The first significant history of any part of Sussex that was able to benefit from Sir William Burrell’s archive (see under ‘Unpublished sources – Sussex’) was volume I of James Dallaway’s (1764-1834) History of the Western Division of Sussex (i e West Sussex as it was before 1974) of 1815, covering the city and rape of Chichester. Dallaway was secretary to the Duke of Norfolk, who commissioned the History, as well as incumbent of South Stoke and Leatherhead, Surrey. He shared Burrell’s interest in genealogy, but used manorial records and clearly found some about church buildings, many of which he seems to have visited.
There are many errors and Dallaway knew little about mediaeval architecture, so the work’s main value where churches are concerned is what it says about then recent changes. The second volume appeared in 1819 (on the rape of Arundel), but most copies and half of those of volume I were destroyed by fire at the printers. Dallaway lost heart and the final volume (Volume II part 2, on the rape of Bramber) of 1830 was written by Edmund Cartwright (1773-1833), vicar of Lyminster, who is buried at Littlehampton. In a similar format, it too contains many errors. In 1832 Cartwight published a new edition of the rape of Arundel.
Inspired, perhaps, by Dallaway’s first two volumes, Thomas Walker Horsfield (1792-1837), the Unitarian minister of the Westgate Chapel, Lewes, published a two-volume history of the town in 1824 and 1827. This included the adjacent area and is of variable accuracy. As with Dallaway, the chief value of his comments on churches lies in his observation of recent changes. Horsfield left Sussex in 1827, but continued his interest in its history and in 1835 he published a two-volume history of the whole county. Much is derivative, either from his history of Lewes or from Dallaway and Cartwright, but he was the first historian of any part of East Sussex to achieve print.
Next was the section on Sussex churches in the rather cumbersomely titled Notes on the Churches in the Counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey mentioned in Domesday Book (1852) by the Rev Arthur Hussey (1793-1862). Like his father he was a clergyman who spent much of his later life at Rottingdean. His younger brother Richard Charles Hussey, a respected church architect, contributed to his brother’s book. The book contains much argument seeking to identify places recorded in Domesday Book but is based on a flawed premise, since the mention there of a church indicates only that it was linked to a particular holding of property. However, Hussey had a good understanding of mediaeval architecture and his book contains useful information about the current state of churches, especially interior features that did not survive restoration. Hussey was followed chronologically by Mark Anthony Lower’s (1813-76) History of Sussex, which appeared in two volumes in 1870. Lower was a pillar of the Sussex Archaeological Society in its first years and wrote many articles in SAC. He was born in Chiddingly and became a schoolmaster in Lewes. Though he must have consulted Burrell’s material, he used other sources and is less discursive than earlier historians. However, information about churches is often limited, though by the time he wrote they were being studied as never before.
The earliest book about Sussex churches alone was written in 1851 by Richard Henry Nibbs, an artist of Brighton (1816-93), containing his etchings of certain churches only with brief notes, which contain some useful information. In 1872 Mark Anthony Lower rewrote the text for a revised edition, but it offers little advance on his own History. Especially in this version, the criterion for selection seems to have been proximity to Brighton, but in a further book published in 1874 Nibbs ranged more widely. Since the texts are of limited value, in many cases the plates have been removed and framed. Nibbs was less skilled as an etcher than as a painter, but most of the churches he depicts were still unrestored and many are seen from a different angle to the Burrell or Sharpe drawings or those of Adelaide Tracy.
The late C19 saw the rise of tourism, particularly after the spread of railways to remoter parts of the county (some only reached in the 1880s), followed by the advent of motoring in the early C20. Both developments led to the production of guidebooks, many in series covering the whole country. Most successful were the Little Guides, launched in 1900 by Frederick Gaspard Brabant’s (1856-1929) volume on Sussex. Brabant was a private tutor in and around Oxford and no direct connection with Sussex has come to light, so he may have regarded his work chiefly as a business proposition, especially as he wrote other topographical volumes, including two other Little Guides (Oxfordshire and Lake District).
