10 March 2021

Benfield, Hangleton

Judy Middleton 2001 (revised 2021)

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
This Edwardian view of Hangleton shows Benfield Cottages on the far left, built on the original site of the Benfield Hunting Lodge. At the end of the road is the Hangleton Manor and its farm buildings.
In the foreground are the Vallensdean Cottages (built 1825) which are within the Portslade side of the Hangleton boundary


The name of Benfield has been around for a long time because it was mentioned in the Domesday Book (compiled in 1096) when it was stated that Nigel holds Benfield from William (de Warenne). It was recorded that Benfield consisted of 1½ hides – a hide being roughly equivalent to 120 acres. There was enough land to keep four ploughs busy, and there were four villagers, plus six small-holders with two ploughs.

In the Subsidy Roll of 1296, under the heading of Portslade, two of the 46 taxpayers were named thus:

Juliana de Benefelde – she contributed 18/6d, the 5th highest

Warino de Benefelde – he paid 8/5d

In those days, rather than a surname, it was customary to qualify a Christian name either with a physical characteristic, or with the name of the place where they lived – it was obviously the latter in the case of the two people just mentioned.

On the other hand, the occupant of the manor was also known by their place-name. Thus, John de Benfield who died in 1325. Benfield Manor’s land was described as follows:

A capital messuage

127 acres of land

20 acres of pasture

10 acres of meadow

8 acres of wood

3 acres of moor

This land was rented from the heir of Edmund le Botiller for 22/7d.

John de Benfield also rented another 14 acres of land from Thomas de Poynings.

A fascinating item was John’s link with Lewes Priory, and from the Prior he rented 20 acres plus a windmill. For this he had to fork out 10/- a year, as well as doing some work for the Prior. As a reward he was invited to the Priory along with twelve others to help celebrate the Feast of St Pancras on 12 May. They were supposed to arrive on horseback, but would spend the rest of the day at the expense of the Prior, and when John left, the Prior would present him with a cheese worth fifteen pennies.

In the 1327 taxation John’s widow was described as ‘Relicta de Benefeld’. This label of ‘relict’ for a widow lasted a surprisingly long time, and was still in use in Victorian times.

In the Subsidy Roll of 1412 it was recorded that John Benyfeld held the manor of Hangleton (worth £22 a year) and the manor of Twineham (worth £18 a year).

It seems that the two manors became known as Twineham Benfield. In 1567 Chancery proceedings recorded a curious custom in the manor of ‘Twineham Benyefelde’. It appeared that Maryan Costedell, widow of John, complained that she had been deprived of her house and 20 acres rented from Richard Covert. But William Costedell claimed that if a customary tenant married a maid, then she was entitled to enjoy his house and lands for life after her husband died. But if a customary tenant married a widow, then she lost her right. He claimed she was not entitled to it because she was the widow of one Barnarde. This widow’s right to her husband’s property was enshrined in law and was known as Borough English, and preceded the laws of the invading Normans. Borough English still held sway in Portslade into at least Victorian times. The widow’s ancient legal right was known as Widow’s Bench.

(In February 1995 three Sussex Lords of the Manor titles were up for sale through Strutt & Parker, the Lewes estate agents. The titles related to Balneath, Camoys Court and Twineham Benfield. At that time the lady holding the titles was Mrs Sheila Thompson and she lived in Ireland. A mere £21,000 or so would have secured you all three titles).

In 1427 Robert Benfield was in trouble because of debt, but this was just the start of his difficulties because over the years he continued to owe money to different people. The first debt was to Sir Robert Poynings to whom he had not paid his dues, plus he owed widow Alice Turke 40/-. In 1433 there was another debt of 40/- this time to a London grocer and there was an additional debt of five marks to another man. In 1448 he owed 42/- to a London merchant.

