• History of St Mary's Church Binsted


        NB This page is still being edited and also awaits addition of illustrations

        Spring 2019 report by Fiona Allardyce: incl an appraisal of the Wall Paintings

        See also the article on this link: https://sussexparishchurches.org/church/binsted-st-mary/

        A brief description of the building's history can be read here.


        The extended description below by Celia Woodruff was first published in 'Binsted and Beyond'

        It is not known for how long a Christian place of worship has stood on the site where the little church of St. Mary now stands in Binsted. At the time of the great Domesday survey in 1086, no mention was made of a church in Binsted. We are told that the land was held by a man called Oismelin who was a tenant of Roger de Montgomery. Earl Roger was one of King William’s ‘right-hand men’ and had been granted permission to build a castle at Arundel by the Conqueror in approximately 1086. Thus Binsted’s association with Arundel has been close for at least 900 years.

        As Arundel and other towns and communities developed, churches, priories and abbeys appeared in the locality, generally under the patronage of one or other of the great noblemen who had taken control of England after the Conquest of 1066. Binsted’s foundation is unknown, but it may have been built by the monks of Tortington Priory, approximately 3 miles south-east of Binsted. However, no surviving evidence has been found to confirm such a connection. Tortington, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, was a cell of the Augustinian Priory of Seez in Normandy. Augustinian houses were entirely independent of each other and not subject to superior control. Their estates were less extensive than those of other orders and their sympathies and relationships more local.

        The decades between 1110 and 1160 saw the greatest number of foundations. Tortington may have been founded by a member of the powerful De Albini family, one Lady Hadvisia Corbet. The old English name of Avis, as in nearby Avisford, is thought to be a shortened form of her name, and a small church such as Binsted could have been Binsted church in 1995.

        built by the monks to serve tenants on her estate.
        What evidence there is strongly supports the likelihood that the little church was
        built about 1150, at approximately the same time as the priory church at Tortington.
        Tortington Priory is thought to have been founded before the reign of King John,
        which started in 1199. Binsted and Tortington church are similar in appearance and
        style, and 3 small windows of Norman origin in the chancel at Binsted date to
        approximately the mid twelfth century. The font, which is carved and has blind
        arcades, is also in the early Norman style and thought to be original to the church.
        Early history
        Whatever the actual date of its foundation,
        Binsted church would have served its village
        community then just as it does today.
        Religious adherence was very much more
        part of everyday life in Medieval England,
        and the church would have been one of the
        largest, if not the largest, stone building in
        the locality. It is largely unaltered from its
        original appearance. It has a cellular linear
        plan and although there is no division
        internally, it can be seen from the roofline
        that there is a break which separates the
        nave and chancel. At some point after it
        was built the division inside would have
        been evident from the rood beam, remnants
        of which are left on the north and south
        walls. Its date is unknown, but mouldings
        suggest that it is 14th century. On the
        north wall of the exterior is a buttress, now
        with a memorial stone set within it, which
        could have been the site of an external stair
        to the rood loft, needed to gain access to the statues on the beam within. We know
        from a later will that candles were placed by the rood. The rood beam carried a large
        cross, the rood, which would have been flanked by statues of the Virgin and St. John,
        providing worshippers with a striking reminder of the crucifixion scene. In a world
        where the majority of the population were unable to read or write, it was visual imagery
        which enabled people to learn about their faith.
        As well as the remains of the rood beam, Binsted has remnants of a set of wall
        paintings, which would have provided powerful images of the Gospel and other religious
        teachings. Like the rood, these images are largely destroyed, through the passage of
        time and possibly through deliberate destruction, but a mystery rests within the original
        north chancel window, where a painting of a female crowned figure and of a
        representation of what appears to be a three-branched tree can be seen. For many years
        the figure was thought to be the only known representation of St Margaret of Scotland.
        The writing above the figure, which is now gone, was recorded in 1888 as ‘S/A MARG:’
        this has been interpreted as a shortening of the Latin form of St Margaret, but recently
        St Margaret or St Mary (or St Ambrose? See Chapter 2).
        The surviving wall painting in Binsted church as it is now.
        consideration has been given to the
        possibility that it could be ‘St Mary’.
        The painting was at first thought to
        be coeval to the foundation of the
        church, but it may be later. The lady
        appears to be crowned and this adds
        credence to the claim that the figure
        represents St. Margaret of Scotland.
