St. Mary’s, Easebourne

Originally the Church must have consisted of a chancel (possibly apsidal) and nave – the present south chapel and aisle – with a small wooden belfry over the western gable. All that remains is the south wall of the old nave and some stone quoins in the S.W. and N.W. angles. East of the present south door may be seen archstones of an old doorway, judged to be not later than the middle of the 11th century. No original windows remain in the South wall: a 1780 drawing by Grimm shows only one 4-light window, placed high in the wall, probably to clear a covered cloister walk. The 3-light window to the west may have been the one removed from the west end of the present nave where there are now 2 lancet windows.

In the late 12th Century a narrow north aisle was added, connected to the nave by 3 wide-pointed arches, resting on octagonal pillars. Of these, one is intact and the faint trace of a fresco was found on it. The half-pillar adjoining the tower is also of Norman date.

The Font is late 12th century and has a square block of Purbeck marble with an arcade of round-headed arches on 3 sides, the fourth side being left plain to set against a wall or pier. The small corner-shafts were added in 1876. The building of the aisle was followed by that of the square and solid tower made of rubble masonry with stone quoins. A pointed arch cut through the old west wall connected the tower and the original nave. Except for extensive repairs in 1925, and the addition of the screen of 1965, very few alterations have been made to this late 12th Century tower. The spire was destroyed in 1703 in the great gale mentioned by Defoe, but Grimm’s 1780 drawing shows a replacement.

The Founding of the Priory

About 1248 one of the de Bohun family, probably Sir Frank, living in a fortified manor-house on St. Ann’s Hill, Midhurst, founded a Priory for 10 Benedictine nuns and their Prioress and endowed it with the parish church of Easebourne and its chapel-of-ease in Midhurst. To provide for the private worship of the nuns the east end was rebuilt as a square-headed Presbytery and part of the original nave was taken for their Quire. The old South doorway was blocked and a new one made just west of it. A wall with a central door was built across the Quire to meet another wall on the North which closed part of the Arcade.

To compensate the parishioners the north aisle was widened to make the new nave. There were now 2 Churches under one roof: – the Nuns’ Church of Presbytery and Quire, and the Parish Church consisting of the Tower and an L-shaped building formed by the new nave and the western part of the old nave. The new nave reached as far as the present pulpit. Near the pulpit is the 13th Century recess which now contains the effigy of Sir David Owen who died in 1535. The jambs and archway of the north door are 15th Century. The windows are modern except that the lancet window west of the organ has its 13th Century rear-arch.

The Cloister and Priory Buildings

After the division of the Church the buildings necessary for the nuns were built. The eastern and southern ranges still remain, but only the lower half of a wall of the western range with its 2 original doorways. Probably the western range was the guest-house. Covered walks along the Priory buildings and the South wall of the Church formed the cloister.

In the Eastern range the Dorter, possibly divided into cells, extended over the first floor with day and night staircases to the cloister walks. Some of the windows facing the cloister are of 14th Century origin, though altered in late Tudor times. On the ground floor was a vestry, parlour and a large and lofty Chapter House with an arcade of three moulded arches. The warming house was separated from the Chapter House by a passage, and the drains of the rere-dorter were found near the south-east corner of the warming-house. There is no trace of gate-house, infirmary, bakery etc., but they are mentioned in records. The Mass-dial can be seen, scratched on the South wall of the Church.

Refectory (Frater)

In the southern range the ground floor consisted of two large rooms for Cellarage and storage. On the cloister side near the west end, partly obscured by a buttress, is a door with an old stone basin nearby. Through this cloister door would have been stairs leading to the upper floor where, on the inside, another archway can be seen.             This would have been the entrance to a screened landing dividing the refectory from a servery at the west end. In the south-west corner is a hatchway to connect with the kitchen.

So many alterations have taken place that it is difficult to picture the eastern end in the time of the nuns. There would have been a dais over the part now used as kitchen and staircase. On the present stairs can be seen the arch of a very small doorway which must have led from the dais to a building to the east, no longer in existence. In the 17th Century, by building brick partitions at the east end, a pigeon loft was constructed, large enough to hold 1000 pigeons in tiers of nesting places in the wall. The Queen-post roof is 17th Century. By 1780, as can be seen from Grimm’s drawings, all the windows were blocked, the floor between upper and lower stories removed and double- doors made for entrance of carts. The refectory remained a barn until 1912.

The Community

The earliest mention of the nuns is in 1248 when the name of the Prioress, Alice, is given. In 1291 the endowment of Easebourne and Midhurst is given as £26.13.4. and temporalities £41, In 1409 the advowsons of Compton and Upmarden were granted to help the financial position of the nuns who had to maintain two chaplains. Several visitations are recorded and on more than one occasion there are complaints from the nuns that their Prioress is not allowing them their rightful allowance for dress. In the visitation of 1441 the Prioress was ordered to sell her trimmings of costly fur and her jewels, and exception was taken to the lap-dogs and pet monkeys with which the ladies beguiled their leisure hours. At times the rule of their order was not strictly kept.

The last Prioress, Margaret Sackville, and the Sub-Prioress Alicia Hill had begun to introduce a stricter rule, but in 1535, at the Dissolution, the nuns were turned out and all their property confiscated. Their Church was dismantled, its roof destroyed and for nearly 300 years left to the mercy of the weather.

Priory and Church after 1535

After the nuns were turned out the Priory was given by Henry VIII to Sir William Fitzwilliam, the owner of Cowdray (see later), and it is thought that the eastern range was used as an annexe to Cowdray, perhaps while the castle was being enlarged. We know that in August 1591 the 1st Lord Montague of Cowdray entertained Queen Elizabeth I. “Her Majesty went to dinner to the Priory (Refectory) where my Lord himself kept house: and there was shee and her Lordes most bountifully feasted”. An Italian plaster-work ceiling of which a little remains in the Vicar s small sitting room is dated as in the time of William III, and was probably put in by the 4th Lord Montague who used the same form of decoration at Cowdray.

There are few records of the Church in the days of Elizabeth, but in the tenth year of her reign Easebourne and Fernhurst churches were still considered to belong to the Priory. No Vicar was endowed but the duties were carried out by 2 priests whose stipends were paid by the Lord of the manor.

On the Churchyard wall, facing the estate office, can be seen 2 stone tablets with the names of Easeboume and her daughter Churches:- Midhurst, Lodsworth, Fernhurst and Todham.

Restorations and Extensions

During the 18th Century burials of members of the Montague family had taken place in the roofless Presbytery. The slab of the tomb of the 6th Viscount and his wife can be found under the back row of the Choir-stalls.

In 1830 Mr. Stephen William Poyntz who had married Elizabeth Mary Browne, sister of the 8th Viscount, rebuilt the Presbytery as the Montague Memorial Chapel. Only the original south wall which forms part of the Priory was left.

On the South wall are 2 monuments:- one by Sir Francis Chantrey in memory of Elizabeth Mary Poyntz, who died in 1830, and her two young sons who were drowned in 1815; the other in memory of Stephen William Poyntz, who died 1840, is by Raffaele Monti and was given by the three Poyntz daughters.

In 1851 the Montague monument was brought to the chapel from Midhurst Church where more space was needed (for details, see later). A turret with a spire is shown at the North-west corner of the restored chapel in a drawing of 1849 and a photograph of 1870. The photograph also shows a covered way and a small vestry. These and the turret were pulled down in the 1876 restorations.

In 1876 the 7th Earl of Egmont, whose uncle had bought the Cowdray estate from the Poyntz daughters, arranged for extensive and drastic alterations under the direction of Sir Arthur Blornfield.

A new roof was put on the Nuns’ Quire, the dividing walls between the two Churches were taken down and the eastern part of the arcade rebuilt. Two windows of 3 lights and a lancet were placed in the south wall. Windows were inserted in the nave and the Church was enlarged by the building of a new chancel, organ chamber and priest’s vestry. A new organ by Bevington was also given by Lord Egmont. Sir Arthur had suggested demolishing the Tower and rebuilding, but fortunately this was not done. It was repaired, a new spire built and 2 new bells given by Lord Egmont.

In 1899 the marble reredos was given by the parish in grateful memory of the generosity of Lord Egmont who had died in 1897, He was succeeded by his kinsman, the 8th Earl, who sold the estate in 1908 to Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson, later 1st Viscount Cowdray.

Between 1912 and 1914 Lord Cowdray, with the architect Sir Aston Webb, made further plans, including the extension of the Chancel and the Chapel. Owing to the 1914 war these plans could not be carried out, but much of the outside of the north wall was replaced and the Priory was converted into a Vicarage for the Vicars of Easebourne, the first being the Rev, C. E. Hoyle. Later, part of the Priory was turned into flats.

Lady Cowdray engaged an organist of exceptional ability, Mr, Stuart Coleby, to train the choirs of the churches in the Cowdray gift. He was organist till his death in 1935 and was one of those responsible for the start of the Chichester Choirs Festival. In his memory the organ was rebuilt in 1937. For most of the years between 1938 and 1968 the Church was again most fortunate in having another exceptional organist, Mr. Reginald Swansborough.

The Refectory, which had been a barn for many years, was repaired, the blocked windows re-opened and the upper floor turned into a Parish room. The pigeon loft was converted into a lobby, where pigeon nesting-places can still be seen. The lower floor was divided into smaller rooms, a heating system was installed, cooking facilities, china, oak chairs, a refectory table copied from the one used by the nuns, and a grand piano were provided. All this was done thanks to the interest and generosity of Lady Cowdray. The Refectory was dedicated as a Parish room by the Chancellor of the Diocese in July 1914.

During the 2nd World War the Refectory was used as a school canteen. Since then considerable work has been done on repairs, decoration and heating, much of it by volunteers. In 1972 the “George West” room for small meetings was made from an ante-room on the ground floor, in memory of Mr. George West, Treasurer and Church-warden for many years.

Tower and Vestry

In 1923 it was discovered that the Tower was in urgent need of repair and that it was not safe for the bells to be rung. At the same time a Choir vestry had become a necessity owing to a greatly increased choir. This meant an outlay of at least £2000 and every effort was made by parishioners to reach this total. The Hon. Harold Pearson (later 2nd Viscount) contributed generously to the Restoration Fund and gave stone from an old building. In 1925 the Tower was repaired with a stage which would support 8 bells and another bell given. The old boiler-house was removed from the side of the Tower and the choir vestry built,

Churchyard and War Memorials

In 1902 the Churchyard had been enlarged but by 1915 more space was needed and the 1st Lord Cowdray gave land and an archway and steps leading to the new entrance to Easebourne Lane. On October 1st 1921 the Memorial Cross, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was dedicated. In 1939 the 3rd Lord Cowdray gave land in Glaziers Lane for a further addition to the Churchyard.

Also in 1921 a War Shrine in the Chapel was dedicated. The prayer desk and 1914-1921 panel were given by Mrs. Leach. Mr. Caleb Soame, a member of the congregation made the desk, Mr. Craily Hewitt inscribed the names on the panel. The names of those who died in the Second World War were written by Miss Helen Hinkley.

It is obvious that this Church and Priory owe much to the generosity and interest of the families of Poyntz, Egremont and Cowdray. In the 16th Century there lived another benefactor of the Church.

Sir David Owen (Died 1535)

His worn alabaster effigy lies under the late 13th Century arch in the north wall. Under his head is a mantled helm, round his neck the S.S. collar of a knight, his feet rest on a lion. He is thought to have been a natural son of Owen Tudor, the grandfather of Henry VII. Sir David married the heiress Mary Bohun and they lived in the manor-house “La Coudraye” in the Park. Later Sir David pulled down the house and started to build the much larger one of which we see the ruins today.

He gave generously to Priory and Church in his life-time, and his will, written upon a vellum scroll measuring 6 feet by 9% inches and now in Lord Cowdray’s possession, lists a 5th bell, altar hangings and vestments, a gold crucifix, vellum altar books. An “angel roof is mentioned with gilded figures and carved bosses in red and blue. He planned a new passage and gallery so that the nuns could reach their Church from the dorter without being seen, instead of going down the outside stairs and through the south door.

Both his tomb and his funeral were planned in advance. His tomb with effigies of himself and his first wife was to stand between two altars. Two chantry priests were to sing Requiem masses for the soul of Henry VII and others of his family. Should he die away from home his body was to be brought to Easebourne and every Church where it rested should receive eleven shillings and three pence and two great candles. On arrival, his hearse was to be surrounded by 24 candles, 12 of them carried by poor men whose mourning clothes would be given them. Guests attending the funeral would each be given 41/2 yards of fine black cloth at 15/7 a yard for their gowns and hoods. Four times a year in perpetuity a remembrance service was to be held and endowments were made for the payment of priests. Even “every childe that canne sing” was to receive the fee of a penny.

All his generous plans for Church and Priory came to nothing, for Henry Vlll’s commissioners turned out the nuns, dismantled the Priory and confiscated its possessions and Sir David’s endowments.

Sir William Fitzwilliam

Sir William, later Earl of Southampton, bought the House at Cowdray in 1529 during Sir David’s life-time but Sir David was allowed to continue as a tenant Sir William, Treasurer to Henry VIII, was a great favorite and was given land in Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. In 1536 he received the lands and buildings of the Priory and all jewels, ornaments of the Church, goods of the house, grain, bells, lead, orchards, pools etc. At his death in 1542 he was succeeded by his half-brother Sir Anthony Browne who had already received Battle Abbey in 1538. He, too, was in favour with Henry and was sent as his proxy for the marriage to Anne of Cleves.

In 1548 his son, also Sir Anthony, succeeded, and in Mary’s reign became the 1st Lord Montague.

The 1st Lord Montague

His monument, mentioned earlier, is in the Chapel. He was noted for his loyalty and in spite of being a staunch Roman Catholic remained in favour with Edward VI who wrote:- “At Cowdray… we were marvelously, yea rather excessively banqueted”, and with Elizabeth, who stayed for five days at Cowdray and dined at the Refectory. She also visited him when he was ill, and at Tilbury before the Armada he and his eldest son and his small grandson rode with troops to their Queen’s support. His ”great age” (62) is mentioned.

In the south chapel, modern except for the south wall which formed part of the Priory, is the Montague Monument in his memory and that of his first wife Jane Ratcliffe, who died aged 20 in 1583 when her second child was born, and of his second wife Lady Magdalen Dacre who died in 1608. This tomb by Richard Stevens, must have been a splendid example of a painted and gilded Tudor memorial made of marble and alabaster, with at each comer an obelisk. The figure of Lord Montague wearing ruff and mantle and the collar of the Order of the Garter, knelt between his wives, with their children kneeling round them. The brilliance of the colours and gilding is mentioned in a 19th Century account. Originally the monument was in Midhurst Church, but in 1851 it was moved to Easebourne. Unfortunately, it was left in the open for 6 months and suffered much damage. From a drawing in 1780 by Grimm some damage to the heads and hands had already been done, possibly by the Cromwellian soldiers quartered in Midhurst Church. Owing to the limitations of the new site the monument, which should be free¬ standing, had to be placed against the wall and the two wives were placed side by side – Lady Jane is the one nearer to Lord Montague. There was no room for the obelisks which can be seen with their alabaster bases outside theTower door. The monument bears a close resemblance to the Wriothesley Monument at Titchfield.

In September 1793 Cowdray, with many priceless historical treasures and pictures, was burned. A catalogue remains and shows how great the loss was. On November 1st the news came that sometime in October the young 8th Viscount had been drowned at Laufenburg on the Rhine while trying to shoot the falls with a friend. The estate passed to his sister Elizabeth Mary Browne, who later married Mr. Stephen William Poyntz. In 1815 there was further tragedy when their two young sons were drowned. On the death of Mr. Poyntz in 1840 – his wife had died in 1830 – the estate went to his three daughters who sold it to the 6th Earl of Egmont in 1843.

Many changes have taken place at St. Mary’s, but we know that God has been worshipped in our Church for nearly 900 years. At the 1977 Dedication Festival the following Act of Remembrance was made:-

“We remember the founders and builders of the fabric of St. Mary’s – and all who through the years have maintained, restored and cared for it Were member the Vicars and other clergy who have ministered here. We remember all who have lived and worked through the centuries in the parish, and who have worshipped at St. Mary’s”.

Millenium Window

Viscount had been drowned at Laufenburg on the Rhine while trying to shoot the falls with a friend. The estate passed to his sister Elizabeth Mary Browne, who later married Mr. Stephen William Poyntz. In 1815 there was further tragedy when their two young sons were drowned. On the death of Mr. Poyntz in 1840 – his wife had died in 1830 – the estate went to his three daughters who sold it to the 6th Earl of Egmont in 1843. Many changes have taken place at St. Mary’s, but we know that God has been worshipped in our Church for nearly 900 years. At the 1977 Dedication Festival the following Act of Remembrance was made: – “We remember the founders and builders of the fabric of St. Mary’s – and all who through the years have maintained, restored and cared for it we remember the Vicars and other clergy who have ministered here. We remember all who have lived and worked through the centuries in the parish, and who have worshipped at St. Mary’s”.

The Bells

1 & 2    Cast by John Taylor Ltd. of Loughborough in 1946. The gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Poyntz Purcell.

3           Cast by John Taylor Ltd. in 1926 The gift of the Misses Leslie.

4 & 6    Cast by Mears and Stainbank, London, in 1877. The gift of the 7th Lord Egmont.

5           Cast by John Taylor Ltd. in 1924. Inscribed “Magnificat, anima mea, Dominum”. The gift of the Hon, Harold Pearson (later 2nd Lord Cowdray)

7           Cast by John White of Reading, about 1530. Incribed “Sancta Anna Ora Pro Nobis”.

8           Cast in 1677. Inscribed “Gulielmus Eldridge me fecit’\

Also an ancient Sacring Bell which is rung for daily services. It was cast by Roger Landen ofWokingham about 1440 and inscribed ‘Te Deum Laudamus”. It is thought to have been brought from the chapel of the manor-house on St. Anne’s Hill. Parish Registers date from 1538. The older ones are in the County Record Office at Chichester.

Church Plate

The oldest Chalices (early 18th century) are kept at the Bank. Most of the remaining Church Plate has been given since 1960.

Easebourne Village Institute

On the death of the 6th Viscount Montague in 1767 the 7th Viscount, who had given up the Roman Catholic faith on his marriage, closed the chapel at Cowdray but endowed a chapel and a priest’s house in Easebourne Street. In 1856 the lease expired and the 6th Lord Egmont did not wish to renew it. The building was then made into the Village Institute. Easebourne Parochial School

  1. The land and original school were given by the 6th Lord Egmont, and later extensions by his successors.