Henfield – St Peter

The body of the church is C13, with a tower and north chapel of about 1450.  There was much C19 rebuilding including the chancel and aisles.

The links between the parish and the Bishops and cathedral of Chichester are close.  The principal manor, Stretham, was in episcopal possession by the C8 (VCH 2 p3) and the rectory was used to endow a prebend at Chichester (1 p57); since 1520 the Bishop has been titular rector.  A church is mentioned in a C8 charter and in Domesday Book (3, 2), but nothing early remains.

The church is away from the centre of the village, near some old houses and set in a well cared for churchyard with fine yews that have grown much higher in the last 40 years.  Nothing obviously predates the C13 chancel arch, which was accurately rebuilt in the C19, using some of the old stones (2 p86), as an engraving from before the restoration shows (in 3).  Broad in relation to its height, it has square chamfered responds and stops about 3ft off the ground, probably marking the position of a low wall.  On the soffit of the double-chamfered head is a groove, into which the boards of the wooden tympanum behind the rood fitted.  The inner order rests on corbels.  Unusually high up to the north is a jamb of the upper entrance to the loft.  The Burrell Collection and Sharpe Collection (1802) drawings show a low chancel with lancets, which before rebuilding in the C19 was probably C13 too.  Some renewed lancets and a plain pointed doorway from it are set in the south vestry.

The nave dates from the later C13, as the four-bay arcades show.  The capitals of the round piers and similar responds are of darker stone, conspicuously so to the north.  Two of the irregularly spaced clerestory lancets, hidden outside by the aisles, are of the same date.  So are the arch of the otherwise rebuilt south porch and its doorway, which has hollow chamfers.

The austere west tower of sandstone ashlar is C15 with angle-buttresses, a west window of panelled tracery and cusped double bell-openings that lack hoodmoulds.  The pointed top of the stair-turret is below the bell-openings, making the profile of the top flat.  The tall tower arch is conventional with semi-octagonal responds. The thinner walls of the western nave and the entire crownpost roof were probably replaced in the C15, when the east end was also altered, including the east window on the Burrell drawing.  A north chapel, probably built by Prebendary Thomas Beckington (1438-43) (2 p87), is the only part of the church not to have been refaced in the C19.  Its four-light east window of panelled tracery, though renewed, and the arch into the aisle are unchanged.  The head of the latter dies into the responds without abaci.

The chapel also has a square-headed north window of five uncusped lights and a four-centred doorway, which are certainly later and may be connected to the rebuilding or remodelling of the aisles in the C16 (ibid).  In contrast to the present aisles, this rebuilding probably left them no wider than the previous ones.  However, the window at least could be post-Reformation, after the chapel became the burial place of the Bisschop family.

Definite post-Reformation alterations included dormers in the aisles, seen on the Burrell drawing and inserted in 1626 (VCH 6(3) p135) for galleries.  The south aisle was rebuilt again in 1833 with two tiers of windows, to include a further gallery for school children (1 p54).  At an uncertain date, the arcade from the north chapel to the chancel was replaced by wooden posts (VCH 6(3) ibid).

In 1855 an unrecorded architect restored the tower (B 13 p401) and the expenditure in 1853-54 of £68 17s 1 1/2d (Parliamentary paper XLVIII p185 – my thanks to Martin Jones for this reference) may be connected with preparations for this.  Restoration of the rest followed in 1870-71, under W Slater and R H Carpenter (B 29 p292); by 1875 £3686 6s 2d had been spent (PP 125).  Most walls were refaced in hard but well knapped flint, though the Horsham slabs on the roof were put back.  The new chancel and vestry have arcades derived from those of the nave and the main roof has arch-braces on shafts.  Both aisles were replaced by broader gabled ones with early C14 detail and double-gabled projections at their eastern ends, behind two-bay arcades inside.  The nave roof was opened up and more lancets were inserted in the clerestory (B 29 ibid)H M Pett replaced the parapet of the tower in 1927 (CDG 83 (NS) p362) and S Dykes Bower produced designs in 1950 for the refitting of the chancel (Symondson p159) though these appear never to have been realised and the work would in any case not have survived later alterations.  There were probably repairs by J L Denman with his son, starting in 1959, though the grant offered by the ICBS was never taken up.

In 2008 the church was re-ordered, which involved the removal of the C19 pews and their replacement by a stone floor.

Fittings and monuments

1.  (North chapel) Thomas Bisschop (d1559).  Small effigy, thought to come from a larger monument (BE(W) p430).
2.  (Vestry) Ann Kenwellmersh (d1633) and her grandson Menelab Rainsford (d1627).  Small, well engraved effigies with a touching inscription.
Chest: (East end of south aisle) C14 iron-bound.
Font: Octagonal bowl with the lower parts cut away, standing on a central support and four shafts. Dated to the early C13 on account of the decoration at the bottom of the bowl (www.crsbi.ac.uk retrieved on 8/4/2013), though it has been dated to the C15 (Drummond-Roberts p43).
1.  (East window) C E Kempe, 1875.
2.  (West window of tower) C E Kempe, 1896.
3.  (North and south aisles, first windows) C E Kempe, 1898 and 1903.
4.  (South aisle, second window) J Powell and Sons, 1891, designed by M Lowndes (Order book).
5.  (North aisle, second window) J Powell and Sons, designed by — Timson and E Penwarden, c1907 (ibid).
6.  (Both transepts and north chapel) 1916-22 by Kempe and Co.
7.  (Vestry lancet) Lowndes and Drury, 1901; intense colours and a flowing design.  The design has been given both to I L Gloag (BE p239) and to M Lowndes herself (www.stainedglassrecords.org retrieved on 10/3/2013).  According to Peter Cormack (Arts and Crafts Stained Glass p252) the design was by Gloag but was painted by Lowndes who was keen to assist other woman-artists.
8.  (North transept, east window) F C Eden, 1935 (2 p156).
9.  (North chapel, east window) G Webb, 1921 (ibid).
1. (North chapel) Henry Bisschop (d1691), Postmaster-General under Charles II.  He oversaw the establishment of a postal service and the introduction of date-stamps, which are named after him.  Small classical tablet with a rounded pediment.
2.  (North west nave, set high up) William (d1829), Sarah (d1824) and Elizabeth (d1832) Falconer by Williams of Brighton.  A plain inscription beneath a triangular pediment (Roscoe p1381).
Musical instruments:
(Formerly in north transept) Played at services until the mid-C19.
Paintings: Slight traces are said to have been found in 1870 (3 p212), but no more is known.
Piscina: (Chancel) C19.
Reredos: (Parham chapel) Carved figures of saints by F E Howard  (2 p156).
Screen: (In the arch from the north chapel into the aisle) The base looks C15.  It may be in situ or have been part of the main chancel screen.  Its top is now glazed with birds etc engraved upon it.  According to an inscription, the work was done by F E Allen in 1969, but is not stated whether she was responsible for both the design and the engraving.
Sedilia: (Chancel) C19 triple.
Tiles: Chamberlain and Co (nd) (L Pearson p348)


1.  H de Candole: The Story of Henfield, Hove (reprinted) 1976
2.  W H Godfrey: St Peter, Henfield, SNQ 7 (Aug 1938) pp86-87
3.  E Turner: Archaeological Miscellanies, SAC 23 (1871) pp212-13


Measured plan by W H Godfrey and E F Harvey in 2 p87