Ferring in the 17th Century

The 17th Century was an even more turbulent period in British history than the 16th. The death of Elizabeth, the conflict between the first two Stuart kings and the Parliaments, culminating in the Civil War, was followed by the Commonwealth, the Protectorate and the Restoration. Twenty five years of the restored monarchy was then followed by another dethronement and a political revolution that secured parliamentary government and the Protestant succession for the next 400 years.
Ferring felt little of this. News of the Court, Parliament, religious controversy, and wars with the Dutch and the French travelled very slowly and had little effect on village life and work – still very much dominated by the annual cycle of arable farming. Sussex was very much for Parliament in the Civil War (one of its MPs signed the death warrant of Charles I) and although Arundel Castle was besieged, and a Royalist garrison (and the Bishop) ejected from Chichester in 1642, there was no other fighting in the county. The biggest change was in the Lordship of the main Ferring manor and the ownership of the main estate.
In 1643 Parliament abolished bishops and ordered the ‘sequestration’ (confiscation) of the Bishop of Chichester’s estates. Again, this made little difference to Ferring residents – the Manor Court continued, as usual under the direction of the Steward, and the Bishop’s estate continued to be farmed by the same leaseholder, but with the revenues now going to Parliament. The Lordship was sold to Anthony Stapley MP (the ‘regicide’ referred above) and the estate to the leaseholder, Thomas Watersfield. Stapley died in 1655 and so escaped the retribution of the Restoration but the Bishop was back as Lord of the Manor in 1661 and now leased his estate to the Westbrook family, who held it until the middle of the next century.
The Manor Court records are very well preserved all through the century and give us a great deal of information about the tenants and the properties they occupied. We also have three land surveys: the first is a plan of the manor dated 1621, showing the Bishop’s estate in some detail, with field names and acreages, and among other features, little sketches of the Manor House and the windmill on Highdown. Its depiction of the shore-line and the fields at the southern end of the estate give a good indication of the amount of land which has since been lost to the sea since then.
The next is a list of the land and income of the Vicar in 1635 – the ‘Glebe Terrier’. This was not just the vicarage house and the 20 acres of land that went with it but the income from the ‘small tithes’ of many plots of ground around the village, all well-documented with precise locations and owners’ names. Then there is the comprehensive survey of the manor and (former) Bishop’s estate in 1647, a prospectus for its sale later that year, again with precise descriptions.
There are many other records, of property (the Hearth Tax list of 1670, the Probate Inventories, the Wills) and people (Parish Registers, the Protestation Return of 1642 and other documents) which, taken together, give a good insight into the village economy, social structure and everyday life.
As in the previous century, church attendance (obligatory) and church discipline was a central part of it. But the tides of religious doctrine (High Church, Puritan, restored Anglican) do not seem to have disturbed Ferring very much: the vicars generally served long terms (often dying in office) without interference from higher authorities. Arthur Owen was appointed in 1632 in the High Church period and served through the Puritan period until his death in 1655 (when he was described as ‘Minister of God’s Word’) and Steven Worger was appointed by Oliver Cromwell in 1657 and died in office under a very different regime in 1670. No doubt the form of the services changed over that half-century but Ferring residents seem to have taken this in their stride. – no dissenters were recorded.
The first half of the century was dominated by the Watersfield family, the leaseholders of the Bishop’s estate. A younger son, William, bought land in East Ferring and at some stage the Lordship of the small East Ferring Manor. William died in 1649 and left his land and manor to his daughter. She had married John Westbrook, from Godalming, in 1637 and it was the Westbrook family that dominated the last 40 years of the century. John Westbrook took the lease of the Bishop’s (west) Ferring estate after the Restoration and had also inherited the East Ferring manor after his wife’s death in 1657. His son William came into all this property and lived on to 1702. William Westbrook was also influential in wider circles – he was the Steward of several local manors and became MP for Arundel in 1685, and for Bramber in 1698.