04 May 2012

St Nicolas Church Portslade

A History by Judy Middleton. 1983 revised 2022

copyright © D. Sharp
St Nicolas Church Portslade


The Domesday Book has become a popular starting point for parish histories because it is often the first written evidence of a place’s existence. William the Conqueror was responsible for the compilation of this amazing survey in 1086 that revealed the resources of this new land he had conquered. It does not mention there being a church at Portslade but it is not conclusive evidence one did not exist. Indeed although nearly 100 Sussex churches were itemised, it has been estimated that a more accurate figure would be closer to two hundred.

If there had been a church at Portslade in Anglo-Saxon times, it would have been a simple affair, possibly of wood. The fine situation of the present church on its small eminence leads one to suppose that the site enjoyed local significance in pre-Christian times and it should be remembered that Sussex was the last part of England to be converted to Christianity. Pope Gregory I, who died long before St Wilfrid arrived to spread the Gospel in Sussex, had decreed that Christian churches should be built on sites already sacred to the people.


The present church of St Nicolas was founded in the late 12th century and the nave, south aisle and the lower part of the tower all date from this time. The earliest mention of the dedication to St Nicolas occurred in 1489. Although today we tend to associate St Nicholas exclusively with Christmas, in earlier times he was best known as the patron saint of sailors and children. It is an obvious dedication because of the proximity of the sea and the ever-present dangers awaiting sailors and fishermen. The church was also a landmark to those at sea, a cheerful sight on their way home. A little further along the coast the church of St Nicolas at Brighton served a similar purpose. 

The church was constructed in around 1170 of rubble and flint with Caen stone dressings during the reign of Henry II. It was a momentous time because the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in 1170 inside his own cathedral. It was a symptom of the struggle between church and state but it caused outrage and Thomas a Becket quickly became England’s most popular saint and everyone’s local hero. In the church of St Peter, Preston there is a wall painting depicting Becket’s murder and it is considered to be one of the earliest representations of the saint.

St Peter’s, Preston also had an important similarity to St Nicolas in that both were closely associated with adjacent manor houses. This must have been of benefit to St Nicolas in the long run because it never crumbled into ruins; whereas the neighbouring churches of Hangleton, West Blatchington, Aldrington and Hove all fell into decay with three of them being unused for many years.

It seems probable that at Portslade the church and the manor house were constructed at around the same time. Although some ruins remain, most of the manor house was purposely demolished in the 19th century for reasons unknown. But today the remaining structure is much valued as a rare example of a Norman manor house. Conservation work has been carried out including the restoration of a 12th century window, previously taken down because it was in a dangerous state. The manor was built so close to the church that one of its walls formed part of the churchyard boundary. It is thought there was once a direct connection between the two with a sheltered way and a now vanished doorway leading straight into the chancel from the manor side.

One of the earliest lords of the manor was Rainald de Warenne, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Surrey. Rainald’s son William de Warenne received the advowson of St Nicolas Church in 1191. (Advowson means the right of presentation to a particular benefice or in other words the patron could chose the incumbent). The advowson was granted to William de Warenne after a row between Stephen (the first priest of St Nicolas whose name we know) and the prior and monks of Lewes. The seeds of the controversy were sown back in 1077 when another William de Warenne founded the Priory of St Pancras at Lewes, which was the first Cluniac house in England. The tithes of Portslade were allocated to the Priory, as also were those of Hangleton. In fact de Warenne was extremely generous to the Priory and he made grants from nearly all of his considerable land holdings. However, there was some doubt as to whom should have the tithes of St Nicolas because Stephen objected to the claim made by the Prior of Lewes. But Stephen lost his case and in c.1187 Bishop Seffrid pronounced that the tithes of Portslade belonged to the Priory. When the advowson passed to the later William de Warenne there was a stipulation that the priest of St Nicolas must pay 40/- a year to the Priory.

The Warennes had not finished with Portslade as we shall see. In 1264 Henry III and his court arrived at Lewes on 12th May in order to celebrate the feast day of St Pancras at the Priory. Just two days later the celebrated Battle of Lewes was fought in which Simon de Montfort defeated the King’s army. By this time Portslade was in the hands of John de Burgh although Earl Warenne was still the overlord. On the pretext that de Burgh had supported de Montfort, Earl Warenne seized de Burgh’s lands including Portslade. But the de Burghs had some very aristocratic connections. John’s father Hugh de Burgh had taken as his third wife Margaret, the sister of Alexander, King of Scotland. Their daughter also called Margaret was given Portslade Manor; she secretly married the Earl of Gloucester.

