Balsdean chapel – Dedication unknown

Balsdean chapel was linked to the manor and later deserted village of that name in the parish of Rottingdean.  The site is in open downland over two miles to the north of Rottingdean and the earliest reference to a village is in c1091-98 (Burleigh (1973) p63).  A chapel was in existence by 1147, when it was granted to Lewes priory (VCH 7 p238).  It is assumed on negative documentary evidence that it dates from after 1121 (1 p53).  There were still intermittent services in 1579 (Burleigh ibid) and there is a rather ambiguous reference to its current status in 1699.  However, Hussey (pp 277-79) states, on the basis of a personal recollection he had been given, that after a long period of disuse, it was taken into agricultural use around 1780.  In Lower’s time it was a stable (2 pp128-29) and in 1888 there were signs of recent building work on the north and east walls (1 p55).  Destruction during World War II whilst it was in military use was total (SNQ 14 (Nov 1954) p66), but allowed extensive excavations in 1950 (see 1). Today nothing is to be seen and the site is just like the surrounding downland.

The chapel as it stood in 1939 consisted of an aisleless nave only and was built of rough flint.  However, the Burrell Collection drawing (c1775) shows an east wall with a blocked round-headed chancel arch and buttresses either side that could have been formed from the side-walls of a chancel.  Excavation has shown that this was apsidal.  One small round-headed window and a doorway on the north side without a head, both blocked, led P M Johnston (SAC 44 p208) to ascribe the chapel to the ‘overlap period’ (i e late C11), though the documentary evidence already mentioned makes this doubtful.  The quoins were also of dressed stone, though some had been repaired in brick.  The Burrell drawing shows a thatched roof, which by the time of Meads’s photograph (1931) had been replaced by a corrugated iron one.  Johnston ascribed the timbers of the tiebeam roof to the C14.


Paintings:  P M Johnston believed that there were some of unstated date beneath the whitewash inside (SAC 43 p224).


1. N E S Norris and E F Hockings: Excavations at Balsdean Chapel, Rottingdean, SAC 91 (1953) pp53-68


1. Measured plan in VCH 7 p233

2. Excavation plan in 1. (p57)