Brabant’s maps assume travel would be by train and the entries for towns and villages range well beyond churches. Even so, the sometimes brief information is scholarly, though his interest virtually ceased at the Reformation, except for monuments. Published only four years after Brabant, the title of Edward Verrall Lucas’s (1868-1938) Highways and Byways in Sussex, also belonging to a popular series, marks the advent of motoring. Lucas, a journalist, man of letters and contributor to Punch, emphasises the picturesque aspects of the county. A further, later series aimed even more definitely at the motorist is the King’s England by Arthur Mee (1875-1943), of which the volume on Sussex appeared in 1937. Like the series as a whole it remained available in its original version for over 20 years and has since been reprinted. It combines often flowery language and some rather disconcerting datings with a good eye for both the picturesque anecdote and the telling detail. When describing churches, Mee shows a particular interest in modern fittings and glass, though he does not always name the artist. By the time Mee’s book was published, yet another series had started, the Shell Guides, which, as the name of the sponsor shows, was also intended exclusively for the motorist. The series was edited by John Piper and also involved John Betjeman (1906-84). It lasted until the 1980s and the volume by William S Mitchell on East Sussex (1978) was one of the final ones. Mitchell has so far eluded more precise identification beyond the fact that he had lived in Sussex for 45 years, but his work is very much in the tradition of Jessup and Brabant in its combination of descriptions of buildings (mostly churches about which he knew a lot) with local history and topography. However, it postdates the first appearance of the Buildings of England volume (‘Pevsner’) (see below) and gives much greater weight to Victorian art and architecture than its predecessors.
The early C20 saw further specialised books about Sussex churches. The earliest was by Frederick Harrison (1858-1939), who wrote some articles in SAC and SNQ, mostly on non-ecclesiastical subjects, and also some historical novels, which did not prevent him becoming an FSA. The second edition of his Notes on Sussex Churches appeared in 1908, the year when he joined the SAS. It was small, even in the later revisions after World War I, and is mainly useful today as he almost always gives the date of restoration, though without any names. In 1912 Churches and Other Antiquities of West Sussex by A H Peat and Leslie Cecil Halsted (1887-1953) was published, but as it was limited to 56 churches, easily reached from Chichester (‘other antiquities’ were few), it did not replace Harrison. However, it treated each church included in greater detail, mentioning then recent work where possible. Halsted was a local solicitor, but In the absence of his first names Peat cannot be identified with certainty. It is most likely that he is Alfred Hugh Peat (1885-1982), also a Chichester man, though in 1911 he gave his occupation as grocer’s assistant, which if the identification is correct, would cast interesting light on the social dynamics of the Edwardian era.
The most eagerly awaited book in the early C20 on Sussex churches, P M Johnston‘s volume in the County Churches series, never appeared. The series covered many counties, mostly in the south and south east, before it came to an end before completion and Johnston’s book was announced for publication in 1914. Probably it was overtaken by political events, though the author would have been too old to fight. Collectors of the series have always hoped that at least a few advance or proof copies would have found their way onto the market, but the possibility can be dismissed. In the course of my researches, I have found no reference to Johnston’s book in other works, nor was it reviewed in SAC (as many books on Sussex then were), although Johnston was the greatest expert on the subject at the time and a frequent contributor to SAC. Perhaps most conclusively, there is no mention of it on the internet, whether in a library catalogue or on sale. It seems also inconceivable that, if any copies had existed, the author would not have presented one to the SAS’s library.
In the absence of Johnston’s book, Brabant and Harrison continued to be widely used, e g by W E Meads (see next paragraph) who in the 1930s regularly cites Johnston’s work in other contexts, but makes no mention of any book by him. There was a major revision of Brabant in 1938 by Ronald Frederick Jessup (1906-91), whose primary interest was Kent, on which he wrote a number of works, including a new Little Guide. In the case of Sussex he followed this example in 1949, when he produced an entirely new Little Guide in his name only. This recognised that most visitors travelled by car, but retained the previous format. Though entries on churches no longer stop at the Reformation, he largely ignores the C19.
William. Edward Meads (1879-1956), who was a dentist in Bexhill, is mentioned above. He wrote a lengthy series of articles on the ancient churches of East Sussex (because of later boundary changes, a few are now in West Sussex), which was published in regular instalments between 1931 and the outbreak of war in 1939 in the pages of the Sussex Express. By the end, he had covered all but one (Wivelsfield) of the churches containing work before c1700. The articles (sometimes in more than one part for each church) contain immensely detailed descriptions of the churches, about which he knew a vast amount, but they are generally short on interpretation and discussion, though Meads did on occasion provide useful insights. The newspaper can be consulted in various places, but his notebooks in the SAS Library in Barbican House, Lewes contain not only the relevant cuttings, but also additional notes, sketches and photographs for a revised (and presumably more lasting) version that was never published. More detail is given about these and about Meads in the section on Unpublished Sources on Sussex.