Although the Battle of Lewes was followed by victories for the King’s side at Evesham and Kenilworth, it left a weakened central authority, which powerful men such as Earl Warenne turned to their advantage. When Edward I succeeded to the throne in 1272 he determined to set right the abuses that had occurred and appointed commissioners to investigate various claims. Originally the King intended to annul all claims unless the claimant could produce a royal charter. There was such an outcry that this was modified; if rights had been exercised for a considerable time without challenge, it could be accepted as legal. Traditionally this alteration was the result of the behaviour of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. When he was asked to produce his authority for land occupation, he brandished an ancient sword and said his ancestors had gained land for William the Conqueror with a sword and with a sword he would defend them now. In is interesting to note that amongst the accusations was the following – ‘Earl Warenne has appropriated to himself for the last 22 years the chace (sic) of Portslade, which the people of the country did formerly use, to the grave injury of the country’.


copyright © D. Sharp
The chevron moulding above the pulpit
Meanwhile the church of St Nicolas had been enlarged. The original church was compact, probably rather dark inside and with no seating for the villagers. A small chevron moulding, inexpertly carved, can today be seen above the pulpit and was once part of the decoration of the Norman apse. Then in around 1250 the chancel and the large arch leading to it were constructed. The chancel was dignified with a piscina (where the sacred vessels were washed) and three sedilia (seats for priest and servers). The piscina is fluted internally and projects slightly; it is surmounted by a trefoil arch with a small column on either side. The trefoil form is repeated over the heads of the sedilia whose seats rise towards the east. It is thought the outer corbels of the sedilia represent the heads of priests. The chancel inclines slightly towards the south and such a feature is popularly known as a weeping chancel. 

copyright © D. Sharp
The piscina and three sedilia
The mediaeval idea was that the nave of the church represented Christ’s body while the chancel signified his head, bent in sorrow upon the cross.
The church was flooded with light because at least eleven windows date from this time. These include all the windows in the chancel plus the circular sex-foiled light in the east wall, the window now home to the St Francis stained glass, and two of the windows in the south aisle. But the one west of the porch is of a later date. It is possible the small light in the west wall of the tower dates from the 12th century too.


copyright © J.Middleton
low-side windows in St Nicolas Church
The chancel windows include one described as a low-side window. These were nearly always constructed on the south side of the chancel, as is the case with St Nicolas. The question nobody can answer with certainty is why low-side windows were built. A popular and somewhat romantic theory held they were to cater for lepers who would be able to observe Mass being said from outside the building without fear of contaminating the people inside. This theory is discounted today but that does not mean there were no lepers in Portslade. Indeed we know there was at least one because the Subsidy Roll of 1296 (a form of taxation) records the name of Matilda, widow of a leper. It is interesting to note that at this time a leper was exempt from having to pay.

Some low-side windows were not glazed originally but were covered externally by wooden shutters that opened inwards. The low-side window at St Helen’s, Hangleton was provided with grooves and bolt-holes. Such evidence has given rise to another theory, which is that the aperture was used for auricular confession (and confession was made compulsory in 1216). In this theory the penitent knelt outside the church while the priest, probably unseen from the outside, listened to the confession. Whatever the possibilities at other churches with low-side windows, it would not work at Portslade because the chancel floor is much lower than the ground level outside. This means that although the outside still is almost level with the ground, the inside sill is almost six feet above the chancel floor.

Another theory is that a low-side window was necessary to ring a hand-bell outside the church in the days before there were bells in the tower. A bell could be used to notify those unable to come to church that the most sacred part of the Mass was being celebrated.


It goes without saying that apart from the manor the church was the most imposing building in the parish and served both a spiritual and social need. The villagers lived in small, cramped cottages and the interior of the church was the largest indoor space they were likely to see. Although Mass was celebrated every Sunday, people only took communion once a year at Easter and then only in one kind because the chalice was reserved for the priest alone from the 13th century onwards. The services did not include a sermon as these only became more common in the 14th century. The clergy were obliged to pull up their preaching socks, so to speak, in response to the followers of St Francis of Assisi who moved around the countryside and were famous for their sermons. Pulpits began to appear in churches in the 14th century. It is not known when one was installed at St Nicolas but we do know that by 1684 the pulpit was reported as being dilapidated, without a door, and with an ill-fitting canopy. The canopy in question may have been the fashion then or it may have been a primitive sounding board, installed to amplify the preacher’s voice. 

