The Priory Church


The church of ST. MARY AND ST. BLAISE, (fn. 149) formerly the priory church, stands east of the village street on the south side of the site of the former conventual buildings; it is built of flint with ashlar dressings, mostly of Caen stone, and is roofed with tile. It consists of aisled choir flanked by a sacristy on the north, transepts, crossing and central tower, nave and south aisle with porch (formerly a chapel) in the angle between it and the transept. The nave and aisle originally extended some distance west of the present building, and there was a north aisle west of the monastic cloister.

The church mentioned in Domesday Book (fn. 150) seems to have been collegiate; but no remains of that date exist, though the absence of a north aisle next to the cloisters suggests that an un-aisled pre-Conquest nave may have formed part of the original priory church. In the 12th century, after the foundation of the priory, there was built an aisled (fn. 151) east limb, transepts, and two bays of the nave. Later in the 12th century the crossing piers were reconstructed and the present tower built; about the same time the nave was extended to its (pre-Suppression) full length, and the clearstory of the earlier part reconstructed. Shortly after, probably very soon after 1200, (fn. 152) the whole east limb was rebuilt. The chapel south of the nave is of the 14th century, the sacristy of the 15th; the de la Warr chantry chapel is dated 1532. The unroofing of the western part of the nave and the conversion of the flanking chapel into a porch must have followed hard on the suppression of the priory in 1537.

At the east end of the choir are two buttresses of three stages each with sloping offsets.

The east window is a group of three lancets with moulded rear-arches and Purbeck marble shafts; the middle lancet is higher than the others.

The choir itself is vaulted in four bays, but its aisles in eight; the arcades separating them have a form more usual in triforia than in ground stages, that of an arch (in this case semicircular) inclosing two arches (in this case pointed). The first and second principal piers, counting from the east, are of freestone, each surrounded by a cluster of four attached shafts and four detached ones of Purbeck marble; the bases, of freestone, and the capitals, of Purbeck, are moulded; the east responds have the form of half-piers. The third principal pier is a plain octagon of freestone with moulded Purbeck capital, and the west respond is like half of it. The arches supported by these are of one order, moulded and with hood-mould, and extend through the wall. (fn. 153) The intermediate piers in the first two double bays are of five Purbeck shafts each, (fn. 154) and support moulded arches of two orders; but the second pier on the south side has been removed, and the two pointed arches converted into a single four-centred one, to provide room for the de la Warr chantry. The pier in the third double bay is cylindrical, of Purbeck, that in the fourth is octagonal, of freestone with Purbeck capital. The tympanum over each intermediate pier has a moulded quatrefoil panel.

There is no triforium stage; but the aisle vault goes no higher than the crowns of the sub-arches, and the glazed openings of the clearstory windows are not carried so low as the moulded string-course over the pier arches; the triforium chamber lies behind this space. The clearstory passage, reached from a newel staircase at the west end of the south choir aisle, is carried across the sills of the windows in the east wall; thence doorways give access to the triforium chamber. The inner face of the clearstory consists of three pointed arches, the two outer almost, if not quite, straightlined, moulded, and carried on Purbeck shafts with moulded freestone capitals and bases; the outer face has a single-light lancet window whose hood-mould is continued as a string-course at springing level. A corbel table supports the dripping eaves.

The vaulting, quadripartite, rests on attached shafts of freestone, with Purbeck capitals, which rise from the level of the springing of the principal arches of the arcade, and rest on corbels in the form of human heads; it has moulded groin, division, and wall ribs (the groin ribs alone have nail-head moulding), but there is no wall rib on the west side. Bosses at the intersection of the groin ribs are carved with foliage. (fn. 155)

The whole of this work, which is carried out in ashlar, is on one date, about 1200.

In the 16th century the vault received some elaborate heraldic painting, (fn. 156) the style of which suggests that it was the work of Lambert Barnard, who worked for Bishop Sherburne and died in about 1567.

