The Ferring Manors

The Domesday survey shows that the Bishop of Chichester was the Lord of the Manor of ‘Feringes’, and held it as a demesne. Part of the manor was held by Ansfrid, presumably as a sub-tenant, and by the 16th century this holding was being described as the manor of East Ferring, as distinct from the main manor of ‘Ferring’ (or ‘Ferring and Fure’, referring to a detached portion of the manor near Billingshurst).

The Bishop continued as the Lord of the Manor of Ferring (except for the Commonwealth period) as long as the manorial jurisdiction lasted (it continued in shadowy form well into the 20th century, by which time the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had taken over). The Bishop’s Steward administered the tenancies, leases and other tenures by which every land ‘owner’ held his property. The Bishop’s own estate (the Manor House and ‘demesne lands’) was held on a succession of long leases, until the mid-Victorian period. It is not too difficult to trace these tenancies and leases from the Elizabethan period to modern times, from documents held in West Sussex Record Office.

The Manor of East Ferring is more sketchily recorded. Ansfrid’s holding descended with his family. In 1267 it was noted that ‘the heirs of Amfrid’ (possibly the great-grandson of Ansfrid) held 2 hides at Ferring from the Bishop, and according to one researcher, one of this later Amfrid’s grandsons was listed in the 1296 Subsidy Roll (tax return) for Ferring. That family (the ‘de Ferring’ family) was also in the 1327 and 1332 Subsidy Rolls. In 1545 John Lloyd bought it from John and Mary Palmer. In 1577 Henry Goring bought it from William Bertelot and his wife Anne. In 1617 it was sold to Edward Franceis and others. But by 1635 it had been sold to William Watersfield. His daughter inherited from him in 1649 and her husband, John Westbrook, inherited it from her.
The next document is a late 17th century listing of certain payments due to the Lord of the Manor, and then there are three entries for the Court Book – the first in 1706 and the last in 1779. As ‘The Topographer’ (1790) says, ‘it belonged some time to the Westbrooks … and is now the property of Wm Richardson, of Findon’. The Richardson family sold it to Mr Lyon of Goring Hall in the 1830s).
It seems to have functioned as a genuine manor in the 17th and 18th Centuries at least, although its territory could not have been more than 100 acres or more than a dozen holdings (see separate article on East Ferring). It is not referred to as a manor in any Ferring wills, although ‘East Ferring’ is often named as a distinct location within the parish of Ferring.

The de Ferring family of the Middle Ages also owned land in what is now East Chiltington, near Plumpton (East Sussex), and established the small manor, or sub-manor of ‘Chiltington Ferring’. In the documents (‘fines’) recording the transfer of this manor over the following centuries, the property was often referred to as simply ‘Ferring’ and this led some Sussex historians to confuse it with the longer-surviving Ferring manors in West Sussex.

The main manor of ‘West Ferring’ is not generally so named in the documents – the name used is either ‘Ferring and Fure’ or simply ‘Ferring’- but the first detailed map we have, dated 1621, does seem to show an estate mainly to the west of what is now Sea Lane. The Bishop always leased out his manorial demesne: the Valor Ecclesiasticus shows that Thomas Walwayne held the estate in 1535, and this is presumably the Thomas Woolwyn or Wolfyn recorded in the Lay Subsidy of 1524/5 as one of the two highest payers, and who wrote his will in 1543. A little later, in 1552, a document in the Episcopal archives (EP VI .2/1 f.30 v). shows it as leased to Alys Bitfield. She left it in her will of the same year, to her son Thomas Watersfield, who died in 1570 (judging by his will, probably the biggest landowner in Ferring, and certainly the owner of a large house). John Watersfield then succeeded, and his widow Agnes (died 1609) is recorded as having the highest assessment for ‘holibredes’ (special tithes). Her son, Thomas Watersfield (1578/9-1651?) inherited most of this property (as shown in the 1635 list of holibredes), and in the 1647 survey of ‘Ferring and Fure Manors’ he is listed on page 2 of the copy in WSRO, as leaseholder, jointly with two others. The survey was on behalf of the Parliamentary Commissioners, in order to sell the Bishop’s lands and Lordship of the Manor.