The 14th century brought tragedy locally when the Black Death reached England in 1348. It is thought the disease wiped out most of the population in nearby Hangleton and it would have been fortunate indeed if nobody at Portslade succumbed to the scourge.

During the late 14th century St Nicolas began to assume the shape we are familiar with today because the battlemented belfry stage of the tower was constructed. The tower was built of similar material to the rest of the church and there were quoins of Caen stone.


The shaft of the font dates from the 15th century and it is octagonal with foliated panels but the bowl has been renewed. In earlier times babies were baptised on the day of their birth and there was a long and elaborate service. We know from a report in 1853 that the font was lined with lead but did not have a drain. There is no mention of a cover, which was essential if, as the custom was, the water was blessed at the Easter ceremonies with holy oil and left until the following Easter. However, a drawing later in the 19th century shows a font cover topped off by what appears to be a large acorn. The author of an architectural report in 1914 did not think this was good enough and stressed the need for a cover of some ‘architectural merit’. This has been duly supplied. It is not possible to say where exactly the font stood back in time but at least until the 1940s it stood flush against the south part of the tower arch. Today more sensibly it is placed in the centre of the Baptistery.


The 1847 illustration of the fresco by Miss Gorring

The interior of the church was ablaze with colour in earlier times because of wall paintings. The earlier paintings were simple in style and colour using only pale red and ochre. But in the later decoration (painted on top of previous efforts) the colours used were black, deep yellow, white and dark red – blue was out of the question because it was too expensive. These painting were known as the poor man’s Bible because Biblical themes were depicted for people who had no access to a printed Bible and could not read anyway. The main decoration was completed in around 1439. The most important was the Doom painting, which was not in its customary position above the chancel arch but on the south wall of the nave. The fresco extended for 22 feet and from the abaci towards the roof it was 12 feet 7 inches. The Last Judgement was a popular subject and a constant reminder to parishioners of what might happen on the Last Day. At St Nicolas sinners were painted roasting in the flames of hell on the south west pillar but the artist liked order in chaos and their faces are painted neatly in two parallel rows of six. Far above them was the figure of Satan with small horns and dark, jagged wings. Above the central arch was the figure of a crowned Christ with arms uplifted showing the stigmata in the palms of his hands. He had a benign expression and a long beard. Nearby was the Virgin Mary in her role of Mediatrix together with the heads of several saints. On the far right angels summoned the dead by blowing their trumpets and from the south-east pillar the souls of the just rose towards God.

Detail from the fresco depicting Christ The Saviour

A scene depicting the adoration of the Magi was painted on the wall of the south aisle; there were other frescoes on the north wall but these were not so well preserved and all that could be made out were some waves, a few heads and a quadruped. The only clear part was in the highest east corner, which contained the coat-of-arms of the Fitzalans (Beatrice, Countess of Arundel, who owned land in Portslade, died in 1439). The shield-like depression can still be seen.

There is no evidence as to when it happened but at some stage the paintings were obliterated by the application of lime-wash. It could have occurred during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) after the break with Rome and the instigation of the Reformation or during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) when the Reformation was consolidated or possibly during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Mr English, the parson at St Nicolas wrote a report in 1586 complaining that ‘our church is not whited within and beautified accordingly’. Does that mean the frescoes were still there or had the lime-wash already been applied and the colours were showing through? It is impossible to say. In 1686 it was recorded that the church and chancel ‘want white lining’ – the paintings must have gone by then.
The Virgin Mary in fresco

They were completely forgotten about until 1847 when the walls were being repaired, and this ancient decoration came to light. The then vicar, the Revd Henry Hoper, was keenly interested in the matter and wrote an article accompanied with a drawing by a Miss Goring which was published in the first volume of the Sussex Archaeological Collections. Unfortunately, instead of them being preserved for future generations, the paintings were again covered with lime-wash. Modern opinion is that it would be impossible to rescue them although fragments of a similar age have been restored at St Helen’s, Hangleton.