It seems likely that Robert was obliged to settle up his debts, and it is probably not a coincidence that the year 1449 was the first time the Covert family was mentioned in connection with Benfield. When John Covert died in 1503 Benfield was his property, and his heirs were his three daughters, Anne 6, Elizabeth 3, and Dorothy 2. By the early 17th century the Coverts were considerable landowners leading to the popular notion that because they owned so many manors, it was possible to walk from Southwark to the sea without once stepping off Covert-owned land. In fact the Coverts did indeed own land stretching from Crawley to Hangleton.

Probably the most distinguished member of the family was Sir Walter Covert who was the MP for Sussex during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. In addition, Sir Walter also held the venerable post of Father of the House for many years. He was also High Sheriff for Sussex, and in 1612 he built Slaugham Place. He lived to a ripe old age and was aged 88 when he died in 1631. In 1673 it was stated that Sir John Covert and his family had owned Slaugham Place with its 2,000 acres for over one hundred years. The Covert family also owned the manor of Shave in Cuckfield with 140 acres, and the manor of Twineham Benefield, in the occupation of James Wood.

The Benfield Hunting Lodge

copyright © Sussex Archaeological Society
Benfield Hunting Lodge

West of Hangleton Manor there once stood an old house that was supposed to have been erected in 1325. But in 1611 the Coverts decided to re-build it for use as a hunting lodge. In 1858 the building was described thus:

It is a small building of flints, with a plinth and coigns of brick, with a frontage of sixty-six feet, all very much in decay. The window frames, doorway, and the carved entablature of the porch are of stone. The old door inside the porch remains, divided into small panels of oak, with mouldings springing from roses at the sides.’ (Sussex Archaeological Collections Volume 10.)

This article was accompanied by a woodcut copied from a drawing made in 1782 by James Lambert, junior.

From the embellishment of their hunting lodge, it is obvious that the Coverts set much store by their family’s historical connections with important families because there were no less than seventeen armorial shields on the facade of the hunting lodge, and some of them were identical to those to be seen at Slaugham Place. But by 1858 the Benfield shields were worn and indistinct. In 1891 the hunting lodge was demolished but Edward Blaker must have taken a keen interest in the historic building because he saved the shields from destruction and had them built into the garden wall at Easthill House. Unhappily, after that the trail goes cold. In the 1970s members of the Portslade History Group made strenuous enquiries locally about what could have happened to them but there were no leads. In case any of them re-surface, it is as well to note down details of what was shown on the shields as follows:

copyright © Sussex Archaeological Society
Benfield's 'lost' seventeen Covert shields
1. This shield, like the one at the end, and acting like book-ends, was of the Covert arms – three martlets, two at the top and one at the base, divided by a ‘fess ermine’. (A fess is a horizontal line placed in the middle.) By 1858 the first shield was missing. It is interesting to note that before the Coverts chose martlets to represent their family, their earlier coat-of-arms portrayed three mullets; a mullet was like a star but not a heraldic star known as ‘etoile’ – a mullet had five straight arms whereas an etoile had six arms, often wavy ones.

2. Covert arms impaling a fess between three leopard heads. (This might relate to the Morton family who also came from Slaugham.)

3. Covert arms impaling barry, over all a band, on a chief three bezants. (A barry is the heraldic term for a horizontal band, while a bezant resembles a gold coin.)

4. Covert arms impaling a chevron between three animal heads. (A chevron is the heraldic name for an inverted V, and is supposed to represent two house rafters meeting at the apex. The arms might relate to the Monke family whose arms displayed three lions’ heads with a chevron between the two at the top and the one at the base.)

5. Covert arms impaling quarterly, 1 & 4 a cross, 2 & 3 three crescents, on a canton, a bird. (Part of this shield might relate to the Cooke family whose coat-of-arms had three silver crescents.)

6. Covert arms impaling a fess between six mullets. (This was the coat-of-arms of the important Asburnham family. Sir John Ashburnham was Groom of the Bedchamber to Charles I, and also his personal friend; amongst his souvenirs was the watch and shirt worn by the unfortunate king at his execution. A later member of the family, Sir William Ashburnham, became Bishop of Chichester in 1754 and remained in the post for 43 years.)

