Ferring in the 12th and 13th Centuries

There a few documentary sources for Ferring history in the 12th and 13th centuries, and no archaeology. On the other hand, we have St Andrew’s church, rebuilt in the period and hardly altered since.

The Domesday entry gives the basic economic and social structure of Ferring towards the end of the 11th Century and much of this continued to operate for the next 200 years – the principal manor administered by the Bishop of Chichester and a smaller sub-manor administered by a Saxon layman, both holdings dedicated to farming. The few references we have to the East Ferring manor give us some evidence of it passing down through Ansfrid’s family but we know nothing of its tenants or their lives. For the main Ferring manor, however, we have a very informative document – the Custumal, a list of the tenants’ obligations to their Lord of the Manor.

Tenants and tradesmen
There is no date in the Custumal but it tallies to some extent with the Subsidy Roll (tax return) of 1296 and it probably belongs to that century. It refers to two groups of tenants – ‘yardlanders’, who occupied fairly large holdings of up to 30 acres, and others with up to 4 acres. There are 6 yardlanders in ‘North Town’ (which probably relates to the Hangleton farms) and 10 in the rest of Ferring (presumably round the church and manor house – one is named as ‘Juliana de Sutheton’). They make the major contribution in rent and produce from their land, as well as the work they have to do on the Bishop’s estate (south of the church and on Highdown) and other tasks for the Bishop, including fetching and carrying goods from his other manors and taking goods to markets and wool to the port of Shoreham (in the 14th Century wool was also exported from a landing stage in Kingston). Most of the other 16 tenants have no more than an acre of ground, barely more than a cottage garden. But they too have to pay rent, give up produce and carry out manual work. They include two tradesmen – Ralph the Skinner and William the Smith. The smith is only required to do blacksmith’s work – two ploughshares a year, 100 horseshoes and nails, and shoeing the horses of the Bishop’s officials but he is paid for the work, in both cash and produce.
The document is full of detail and is very well set out and analysed in ‘Ferring Past, ’by Kerridge and Standing (pp17-29).

The de Ferring family
Some other information we have about Ferring in this period is on the ‘de Ferring’ family who owned land in East Ferring . Michael Burchall’s article ‘The Ferring Family of the 11th – 14th centuries’ (Sussex Family Historian Vol.16 No 3) tells us that an Amfrid de Ferring was named as a witness in a deed of 1164. This Amfrid is named as holding lands of the Bishop of Chichester in 1166, and while the bishopric was vacant in 1172-73 he accounted for its revenues. It was probably this Amfrid who was named as the father of Thomas de Ferring (the Bishop’s Steward from 1187 to 1197), and of younger sons Amfrid, (the Bishop’s Steward in 1203), and Richard.

Burchall is confident that Thomas de Ferring (still alive in 1197) passed on his lands in Ferring to his son Amfrid who held land in Ferring from at least 1230. It was in this year that Amfrid gave up his rights to the mill on Highdown originally granted to his father.

By 1249 Amfrid had surrendered part of his lands to his son Richard and in 1267 it was noted that the heirs of Amfrid held 2 hides at Ferring from the bishop. This sounds very much like what became the East Ferring manor. Burchall says that Amfrid’s heir was Simon de Ferring. Simon does not seem to have lived in Ferring. When he died, his widow Amice was involved in an abduction (see Burchall for this complicated story). Simon’s son was John de Ferring (died 1306) and there were probably other sons, including the Nicholas de Ferring who figures in the 1296 Subsidy Roll as the second highest taxpayer in Goring and Ferring combined.

The Windmill
A charter from the Chichester archives, undated but attributable to three or four years either side of 1200 shows Bishop Seffrid granting to Thomas de Ferring ‘for his service to the Church of Chichester and myself, the windmill at Ecclesdon Down which I made at my own costs’ (‘Ecclesdon’ was the contemporary name for Highdown). With it went 2 acres of land to the north of the mill and ‘also the breadth of an acre all round outside the outer end of the beam by which the mill is turned round’, and ‘a right of way to the mill from every part of the town’. Thomas paid him one pound of pepper. This must have been the first mill on the site (and one of the earliest in Sussex) – subsequent references are to rebuilding the mill, which would have been easily knocked over in very high winds.