The de la Warr chantry chapel (1535) in the second bay of the south arcade is the sole example in Sussex of that form of building within building which evolved from the practice of flanking a chantry altar with screens; it is made of Caen stone, and is interesting for its mixture of Gothic and Renaissance detail, the latter evidently derived from pattern-books. (fn. 157) Its plan is that of an oblong divided into two bays, each subdivided both in length and breadth into two. At each corner and halfway along each side and end is a pier to which is attached an external shaft covered with carving in Renaissance style in relief. Up to sill level the walls are covered externally with rectilinear panelling charged with badges, the crampet, leopard's face jessant de lys, &c.; the entrance, on the north side, is closed by a two-leaved gate of contemporary wrought iron.

In the east wall is a reredos in three bays divided by narrow vertical strips of Renaissance ornament; the side bays contain niches for statues (fn. 158) and have normal Gothic canopies; the central was presumably intended for a scene in high relief such as exists in contemporary tombs, probably by the same craftsman, at Selsey and West Wittering. At the base of this is inscribed of your charite pray for the souls of thomas la ware and elyzabeth his wyf. This reredos is flanked by two coats of arms. (fn. 159)

On each of the north and south sides of the chapel are four openings under multifoil four-centred arches, each pair of which rests on the piers of the building and meets in an ornamental pendant; the eastern of these on the north side is inscribed thomas la war anno d(omi)ni m vc xxxii, the western elyzabetha la war; those on the south side are uninscribed. Similar but smaller openings exist in the walls at the east and west ends of the building. The vaulting is of fan-tracery form in four bays and two alleys; on a central pendant are carved figures of angels (upside down) and on subsidiary pendants are volutes of Renaissance design.

The entablature is in two stages; in the lower the piers and pendants are surmounted by niches for images; between each of these are shields of arms supported alternately by angels vested in amice and alb, and by naked winged amorini. The upper stage of the entablature has a second tier of niches, between which are more varied carvings, ranging from amorini holding badges to a lion in a thicket. The upper edge of the chapel is finished, appropriately enough, by battlements alternating with the Classical anthemion.

The south aisle of the choir has a shallow buttress on the east, four buttresses of greater depth on the south, and a projection containing a newel staircase west of all; these are contemporary with the choir save that the second buttress from the east was reconstructed late in the 15th century. The east buttress is of one stage with sloped offset, the easternmost on the south side is of three with two sloping offsets and gabled head; it seems to have been designed to carry a flying buttress, subsequently deemed superfluous. The next resembles it, but bears the arms of Bishop Story (1478–1503), six pieces argent and sable on each argent a stork sable, and the initials P.R.C., usually interpreted as those of Prior Richard Chese (1485–c. 1510). The next two resemble the last but are finished with offsets, not gables; on the second are three Mass dials, one having the hours marked in Arabic numerals, of perhaps the 15th century. These three support plain, and very heavy, flying buttresses of a single order, which abut against shallow pilasters on the outside of the clearstory wall. (fn. 160)

In the east wall of this aisle is a three-light window with net tracery of the 14th century; on the south side of the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th bays are single lancet windows of the 13th century, in the 4th bay is a twolight window, apparently of the 14th but subsequently altered by removal of the upper part of the tracery; in the 3rd and 5th are modern windows having a general resemblance to it; between those of the 5th and 6th is a blocked doorway of the 13th century, with doubtful traces of a squint beside it, perhaps part of the remains of an anchorite's cell.

In the eastern bay are an aumbry and a piscina side by side, each having moulded jambs and pointed head, of the 13th century; a moulded string-course runs below the sills of the 13th-century windows, and has been cut into by those of later date. The doorway to the newel stair has plain jambs and segmental arch.

The vaulting of this aisle, in eight bays, has moulded groin ribs with carved bosses at their intersections and division ribs of semi-octagon section; on the choir side it springs from the arcade capitals (save at the east end, where there is a nook-shaft), on the outer side from moulded corbels.

A tomb in the third bay has panelled front and plain slab under a multifoiled depressed arch, probably 16thcentury; east of it two chest tombs of the same or earlier date have panelled fronts.

The north choir aisle resembles the south; the east window, of three lights, has net tracery of the 14th century; in the north wall there are lancet windows of the 13th century in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th bays, three-light windows with Perpendicular tracery of the 15th in the 3rd and 7th; in the 5th is the sacristy door with plain jambs and pointed arch, and in the 8th a blocked doorway, visible with difficulty on the outside, of uncertain date, originally leading to a small sacristy now destroyed. There is no newel staircase on this side; in the easternmost bay there is an aumbry in the north wall and a piscina, with attached pillar, in the east.

