Ferring in the 18th Century

The 18th century in Ferring is even better documented than the previous 100 years: in addition to the Manor Court records (both manors), Parish Registers, wills, and probate inventories, we have several detailed leases and property surveys, the Land Tax records from 1780, many surviving buildings and many gravestones in the churchyard. We even have the first maps that try to show the general geography of Ferring, rather than an estate plan or sketch of the ‘Armada’ coast.
The character of the village and the parish did not change much between 1700 and 1800 – indeed not until the coming of the railway in 1846 or the coming of the developers in the 1920s. We know the population in 1801 was 238, and this would hardly have changed from 1701, or earlier centuries, because the structure of land ownership and land use hardly changed. This was a farming community – the farmers provided the only employment (with smallholders and a few tradesmen in self-employment) and their manpower needs hardly changed. Farm labourers lived in cottages owned by their employers and very few new houses were built.
Farming still followed the historic pattern of sheep on Highdown, dairy cattle on the meadows along Langbury Lane and arable (mainly wheat and barley) south of the village centre and just north of Littlehampton Road. The Bishop’s estate remained intact – still leased to the Westbrooks for the first 40 years of the century then to a London banking family, the Colebrooks, for the next 30 years. For a brief period it was leased to the Shelley family, who already owned the north-west tip of the parish, on the north side of Highdown (as an extension of their land in Patching) but they sold the lease to William Henty in 1786 and the Hentys held it all through the next century.
The Westbrooks, and their descendants the Richardsons, owned East Ferring outright and ran it in conjunction with their land in Goring (they were Lords of the Manor of both). Their Ferring land stretched from the Goring border, up from the sea front, over the east side of Highdown (including the windmill) and down to the Patching border. They gave up the lease on the Bishop’s estate around 1740 but they kept their East Ferring land for another 100 years beyond that.
On the large farms, productivity was improving all through the century. Thomas Cooper, who sub-leased the main (west) Ferring estate from 1739 until his death in 1751 left £900 in his will and his probate inventory (valued at over £1200) shows a very well-stocked and well-equipped farm, as well as a very comfortable life in the Manor House. William Henty, who sub-leased it from 1786 was described four years later as ‘an opulent farmer’. He would have benefited from considerable technical improvements in arable farming, spreading across the country in what was later described as the ‘agricultural revolution’.
Some areas of the west Ferring manor, on some of the best soil, were, however, still farmed on the mediaeval system of one-acre arable strips in several ‘Common fields’, the largest of which was the whole area enclosed by what is now Meadow Way, Osborne Road, Ferring Street, Ferringham Lane and the Rife banks. Only towards the end of the century was there any attempt to exchange strips and consolidate holdings.
It is remarkable that three vicars between them covered the whole of the century. Charles Cutter had been appointed in 1670 and continued until his death in 1716, William Allbright from then until just before his death in 1766 and James Penfold from then until well into the next century. A report of 1724 said there were 37 families in the village, all of the Church of England.
The Vicarage was given a major refurbishment – perhaps a rebuild – in 1783. The Church building was improved in 1793 by the addition of a bell turret. Two of the three bells, which for at least 200 years had been hung on a wooden frame in the churchyard, were sold to finance this accommodation for the remaining one.
The Poor
The poor and the homeless leave little trace in local history: no headstones in the churchyard, only the occasional entry in the Parish Registers of baptisms and burials – James and Joseph Jones ‘vagrants’ buried within a fortnight of each other in 1701, ‘a traveller’s son’ in 1747.. Those who definitely belonged to the Parish had to be supported – from 1792, in Ferring’s case, in the workhouse at East Preston, or on outdoor relief – but those who had no local connection were very harshly treated.
Public whipping for vagrancy was common in earlier centuries but by the mid-18th Century the punishment for vagrants was more likely to be removal to a House of Correction (there was one at Arundel) for six months hard labour, before being sent back to their own parish. Between 1734 and 1800 some 25 deportation orders, to or from Ferring, were made at the Quarter Sessions.
In the Vagrancy Act of 1743 rogues and vagabonds were described as ‘gathers of alms under false pretences; common players unauthorized by law and minstrels and all those wandering abroad or those who pretended to be gypsies and those playing or betting at any unlawful games; persons who ran away leaving their wives and families chargeable to the parish; unlicensed petty chapmen and pedlars; persons wandering abroad and lodging in alehouses, barns and outhouses and not being able to give a good account of themselves’. As late as the 1890s, a plaque could be seen over the door of a cottage near Ferring Church, threatening a public whipping to rogues and vagabonds found in the vicinity.