Thomas gave the mill to the Convent of Tortington, who rather quickly sold it to Chichester Cathedral. Another document shows that Pope Urban IV (1261 – 1264) confirmed the Cathedral’s ownership of a mill at Ecclesdon, among other properties. It would appear that the mill did blow down at some stage because they later leased ‘their mill site at Ferringes’ to William de Vescey ‘to build a mill there at his own charges’. Both these mills would have been ‘post mills’, mounted on a central post and the whole body of the mill turned into the wind by a large beam. This was the standard design of the time and for many years to come. Indeed, the mill drawn on the 1621 Bishop’s Estate map is clearly of this type.

The Subsidy Roll of 1296
The first tax record we have that lists individual taxpayers is the 1296 ‘Subsidy Roll’ for the ‘Villat’ de Garyng & Ferryng’ (for the township, ignoring parish or manor boundaries). It is possible to separate some of the Ferring inhabitants from those of Goring because of continuities with later assessments where Ferring was treated separately, and with other records.

The highest payer was Nicholas de Ferring, whose family had held land in East Ferring since at least 1086. He paid 13 shillings William Horscroft paid 5 shillings, Richard Capellan 3 shillings William atte Brook 1 shilling and 6 pence and William atte Gate 1 shilling. This was a ‘Lay’ subsidy, not payable by the Church or its clergy so the largest landowner, the Bishop of Chichester, does not appear on the list. Neither do the poor so it is not surprising that the list is much shorter than that of the (probably earlier) Custumal.

The Church and the Bishops
The first church building, following the grant of the land in 765, was almost certainly a timber building. It was replaced by a stone church early in the 12th Century and enlarged in the mid-13th Century. The Church guide book says the original nave and chancel were build around 1120 and a new northern aisle and chancel added around 1250, retaining part of the old northern wall as an arcade. All this is easily visible in the church today, despite later restorations.

There are no parish records for this period and we do not know the names of any of the early clergy, except possibly ‘Simon’ in 1250 but this may be a confusion with ‘Simon of Tarring’ (see below). But we do have some Ferring references in connection with the Bishops. In a charter of 1220, Bishop Ranulf of Wareham sets up stocks for his farms. Ferring was to have 24 oxen, 20 cows, and 200 sheep. The oxen (castrated bulls) were for plough teams (four or eight oxen to team). This is the first mention of sheep – there was no reference to them in the Domesday entry. There are also records of a few visits by successive Bishops of Chichester as Patron of the church rather than Lord of the Manor (the manorial business was conducted by his Steward).

It is very likely that during these visits the Bishops stayed at a house next to the church, which also housed the priests, and that this later became the Manor House. On 3 February 1206 Bishop Simon de Welles signed a document at Ferring, as did Bishop Ranulf de Warham on 22 October 1220, and Bishop Richard (later Saint Richard) on 15 April 1249.

In the documents produced for Richard’s canonisation in 1263 he is reputed to have supported a young woman in Ferring in her determination to live a life of chastity rather than the marriage her father had arranged but the story of him feeding a crowd of 3,000 people ‘with bread estimated to be sufficient for only 90 when he was resident in Ferring’ is doubtful, to say the least. Dalloway’s ‘Parochial Topography’ refers to this report in a document of 1245 but at this time Richard was suspended from his office and living ‘in exile’ at Tarring (when spelled ‘Terring’, easily confused with Ferring). The text which names ‘Magister Simon de Ferryng’ as his host, and the location of the miracle as ‘agri Ferryngi’ is very much later and not to be relied upon. Miracles apart, it is hard to understand why such an enormous crowd would assemble in this small undistinguished village.