        However, since St Margaret was not
        canonised until 1250 she is an unlikely
        subject if the painting is as early as the
        church. Possibly the dedication is to St
        Mary Magdalene, as it is at Tortington,
        but the crowned figure is more likely to
        be a depiction of the Virgin, as queen of
        Heaven. This would have been
        appropriate to the time, as a renewal of
        religious fervour re-awakened a popular
        appeal to the cult of the Virgin and
        saints. The three-branched tree might
        represent the Trinity and this would suit
        a depiction of the Virgin. The theme
        of the coronation of the Virgin seems to
        have developed in the 12th Century and this would therefore be appropriate to the little
        church at Binsted.
        Another, more intriguing hypothesis is that the figure is of St Margaret of Antioch.
        This saint is usually shown with a dragon at her feet and a cross in her hand. She was
        honoured as the patron saint of women in childbirth, and images of her may have been
        ‘thank offerings’ for a safe confinement. Was it the Lady Hadvisia who endowed
        Binsted and commissioned the painting in the chancel of the church? Not only was she
        herself married, but she had also been the concubine of Henry I, bearing a son,
        Reginald, who became Earl of Cornwall in the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154).
        The mystery remains, and speculation should not cloud our judgement, but in the
        absence of real evidence, all these possibilities may be considered.
        While the origins of the church are unknown, there is no doubt that Tortington
        Priory was connected with Binsted from 1291 onwards. The priory had ‘appropriated’
        the rectory at this time, and these links probably remained until the Dissolution of the
        monasteries in the 1530s. Appropriation had become common in the 13th and early
        14th century and was frequently a means of boosting monastic revenues. It allowed the
        monks of the priory to claim the income and tithes of the parish. In return they were
        responsible for the provision and support of a vicar for the parish. A document which
        gives details of the value of the tithes and income at Binsted ‘in the 15th year of the
        reign of Edward III’ (1342) tells of the rectory of the church having lands and tenements
        which ‘are worth yearly 20 marks’ with the vicarage valued at 10 marks. It also notes
        that the vicar of the same parish had glebe land amounting to 10 acres worth 25 marks,
        and other meadows and pasture worth 10 marks. Tithes of, amongst other things hay,
        The surviving wall painting in Binsted church as recorded by
        P.M.Johnston in 1888.
        BINSTED AND BEYONd - Portrait of a Sussex Village
        cider, hemp, pigs, foals, lactage, honey and eggs added up to a further 16 marks
        annually. Mortuary oblations, offerings to the church at the time of a death, and ‘other
        small tithes arising at the altar’ added an additional 20 marks. It noted that there were
        no other benefices in the parish and that there were only farmers. It can be assumed
        that the benefice of Binsted at that time brought a healthy income to the priory at
        Tortington, but it would seem that the incumbent vicar also enjoyed a reasonable living.
        The horrors of the Black Death
        Such prosperity was severely reduced when the nation was struck by the fearsome
        bubonic plague or Black Death. It struck England in the autumn of 1348 and
        decimated a large cross-section of the population, spreading from the south coast
        throughout most of the British Isles. Approximately one third of the population was
        wiped out. None were spared and both monastic and lay communities suffered great
        losses in town and country. No records exist to gauge the effect the ‘pestilence’ or ‘great
        mortality’, as it was known, had on either Binsted or indeed on the priory at Tortington,
        but it is safe to assume that both communities would have been seriously affected by the
        plague. Along the coast in Seaford it was reported in 1356 that ‘it was so desolated by
        plague and the chances of war that men living there are so few and so poor that they
        cannot pay their taxes or defend the town’.
        The implications for the inhabitants of Binsted can only be guessed, but since the
        church was closely associated with Tortington by this time, the likelihood is that there
        were times when the villagers had no priest because of the high mortality rate of the
        religious communities. Similarly land rents and labour shortages in post-plague times
        were such that landowners experienced falling income and higher labour charges, an
        effect which Tortington would almost certainly have suffered like so many other religious
        houses. In 1414, the vicarage of Binsted was exempted from taxes, showing a marked
        contrast in its prosperity from the assessment made in 1342, just 7 years before the onset
        of the plague. In 1424 it was stated that the poverty of the living had led to the neglect
        of services, but a vicar was resident in the village in 1440.
        A preoccupation with death and the after-life had followed the disaster of the Black
        Death, and obits or memorial masses were considered essential for the salvation of the
        soul for those who could afford to pay the priest to say them. Similarly, alms-giving
        was considered a powerful and effective way of salvation for the departed. Binsted folk
        must have been as susceptible to the fears of hell and damnation as other communities.
