HEYSHOTT is not mentioned in the Doomsday Book (1086) but the burial mounds on the ridge of the chalk downs to the south and on the high heather-covered ridge to the north (the name Heyshott means ‘corner in the heather’) indicate settlements here about 1600 BC.
St James church has always been supposed, from its architectural detail, to be early 13th century. The kiln must surely have pre-dated the church, which may therefore be rather later than supposed, say second half of the 13th century. The original church was probably smaller than the present building, but even so it seems odd to make a kiln in what would then have been a churchyard, although no early burials were found in this position. Was the original chapel of Heyshott on another site, e.g. in Bridechurch field recorded in the 14th century as the name of the field in the angle of the sharp turn in Hoyle Lane just beyond the last group of cottages in Heyshott? If the chapel was on the present site, was there a period of decay before the 13th century church was built, when the kiln might have been in use? The limited amount of pottery suggests it was not in use long; was the potter ordered out? Many ‘wasters’ in the garden of Poats Cottage, the modern house behind the old school, show there must have been a kiln there at a rather later date, extensively used.
There are three bells:
- William Founder 1390/1400
- Anthony Wakefield 1600
- William Eldridge 1671.
Two interesting discoveries were made in the church the 20th century:
- In the wall under the war memorial window in the south wall, a piscine was found to have been closed up and has been re-opened. Below the west side of the window traces were seen under the plaster of a similar square opening, probably an aumbry (cupboard). This has not yet been investigated. But it is supposed that there must once have been a side altar in this unusual position.
- At the west end of the church, just south of the present position of the font, there were discovered substantial remains of an early 13th century kiln for making domestic pottery. The firing chamber dug out of the clay, with four supports for the pottery, part of its domed roof and a single flue were found. It had afterwards been filled in and levelled up with clay for the church floor. A kiln in such a position gives rise to much speculation.
Heyshott is famous for its association with the 19th century free trader and liberal MP Richard Cobden, who was born in the parish in 1804. His actual birthplace was Dunford House, just north of the village of Heyshott. There is a plaque in St James Church which says ‘In this place Richard Cobden, who loved his fellow man, was accustomed to worship God’.
A Brief History
A chapel at Heyshott is first mentioned in a charter of Alan Fitz Eudo, Lord of Petworth, granting a number of churches, amongst them Stedham with the chapel of HESCHETA belonging to it, to the priory of St Pancras, Lewes. The original charter is lost, but a confirmation by Bishop Seffrid of Chichester (1125-1146) survives. The priory of St Pancras drew a pension of 40 shillings a year from the church of Heyshott until the suppression of the monastery in 1539. Heyshott church continued to be attached to Stedham until 1881, when it was made an independent Rectory in the gift of the Bishop of Chichester.
Although there was a parsonage house on the north side of the church, it was more usual for the priest to live at Stedham; this makes it difficult to make a list of incumbents. It is probable that the priest of Stedham also served Heyshott, but if he lived at Stedham there was a curate at Heyshott. One cannot therefore conclude that the same man always served both parishes. The dedication to St James is modern, the choice possibly influenced by the fact that St James is the patron saint of Stedham.
Although the original chapel here was probably mainly of wood, the fragment of a stone pillar piscine (drain for washing the communion vessels, drilled through a pillar) probably came from it. This was dug up under the floor of the church in 1972. It is also possible that the font in its original form could be 12th century and came from the early church. It has undergone various alterations; it could have been originally a plain tub-shaped font, but in the 13th century stood on a stem and four shafts. These have been cut down. The wooden cover dates from the 17th century.
The building which we see today dates from the 13th century but only the south wall (which may contain some materials re-used from an earlier structure), the west wall, and the arcade (pillars and arches) between the nave and the north aisle are original. In 1885 the church was in poor condition and was largely rebuilt. The new chancel was on the old foundations, and the perpendicular south window probably copied what was there before. The chancel arch, probably redesigned, belongs also to the restoration. At the same time, the north aisle which had been just a narrow passage, was doubled in width and the south porch was added. The old glass was removed from the windows and passed into the hands of a Mr William Clare of Midhurst. He gave four pieces to a Mrs Wheeler, who in turn left them by will to Mrs Cobden Unwin, daughter of Richard Cobden, who had them placed in the window of the north aisle in 1912. The glass is of the 15th or early 16th century.
During restoration the old floor was taken up and the pews, which at one time had doors on them, were put on wooden flooring raised above the old level. This was no doubt to avoid the damp; Heyshott is the only medieval church in Sussex known to have been built straight onto the gault clay. To deal with the same problem at some time a drain was constructed starting in the south-west corner of the nave, and running under the flooring probably right across the church to the north-east corner and thence down to the stream. The raising of the pews had the unfortunate result of spoiling the proportion of the pillars and hiding their bases. The nave aisle is paved with large tombstones which were probably moved at the time of the restoration and do not now cover the burials to which they belonged. They record the names of the farming families of Cocquerell, Mellersh and Gadd. These names are perpetuated in place names in the parish: Cocquerell’s Pond Place, Mellersh’s Copse and Gadd’s Bottom.
Apart from the font, all the fittings are modern. The altar rails and chancel rail were made by William Parry, for 48 years Sexton and Clerk, the village blacksmith and carpenter. A memorial to him and his wife is on the west wall of the nave. Another interesting memorial is to Richard Cobden (1804-1865), statesman and leader of the Anti-Corn Law League. This is on the south wall and below it a metal plaque in the front pew marks his seat in the church. At that time, and until the early years of the 20th century, owners of each of the larger houses in the parish had their own pews, and although the seats had become free these traditional allocations were remembered and strictly observed until the 1940s.
The Royal Arms over the door are those used from 1714 until 1800. This example relates to George I.
How to find us
St James church, The Street, Heyshott, Gu29 0DH.
Heyshott lies on the A286 between Midhurst and Chichester.
From Midhurst, take the A286 for approximately 1.5 miles, passing the Greyhound pub on your right. Shortly after this look for the turning on the left, signposted to Heyshott and Graffham. Follow the road for approximately 1 mile until you see the turning for Heyshott on your right. The church is half a mile along this road on the corner.
If coming from Chichester, take A286 passing through Cocking. After a mile look for the turning on the right, signposted to Heyshott and Graffham. Follow the road for approximately 1 mile until you see the turning for Heyshott on your right. The church is half a mile along this road on the corner.