7. Covert arms impaling quarterly a saltire charged with a rose / chequy, a chief; quarterly, 1 & 4 two chevrons, 2 & 3 ermine, a bend, on a fess a crescent between six cross-crosslets. (A saltire is the heraldic name for a St Andrew’s cross. The saltire and rose represent the Nevill family, and it is generally taken as a sign of antiquity because it is such a simple design. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the Nevills were an important family indeed, especially since Anne Nevill married Richard II and became Queen. The Nevills also filled important positions such as Lord High Admiral, and Lord Chancellor.

Chequy means alternate small squares of different colours. A famous example is to be found on the the shield of the Warennes. A crosslet was a more elaborate design for a cross; whereas a standard cross has plain arms, a crosslet has another cross at the end of the arm).

8. This shield was effaced.

9. This shield appears to have the Covert arms impaling a chevron between three garbs. (A garb is a heraldic term for a sheaf of wheat, and appears in the coat-of-arms of the Hever family of Cuckfield.)

10, & 12. These two shields simply bore the letters R C

11. Covert arms impaling quarterly, 1 & 4 paly bendy, 2 & 3 a saltire engrailed between four roses; on a chief, a quadruped. (Paly bendy is certainly a wonderful heraldic term – a paly signifies a shield divided equally by vertical lines, while the ordinary meaning of a bend is a broad band from dexter to sinister – right to left.)

13. The Covert arms.

(There were a further four Covert arms above the central window)

copyright © Sussex Archaeological Society
Some of the Benfield shields were identical to those to be seen at Slaugham Place
The Coverts were allied to other important Sussex families through marriage. The following is a list of some of them:

Sir John Covert of Slaugham married Anne Beard in 1545 after his first wife had died. You could say with some truth that the couple were well acquainted having already produced many illegitimate sons and daughters. Sir John Covert served as MP for Shoreham, and later was MP for Sussex – he also filled the post of High Sheriff.

Elizabeth Covert of Slaugham married Sir William Goring; he died in 1558. He was an important man at court – in the reign of Henry VIII he was Master of the Horse, and in the reign of Edward VI, he was Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He also filled the posts of MP for Sussex and Sheriff of Sussex.

Elizabeth Covert of Sullington married Sir John Cooke in 1558.

Elizabeth Covert of Slaugham married Thomas Threele; he died in 1566. Their son, another Thomas Covert, married Dorothy, daughter of John Apsley of Thakeham.

Mary Covert, daughter of Edward Covert of Slaugham, married John Monke in 1597. He received a grant of arms in 1615.

Jane Covert, daughter of Edwards Covert of Twineham and Edburton, married Edward Bray of Shere in 1603.

Anne Covert married Sir Walter Covert of Maidstone. Anne was the daughter and heir of John Covert of Ewhurst, and in addition she was the heir to her uncle Sir Walter Covet of Slaugham. Anne’s son John was born in 1620, and he became a baronet in 1660. It was his daughter, another Anne, who succeeded to the manor of Slaugham. In fact she was quite an heiress because when she married Sir James Norton, her generous father also gave her the manor of Crawley, as a wedding gift.

John Covert of Slaugham married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Cooke of Rustington. In 1660 he was created a baronet.

Judith Covert, daughter of Walter Covert, married Revd Nicholas Sheppard who was rector of Edburton in 1665.

Elizabeth Covert of Slaugham married Alexander Sheppard.

Sarah Covert, daughter of Edward Covert of Slaugham, married William Dumbrell of Cuckfield.

It is sad to relate that the male line of the Coverts ceased in 1678 when Sir John Covet died.

It is somewhat ironic that in later times ordinary farm workers passed frequently underneath these armorial shields because they lodged in the house. The following agricultural labourers lived at Benfield according to the 1841 census. They were James Terry, aged 45, his wife Sarah, aged 45, their children John 20, Susannah 15, Ruth 10, Harriot 7, James 6, Jane 3, and Henry 3 months. Richard Smith, Felix Butler, and William Bonney were also in the house. By 1871 there were no less than 27 people living in the house – twenty men, and seven women.