        Even as late as 1534 one such instruction was given by a John Sharpe, who, in his will,
        requested that an obit be said yearly at Binsted for his soul and for the souls of his father,
        mother, his brother Sir Robert, his friends and all other Christian souls. He further
        instructed his executors to give out bread, ale and cheese to the poor people at the time
        when the obit was said. Thirteen years later in 1547 the vicar of the parish, William
        Fotherlye, willed that a memorial mass be said for his soul, and that all people of his
        parish should receive a gift of money, bequeathing half as much to the children as to the
        adult souls in his care.
        Worship, too, had developed from the simple celebration of the sharing of bread and
        wine of the early centuries of Christianity to a highly charged and elaborate ceremony in
        Medieval England. It is unlikely that there were pews in the nave of the church at this
        time. Indeed, the only form of seating would have been around the walls of the church,
        creating our expression ‘the weakest go to the wall’. Pews were probably added
        sometime in the 15th century as the importance of preaching as well as the Mass was
        introduced. The rood screen, which seems to date from the early 14th century, would
        have separated the church into nave and chancel. The screen at Binsted would have
        provided a sort of window on the proceedings in the chancel. Rood screens were
        usually solid only up to waist height, with the upper section carved into ornate windows
        through which the congregation could see. Parishioners would have been aware of the
        gospel stories from the wall paintings which have now almost disappeared. The
        ordinary people seldom received Communion, but were witness to the priest celebrating
        High Mass at the altar at the east end of the church. We can perhaps imagine this as a
        sort of theatre where ritual and mystery were to be seen in the act of worship before
        them. This could well have been the only opportunity the poor had to experience such
        colour and drama, and may have been a high point in a weekly round of drudgery and
        hard work.
        Binsted, the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries
        All this was to change in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Reformation, which
        in England had its roots in Lollardy, was led by an intellectual, John Wycliffe. His was
        the first complete translation of the Bible into English in 1396, and he also inspired a
        move towards greater emphasis on Holy Scripture. Although printed Bibles were not
        widely available for another century, by 1538 clergy were instructed to have an English
        Bible available in every parish church. By no means every parish conformed to this
        order, either because the parish could not afford one or because the vicar was opposed to
        it. Where, one wonders, is the one which Binsted had, if indeed it had one at all?
        Wycliffe also poured scorn on the wealth of the church and the unworthiness of some of
        the clergy. Evidence of such unworthiness can be found at Tortington, where in 1376
        the prior, John Palmere, was found to be ‘careless not only of property, but also of his
        own good fame’. It was stated that he was living dissolutely outside the monastery and
        should be put on trial for such behaviour. Since Tortington was responsible for the
        provision of a vicar at Binsted, we can only speculate as to the care or ‘cure’ (from which
        our word curate comes) of souls which was provided for Binsted at the time.
        Lollardy did not, in the end, cause any major upheavals in church practice in
        England, but later attacks on the practices of the Catholic church in continental Europe
        by Erasmus and his Lutheran church were to cause irreversible changes to church and
        community life. These changes did not reach England until the early 1500s, and were
        prompted to a great extent by anti-clericalism. But it was the marital problems of
        Henry VIII which finally triggered the English Reformation. It was to transform the
        Catholic Church in England into the Protestant Church of England of which Binsted is
        part. Henry broke with Rome and the Pope because the Pope refused to grant an
        annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In a series of manoeuvres
        Henry passed Acts of Parliament which stripped the Catholic Church hierarchy of its
        legislative powers in England.
        The first Act of Supremacy of 1534 made Henry head of the church in England and
        enabled him to take control of both material and doctrinal property which had hitherto
        belonged to the monastic communities and to the Pope. The Dissolution of the
        monasteries followed, as Henry took under his control all land and property which had
        BINSTED AND BEYONd - Portrait of a Sussex Village
        Sketch by Charlotte Read showing the Georgian interior of Binsted church before the ‘restoration’
        of 1867-8. This was made on card so the ‘walls’ could stand upright.
        previously been owned by the church. In order to justify such an act, Henry ‘cashed in’
        on the unrest and suspicions which had been raised by the Lollards and by the Lutherans
        of the Reformation movement and sent crown servants on visitations to inspect the state
        of monastic institutions and property. Binsted, as a vicarage of the Priory of
        Tortington, would have been subject to this valuation. A certificate for the County of
        Sussex gives details of Tortington Priory’s state in 1536. The house, it declared, was
        wholly in ruin. The surrender of Tortington would have happened between 1536 and
        1540, and while the exact date is unknown, the effect for Binsted was that the right to
        appoint a vicar thereafter fell to the Crown.