The church must have looked rather bleak without the colourful frescoes. It became the custom instead to install wooden or stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandants, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. It provided something to catch the attention as well as reflecting the Protestant ethic of concentrating more on the words rather than visual representation. The four stone tablets at St Nicolas, which survive to this day, are thought to date from the 17th century. Their original position was probably above the altar but in 1921 a new reredos was installed and the stone tablets were removed and set up in a corner of the north aisle. In 1948 they were moved again and remain in their present position near the Baptistery. Anyone viewing them for the first time would think they had always been there.    


The 16th century was an era of great upheavals in church life. For almost a thousand years the church in England had been under the jurisdiction of Rome but after Henry VIII’s break with the Pope all this altered. His action was not unpopular in the country – far from it; there was a wave of anti-Papist feeling resulting in shrines and relics being destroyed. New Protestant ideas were taking root; some priests took wives although this was against canon law, while the Mass was sometimes said in English, which was still illegal.

Sir Henry Hornby was the last Roman Catholic priest at St Nicolas and he was instituted to the church in 1526. His successor was Henry English who in 1584 was instituted to St Nicolas first and then became rector of Aldrington too. The following year he married Joan Slutter of Botolphs, thus becoming the first vicar of Portslade to have a wife. On 7th September 1614 English was fined five pence for being drunk and the money was given to the poor of Portslade.

The reign of Catholic Queen Mary (1553-1558) only briefly stemmed the flow towards Protestantism. Even with Elizabeth I safely on the throne the church in England was still in difficulties. This was not so much due to Catholics who simply wanted to overthrow the established church but to the increasing activities of Puritans who wanted to transform the church according to their own ideals. They were difficult to combat because they paid lip service to the established church and lived off its resources while at the same time undermining the authority of the bishops – episcopacy was an abomination as far as they were concerned.

A gentleman of this persuasion was the Revd John Postlethwaite who was instituted as vicar of Portslade on 20th December 1598 on the presentation of Sir Edward Lewkenor. He was probably a young man at the time as Thomas Bickley, Bishop of Chichester, had only ordained him a priest in April 1595.  Postlethwaite was fortunate not to lose his living because he circulated the Puritan Commonalty’s Petition in 1603, which Christopher Goldsmith helped to draw up. Goldsmith had been rector of Kingston Buci since 1588 and he was deprived of his living. No doubt his position was aggravated when his Sussex confreres selected his to attend the Hampton Court Conference. Sir Edward Lewkenor was Goldsmith’s patron and determined not to be out-manoeuvred by the establishment, he promptly presented John Postlethwaite as rector of Kingston Buci in 1605. Although the authorities could remove recalcitrant priests, they could not prevent a patron from choosing whom he pleased as a successor and so Kingston remained a centre of Puritan worship. Indeed, well-known Puritans from other parishes came especially to Kingston Buci to have their children baptised. Despite the situation Postlethwaite was licensed to preach in the Dioceses of Canterbury, Winchester and Chichester in 1605. In 1606 Postlethwaite was still vicar of Portslade as well as rector of Kingston Buci when it was recorded that on 18th November in that year the ‘vicaridge Barne is blowne downe’ at Portslade.


The opening page of  the Parish Register of St Nicolas Church now held in the East Sussex Record Office

In 1607 John Bridge became vicar of Portslade and remained for 30 years. A document dating from 1612 recorded the contribution Sussex clergy were asked to make towards the defence of the realm. In Bridge’s case he was expected to join forces with Robert Wood, vicar of New Shoreham and John Foukes, vicar of Old Shoreham, to provide a ‘corselet furnished’ – in other words a piece of body armour. In 1613 Bridge became rector of Hangleton as well. The two parishes were to have an on-off relationship in sharing one priest over the years. (In 1864 they were officially united and did not separate until the 1940s). In  1634 Bridge sent a gift of 10/- towards the repair of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This was not the structure we are familiar with today but the old one destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The year has a resonance for local people too because lightning struck the parsonage house at Hangleton on 31st May 1666 and set it on fire. Unfortunately the flames also consumed the old church register of Portslade.  


