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History of West Blatchington

Knowledge of our local history goes back to the days of the Roman occupation as the remains of a Roman villa less than half a mile to the NW of the church were discovered in 1818, but were not excavated until 1948 prior to the layout of the Sunninghill Estate when coins of the era of Emperor Valerian were found dating back to circa 250 A.D.

The Saxons later established an estate with settlements interconnected by existing Roman tracks.  On an archaeological map of the area as in Saxon times, the ‘hides’ of Blatchington and also Hangleton are identified on the routes of these ancient tracks.  One of these, labelled ‘Droveway’, passed through Blatchington and continued north and was joined by another from the southwest that passed through Hangleton, originating from the port of the Adur.  The latter track is labelled ‘Port’s road’ from which the village of Portslade must surely get its name since ‘lād’ is an O.E. word for a ‘way’ or a ‘course’. The term ‘hides’ refers to parcels of land of sufficient size for a small settlement to be self-supporting and which hedges or banks separated.

The settlements would have originally consisted of merely a group of small timber buildings probably including a thegn’s hall and Blatchington was known to have also had a thegn’s church.  Esmerewic was a farmstead to the west of Hangleton which later became known as Benfield Manor, the ruins of which were found in the area of what is now the junction of Hangleton Valley Drive and Sylvester Way.  After the Norman Conquest, Sussex became extremely important since it provided convenient sea crossings to Normandy.

The settlements were administered under a system by which they were divided into a number of Rapes, each of which was under the control of family members or loyal followers of William the Conqueror.  There were eventually six Rapes, each of which encompassed a castle that overlooked either a river or the coast.  Blatchington came within the Rape of Lewes, the responsibility for which was initially bestowed by the monarch to William de Warenne in recognition of his service at the Battle of Hastings.

The Rapes were subdivided into Hundreds, which were parcels of land considered capable of supporting about a hundred households.  The Hundreds had their own courts responsible for both jurisdiction and the setting of local taxes.

The groupings of the settlements within the Hundreds changed frequently, possibly due to changes in population.  Blatchington, under various spellings, e.g. Blechinton (13th Cent), Blachyngton (15th Cent), Blechington (16th Cent) was, by the 17th Century, grouped with Brighthelmstone in the Hundred of Whalesbone.  The latter name is thought to relate to the once heavily polluted Wellesbourne stream, which flowed through the Old Steine until it was diverted underground in 1780.  The outflow of the stream can still be seen seeping out through the shingle at low tide slightly to the west of the Brighton (Palace) Pier.

Ownership of land in medieval times followed the manorial system under which the monarch bestowed estates to his loyal followers.  The manor of Blatchington was held during the 13th and 14th Centuries by a succession of the Earls de Warenne but by the early 15th Century, it passed to Richard de Wyavill.  However, the ownership of the manor was the subject of several disputes until the beginning of the 16th Century when it passed into the family of the Lords Bergavenny and subsequently to the Marquesses of Abergavenny.  These titles have been held by the many succeeding generations of the Nevill family until relatively recently and several of the roads in today’s parish bear this family name.

The manor house was situated to the east of the church and the north wing of the manor dated back to the 14th Century.  Many alterations were made during the succeeding centuries including an extension at the rear providing a kitchen and domestic quarters.

Much of the land provided pasture for sheep but cereal crops were also grown and oxen were used in the early days for drawing the ploughs and carts.The farmland covered nearly 800 acres and several small cottages, together with a number of barns, formed the manor farm complex.  A small knapped flint bake house stood opposite the manor house, which served the needs of the local farming community. More farm cottages were built as the farming activity grew over the years.  ‘Meadow Cottages’ stood on the land below the south churchyard and ‘Hillside Cottages’ and ‘New Cottages’ were eventually built on the land where the flats in Hangleton Road on either side of Clarke Avenue now stand. The final addition to the manor house was a 2-storey east wing built in the late Victorian era to replace the earlier kitchen and domestic quarters.  This new wing was let to the local tenant farmers but it was later utilised to house evacuees during WWII. Before the roadway of Holmes Avenue between Nevill Avenue and Court Farm Road was built, there was a pond to the north of the windmill but the latter is now the only visible reminder of the former farming activity.

The hexagonal design of the ‘smock’ mill, erected in the early 1820s, is quite unique and originally had two long barns attached to it, one extending to the north and the other to the south.  A third small barn built on the west side still remains.  The south barn was destroyed by fire in 1936 but the Mill was thankfully preserved as a Grade ll* listed building.  Considerable work has been carried out in restoring the Mill and part of the north barn was rebuilt as a venue for community activities in 1997.   Although not in working order, the Mill is open to the public at weekends and Bank Holidays during the summer season and houses a collection of historic agricultural machinery and many educational exhibits - thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers. 


The tenants of the farm and of the manor house, from the 15th Century to the latter part of the 19th Century, were members of the Scrase family who were of Danish descent.  It is believed that, at the time of the Reformation, the family adhered to the Roman Catholic faith but later became followers of the Quaker Movement as it is on record that one of the earliest meetings in Sussex of that Society was held at “Widow Scrase’s in Blatchington ye 2nd of ye 8th mo. 1662.”

Many Quakers were either imprisoned or subject to extortion and in the following year, when Joane Scrase would not (or could not) pay a demand for £90 in tithes, 28 beasts worth £120 were seized in lieu.  In view of their religious beliefs, the family did not levy any taxes on the small community for the upkeep of the church building and thus the church soon fell into disrepair.

Richard Scrase, who was tenant of the manor, resisted being appointed Churchwarden and was therefore summoned to the Archdeaconry Court of Lewes.  Henry Scrase, son of the above, was similarly in trouble in 1635 but in the following year and in the same Court, he was described as Churchwarden and stated that “our Churchyard is not well fenced nor hath bin Tyme out of minde because it hath not been used as a buryall place.”

Towards the end of the 17th Century, Henry Holcroft who was then Rector (and also Vicar of Patcham) was in trouble with the patron who complained that “there is no Churchwarden duly sworne from year to year to repair the church as need requires; that there is no churchyard fence, no doors, nor windows to the church nor chancell, no pulpit, reading deske, books, bell, communion table, cloathes nor ornaments.”  Nothing came of all this and thus the church continued to fall further into disrepair.  The Scrase family continued as tenants of the manor until the tenancy passed by marriage to the Hodson family who were members of the Established Church.  During the 19th Century when the church was in ruins, Divine Service was held in the manor house until the eventual rebuilding of the church and its restoration to use in 1890.

It is not known when this area became known as West Blatchington but it was clearly to distinguish it from the village of East Blatchington, which is now just a residential area within the town of Seaford.  The Parish Church of East Blatchington is also dedicated to St. Peter and similarly dates back to Saxon times.







 


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