Throughout this period, the Victoria County History (VCH) was appearing (even now the rape of Pevensey and part of the rape of Arundel are awaited, as well as a full volume on Brighton and Hove that is in active preparation). This monumental project has been running for well over a century across the country, during which time its scope has changed substantially. Sussex was one of the first counties to be started, with two general volumes published in 1907 and 1914. Volume 2 includes what is still the only ecclesiastical history of Sussex by L F Salzman (1878-1971), whose long career, deep learning and widespread interests qualify him as the leading Sussex historian, at least since 1900. Architectural historians admire his pioneering Building in England down to 1540 (1952, though written before World War II) and its subsidiary title, A Documentary History, reveals his approach.
The VCH for Sussex acquired new impetus between the 1930s and the early 1950s, with topographical volumes on the rapes of Chichester (also the city), Lewes and Hastings. Overseen, if only on an informal basis, by W H Godfrey, these described each ancient church in some detail, many with a meticulously drawn plan. Godfrey, a remarkably energetic man who was also a leading restoration-architect, used the material he had accumulated to the full. He made many of the measured plans himself, though sometimes jointly, wrote many short articles on churches in Sussex Notes and Queries and started the Sussex Churches Guides series, under the auspices of the then Sussex Archaeological Trust. Transferred to the Sussex Historic Churches Trust, the series, in which over 50 guides appeared, lasted until the 1970s; Francis William Steer (1912-78) wrote the later ones and the series did not outlive him. Steer was by training an archivist and this no doubt explains why his guides contain less architectural history and rely more on documentary evidence.
There was no movement in the VCH from 1953 until the topographical volumes were resumed with the rape of Bramber, which in contrast to the earlier single volumes on each rape, was covered in three (1980-87). Today the focus is far more on social and economic matters and churches are accorded less detail, but the descriptions, though briefer, no longer end at the Reformation. The most recent volume, the second on the rape of Arundel, appeared in 2009.
During the long gap, the volume for Sussex in the Buildings of England series appeared in 1965, whose progenitor was Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-83). Enough has been written about the series and its founding father to make further comment unnecessary. Pevsner’s preface describes in muted terms the unhappy circumstances in which Sussex was produced, particularly the withdrawal after completing West Sussex of Ian Nairn (1930-83) who was intended to write the whole work. Nairn was a brilliant writer on topography and the urban landscape (his Nairn’s London has recently been republished after almost 50 years) but he had less taste for detailed descriptions of architecture, though he had compensating gifts for the brief but telling comment and the evocation of the spirit of a place. With a certain resignation, Pevsner himself took on East Sussex, but unsurprisingly the volume as a whole proved one of the less satisfactory of the series. In the volume on Staffordshire, the last of his initial volumes to be published, Pevsner remarks that ‘it is the second editions which count’ and the publication in May 2013 of the revised and much expanded volume for East Sussex, undertaken by Nick Antram certainly merited the expectations placed upon it. Like all the revisions of the Buildings of England this is far more detailed than the first edition, as is evident from the division of Sussex into two volumes. It was followed six years later by the equivalent volume for West Sussex written by a team led by Elizabeth Williamson. This has managed with considerable success to retain Nairn’s insights whilst amending his often rather sweeping statements and correcting errors. I feel inhibited from commenting on the revised entries on churches in either volume since the authors of both generously acknowledge their use of this website.
Related to the revised East Sussex but more limited in scope is the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Brighton and Hove which Nick Antram undertook at an earlier date with Richard Morrice (2008). This provides many new insights into the development of the inner parts of the joint city, as well as individual buildings, including the churches, though there is inevitably some overlap with the new volume for all East Sussex.