John Temple recorded the destruction of the register on the first page of the new register, albeit now a little faint with age. In 1675 he penned the following report. ‘Wee present the churchyard fence to be out of repaire and the pavement of the church out of repayre. Noe book of holmalyes, noe book of common prayer for the Clarke, noe book of cannons’ (sic). It must have been a poor parish indeed. In 1684 it was reported that the communion cup was battered and cracked and the following year it was found necessary for the communion table to be railed in. But it seems that Temple was not himself without means, since he owned a barn as well as four pieces of land in Portslade. Moreover his status was confirmed in 1705 when a poll for knights of the shire at Lewes was held and Temple was one of the five eligible voters from Portslade.

While Temple was vicar a collection was taken among local people to defray the cost of building a gallery for singers. The names of the contributors were noted but the precise location of the gallery was not. A document dating from 1858 is the only written evidence to support the notion that the gallery was on the south side.  There may also be circumstantial evidence in the 1847 drawing of the mediaeval wall paintings, which shows two rectangular spaces equidistant from, and at the same height as, the apex of the central arch. Then there is the curious case of the sketch executed by RH Nibbs in around 1860 that depicts an outside staircase and entrance just west of the porch. This entrance corresponds to the far west window of the south aisle. This is odd because the window appears to be original and also the entrance to the gallery would have been cramped and almost in the rafters.

copyright © J.Middleton
The c1860 sketch of St Nicolas by RH Nibbs showing the staircase entrance to gallery by the entrance porch.

Temple married twice and it appears that both his wives were called Elizabeth. Only five months after his death his widow married another clergyman in July 1709.


By this time the tower of St Nicolas held three tenor bells, which were created at different dates and from different foundries.

  1. The bell is inscribed Edmund Giles belfounder 1613 Thomas Luce Warden. Edmund Giles was a Sussex bell-founder who ran his business from premises within the parish of St Michael, Lewes. This must have been one of the last bells he made because he was buried on 27th February 1614. It is probable that Giles did other founding work too because only twenty-one of his bells are known, which would not have been a great output; and at Portslade the bell is marked with the insignia of iron-founding such as pincers, horse-shoe, axe-head and hammer.
  2. This is the earliest of the three bells and was cast before 1529. Thomas Lawrence, a London bell-founder made it and eleven of his bells are known. The bell is inscribed STOPN, which most probably stands for ‘Sancta Thoma Ora Pro Nobis’. The bell is also inscribed with a rosette, fleur-de-lys and a gridiron, the latter being a personal trademark because of St Lawrence’s martyrdom on a gridiron.
  3. The third bell is inscribed Bryan and William Eldrig made mee 1661 RBIS. A wooden frame supports the bells and although it was invisible to the people in church, it was carved and moulded since only the best workmanship was suitable for a church whether or not it could be seen.
(It is sad to relate that a peal of bells from the tower of St Nicolas can no longer be heard. The bells are still there but their frame is in a poor state and so it is not safe to use the bells. Indeed, a stout railway sleeper has been installed underneath them to prevent the whole lot collapsing into the church. A massive amount of money would be necessary to restore them to full splendour and as there are so many more vital items to be done, the plight of the silent bells is way down the list. In 1986 it was estimated that to restore the organ and bells would cost around £27,500. One bell is struck at the elevation and that is all).
See the St Nicolas Church Bells page for further information


The reports about the communion cup and the communion rail come from the churchwardens’ presentments, which were sent off to be stored in Chichester. Some of the entries certainly add some local colour. For instance a little earlier in the 17th century in 1620 Henry Savage was in trouble for working with his sheep on Sunday. The churchwarden reported him and when Savage heard about it, he called the churchwarden a ‘forsworne knave’. In the same year John Bishop was reported for keeping his ‘hoggs’ in the churchyard. In 1674 Temple reported Robert Ilman for profanation of the Sabbath by working in his field before Divine Service.

