The Decline of the Norman Church

The Norman church serving the remote downland settlement at Blatchington sadly went into decline after the 14th Century.  Although the reasons for this are not recorded, it may have 

resulted from a dwindling population caused by the plague which reached southern England via the maritime trade routes from mainland Europe around 1350.  Outbreaks of the Black Death 

continued until the mid 15th Century with devastating effect.  Other factors for the neglect of the church may well have been that Blatchington may not have had a resident Rector and also 

that the tenants of the manor did not support the established church.

 

Attempts to obtain any information held in the Chichester Diocesan archives resulted in the reply    “   there is considerable doubt as to whether any parish registers for St. Peter’s Church, West Blatchington, ever existed.”    The transcript from the Diocese also included the statement “    there was nothing done to make the building fit for the services of the church since 1596 and by 1686 it was utterly ruinate.”

The population of West Blatchington in 1881 was just 59 by which time the ruins of the building were being utilized by the community to provide shelter for livestock, the windows and doorway on the south side having been blocked up to keep out the prevailing south westerly wind.  The farming activity by now had expanded and diversified into milling with the windmill having been built some 60 years earlier.  By 1890, the population had risen to 95. However, the elements continued to take their toll on the ruins of the church such that the east gable fell and much of the north wall crumbled in part to a height of just a few feet.

 

The right of presentation of priests to fill a vacancy of Rector or Vicar of a benefice within the established church is held by the patron of that benefice.  William de Warenne gifted West Blatchington to the monks of Lewes in the 12th Century and the patronage would thus have been in the possession of the priors.  The Priory of St. Pancras in Lewes was an important religious community within medieval Sussex exercising control over upwards of 200 churches and chapels.  Although the title of Rector of Blatchington can be traced back to 1307, the title was held in plurality after the 16th Century, often together with Hangleton and in some cases with Patcham or Preston, and it is unlikely that any of them were resident within the settlement since any parsonage house that may have existed was no longer habitable.

In his struggle against the power and wealth of the Church, Henry VIII disbanded all religious establishments by means of the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act in the early part of the 16th Century and, by subsequent Suppression Acts, established himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England.

The many monasteries, abbeys and priories had controlled the appointments to around one third of all benefices and the patronage of West Blatchington passed to the Crown but the monarch subsequently disposed of these assets.  Ownership of the patronage of the West Blatchington benefice was to change hands about ten times before the parish was eventually annexed in 1744 to the parish of St. Nicholas at the southern end of Dyke Road which was, at that time, the Parish Church of Brighton.

Comments