

Pyers – The reason why Revd William Pyers stayed at West Blatchington for only part of the year 1484 was because he swapped parishes with another priest.

Robinson – Revd James Robinson was rector from 1948 to 1959 and then became vicar of Findon.

Rose – Revd Alfred Carey Wollaston Rose was rector from 1927 to 1935. He later became Bishop of Dover.

Scott – Revd William Scott, rector from 1541 to 1556, was mentioned in a will. In 1554/1555 Revd John Thomson, rector of New Shoreham, bequeathed ‘my best cappe’ to the parson of Blatchington.

Wagner – Revd Henry Michell Wagner was rector for a very long period, from 1824 to 1870. He was the grandson of Revd Henry Michell.

Warde – Revd Geoffrey Hodgson Warde was only rector for two years leaving to become Bishop of Lewes.

Young – Revd John Young was only rector for a short time in 1397. He became vicar of Patcham.

Wilshaw – Revd Thomas Wilshaw was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. John, Bishop of London confirmed him as deacon 16 April 1585, and Richard, Bishop of Peterborough, ordained him priest on 20 November 1585. He was instituted as rector of West Blatchington on 8 June 1585 and inducted on 26 June 1585. On 12 February 1589/1590 he was licensed at Chichester to marry Bridget Gretton of Greatham. He ceased to be the priest at Hangleton as well in 1590.

Rectors of St Peter’s Church

1257 – Hamo
1307 – John Sickelfot de Lewis
1325 – Hamo de Cessay
1397 – John Young
1397 – William Gamyn
1405 – Simon Ingolf
1412 – William Hokle
1439 – John Rogers
1439 – John Profit
1440 – William Mylle
1484 - William Syers
1484 – John Hardyng
1486 – William Thetcher
1524 – John Segar
1534 – Andrew Coby
1541 – William Scott
1556 – Edward Crackell
1582 – Henry Shales
1585 – Thomas Wilsher B.D.
1593 – John Sysson
1619 – Thomas Heyney B.A.
1625 – Adam Carr
1628 – George Butler B.A.
1664 – Henry Holcroft M.A.
1713 – William Colbron B.A.

From 1744, the Parish was in the care of the following Vicars of St. Nicholas Church which was the Parish Church of Brighton:

1744 – Henry Michell M.A.
1789 – Thomas Hudson
1804 – Robert James Carr D.D.
1824 – Henry Michell Wagner M.A.
1870 - John Hannah D.C.L.
1888 – John Julius Hannah M.A.
1902 – Benedict George Hoskyns M.A.
1917 – Francis Dormer Pierce B.A.
1924 – Fredrick Cyril Nugent Hicks D.D.
1927 – Alfred Carey Wollaston Rose M.A.
1935 – John Charles Halland How M.A.
1938 – Geoffrey Hodgson Warde M.A.

West Blatchington became a separate Benefice in 1940

1940 – Spencer Hugh Hamilton M.A.
1941 – Cecil; Francis George Chisholm
1948 – James Robinson
1959 – Herbert Frederick Friess
1963 – Paul David Way
1976 – Trevor Wilson Thomas
1983 – Keith Wood
1988 – Michael Stanley Porteous (retired 1999)
2000 – Robin Thomas Adrian Farrow M.A. A.K.C.
2011 – Daniel Bradley Smith BTh (Oxon), Dip Min

Sources

Middleton J. Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Sussex Archaeological Collections 
The Parish of St Peter's West Blatchington


Copyright © J.Middleton 2018
page layout by D.Sharp