        With its new-found powers after the Dissolution, the state also used the church as a
        means of imposing new styles of worship and law and order on its citizens. The clergy
        were required to keep parish registers from 1538. They were to record baptisms,
        marriage and burials in each community. If records were kept at Binsted there is no
        trace of them at this early stage. Binsted’s surviving registers begin in 1638 and make
        interesting reading! Binsted, as elsewhere, would also have seen the introduction of
        Cranmer’s Prayer Book in 1549. This was a measure introduced in the reign of Edward
        VI and its novelty was that it was in English. For the first time, parishioners could
        understand the progress of the service in their mother tongue, instead of the Latin which
        had been used before.
        For the brief period of Queen Mary I, who was a staunch Catholic, the nation
        reverted to papal authority. However, when Elizabeth I succeeded in 1558 the
        congregation would have begun to experience what we are now more familiar with as the
        Church of England. In 1559 the Act of Uniformity imposed compulsory attendance at
        church on Sundays and holy days, with a fine of 12d for those who ignored it. The
        churches were used to spread news regarding any statutes or doctrine which the state
        chose to impose, a concept which simply had not existed in pre-Dissolution days. Also
        in 1559, the second Act of Supremacy was passed, making Elizabeth the Supreme
        Governor of the Church of England.
        A move away from strong Catholic traditions caused the destruction of so-called
        ‘papist’ images and idolatry. Scorn was thrown upon such superstitious practices as the
        obits and mortuary oblations of an earlier period and the change in attitude was largely
        responsible for the disappearance of traditions and works of art of the mediaeval church.
        Sometime in the second half of the century, Binsted probably lost the wall paintings and
        the rood screen which had been an integral part of the celebration of the medieval mass.
        The rood screen was removed, the wall paintings whitewashed. In place of the wall
        paintings orders were given that the Royal Arms of England be displayed in all parish
        churches, and that the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Creed be painted
        on boards and prominently displayed in the church.
        There is no evidence left in the church itself of these so called ‘black letter texts’ at
        Binsted, but notes on a sketch of the church remembered as it was before the 1868
        restoration suggest it had them. The sketch, by Miss Charlotte Read of Binsted House,
        shows two tablets with commandments placed either side of the altar. A second board
        on the south wall close to the south door is annotated ‘creed’ and a third board on the
        north wall close to the font described as ‘Lord’s Prayer’. Also on the north wall is a
        board described as ‘Lion and Unicorn’, perhaps the Royal Arms of England? If these
        texts were in the church, it is quite probable that they were placed there soon after 1560,
        BINSTED AND BEYONd - Portrait of a Sussex Village
        when the decree was published.
        A second English Prayer Book was also introduced, which gave a broader
        interpretation of the meaning of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Instructions were
        given for the wearing of vestments which retained the style of the mediaeval mass. The
        more Puritan elements of the Protestant reformers bitterly objected to this. In 1567
        there appears to have been such a dispute between the vicar, Robert Knight, and
        churchwardens. As with much of what happened to Binsted’s church life in the next
        four centuries, such changes probably depended on the inclinations of the incumbents
        who held the living at the time of the imposition of these Acts of Parliament.
        The absence or presence of a priest would, of course, have had a major impact on the
        religious life of the parish. In Binsted another effect of the Dissolution was the change
        of control of the benefice which became the property of the Crown. Until 1575 vicars
        were presented by the Crown. It seems however that the advowson, the right of
        presentation of the vicar, was sold after that as in 1605 it was the property of a Jane
        Shelley. This was a means of raising revenue, and many advowsons were sold by the
        Crown for this reason after 1536. The right of presentation was again sold in 1615 to Sir
        Garrette Kempe of Slindon, together with Binsted Manor, and remained in the same
        family until 1863. This effectively cut off the long association which Binsted and
        Tortington had shared since at least 1291.