Admirable though such revised volumes are, they are unlikely to have quite the effect on architectural studies that the original ones had. The same comment applies to all the revised versions for we have become accustomed to the meticulous standards of scholarship that were so novel when Pevsner first wrote, as a comparison with almost any of the earlier works mentioned above will show. Such a dominant work as ‘Pevsner’ is not without drawbacks, particularly its effect on at least the next generation. It can inhibit new thinking, leading to uncritical acceptance of what it says. Pevsner knew this and recognised he could not match the knowledge of local scholars, though he castigated many for writing at excessive length. The next book, Ernest Arthur Fisher’s study of the Anglo-Saxon churches in Sussex (1970), was written too soon afterwards to reflect Pevsner, but in any case its thesis is doubtful, though it is strong on recording physical dimensions.
Of later works, those calling for comment are two by Robert Elleray – The Victorian Churches of Sussex (1981) and Sussex Places of Worship (2004) – and Mike Salter’s The Old Parish Churches of Sussex (2000). Elleray’s earlier work was the first attempt to research a field in which Sussex is strong, but judging by significant attributions omitted, he overlooked some important sources. Its prime value today lies in old photographs, the author’s particular interest. Elleray’s more recent work is an expansion of the gazetteer part of the earlier one, containing much that is new and covering a period of two centuries from c1760; as before, he includes non-Anglican churches. A wider range of sources seems to have been used, though they are still not cited, and there are brief notes about each church, but it has fewer old photographs. Salter’s book belongs to a series of individual volumes on quite a few counties that he has written, most of them in the Midlands and West Country. It. covers more familiar ground and shows the influence of Pevsner, errors and all. For many churches, he provides small plans, the majority of them differentiated by date. These inevitably overlap with those by Godfrey and his associates, and are smaller and less precise, but they are helpful, particularly for churches that the latter did not study.
The most recent work, 20 Sussex Churches by Simon Watney (2007), is rather different. It belongs to a series in an attractive format that recalls the King Penguin series (another child of Pevsner’s remarkably fertile mind) and the text contains some interesting insights into the churches chosen, as well as new information, particularly about fittings. Some of his opinions are open to challenge, but it is a matter for regret that it is so selective.
Researchers since the war, including Pevsner, have made good use of the listings produced successively by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Department of the Environment, English Heritage and most recently Historic England. They are available, most conveniently, on the website www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, though they are sometimes made harder to use because of geographical oddities and a capricious order of listing (for example, some churches are listed under T (‘The parish church of … ‘) and others hardly more logically under P (‘Parish church of …’) or S (‘Saint … ‘)). Listing started soon after World War II and by 1960 most significant buildings in Sussex were covered, at least if they were earlier than about 1820. At this time descriptions were invariably brief, often only a line or two. That applied even to quite major mediaeval churches (most C19 and C20 ones were absent). Unfortunately, however, their existence has sufficed to prevent any fuller description, though in some cases since about 1980 they have been replaced by much longer versions that provide in some cases new interpretations of complex churches and also information about fittings. That applies in particular to Brighton and Hove and Worthing, where the lists have also been expanded to cover later buildings. There is thus a paradox in that the more significant a church, the less likely it is to have a full description, as this will never have been revised since the first listing. Nevertheless the listings are a valuable asset and will become more so as the descriptions are improved.
As well as the above works, there have been a few studies of the contents of churches which concentrate on Sussex. They are all old and vary considerably in their usefulness. Most valuable, perhaps, is the extensive list of major pre-C19 fixtures and fittings, The Treasures of the Sussex Churches (1937), by H R Mosse (1858-1942). Though summary and sometimes inaccurate, it shows where there is something to search for (quite a lot of what is recorded is no longer in evidence, whether stolen, destroyed or put into safekeeping). Far more is known about brasses than when T C Woodman wrote in 1903 and though Mosse’s earlier work on monumental effigies (1931) is good on mediaeval effigies and their background, he was less interested in even the early post-Reformation ones that he covered. There have been two works on fonts. First was the cumbersomely entited An Introduction to the Study of English Fonts with Details of those in Sussex by A Katherine Walker (c1908). This attempts to establish a general typology of earlier mediaeval fonts, but it is on a pretty basic level. However, it remains useful because of the descriptions, photographs and dimensions of fonts in Sussex which the author provides to illustrate her main purpose. It is certainly preferable to the second work on fonts, that by Maud Drummond-Roberts (1931). This is selective, makes no attempt at an analysis and some of the photographs are dingy.