Another Manor

It appears that in earlier times there were two manors – Twineham Benfield has already been mentioned, but there was also the other one sometimes known as Hangleton Benfield. A short descent is as follows:

1639 – Thomas Covert sold the manor of Hangleton Benfield to William Devereux

1664 – John and Isobel Covert sold the manor to Diana Baynham, widow

1664-5 – Diana Baynham to Edwyn Baldwyn, gentleman

1670 – John and Diana Palgrave to Thomas Sherman

1701 – Thomas Sherman and others to John Broughton and Francis Harris

The late Eric Holden was of the opinion that the entry in the Domesday Book concerning a place called Esmerewic might well refer to this second manor. On the other hand, the site of Esmerewic has not been identified.

A Taxing Question

In 1602 there was a dispute about whether or not the people at Benfield Farm ought to contribute anything towards the common fine (tax) payable by Hangleton. A jury of aged men was convened to consider the matter, and their number included John Ampleford the elder, George Fayrefoot, and Richard Fowler. The men testified under oath that time out of mind Hangleton had always paid the tax on its own, and the farmer of Benfield never made any contributions.

John Edwards

John Edwards owned property in Cuckfield, Lewes, Aldrington, plus land called Benfields in Portslade. He died on 26 November 1634, and his son and heir, another John, was only aged two years and four months. Unhappily, he never made it to manhood, dying a couple of years after his father’s death.

Benfield in 1841

The manor of Benfield as it was in 1841 could be described as follows. It covered a strip of land, running north to south, its western boundary abutting Portslade all the way. On the east it was bounded by Aldrington, and at its southern extremity there was a field called Lower and Upper Dean. The next field was called the Nine Acres that abutted to land belonging to Hangleton on the east, while to the west was a field called the Six Acres belonging to Benfield. The next field on the north was called the Eleven Acres, and north-east of it was there was a small piece called House Croft. Next to House Croft, and to the north there were the farmhouse, yards, gardens, and other buildings. North of these was Pigeon House Croft. To the west and north swept the great expanse of the Laines with the Downs to the north.

Benfield Barn

copyright © D. Sharp
Benfield Barn and the ruins of a farm building in 2021

It is situated north of Hangleton Lane and dates back to the 17th or 18th century. It was built of coursed flint pebbles with red brick dressings and quoins, and the roof is covered with clay tiles. There are wagon entrances at the centre of the east and west fronts. In August 1973 it was granted Grade II listed building status. At that time ivy and other vegetation covered much of it. Sainsbury’s restored the barn in the 1980s as part of their deal when they built their superstore in Benfield Valley. By 1986 it was stated that the West Hove Golf Club used the barn for storage.

In August 1995 a site visit to Benfield Barn recorded the following details. The wall on the west side was in good condition, the flints being large and visible, and not hidden by too much rendering. In the same wall were curious triangular openings. On the east side, at the north and south ends just under the roof-line were hinged wooden doors, presumably leading to lofts at one time. Interior light and air was supplied by narrow slits defined by red brick dressings, especially at the north and south ends. The roof was supported by around seven massive beams.

At the south end, there were two little adjoining outhouses with slate roofs where the outside lavatories were situated. On the south-east there was a square flint-built outhouse with a low door on the east side and a window on the south. Also on the south side there was a series of round openings with thirteen terracotta pipes fitted flush with the wall. But the pipes on the west side can be seen poking through. There was another building south-east of the barn. It was flint-built, and long and low with red brick details. It also boasted a curious, rounded corner, a feature that was unusual enough to warrant a special outing of local archaeologists to view it in the 1960s.

copyright © D. Sharp
The south end ruins of Benfield's farm buildings in 2021
In July 2000 it was stated that the firm Wilsco was backing a plan put forward by Bass to convert Benfield Barn into a £2million country-style restaurant. In August 2000 Bass Taverns sought planning permission from Brighton & Hove Council to convert the barn. The plans also included a golf caddy shop, car parking for 101 cars, and some landscaping. Two days later there came news that Wilsco had also submitted plans to build five new houses next to the barn when the outbuildings would be demolished.