The outcome (according to Dalloway’s ‘Parochial Topography’) was that the Commissioners sold the Lordship to Col. Anthony Stapely (one of the Sussex MPs) and the house and demesne lands to Thomas Watersfield. It is not clear who owned the estate for the next 12 years. Stapely is certainly shown as the Lord of the Manor in the Court Rolls from 1647 until his death in 1655 (succeeded by Henry Scrace of Shoreham) but Watersfield died around 1651 and there is no record of any change of ownership . However, the manor was restored to the Bishop of Chichester and he leased the estate (including the manor house) to John Westbrooke sometime before 1666 . In his will of that year Westbrooke says he has exchanged it for a property of his son William’s, in Surrey, and William then held it until his death in 1702. The lease continued in the Westbrooke family for the next two generations. Mary Westbrooke, spinster, (William’s daughter) had it in 1714. In 1734 she made a complaint to the Steward about the expense of accommodating the Manor Court. On her death in 1735, the lease passed to her ‘assign’, Elizabeth Richardson, daughter of Barbara, Mary’s sister. She seems to have inherited the East Ferring estate too, and although the East Ferring estate stayed in her family until the turn of the next century, she had sold the lease of West Ferring by 1744 to the Colebrooke family.

The Topographer says the first of the family to have it was a ‘Mr Colebrooke, who became immensely rich on the South Sea Stocks’, then his son Sir James, and then his brother Sir George ‘who by a monopoly of hemp, lost his great fortune’. James had it in 1744, and had as his tenant at ‘West Ferring Farm’ Thos. Cooper. Cooper was a very wealthy farmer who left an estate of over £1500 when he died in 1751 (Cooper was also the tenant of Parsonage Glebe Lands, and had ‘the Great Tythes of all Copyhold land in Ferring’). A new tenancy was made out to Henry Postlethwaite.

In this period the estate was often sub-leased for long periods before the Bishop issued a new lease, and was also mortgaged for shorter periods so that it is difficult to say who owned it. ‘Castles & Mansions of Western Sussex’ says ‘the trustees of Sir James Colebrooke sold it in 1772 to John Bagnall, who transferred his purchase to Sir John Shelley, by whom a lease for three lives was obtained from the Prebendary of Ferring in 1776’. Sir John Shelley’s widow transferred it to William Henty in an indenture dated 1786. The Topographer published in 1790 says Mr Henty ‘occupies the old manor house here’.

At any rate, in 1795 the Bishop made out a new lease to William Henty. His son George (1766 – 1829) added to the estate, buying up tenancies and leases of other cottages and fields in Ferring, and his grandson Edwin (1805 -1890) acquired all the freeholds when this became possible, starting with Ferring House (the manor house) and 136 acres in 1864. Edwin jun. (1844 – 1916) continued to add to the estate but was content to sell plots from time to time. The estate remained very much intact until 1924, when his widow broke up the southern portion for sale to developers; her executors sold off the northern portion in 1930.

The records of the Manor Court survive from the 16th century until the final theoretical transactions in the 1930s. Until the mid 19th century the main business was the transfer of ‘copyholds’ – that is land held from the Lord of the Manor for a nominal payment renewable on inheritance or sale of the land. The legal title to the land was the entry on the Court Roll, and the owner was provided with a copy of the entry (hence ‘copyhold’). Pioneering work on these records was carried out by Ron Kerridge (for Ferring Past) but hundreds of documents remain to be catalogued, transcribed and fully analysed.

In 1990, the Church Commissioners put the Lordship of the Manor, by now an empty title, up for sale. It was bought by a London family and there has been no contact with them for many years. It is not known what became of the Lordship of East Ferring Manor.