St Catherine of Siena Church has served the parish of Cocking for over 1000 years. The oldest parts of the church date from the 11th century although most of the church is later, from the 12th to 14th centuries, withsubstantial additions in the mid-19th century.
The church is a Grade I listed building. Inside the church, the main features of interest are the 11th-century chancel arch, the remnants of a 13th-century wall painting and the 12th-century font.
The church is located at the east of the village between the manor house and Costers Brook. The presentmanor farmhouse dates from the 15th century and is a Grade II listed building. Parking for the church is adjacent to the former Manor Farm and is accessed off Mill Lane; there is no vehicular access via Church Lane.
The village war memorial is situated alongside the southern gate into the churchyard from Sunwool Lane, close to where this crosses Costers Brook, in the area known locally as “Bumble Kite”. The memorial was originally erected in 1920 in the garden of the headteacher’s house attached to the school on the corner of Mill Lane and was moved to its present location in 1959.
History of the Parish
The Domesday Book, completed in 1086, records the village of Cocking as “Cochinges” and describes it as having a church and five mills. At this time, the village was held by Robert, son of Tetbald, who had been appointed Sheriff of Arundel and Lord of the Honour of Petworth by Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.
In the 11th century, the church was attached to the St Nicholas collegiate church at Arundel; the college at Arundel then became a priory of the abbey at Séez in Normandy, France. Thus the church at Cocking passed to the Abbey of Séez which was under the Order of Saint Benedict.
In 1199, the ownership of the parish was the subject of a claim against the Abbey by Brian Fitzralph, and his wife, Gunnor on the grounds that it had been taken from her great-grandfather, Alan. The claim was released by Brian and Gunnor in return for a “palfrey” (a light-weight horse) worth twenty shillings.
In 1234, Ralph Neville, Bishop of Chichester agreed with the Abbot of Séez to appropriate the church at Cocking to the Priory of St Nicholas at Arundel on condition that the Arundel monks should pay twenty shillings per annum to the Vicar of Cocking, in addition to the tithes etc. that he was already receiving. At about the same time, with the consent of the abbey of Séez, the church at Shulbrede, near Linchmere, was appropriated to the priory there, having been a “daughter” of the church at Cocking.
By 1401, the Advowson of Cocking (the right to nominate the parish priest) was held by the Bishop of Chichester with whom it remained until 1859, when it was transferred to the Bishop of Oxford. In 1873, it was acquired by the Crown after which it became the gift of the Lord Chancellor.
In December 1931, the benefices of Cocking and neighbouring Bepton were united by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as “The United Benefice of Cocking with Bepton”.
As a result of falling congregations and the church’s poor condition, St Mary Magdalene church at West Lavington was closed in September 2008 and the congregation transferred to Cocking. The two parishes were subsequently united and are now known as “The Parish of Cocking with West Lavington”. In 2013, the former church at West Lavington was offered for sale, although the graveyard will continue to belong to the parish with public access.
History of the church
In “Cocking Church, West Sussex. A Short History and Guide” published in 1975, Peter Leicester claims that it is believed that a wooden church was built in Cocking around 680, whereas other sources accept that the present church replaced an earlier Saxon church.
The present church was built at the end of the 11th century as a simple “two cell” church with a nave and chancel. The south aisle and Lady Chapel were added about 1300 during the Decorated Gothic period; at the same time, the chancel windows were enlarged and the tower was built.
During the Puritan era (17th century), a minstrels’ gallery was built at the western end of the nave. Entrance to the gallery was through a small door to the left of the south door, from where a staircase spanned the south aisle to an opening through the south wall of the nave. The stairs were lit by a gable window set into the roof. The gallery, staircase and door were removed during the 1865 improvements.
Until the late 1850s, the parsonage stood to the south of the church on a marshy site close to the brook; it is said that during most winters there were 2 ft. of water in the cellar. The Revd. James Barker, vicar of Cocking from 1708 until his death in 1736, opened a doorway in the south wall of the chancel, for quicker access from the parsonage; this doorway was blocked up by the Revd. Richard Ash in 1865, and in 1896, the Revd. Henry Randall, set up Mr. Barker’s tombstone against where the doorway had been when he restored the chancel. The door can be seen in an 1804 drawing of the church.
In 1865, the Revd. Ash was responsible for the building of the north aisle; this was the work of renowned church architect, William Slater, and his partner, Richard Carpenter. At the same time, the south aisle was refaced with flint, the porch was added and the south arcade was restored.
In 1896, the Revd. Randall extended the north aisle to include the vestry; at the same time, the chancel was partially rebuilt and restored, with the stonework of earlier windows being exposed. The architect was George Pritchett, who was based in Hertfordshire and Essex. In addition, the exterior of the chancel was refaced in ashlar and the west window on the south aisle was altered.
The church was listed at Grade I on 18 June 1959.
It is not known if the church had any dedication prior to the twenty-first century. In April 2007, the congregation agreed to dedicate the church to St Catherine of Siena, whose name is engraved on one of the church bells.
Find out more about the architecture and interior of St Catherine of Siena here