        From the mid-16th to the mid-19th century the practice of pluralism among the
        clergy was not uncommon. By 1820 a survey showed that 60% of benefices were held in
        plurality. Pluralism was the ownership of more than one benefice by the same rector or
        vicar. Binsted experienced its fair share of such practices, and was not well served by
        some of its clergy during this time. This may not have been the fault of the rector or
        vicar, who may well have had to survive on a small stipend paid by a lay rector, or on a
        rectorial income which had been stripped of much of its wealth by earlier transactions
        after the Dissolution. Several incumbents were associated with neighbouring parishes,
        such as Francis Heape who was initially resident in 1605, but who had let his glebe
        house by 1615. His ministry did not cease, however, until 1634. Another vicar,
        William Turner, also held the benefice of Walberton from 1696 to 1701, and lived at
        Walberton, thus forming a link which was to be repeated in the 20th century. From
        1701 to 1863 the incumbent of Slindon also held the benefice of Binsted, but lived at
        Slindon. In the absence of the vicar, curates were sometimes appointed and this was the
        case in 1662, 1758, 1769 and 1844. Church attendance at the time was compulsory,
        but according to a religious census taken in 1676 there were only 21 families attending
        church at the time.
        Regular weekly services may not have been the order of the day, and in some years it
        was noted that the vicar had preached only once during the year. On other occasions
        the residents of Binsted were recorded as having gone to hear preachers at Walberton.
        Whatever the number of sermons was, it is likely that they were deemed to be of major
        doctrinal importance in the 1600s. From the evidence of the sketch of the church as it
        was before 1868, it seems Binsted had a ‘triple-deck’ pulpit which was probably installed
        sometime in the 17th century, only to be removed in the 19th century. These large
        pulpits were intended to dominate the church, rendering the altar and chancel of less
        importance in church ministry. The teaching of Scripture and the importance of the
        Bible were better emphasised by the prominence given to these pulpits and
        demonstrated the shift away from the sacramental practices of the Catholic Church.
        In 1662 another version of the Prayer Book was ordained, and has survived to this
        day as the much-loved Book of Common Prayer. It is still used alongside more
        modern styles of services at Binsted. These changes went on against a backdrop of
        turbulent change in England. Residents of Binsted would have lived through the death
        of Elizabeth in 1603 and the drama of the Stuart monarchies of James I and Charles I
        which ended in Charles’s beheading in 1649. Civil war also raged between 1640 and
        1650. After a period of governance under Cromwell, the monarchy was restored in
        1660 when Charles II returned from exile in France. More was to come, with
        controversy over the Catholic inclinations of Charles II’s successor, James II. In 1688,
        the throne was handed to James’s daughter Mary and her Dutch consort, William.
        They ruled into the early 18th century. Binsted’s population would almost certainly
        have been affected by these events, despite the smallness of the community. Perhaps
        some went off to join in the civil war, but on which side we are unlikely ever to know.
        Others would have been affected by the hardship and poverty caused by bad harvests
        such as those of 1659, 1660 and 1661. For those who remained at home, the parish
        church would have been one of the main sources of news from the outside world and
        the only source of help when disaster struck.
        Georgian and Regency church life
        The care of the poor and the infirm had traditionally been the role of the monasteries.
        At the Dissolution the hospitality of the monasteries disappeared almost at a stroke,
        leaving a void in the care of the destitute. Growing numbers of vagrants and povertystricken
        individuals were seen as a threat to law and order. The introduction of the
        office of Lord and Deputy Lieutenants of each county and the increased role of the
        Justice of the Peace in the local community was caused in part by the removal of the
        monastic role of care. The parish became the core of this system of local government
        and the activities of Binsted’s more wealthy residents in law enforcement and poor relief
        had clearly become established by the beginning of the 18th century.
        The records in the ‘Poor Books’ and vestry meetings from 1727 onwards give an
        insight into the way the Elizabethan Poor Relief Acts of 1598 and 1601 were being
        practised. These Acts laid down that each parish was responsible for the support of the
        poor living there. The poor were divided into the ‘able-bodied’ poor or ‘sturdy beggars’
        and the impotent poor. The former were considered to be poor due to idleness and
        were undeserving of relief. If they did not belong to the parish they were returned to
        the parish of their birth or to the place where they had last lived for a year. Failing that
        they were placed in a house of correction which would employ and punish them. More
        compassionate care was given to the impotent poor, those who were in poverty through
        no fault of their own such as orphans and widows. The remedy for such persons was
        outdoor relief or shelter in the workhouse provided by the parish.