Mary Bangs wrote an impassioned plea to the Brighton & Hove Leader (8 September 2000) in her campaign to save the ‘beautiful 17th century flint-built barn’ which, once again was being threatened by unsuitable alterations. She suggested that an alternative and better use would be to create a centre for those people wishing to explore the Downs, a craft workshop, or a hostel. Mary Bangs is generally credited with setting the wheels in motion to have the barn made a listed building. Another of her battles was to save the animal memorials in the grounds of Hangleton Manor that were in danger of vanishing. She removed them for safe-keeping, and later on restored them to their original location. She was also a gifted watercolour artist.

Then on 29 September 2000 Steve Callow, described as the owner of Benfield Valley, said he was dropping all those proposals, and instead suggested and interpretation centre for visitors to the South Downs, with a cafe, and golf changing rooms in the rest of the space.

The most recent amendment to the Listed Building status for Benfield Barn is dated 2 November 1992.

Benfield Cottages

copyright © G. Osborne
Benfield Barn and Benfield Cottages in the early 1920s. In the background is the line of the Devil's Dyke Railway.
(With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection) 
These cottages were built in around 1871 on the site of the Benfield Hunting Lodge.

In the 1924 Street Directory, the following occupants were listed:

Arthur Drake lived in Ivy Cottage

Thomas Baker at number 3

Oliver Hardwood at number 4

Mrs Elliot at number 5

Henry Dank at number 6

The cottages remained in use until recent times, but when Sainsbury’s became landowners, the tenants were given notice to quit. The tenants were quite happy with their cottages and did not wish to leave, but they had no other option. On the same day that boarded up and left. One midsummer’s night, a fire started that destroyed the roofs although the Fire Brigade managed to stop the cottages from complete destruction.

copyright © D. Sharp
The ruins of Benfield Cottages in 2021
By August 1995 they were still in the same sorry state. You could see through the upstairs windows where shreds of wallpaper still clung to the walls, and you also see some of the lathe and plaster construction on some of the interior walls. On the east side, the outdoor privies were located. Also on the east side, an old shrubbery had turned itself into a green tunnel. In late summer, there was a mass of sloeberries, haws, elderberries and blackberries.

In September 2000 Simon Callow, lessee of Benfield Valley, said he would restore the cottages.

Benfield Close

In 1938 Portslade Council gave planning approval for twelve semi-detached bungalows to be built.

Benfield Crescent

copyright © D. Sharp
The junction of Benfield Crescent and Benfield Way in Portslade
The road was laid out on land that was formerly part of Cowhayes Farm. In December 1933 Portslade Council received a letter from A. J. Clark, on behalf of the J. J. Clark Trust, containing a proposal to call the new road Benfield Crescent – the council agreed.

One of the first plans to be passed was in 1934 for a house and garage to be occupied by H. H. Broomfield. The house was called Ormonde. It was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War, and in 1946 Mrs Broomfield submitted plans to rebuild it.

This man was most probably Henry Broomfield, son of Cuckfield-born Martin Broomfield. The latter moved to Portslade, and in 1881 he and his wife Eliza had a brood of five sons and three daughters, with Henry being aged ten. By the 1891 census the Broomfields lived in the old schoolhouse in South Street, later known as Portslade Farmhouse. Later on, Henry Broomfield worked the market garden next to the Battle of Trafalgar, while also renting Smokey House land in Church Road. In addition he had a slaughter house off Portland Road. By the 1930s he was living at Cowhayes Farm.

Portslade Planning Approvals

1951 – one house

1952 – three bungalows, one detached house with garage

1953 – one bungalows

1954 – two detached houses

copyright © D. Sharp
A view from Foredown Hill, Portslade, of the Brighton Bypass with Benfield Barn on the far right in 2021

See also Benfield Valley



Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Mr G. Osborne

Huxford, J. F. Arms of the Sussex Families (1982)

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Sussex Archaeological Collections Volume 10

Sussex Archaeological Society

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp