Project Introduction

The project.
The discovery, and excavation, of a Roman Villa close to Barcombe church raised questions about how far the villa and its estate might have influenced the medieval administration of the area. The villa lies close to the parish boundary of Hamsey and Barcombe. In this context it is perhaps significant that Barcombe was the administrative centre of the medieval hundred first recorded in Domesday Book. The hundred was an administrative district, in this case encompassing Hamsey, Barcombe and Newick.

Domesday Book reveals two wealthy and contrasting manors at Hamsey and Barcombe in 1086. (pic DB) No significant nucleated settlement has survived at either of the early manorial centres, both of which lie adjacent to their respective parish churches. The primary aim of the project has been to establish whether these relatively isolated centres are indeed shrunken medieval settlements, as has often been assumed, or whether early medieval settlement was originally more dispersed.

The Street, Offham and High Street, Barcombe Cross

The project was multidisciplinary comprising not only a study of all the surviving manorial documents and a wide range of other documents, including maps; but also archaeological fieldwork, woodland survey, building survey and the study of local place and field names. Our starting point was the tithe maps of the parishes and it is those maps, brilliantly redrawn by Sue Rowland, that provide the basis to which the result of all our research has been attached. We hope you will enjoy exploring your parish as it was about 170 years ago, and that you will then find the time to delve deeper into the site in order to begin to understand the earlier development.

The study area: Parishes and Manors

It is important to emphasize that the land associated with the parishes and the two principal manors with which the study is concerned are not synonymous. For the purpose of the project, we are studying all the land encompassed within the outer historic ecclesiastical parish boundaries as recorded on the tithe maps of c1840. The parish of Hamsey has remained largely unchanged. But Barcombe parish included Balneath; ceded to Chailey in 1990, as well as a detached portion of the parish at Sharpsbridge in Newick; ceded to Newick in 1934. Within the bounds of the parish were a significant outlier of Newick parish, around Vuggles Farm (ceded to Barcombe in 1934), and a single pasture field in Old Park which lay in Chailey parish.

The manorial structure within the same area is even more complex. The parish of Hamsey encompassed the manors of Hamsey and Coombe as well as a small portion of the adjoining manor of portion of Allington. Again Barcombe is more complex, encompassing not only the manors of Barcombe and Camois Court but also the manor house and part of Balneath manor (the rest of which lies principally in Chailey) as well as detached portions of Allington, Rodmell, Warningore, and Houndean. 

Vuggles, a farm lying to the north of the modern parish of Barcombe, exemplifies the complexity of the earlier parochial and manorial administration in the area. Into the 20th century it was still administered ecclesiastically as a detached portion of Newick, which lies to the north of Barcombe, and manorially as part of Rodmell which lies at least 13k away, south of Lewes.

Hamsey and Barcombe manors in Domesday Book 

By 1086 the decline from pre-Conquest value in both hides and cash recorded for these substantial manors, reveals that both, but most significantly Hamsey, had been deprived of outlying landholdings following the Conquest.

The survey records the significance of industrial and commercial activity in Barcombe with three and a half mills (the great survey is ever enigmatic! What exactly comprised half a mill is uncertain - what is clear is the overall rental value to the lord) and 18 'hagae' (closes) in the borough of Lewes. By comparison, Hamsey was predominantly an agricultural community, with grazing, a significant 200 acres of meadow and woodland for 10 pigs.

In Barcombe, the disparity between the assessment of 20 ploughlands and the 11 actual ploughs recorded (both in lordship and in the hands of tenants) suggests that, in the eyes of the Domesday surveyors, the arable potential of the manor was not being fully exploited. On the other hand, assuming that there were in fact two ploughs in Lordship in Hamsey, and that possible scribal error accounts for the anomalous 2 hides actually recorded, the number of ploughs in use there was only one short of the full assessment.

The recorded population also suggests some demographic variation within the manors. Hamsey had a marginally larger recorded population of 30 individuals, of whom 16 were villans (higher status tenants not to be confused with the later medieval term villein) and 14 bordars (low status tenants undertaking menial tasks on the manorial demesne). In Barcombe out of a total recorded population of 26 only 2 were bordars.

Late estate and ecclesiastical development
At Hamsey the manor house was already ruined by 1780, but significant mansion houses were developed elsewhere within the parish, most notably at Coombe, but Offham House and Shelley's Folly also represent this later phase of development. At Barcombe, Court House farm undoubtedly represents the core of the medieval manorial complex; it survives as a pleasant but not grand, timber-framed farm house, but the original Camoys Court manor house was lost by 1709. Here, as at Hamsey, large mansion houses with their associated estates were developed later, first at Conyboro, and later at Barcombe House, Barcombe Place and Sutton Hall.

St Mary's, Barcombe and St Peter's, Hamsey

In both parishes churches were built in the 19th century at Offham and Spithurst. Offham had developed as a more populated area of Hamsey, but it is curious that St Bartholomew's in Barcombe was built at Spithurst and not at the more significant settlement of Barcombe Cross. The influence of the major landowners, combined with their animosity towards the then Rector, appears to have influenced that decision. There was a chapel for dissenters at Barcombe Cross by 1840, but it was not until 1897 that the mission hall, now the church of St Francis of Assisi, was built by Sir William Grantham.

St Bartholomew's or St Bartz, Spithurst and St Peter's, Offham

Faith, R., 1997, The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship.
Salzman, LF, 1940, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, 7.