Steyning – St Andrew and St Cuthman

The chancel arch of c1100 is the oldest remaining part of a once cruciform church, begun around 1080.  Four bays of the nave of c1160-80 are the main survival, with work of a high order.  The tower is later C16.  A small probably C18 chancel was altered in the C19.

Steyning was a major town in early Sussex though the rape of Bramber, of which it was effectively the head, was named after the adjacent castle.  It was an equally important ecclesiastical centre and is one of only two Sussex parish churches to which the legend of a saint is attached (the other being Bishopstone (East Sussex)) (Parsons and Milner-Gulland p111).  This was the legend of St Cuthman, who was conceivably of royal blood and wheeled his mother there from Chidham or the nearby Bosham and founded a church in Steyning, may reflect the eastward direction in which Christianity spread in Sussex.  Cuthman probably lived in the late C7 or early C8, though the legend is not found before the late C9 and the earliest reference to a wheelbarrow only dates from the Life written c1100.  Such cults were popular at this time and it is probably no co-incidence that the Life and the new church date from the same period.  John Blair suggests from a description of Cuthman’s church that it was like a stave church in Norway (1 p179).  It enjoyed royal favour and was probably a minster, for Alfred the Great’s father Ethelwulf was buried here in 858.  A further indication of the importance of the town was that it was the seat of a mint from late pre-Conquest times.  The church is away from the present centre, but before the High Street developed, in the late C12 at the earliest (3 p143), the centre was probably immediately south of the church.

About 1047 Edward the Confessor gave church and manor to the Norman abbey of Fécamp (VCH 2 p122), though it may not have gained possession until after the Conquest.  At all events, it is described as the holder of both in Domesday Book (5, 2), which also lists a second church.  Steyning was the centre of Fécamp’s English estates and had a small college of secular canons.  This had gone by around 1260 (VCH 6(1) p241), though the abbey kept the advowson until the dispossession of the alien houses in 1414.  The advowson was then granted to the royal foundation of Syon (ibid p227), though it appears not to have taken possession of it until 1461 (11 p12).

Most of the nave and the western crossing arch survive from the large cruciform church, almost certainly built under the auspices of the abbot of Fécamp and sufficiently advanced to be consecrated in 1103, when little or nothing would have been built beyond the eastern parts.  Supporting evidence for a cruciform groundplan came with the discovery in c1851 of what were interpreted as the foundations of the south transept (8 p120).  One oddity is that the church is built very close to the eastern edge of the churchyard, leading David Parsons to suggest that there might have been a second church to the west of the present one (9 p7), probably that mentioned in Domesday Book; this was a not uncommon arrangement and excavation could well provide the answer.

The picture at Steyning is complicated by the disappearance of everything east of the crossing arch, but as this is the earliest surviving feature of the present church, it supports the assumption that construction had started at the east end as was customary.  The cushion capitals of the arch point to a date around 1100 and there is restrained chevron moulding on the inner order of the head.  Amongst the decoration of these capitals is a distinctive form of flowing foliage with individual leaves some of which cross each other.  Malcolm Thurlby has found a similar capital in the abbey church at Fécamp, one of the few instances of a direct link between the two churches.  The arch from the south aisle into the transept is of the same date.  Its triple-shaft responds also have shallow cushion capitals, carved with scallops and lions surrounded by foliage.  The orders of the head are heavily roll-moulded and have been linked to those at Bosham and Clayton (9 ibid) though both of these are surely earlier in date (not later than the 1070s).  The east side is less profusely roll-moulded which contrasts with the arch to the north.  Here the side facing into the aisle is quite plain, whereas on its east side chevrons are present.  It has single shafts and capitals with volutes and primitive foliage.  The richer treatment of the transept side leads Thurlby (12) to suggest that the relics or shrine of St Cuthman may have been here, on the analogy of the shrine of St Frideswide at what is now Christ Church cathedral, Oxford which is located at the east end of the north aisle.  David Parsons postulates a complete crossing with tower (9 p6), though on the analogy of New Shoreham he suggests that the other three arches may have been intentionally smaller; Thurlby (12) follows this suggestion and cites other examples of such an arrangement.