A niche tomb in the third bay resembles, and is approximately coeval with, that in the opposite aisle; a similar one east of it has the letters T and M in the spandrels; from this and the resemblance of the workmanship to that of the de la Warr chantry it was probably prepared for Thomas Myles, the last prior, who left Boxgrove before his death.

The sacristy (15th-century) has a two-light window with ogee cinquefoil-headed lights under a square head in both the east and north walls; higher in the north wall a former cross-shaped ventilation opening has been blocked with knapped flint.

The four arches of the crossing are pointed, of two moulded orders each, resting on a common scalloped capital with circular abacus; below the capital each respond is of two attached shafts, one round, the other keeled, resting on moulded bases. The next stage of the tower, open to the church internally, (fn. 161) has on each side an arcade of four pointed arches, grouped in two pairs, resting on shafts with foliaged capitals and square abaci; behind these runs a wall-passage giving access to the bell-chamber. This has on each face two windows with round-headed arches of two orders, abaci continued to form string-courses, and nook-shafts to the responds; all this work is of about 1200. The tower is finished with a corbel table and battlement of the 15th century and a pyramidal tiled roof.

In the north transept the arch opening into the choir aisle is semicircular, of one order resting on imposts with crude torus mouldings and plain jambs, of the 12th century; north of this is a narrow window, now blocked, with round head, of the same date. In the north wall is an opening, now a window, which was originally the doorway leading from the monastic dorter to the night stairs in the church; it is square headed, but a four-centred arch is visible on the outside. In the gable is a single-light window with plain jambs and round head, of the 12th century; this interrupts the weathermould which covered the junction of the dorter roof.

In the west wall, next to the crossing pier, is a doorway, (fn. 162) now blocked, with anse de panier head resting direct on jambs, both moulded; this is of the 15th or 16th century. Next to it is a round-headed window, now blocked, of the 12th century; next is a small doorway, the present means of access to the church on the north side, of similar design to that farther south, apparently 15th-century work but not inserted in its present place till after the Suppression, as it cuts into the space occupied in monastic times by the newel stair from the dorter. At a higher level in this wall are two two-light windows, one with cinquefoil heads, one uncusped, of the 15th or 16th centuries, near the level of the wooden ceiling with moulded beams which was inserted, probably in the 16th century, at the level of the capitals of the crossing arches. Above this is a chamber, normally inaccessible, lit not only by the window already mentioned but formerly by two round-headed windows in the east and west walls. There is also in the north wall a fire-place of probably 16th-century date. (fn. 163) The roof is of trussed rafters.

The south transept resembles the north generally, but in the south wall, against which no conventual buildings abutted, are two shallow buttresses of the 12th century and two three-light windows, with fourcentred heads and Perpendicular tracery, inserted in about the 16th; above these is a small round-headed window of the 12th. In both east and west walls are blocked windows, round-headed and apparently of the 12th century; the eastern one was subsequently converted into an image niche by partial hollowing and the addition of a bracket. In the west wall is an opening into the south aisle of the nave resembling those which open into the choir aisles. There is a pillar piscina against the south wall and a chest tomb with panelled sides; a similar tomb abuts against the east wall. The roof-framing above the wooden ceiling is modern.

The nave was originally of twelve bays, though vaulted in six; the two easternmost alone are roofed to-day. In the north wall is the doorway, now blocked, which was the monks' principal entrance into the church. This has moulded jambs, arch, and hoodmould externally; internally the rear-arch is set in a square frame, both moulded, having shields in the spandrels; this is of the 15th century; over it is a single lancet window, late-12th-century, at clearstory level. On the south side is an arcade of two bays having one cylindrical pier with moulded base and scalloped capital, and two responds having the form of halfpiers; (fn. 164) the arches are semicircular, of two orders, and are plain save where a start has been made at cutting a cheveron ornament on them. Above these can be seen the remains of a single clearstory window of like date; this was blocked when the present window, resembling that opposite, was put in at a higher level.