A remarkable feature of 18th century religious life at Portslade must surely have been the longevity of the Clutton priests because two of them served (one after the other) for a period of 93 years. King George I was the patron of the parish when the Revd Ralph Clutton was instituted to St Nicolas Church on 17th May 1722. He was a graduate of Brasenose College (spelt in those days Brazen Nose) and became an MA in 1725. It appears that the bad conditions prevalent in church and churchyard as recorded in the previous century, had been rectified because in 1724 Clutton was able to make a satisfactory report. He stated the church was in a very good state of repair, both inside and out and including the steeple and bells. The Communion table and rails, altar piece, carpet and linen, chalice with a silver cover, pewter flagon and plate, the pulpit cushion and cloth, desk and cloth, surplice, Bible and Book of Common Prayer, were all very decent The chancel was in a very good state of repair due to the impropriator. (In former times, a landowner or lord of the manor was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel while the villagers were responsible for the upkeep of the nave).  There was a new chest but still no poor box. The vicarage was small but in good order. There were 24 families in the parish and around 30 communicants and there were no Dissenters or Papists. Divine Service and sermon was held once every Lord’s Day and Communion was administered at the three solemn festivals and at Michaelmas. No doubt he was pleased that the governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty had augmented the parish’s income by £200. (Queen Anne’s Bounty dates back to 1704 and was designed to augment the pay of poor clergy – surprisingly enough it remained as a separate fund until 1947).

Ralph Clutton married Elizabeth Dobson at Falmer on 22 December 1726 and children soon followed: Elizabeth, Ralph, Martha, John, Owen, and William. Although the boys thrived, little Martha died when she was 13 months old. Ralph Clutton died at the age of 66 on 8th January 1761 but his widow survived for many more years and died aged 79 on 14th May 1785. Incidentally, the memorial stone tablet in the south aisle uses that old-fashioned word to describe a widow - a ‘relict’. She left her son William her property in Berwick but he was obliged to pay his sister Elizabeth an annual allowance of £30. She left her son John some land in Pevensey Marsh and it seems he already owned land in Portslade, which was worth £20 a year in 1780.

The next vicar of Portslade was the Revd John Clutton just mentioned and he held the post for over 50 years. The stone memorial tablet takes care to mention that he was ‘the resident vicar of this parish and rector of Hangleton’. Not every priest resided in the parish to which they were inducted and this was true of the Cluttons too because his father Ralph Clutton was also rector of Horsted Keynes. Although absent priests became something of a scandal, in some cases, plurality, as it was known (holding the benefice of more than one parish) was a necessity in order to make a living from poor parishes. John Clutton did not marry and neither did his sister Elizabeth who lived with him in the vicarage and ‘shared in his labours of love’. As was customary in those days she earned the courtesy title of Mrs Clutton. She died on 25 November 1813 aged 85 and on the memorial it states ‘she was distinguished for kindness of heart and active benevolence, qualities which justly endeared her to her neighbours of all ranks’. She left the interest on her nest egg amounting to £550 to her brother John and after he died the money was to go to the children of her brother Owen.

Meanwhile, John’s brother, the Revd Ralph Clutton, had become rector of Horsted Keynes as well as rector of Aldrington. He died at the age of 44 on 13th April 1772. Another brother Owen Clutton did not enter the church but made a spectacular marriage. It must have been an important match since it merits a special mention on the memorial tablet. His bride was Elizabeth, daughter of Isaac Townsend Esq Admiral of the White and Governor of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich. Until 1864 the British fleet was divided into three squadrons – the red, the white and the blue. Greenwich was a refuge for old sailors and fulfilled this function from 1705 to 1869. Townsend’s finest hour was in 1744 when as a vice-admiral he set sail for the West Indies aboard his flagship Lenox. In October he attacked French forces off the island of Martinique, which resulted in the enemy losing upwards of 30 vessels, fifteen of them being captured. As a final feather in his cap, he intercepted three heavily laden provision ships en route for Martinique. Owen Clutton died 3rd December 1796 aged 63 years while his widow died on 16th November 1802 aged 78. It was to the children of this marriage that their aunt Elizabeth left her money.        


An entry from the Overseers of Poor Account Book
dated 14th May 1764
In the 18th century the parish was still very much an administrative unit and the vicar and churchwardens were responsible for taking care of the poor locally. The account book belonging to the Overseers of the Poor at Portslade has been preserved and the first entry dates back to 1758. In 1764 the Revd John Clutton signed the accounts along with the overseers. Thereafter the vicar seemed content to allow the curate to do the honours, thus Francis Paddey in 1768, Roger Challice in 1771 and Charles Pugge in 1772.