Assuming building started at the east end, it is likely that the choir was under way by the 1080s at the latest, which would accord with the known date of consecration.  Its form is conjectural.  Johnston (6 p153) postulated a triple east end with side-chapels, presumably by analogy with elsewhere, whilst most recently Malcolm Thurlby has proposed a short single-bay chancel and transepts, all three with an eastern apse (12).   The suggestion of Tim Hudson (5 p26) that the chancel must have stood on a crypt because of the fall of the land is plausible.  As he points out, this could have been intended to house the remains of St Cuthman, as an alternative to Thurlby’s hypothesis that these were in the north transept. The east responds of the nave arcades were necessarily built with the crossing and are similarly triple in form with scallop and big leaf capitals.  On the south side an area of mismatched masonry at clerestory level points to a gap before the nave was started in earnest. The aisle walls may also have been started at the earlier date – a shaft by a square-headed opening to the north inside may belong to the rere-arch of a window (11 p8).   Finally, there is what appears to be a head-corbel which has been set into the gable of the south porch above the date plaque of 1766 which records alterations then.  The head is of older style than the corbel-tables of the nave (see below) and it has been suggested ( retrieved on 22/4/2013) that it comes from the lost east parts.

There was then a pause until the mid-C12, probably occasioned by shortages of money (12).  There is some disagreement over the precise date when the building of the nave was started.  Most recently Malcolm Thurlby has suggested c1160 with completion by 1175 (ibid), though he has not commented on a break in the masonry after the third bay of the south clerestory from the east, which may mark a further pause within that time.  It was probably intended from the start to have six bays (4 p212).  On the south side a shallow pilaster with shafts and scallop capitals is certainly mid-C12. The clerestory windows differ externally each side.  The south ones have shafts and double roll-mouldings on the heads, connected by a thin string-course, but vary from east to west.  The east ones have scallop and volute capitals and one has billetwork on the string-course linking the heads, whereas the fourth and now final one has a hollow-chamfer and trumpet-scallop and waterleaf capitals, a late C12 form. The north windows are plainer, but it is more likely that less trouble was taken over the side away from the town than that they were altered later, as Nairn suggests (BE p339).  This is borne out by the corbel-table, which is also more elaborate to the south with heads and grotesques.  Many are decayed, but one with its hand in its mouth may have sexual connotations (10 p251).  A small C12 north aisle window above a blocked doorway has chevrons on the head.  The other windows are later but well pre-C19 (see below) and Sarah Leigh has found a drawing following a visit in 1807 by John Carter (see 7 pp28-29) which shows three C12 windows in the north aisle.  She is almost certainly correct in concluding that Carter drew what was not there; possibly he did not produce the finished drawing ahead of its publication in 1811, by which time his memory could have been at fault.

The head of the south doorway has what can best be described as rounded chevrons and this is a harbinger of the extraordinary arcades.  There are few in England like it, displaying as many unusual features that seem to anticipate the breaking up of accepted Romanesque form.  Malcolm Thurlby has however identified (12) precedents and links for many of the individual features and suggests that the common link is likely to be through masons associated with Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, in particular work associated with him at St Cross, Winchester and Winchfield, Hampshire (7 p6).  Thurlby accounts for the absence of pointed arches, frequent elsewhere by the 1170s, by a wish to ensure stylistic unity, though as the nearby and only slightly later example of New Shoreham shows, this was not always a high priority and the variations in the arches at Steyning are further evidence for such an approach.  This seeming conservatism is not always evident in the detail at Steyning, for example capitals in the western part of the clerestory have waterleaf, a motif that continued to be used into the early C13.  In their previous article, Thurlby and Kusaba had inclined the other way and stressed contemporary approval of aesthetic variety (13 p163), both here and at New Shoreham.  This is perhaps a question to which Professor Thurlby will return in his keenly anticipated further article.