        These measures were supervised and carried out by the Overseers of the Poor, often
        the churchwardens, who were responsible for administering poor relief and collecting the
        poor rate from local landowners to pay for any such relief. In Binsted a workhouse or
        poorhouse was built on the north side of the church although the date of its origin is
        unknown. The enforcement of these laws in Binsted is demonstrated in 1760, when
        Edward Staker was the Overseer. A certain Jane Leggat was the object of the relief, and
        BINSTED AND BEYONd - Portrait of a Sussex Village
        was provided with seercloth (waxed
        cloth). A year later the parish paid for
        the nursing of a Dame Coot and her
        subsequent burial expenses. She was
        clearly in very poor health by the time
        poor relief was given and must have
        been classified as impotent poor. A
        number of other parishioners’ burial
        costs were also met out of poor relief at
        Thankfully, not all poor relief went
        to the cost of burying the dead.
        Payments do, however, indicate the
        extent of the poverty experienced by the
        poor. In 1782 Edward Staker had
        become the churchwarden, while the
        task of Overseer had fallen to Ed Float
        and Richard Alcock. Payments at this
        time were made for two pairs of pattens
        (shoes) and for an apron, the use of
        which is not stated. Other payments
        went to the upkeep and maintenance of the poorhouse, such as the weekly pay of Dame
        Bassett, who was most probably the mistress of the poorhouse, and for the cost of
        candles, faggots (fuel for the fire) and a carriage.
        Edward Staker died in 1825 and is commemorated in a wall plaque on the chancel
        nave at Binsted. It states that he was a Justice of the Peace, and thus played a
        prominent part in law enforcement in his locality. Along with his memorial is an
        extensive list of his relatives who were also buried in the church. The classical style of
        the plaque is typical of the artistic taste so popular at the time. The burial sites of the
        more humble members of the parish are not recorded with elaborate headstones or
        memorials but like the Stakers, most would have been laid to rest in the little churchyard
        close to where they had lived and worked.
        Binsted’s Victorian revival
        Hardship would have been a part of everyday life for many of Binsted’s population.
        Life in the early 19th century would have improved little if at all for most people. By
        the 1820s the old poor relief system was so inadequate that legislation was passed which
        was to see the end of the Overseers’ duties in the parish. The Poor Law Amendment
        Act of 1834 transferred the responsibility of the care of the poor from the parish to a
        larger secular area called the Poor Law Union. Binsted was included in the
        Westhampnett Union, and the poorhouse next to the church was no longer used for the
        purpose of shelter for the local destitute. This effectively brought to an end the close
        ties which the church had in the care of the poor of the parish.
        The living had been occupied throughout these changes by the Smelt family. From
        1781 to 1854 the benefice was held by John Smelt and then by his son, Maurice. At
        the end of March 1851 a nation-wide religious census was ordered. Every parish was
        The Staker memorial tablet in Binsted church.
        required to give a return of the numbers attending church at every service of the day.
        This was a response to the growing concern in Victorian England about the state of the
        Established Church at the time. In Binsted the rector reported that there were 170
        seats in church. On the day of the census he noted that the weather was showery, and
        that 95 people attended worship. A church service was held at Binsted every Sunday
        alternately in the morning and evening. He also reported that the average attendance
        was 150.
        At the time of the census, the church would have still had furnishings which we can
        speculate were added through the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition to the ‘tripledeck’
        pulpit, the pews at the time seem to have included some box pews and others
        reserved for specific families of the village. There was also a gallery at the west end.
        The pews were possibly a relic of the custom of pew rents which had grown over the
        post-Reformation centuries. It reflected the close association between the church and
        the landed gentry of a local area, who were determined to retain their status within
        parish society. This included the reservation of specific pews, often small enclosed areas
        or ‘boxes’, which were reserved by means of a payment of rent to the church to preserve
        ownership. The sketch which remains of Binsted’s pre-1868 appearance clearly shows
        the division of space between the local land-owning families and the labouring
        population. The Reverend Smelt’s comment in the 1851 census that 124 of the 170
        seats were ‘free’ gives a clue as to the number of pews which were subject to the ‘pew
        rent’. The gallery may have been used for a small band of musicians, a relatively
        common form of musical accompaniment for an 18th-century congregation, a
        congregation which by today’s standards would have been judged as large in so small a
        Church attendance did not seem to be a particular issue for the rector of Binsted at
        the time, but changes were to come to Binsted with the advent of a new rector in the
        second half of the 19th century. It seems that the new rector was one of a growing
        band of clergy who were determined to re-establish the importance of the Church of
        England in Victorian England. In 1863 the advowson was sold by the Slindon House
        estate to John Bones who presented his son, Henry Christopher Bones, who changed his
        name to Lewis in 1869. Henry Lewis was obviously intent on bringing religion back
        into the lives of his parishioners. The family re-established the rector as a resident of
        Binsted having built a substantial new rectory on glebe land opposite the church, this
        being completed by 1865.