The lower part of the west wall incorporates the remains of the monastic pulpitum, having two doorways, now blocked, with plain jambs and round-arched heads on the outside and segmental pointed rear-arches; on the west side the remains of the piscina of the nave altar are visible next to the southernmost, and a small recess or niche next to the other. In the post-Suppression wall built on the pulpitum to close in the end of the church is a modern two-light window in 14thcentury style.

In the south wall of the aisle, besides the remains of a blocked window of perhaps three lights, is a single archway with semi-octagonal responds, moulded capitals and bases, and pointed arch of like section, which gives access to the present south porch. In the west wall is a doorway, now blocked, of one moulded order with pointed arch and segmental rear-arch, formerly giving access to the western part of the aisle. The vaulting, 12th-century, in two bays, is groined but with neither groin nor division ribs.

The porch, formerly a side chapel, has a two-light window with tracery, partly restored, of the 14th century, in the west wall; the blocked remains of another, perhaps similar, window in the south, and, east of this, a doorway of one order with pointed arch and moulded arch and jambs, of like date but evidently refixed; remains of a stoup east of the arch leading into the aisle give ground for inferring that this was fitted up as a porch at a date later than the Suppression but before the use of holy water was discontinued.

The western part of the nave, now ruined, was built in the late 12th century and had ten bays, the piers of the arcades being of two designs alternately; one was a Greek cross on plan surrounded by detached Purbeckmarble shafts with freestone capitals carved with foliage; the east respond of the south arcade survives (minus the shafts). The alternate piers, of which the easternmost on the south side survives, were cylindrical with moulded bases and scalloped caps; the arches were of two chamfered orders, pointed. For five bays on the north side, where the cloister took the place of the aisle, the nave wall had blind arches copying the design of the arcade; in the westernmost of these are traces of the west processional doorway. In the foundations of the west wall of the nave the position of the west doorway, and the lowest steps of a newel staircase, are traceable. The clearstory and vaulting were of the same design as those of the bays still roofed.

The outer wall of the south aisle has disappeared, but traces of the vaulting, with moulded groin and division ribs, are visible at the east end. Opposite the fifth and sixth bays from the pulpitum the foundations of a large building, probably a porch, have been traced.

Of the north aisle, west of the cloister, part of the exterior wall exists, pierced by a single lancet on the north, and by a doorway on the west.

It is on record that in 1535 the Prior of Boxgrove had five bells made. (fn. 165) On the suppression of the priory in the following year three bells, weighing 38 cwt., were sold to Lord de la Warre. (fn. 166) At the present time there is only one bell; this was cracked and recast in 1937, reproducing the old inscription which stated that it was made in 1674 by William Eldridge. (fn. 167) The further inscription—'Resurgimus e ruinis fulgure factis 2 Junii 1673'—suggests that at least one other bell was cast at that time.

At the restoration of the church in 1865 the Elizabethan silver cup was melted down, and the only piece of plate older than that date is a paten of 1763. (fn. 168)

The registers begin in 1561.


The Domesday Survey speaks of 1 hide in Boxgrove being held by 'the clerks of the church', (fn. 169) which points to the existence of a small collegiate body. In 1105 Robert de Haye gave to the Norman abbey of Lessay the church of St. Mary of Boxgrove with 2½ hides round it, the tithes of the whole parish and of his Christmas rents there, and the tithe of his woods. (fn. 170) The Priory of Boxgrove was subsequently established as a cell of Lessay, becoming independent by the end of the 14th century, (fn. 171) and the advowson of the church, of which the nave was parochial, remained in the hands of the convent until its dissolution in 1537. A vicarage was ordained in 1257, (fn. 172) and in 1291 the rectory was valued at £26 13s. 4d. and the vicarage at £8. (fn. 173) The vicarage was increased in 1409, when in addition to a house and land the vicar was assigned 14 marks and the tithe of all pot-herbs (olerum), 'both kale and leeks and other herbs of which by custom of the country potage is made'. (fn. 174) In 1535 the rectory was farmed for £28 6s. 8d. and the vicarage was worth £9 13s. 4d. (fn. 175) After the Dissolution the advowson and rectory followed the descent of the manor of Boxgrove, being now held by the Duke of Richmond.

An order for the union of the livings of Boxgrove and Tangmere was made in April 1658, (fn. 176) but if ever effective it was reversed at the Restoration.