The Poor Rate was collected from all residents of the parish, for example in 1769 the Portslade Book collected £74-0-6d and the Aldrington one £5-19-0d. The money was then used for the benefit of the poor. Portslade maintained a Poor House, which was rented from Mr Chatfield for £3-10s a year. The overseers had to pay eight pence towards the cost of the well and in 1761 four shillings a half-year in king’s tax. There was also a Pest House for those with infectious diseases but unfortunately it has been impossible to ascertain exactly where these two buildings stood. From the account book we learn the cost of some necessities:

March 1774 - paid Mr Bull 7/- for a warming pan for the Poor House
October 1774 – pound of rush-lights for Poor House 7 ½ d
March 1779 – paid Master Patching 1/6d for catching rats at Poor House
October 1785 – paid for hooping a tub at Poor House 6d

Incidentally, rush-lights were the cheapest form of lighting available but they spluttered and were evil smelling. Wax candles were a luxury to be used only in church or by the gentry and better-off people. When William Pelett died in 1558 he left land in Portslade measuring ten poles in ‘support of a light’. In other words the revenue of sixteen pence a year was to be put towards wax candles in the church. On occasions villagers would give donations of rush-lights or wood for the fire to the poorest people.

Old people who found it hard to manage but still lived in their own homes were allocated 1/6d each. The parish also assumed responsibility for orphans, and for illegitimate babies, that is unless the father could be discovered and made to pay up. In 1776 John Geer was fined the large sum of £15 for fathering a bastard child. Orphans were brought up in the parish with the overseers paying expenses to the family involved. This largesse even extended to purchasing a wedding ring for Mary Bonner in 1766. However, it must be said that once safely married, her husband would provide for her. 

Destitute people who did not originate from Portslade were quickly helped on their way; thus a soldier’s wife ‘big with child’ was hustled over the border to Southwick at a cost to the parish of 6d. Some parishioners were sent off to Brighton Workhouse but the parish was obliged to pay a boarding fee.

Widows were helped financially if need be and they could often earn money by sewing clothes for the poor or orphans, or by cleaning the Poor House. Widows would watch by the death bed of the sick, lay out corpses, card the wool and spin the woollen shroud, which by law had to cover the deceased – all of which work was paid for by the parish. At least the overseers were compassionate enough to allow them to have some brandy on such occasions. Widows were even willing to watch by the beds of smallpox sufferers, which must have been as unpleasant as it was dangerous. There were cases of smallpox in Portslade in 1767, 1768 and 1779.

Able-bodied but destitute men were employed to pick up flints from fields and often these would be used when they did a spell of road-mending duties; or they might be called upon to make a coffin for a beggar. In 1788 Richard Hills earned £1-11s for catching 93 dozen sparrows.

The account book only continues until 1788 although the parish remained responsible for its poor until 1834. However, this system began to collapse in the mid-1790s when following an agricultural depression, it became customary to supplement the starvation wags of farm workers with handouts from the parish. Although initiated with the best of intention, it meant that in the long run farmers knew they could get away with low wages while the financial burden on individual parishes rose to a ridiculous height. In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed and outdoor relief stopped. If a destitute person needed help, the only option was to go to the Workhouse. Conditions were harsh especially to discourage applicants but nobody went there by choice. Portslade became part of the Steyning Union – a group of 24 parishes stretching from Sompting in the west to Patcham in the east and north to Shermanbury. A new Workhouse was built at Shoreham to serve all these parishes.


Although the 19th century dawned at Portslade with a Clutton still living in the vicarage, a new priest arrived in 1815. It was the same year as the Battle of Waterloo in which one parishioner took part. He was William Kerr of the 12th Light Dragoons who was a lucky man indeed for he survived 18 years of active service as a private and lived to the age of 75. He served in Egypt, Spain and Flanders under Abercrombie and Wellington and he was present at the Battles of Alexandria, Salamanca, Vittoria and Waterloo. Kerr was a Chelsea Pensioner. This does not mean he wore a red coat but simply that he received a pension because until 1855 all Army pensions were paid through the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. He lived in Portslade for 36 years and when he died in 1854 he was buried in St Nicolas churchyard.