        The Reverend Henry Bones set to and drew up extensive restoration plans for the
        inside of the church. From photographs which have survived, it is clear that he replaced
        the old rood screen, lost at the Reformation, with what was considered a faithful replica
        of the original. The box pews were removed and pew benches which remain today were
        installed. The triple-deck pulpit was replaced by the less prominent version which is
        still in the church now. These changes suggest that Henry was a supporter of the High
        Church or Tractarian movement of the Victorian church. They were determined to
        revive the customs of a more Anglo-Catholic tradition, with an emphasis on the
        sacraments and the role and authority of the church. This was in contrast to alternative
        movements, the so-called ‘Evangelicals’ who emphasised the importance of Scripture,
        and the Broad Church movement who, with the burgeoning developments of the
        scientific professions and such men as Charles Darwin, were beginning to challenge the
        BINSTED AND BEYONd - Portrait of a Sussex Village
        content of biblical and theological reasoning. These are simplistic explanations, but
        nevertheless, place Binsted at the heart of the growing religious debates of the time.
        Binsted’s rector did not stop at purely theological reform. He invested his not
        inconsiderable private means in the education and welfare of the children of Binsted,
        and supported the new National School at Walberton so that Binsted children could
        attend as well. Services at Binsted were increased in number and by 1884 communion
        was being held eight times a year, significantly more than had been available in the
        parish for some considerable time, perhaps even since pre-Reformation times. The
        Lewis family clearly made an impact on the lives of the people of Binsted, and the many
        photographic records which survive are testimony to the significance of Henry Lewis’s
        The twentieth century
        After Henry’s death in 1908 the living was occupied first by Alfred Harre and then by
        William Drury, whose incumbency ended in 1943. While less is known about these
        two rectors, they would have cared for a parish which would have been acutely aware of
        the fears and dangers of a nation at war. With its proximity to the coast, Binsted would
        have experienced these fears in the Great War, when some of its young men would have
        gone off to serve in the forces. By the time of the Second World War, the development
        of the Air Force as a significant fighting force brought even greater danger to the area.
        Memories of the air raids are vivid in the minds of Binsted residents at the time, and no
        doubt prayers were said for the safe return of airmen from the local airfields as well as for
        local people involved in the war effort. In the year 2000 a memorial was erected on the
        north wall of the church commemorating the loss of four Canadian airmen locally.
        These events only serve to emphasise the role of the little parish church in the ebb and
        flow of village life over the
        Since 1943 the rectory of
        Binsted has been joined with
        the vicarage of Walberton
        with the priest serving both
        communities. The advowson
        is now held by the Bishop of
        Chichester. Five incumbents
        have stamped their own
        particular style and
        theological leanings on the
        little church since 1943, and
        residents of the village have
        continued to serve the church
        in various ways. In 1947 the
        Victorian rood screen was
        removed. As in earlier
        centuries, baptisms, marriages
        and funerals still take place
        Sketching Binsted church in the 1950s. according to the needs of the
        parishioners. In order to maintain the fabric of this ancient church, a charitable trust,
        the Friends of Binsted Church, holds an annual Strawberry Fair, thus bringing together
        churchgoers and non-churchgoers in a community effort prompted by parochial pride
        and affection. This again is a reflection of earlier generations in Binsted when ‘church
        ales’ would probably have been held in the churchyard for the purpose of celebration
        and community gatherings. The history of St Mary’s, Binsted is a fascinating
        microcosm of the social and religious history of England over the last nine hundred
        years. In local terms however it has been the focal point of much of what Binsted
        stands for today. No doubt the little church will continue to offer a focal point for
        community life and Christian worship for many more centuries to come.
        Information regarding the records of Binsted Church can be found at West Sussex Records
        Office. The Sussex Archaeological Collections and the Sussex Record Society collections
        contain many interesting pieces of research about the church. They too can be found at the
        Records Office and also at local libraries. The Victoria County History of Sussex contains
        many of the primary source references made within the text.