William de St. John in 1159 established a chantry at Halnaker endowed with rents in Winchester, which he subsequently exchanged for land in Compton. The chaplain was not to take any tithes or any offerings from parishioners of Boxgrove, except on the eve and day of St. Mary Magdalene, in whose honour the chapel was dedicated, and the monks were to provide him with food whenever the lord was not in residence. (fn. 177) In 1519 the other Halnaker chantry, in the church of North Mundham, being too poorly endowed to support a chaplain, was united to this; the cantarist was to reside at Halnaker but to celebrate at least four times a year at North Mundham. (fn. 178) The chantry was usually served by one of the monks, (fn. 179) and was held from 1513 to 1519 by Thomas Myles, who at the latter date was Prior of Boxgrove. (fn. 180) The advowson of the chantry was transferred with the manor to Henry VIII in 1541. (fn. 181) When valued previous to its suppression in 1548 it was worth £6 16s. clear, (fn. 182) and the chaplain, Thomas Deane, was given a pension of £5. (fn. 183)

A fraternity of St. Blaise connected with the parish church of Boxgrove is mentioned in 1487 and 1507, (fn. 184) and a bequest was made to 'the Brotherhed prest' in 1539. (fn. 185) At the suppression of fraternities in 1548 the property of 'the Brotheredde of Bosgrave' was only 6s. 8d. (fn. 186)


Lady Derby. By an indenture dated 2 January 1740 Mary, Countess Dowager of Derby, granted a piece of ground called Mary Garden together with a yearly rentcharge of £140 to trustees to lay out the same in erecting almshouses on the said ground for the habitations of a schoolmaster and twelve poor widows or aged maidens of the Church of England, six of them to be of the parish of Boxgrove, four of East Lavant, and two of Tangmere. The almshouses were erected about 1742. By an Order dated February 1915 the Charity Commissioners determined that part of the endowments of the charity which ought to be applied to educational purposes. Particulars of the part so determined are set out in the Order.

The Rev. Henry Legge by a codicil dated 2 March 1878 to his will dated 2 June 1874 bequeathed £200, the income to be applied in augmentation of the allowances then made to the inmates of the Lady Derby's Almshouses being pensioners from the parish of East Lavant. The annual income of the charity amounts to £5 0s. 4d.

Lady Hyde. By an indenture dated 31 May 1695 Dame Margaret Hyde conveyed to trustees five pieces of land called Kingsland in the parish of Yalding upon trust to dispose of the yearly rents in the following manner: 40s. to the minister of Boxgrove for preaching a sermon in the parish church on Christmas Day, the 30th January, Good Friday, and Ascension Day; 40s. to eight poor widows of Boxgrove on 5 November, and if there should not be in the parish eight poor widows then to such other poor people of the parish as the trustees and the minister and churchwardens should think fit; and with the remainder of the rents to buy English bibles to be given to poor maids or girls of the parish of Boxgrove on 29 May. By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 28 January 1896 it was provided that the trustees may from time to time apply the surplus income of the charity in aid of the stipends of the inmates of the almshouses of the charity of Mary, Countess Dowager of Derby. By a further scheme dated 25 January 1946 it was provided that so far as the income cannot usefully be applied in the manner prescribed by the above-mentioned indenture and scheme, the income may be applied for the spiritual benefit of such poor maids or girls of Boxgrove as the trustees think fit. The annual income of the charity amounts to £41 9s. 5d.

Elizabeth Nash. Particulars of the foundation of this charity will be found under the parish of Bosham. The share of the income of the charity for this parish is applicable for the schooling and clothing of two poor children of the parish. By an Order of the Charity Commissioners dated 22 April 1904 one moiety of the income is to be applied to educational purposes.

Trustees of the above-mentioned charities, with the exception of the part of the charity of Mary Countess Dowager of Derby for educational purposes and Nash's Educational Foundation, are appointed by Order of the Charity Commissioners.

The Hon. Mrs. Dorothy Nelson Ward by her will dated 5 September 1939 bequeathed to the vicar and churchwardens of Boxgrove £1,000, the income to be applied in keeping the churchyard of Boxgrove in good order. The income of the charity amounts to £26 5s. 2d.