Four bays survive and the present west responds are complete piers set in the C16 west wall.  Hardly any arches or capitals are the same, though the thick, plain round piers are conventional enough.  Most arches have three-dimensional chevrons of varying forms on their heads.  The south east arch and the second one from the east on the north side also have chevrons on the soffits, the north east one has three roll-mouldings and the second from the east on the south side has big zigzags.  The third arches on both sides are similar, with a plain inner order; to the south this is decorated with a kind of arrow motif.  Most extreme and built last, is the fourth arch on the south side with a scalloped soffit.  The plainer one opposite may be unfinished.  Such a lack of uniformity baffled many later authorities, but there are sufficient similarities of detail throughout to make it unlikely that there was any break in building, other perhaps than that indicated by the break in the clerestory already noted and this can only have been brief.  Though nothing is known of the form of the missing western bays or the west wall, it is likely that the whole project was probably finished by c1180 at the latest.

The capitals are decorated with variations on leaf and scallop motifs; some are profusely carved like lace.  Thurlby and Kusaba note further similarities with St Cross, particularly with its east end (ibid p169).  The arcades are pulled together by labels with rosettes (found also at Old Shoreham in which Henry had an interest) and there are larger bosses of a similar pattern on two of the north spandrels (fragments of something similar have been found at Old Sarum, also associated with Henry).  The clerestory inside is built above string-courses with rounded embattled mouldings and is mostly uniform both sides; three deeply inset shafts separate each bay.  As outside, the fourth bay to the south shows some changes, with a plain string-course below the opening and a hollow-chamfer on that linking the heads.  The lower parts of the deep windows are blocked by the aisle roofs.  The decoration of the north arcade is overall somewhat more elaborate, e g the double shafts on the north side, as this was the first to be seen on entry.

With the completion of the nave, Steyning church had largely assumed the form that was to last at least 400 years.  Alterations during this time were minor.  In the C15, well after the church became parochial, a moulded north doorway (now blocked) and new aisle windows with depressed or segmental heads were inserted, two of the latter to the south and one to the north.  Above the doorway some voussoirs decorated with chevrons remain of its mid-C12 predecessor.  The big south porch with a moulded arch in a square frame is of the same date.  Though it has lost the internal floor, it was originally two-storeyed with a niche above the arch.   On the analogy of C15 two-storeyed porches elsewhere (e g Mayfield, East Sussex), the upper walls are likely to have been higher with an almost flat roof behind a parapet, rather than the present gable.

Alterations between the C16 and the C18 are well recorded, thanks to documentary references and dates on the walls, though not everything is easy to assess.  In 1578 inspectors appointed by the Queen reported that everything east of the western crossing arch was ruinous (7 p28) and this could in fact have been so even before the Reformation, for extensive building operations are mentioned in the parish records between c1545 and 1550 (8 p121) and the church must have been needlessly large for parochial use.  However, the  statement that ‘The Chauncel within is very ruinous’ in the survey of 1602 (SRS 98 p132) implies that some form of chancel still stood.   Nothing visible in the present chancel can be ascribed to a date before the mid-C18 (see below for a discussion of this question), but there may have been some structure for this purpose at this time, of which some walling could have survived, for in the survey of 1636 there is a comment that there was a need to repair the ‘pavement of the Chauncel’ (ibid).  Alternatively this could refer to the eastern part of the retained area of the church then in use as a chancel.  If by 1636 there was any structure east of the present church that could be termed a chancel, it is unlikely to have been very elaborate, for the evidence that the main work of truncation and adaptation occurred at the latest by the early C17 is strong.  Any such structure may have been linked to the spaces on the site of the transepts as these have C16 or C17 square windows, which may be reset; there is a similar one in the north wall of the aisle near its eastern end.

Also during this period, a west tower was built of flint and stone chequer, with plain details, a parapet and a shingled spire, which was later replaced by the present  squat tiled pyramid (7 p22).  As built, the tower arch was plain and round-headed (6 p153) and above a round-headed opening in the west wall are some re-used C12 stones, carved with chevrons.  The opening now contains a C19 window in place of a three-light square-headed one shown by Quartermain ((W) p202).  A C15 one was reset in the new west wall of the north aisle.

