Ferring before Domesday

Ferring was farmland for at least 900 years before the sale of the southern half of the parish for housing development in 1924. The Domesday survey of 1086 refers to its arable land, meadows (for cattle), and woodland where pigs were kept. It says that in the time of Edward the Confessor (1042 -1066) the territory had a taxable value 25 per cent higher than in 1086, which implies that it was being well farmed at the end of the Saxon period. Before that, the evidence is very thin.
A mediaeval copy of a charter dated 765, the middle of the Saxon period, tells us that a certain Osmund (five years later described elsewhere as ‘king of the South Saxons’) granted the ‘terre que appelatur Ferryng’, (territory called Ferring) ‘cum totis ad eam pertentibus rebus, campis, siluis, pratis..’,(with all its appurtenances, in fields, woods, meadows..) to support the building of a minster church. This corresponds to the arable land, and woodland referred to in the Domesday book. It moves the evidence of farming back another 300 years and suggests that Ferring was part of the Bishop’s estate long before the Normans arrived.
Before that, there is no written record, only archaeology. The richest site has been the top of Highdown, where an early-Saxon cemetery was unearthed in 1893 (the only one in West Sussex).The same site gives evidence of an Iron Age fort and a Bronze Age enclosure. Flints from the Stone Age have been found on the southern slopes of the hill (just over the border with Angmering). Down on the flat land, Roman cremation urns have been found and on the Ferring bank of the Rife stream a hoard of Bronze Age palstaves (axeheads) was found, close to the modern footbridge, and evidence of an ancient trackway down to the sea. We know very little about these people but it is probable that growing crops and herding animals was taking place on these fertile soils from very early days
What we do know is that the church, and therefore the village, was established by 791, when another ‘King of the South Saxons’ added a piece of woodland to the original grant ‘ad ecclesiam sancte Andree quae sita est in terra quae vocatur Ferring’ (to the church of St Andrew in the territory called Ferring). That building was probably of wooden construction and nothing of it survives (except a few post-holes under the floor of the present church, rebuilt by the Normans.
The name ‘Ferring’ is clearly of Saxon origin, in the same form as Goring, Worthing, Angmering, Lancing, Sompting, Poling and others in West Sussex. It means ‘the people of Ferr..’ but there is no way of knowing who Ferra, or Ferre, was. His ‘people’ could not have been very numerous, given the proximity of the other settlements. Even by 1086, the population was only about 150.