It is likely that work was complete by 1636 at the latest (9 p6), so the date 1684 on the west side of the tower must refer to repairs. The next certain date was 1766, when as a date on the porch records, this was altered, probably to its present appearance and at the same time the south aisle was refaced.  Less certain is the date of the present chancel.  Steer provides the date of 1750 or 1760 for its construction without explanation (11 p12), whilst Butler gives only 1760 (see 2).  However, in a rare interior drawing of 1781 in the Burrell Collection the entire western crossing arch is shown blocked, though another external drawing of the same date shows a small structure.  This would help to resolve a curious anomaly, whereby Steer identifies the chancel with the 10th Duke, who only inherited in 1777.  Furthermore, it was not he but his successor who acquired the advowson (with its accompanying obligations in respect of the chancel) as late as 1794, along with other interests in the town.  It seems most likely that whichever Duke commissioned work on the chancel (most probably the 11th) the purpose was to remodel an older structure.  The Burrell drawing shows a square headed five-light east window with a transom and though parts could have been C17 (see above) it would be compatible with a mid-C18 dating.  Horsfield (II p338) mentions a three-light traceried east window, which is likely to be linked with the known construction of a taller east gable at the later remodelling.  The dimensions of the window would have required a taller east wall and thus roof. Further evidence in favour of the 11th Duke is that his interest in mediaeval architecture was well known.  In addition to the east window, his work probably included side-arches, though the present ones look C19 (My thanks to Sarah Leigh for suggestions beyond her published work about about the genesis of the chancel).  The 11th Duke was remodelling Arundel castle at around the same time and it is known that J Teasdale (ICBS), one of the responsible architects there, worked on the church in 1831; at an earlier date the arcades at Steyning had been a model for some of the work on the castle (B 6 p330).  Any remodelling of the chancel must have been considerably earlier if it was done by the 11th Duke, since he had died in 1815, but it is possible that Teasdale or his father of the same name had earlier done this work.

Successive C19 architects strove to adapt what was left.  In 1831 Teasdale’s work comprised the insertion of galleries, with which the brick opening in the east wall of the porch may be linked, and new pews.  By 1864, structural problems included cracks in the west crossing arch and repairs by G M Hills were costed at nearly £2000 (B 22 p673).  These took until 1869 and with further work the cost rose to £3284 (PP 125).  Hills remodelled (Johnston believed rebuilt (6 p153)) the chancel (B 27 p911) and at least in their present form the two tall but quite plain round-headed arches each side probably date from this time.  Otherwise, Hills’s detail is C13 in style and includes lancets, particularly three tall east ones, marble shafting and other carving inside and new roofs throughout; that in the nave rests on head-corbels.  Hills is likely also to have inserted the present west window, since the glass it contains (see below) dates from 1870, and thus predates the next known work on the tower in 1885, when an unidentified architect replaced the arch (6 ibid); there was also work costing £200 to the roof (CDK 1886 pt 2 p143).  The galleries of 1831 lasted until C E Clayton removed them in 1907 (CDG 166 (1907) p158) and re-ordered the chancel.  There were repairs to the tower in 1931 (7 p22) and an inscription in the church records a re-ordering in 1981-85.

The addition of St Cuthman to the dedication of the church dates from 2008.

Fittings and monuments

Door:  (Inner south door, now mounted on the wall) Though altered, this retains its original boards and at least one of the hinges, both of which have been dated to the mid-C12, though the sanctuary knocker appears later.
Font: C12 square marble bowl with zigzag ornamentation truncated at top and bottom, with a base and shafts of 1907 (CDG ibid).  The bowl had been found among rubbish in the churchyard in the 1840s (7 p2).
1.  (West window) J Hardman and Co, 1870 (Hardman index).
2.  (North aisle, first window) A L Moore, c1902 (signed).
3.  (South aisle, first and west and north aisle, second and third windows) Jones and Willis, 1909 (BN 97 p138).
4.  (South aisle, second window) C Whall, c1921 St Cuthman) ( retrieved on 28/3/2013).  Its colour-scheme is more muted that much of Whall’s other glass.
5. (South porch) 1939 and attributed to V Whall (Parsons and Milner-Gulland p112).
6.  (South aisle, east window) A Goodman, 1982 (signed).
7.  (East window) J Hardman and Co, 1864 (B 22 ibid).  it depicts the Crucifixion in the centre light.  The small quatrefoil above contains a saltire of St Andrew and is said to date from 1846 (7 p13).
8. (South porch, east window) L Ginnett, 1948, made by Warham Guild ( retrieved on 28/3/2013).  It shows the elderly St Cuthman tending his sheep.
9. (North aisle, east window) M Angus, Millennium window, 2000 (Artist’s website).
1.  (South porch) Broken stone slab, traditionally said to be King Ethelwulf’s tomb, but probably C11 (Tweddle (ed) p82).
2.  A further complete one of the same period, found in the churchyard in 1938.  Both show the schematic outline of what David Parsons has suggested (in his contribution to the SAS conference on early mediaeval churches in Sussex on 14 May 2011) is a house, with two-dimensional hipped gables at each end.  Such tombs may be ‘little houses of the dead’ (see also Stedham and Chithurst) and are probably the product of a single workshop.
Both of these had been used in later foundations.
3. (South aisle) Rev.Arthur C Pridgeon. vicar 1882-1907, who was responsible for the restoration of the latter year.  Designed and carved by E Gill in 1912 (E R Gill p35).  The carving of the letters is of Gill’s usual high standard, but the inscription seems over long for the size of plaque.
Paintings: (Second column of north arcade) Nothing is visible of the paintings illustrated by Johnston (6 fig.3 and p161), which he dated to the late C12 or early C13.
Panelling: (North chapel) Finely carved traceried panels and dated 1522, the year of death of Richard FitzJames, bishop of London.  It is not known how it reached Steyning where it was in the vicarage for many years before being placed in the church in 1983.  Sarah Leigh (7 p9) suggests this was through William Juxon, Bishop of London from 1633 to 1649, who had family connections with this part of Sussex.
Reredos: G M Hills, c1869 with painted tiles by W B Simpson and Co (B 27 ibid).
Royal Arms: (West wall) Painted, dated 1703.


1.  J Blair: Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham, SAC 135 (1997) pp173-92
2.  A M Butler: Steyning, Sussex, 700-1913, Croydon 1913
3.  M Gardiner and C Greatorex: Archaeological Excavations in Steyning 1992-95, SAC 135 (1997) pp143-71
4.  W H Godfrey: St Andrew, Steyning, SNQ 4 (Aug 1933) pp210-12
5.  T P Hudson: Church of St Andrew, Steyning, AJ 142 (1985) pp26-27
6.  P M Johnston: Steyning Church, (1) SAC 57 (1915) pp149-61;  (2) Modified version in JBAA NS 20 (1914) pp275-84
7.  S Leigh: Steyning Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Second revised edition, 2017
8.  T Medland: Notices of the Early History of Steyning and its Church, SAC 5 (1852) pp111-26
9.  D Parsons: St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning, NFSHCT 2011 pp5-8
10.  J Pennington: An ‘Image of Lust’ in Steyning Church?, SAC 129 (1991) pp251-52
11. F W Steer: Guide to the Church of St Andrew, Steyning (Sussex churches No 24), 1960
12. Information from M Thurlby at a lecture on Steyning Church given to Friends of Sussex Historic Churches Trust, 13 April 2014.  [NB. Until the contents of this key contribution have been published, my use of Professor Thurlby’s information derives from notes made at the time]
13. M Thurlby and Y Kusaba: The Nave of St Andrew at Steyning:  A Study of Variety in Design in Twelfth Century Architecture in Great Britain, Gesta 30/2 (1991) pp163-77
14. E Turner: Steyning and Westgrinstead Churches etc, SAC 22 (1870) pp1-21


  1. Measured plan by W H Godfrey in 10 plate II
  2. Plan differentiated by building phases in 7, inside cover.

I am most grateful to Sarah Leigh for much information about both the history and architecture of the church which she generously let me have before the publication of her own guide to the church (Source 7 above).  She gave me information of particular value about the aisle windows, the rebuilding(s) of the chancel and about James Teasdale.