Henry Hoper was born at Lewes. He was ordained deacon in 1811 and priest the following year. He was instituted as priest of Portslade on 27 January 1815. King George III presented him to the living and he sent him a letter of dispensation on 11 February 1815 allowing him to become rector of Hangleton as well. In those days a new incumbent had to publicly read the 39 Articles to show his allegiance to the Anglican Church. This was performed at Hangleton on 5th March 1815 and at Portslade on 12th March 1815. During his incumbency some interesting facts were recorded. In 1847 Hoper wrote an article about the mediaeval wall paintings in St Nicolas Church, which have already been described. He also set down the lingering belief in an old superstition. Apparently, there was an ancient thorn tree on the Downs held in great veneration. People believed that if a dying person were to be carried around the thorn tree three times, and bumped against it thrice, the person would recover. Unfortunately, the last time the remedy was applied, the patient died. Hoper reported that this happened only a few years before he arrived in the parish.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Henry Earp, senior, painted this delightful picture of Portslade in 1840. Note St Nicolas Church to the right and the impressive mansion called Portslade House on the left, near the site occupied by King’s School today.

In around 1825/1826 Sir Stephen Glynne (1807-1874) visited St Nicolas Church. He was an important witness because during his lifetime he visited and described some 181 Sussex churches. He wrote ‘A door is visible though walled up, which formerly led to ye rood loft. The font is octagonal with a panelled pedestal. The Church has some very good early English work … The East window is of 2 lancet lights and between their heads is a feathered head now stopped up with brick and mortar … The piscina has a trefoiled head with shafts with foliated capitals and much defaced by thick coats of whitewash … It may be remarked that the interior of this Church is kept in a state of great neatness and respectability’. There are some fascinating details here, particularly that mysterious door and rood loft, which are not mentioned anywhere else.

When the Steyning Union Workhouse opened in Shoreham in 1835, Hoper was chaplain for a while. Once, after filling the post temporarily, he was sent a fee of £15, which he refused to accept and returned.

On 30th March 1851 a Religious Census was taken. It revealed that Morning Service at St Nicolas was attended by 223 souls, the number being made up of 144 parishioners and 79 Sunday scholars. For the service in the afternoon there was an attendance of 255 composed of 178 parishioners and 77 Sunday Scholars. 

In 1853 a church questionnaire was sent to every parish to be answered by the church- wardens. One of the questions to be answered was ‘Is your minister of a sober, unblameable life?’ to which the reply was ‘We never saw him otherwise’. Hoper must have been a popular priest because the church was so crowded on Sundays. So much in fact that in 1858 Hoper and several parishioners signed a memorial to be sent to Chichester, which stated that the present church accommodation was inadequate. But Hoper died on 4th December the same year aged 70 and so he never saw the north aisle extension built. It is fitting that his memorial stone should be above the vestry door in the north aisle. He was vicar of Portslade for 44 years. Part of the inscription runs ‘This tablet was erected by his parishioners as a memorial of their gratitude to Almighty God, for the blessing vouchsafed in giving them a pastor, untiring in his exertions for their temporal and eternal welfare’. In 1860 a volume was published containing 21 of his sermons – presumably they were not short discourses since the book contained 266 pages.

 copyright © D.Sharp
This drawing based on a late 1850s map shows the Parish of Aldrington virtually depopulated and showing a detached area of the Parish of Portslade in the centre of Aldrington. This ‘landlocked island’ of Portslade including Wish Cottage was bordered by the modern day roads of New Church Road, Portland Villas, Portland Road and Woodhouse Road.
 In 1883 this detached area of Portslade was absorbed into the Parish of Aldrington.
 The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway was built in 1844. Copperas Gap was later renamed Portslade by Sea


The north aisle was constructed in 1859. Before the construction could begin it was necessary to disturb some vaults, graves and tombstones on the north side of the church. It is a pity that nobody thought to record what happened to the stones or indeed the names and information they contained. It is quite likely that some of the gravestones were brought inside the church to provide valuable flooring. This practical use of old gravestones continued into the 1950s when some, by then forming part of a pathway, were brought inside the church to cover the space formerly occupied by the front pew. However, it should not be thought that all tombstones on the floor of St Nicolas have been moved from elsewhere. The large, black memorials in the aisle are most probably ledger stones with a burial underneath. It is interesting to note that one of these commemorated Thomas Cooke, gentleman, who had neglected to pay his church tax in 1719 and 1720. But this did not deter him from having a magnificent black marble slab for his wife and himself, complete with the family coat-of-arms (gules three crescents argent and a canton ermine). This type of burial was only for wealthy residents of the parish but there was a limit as to how many could be accommodated. Besides, attitudes changed, not to mention more aesthetic considerations.

The two massive pillars with their scalloped moulding were carefully matched to the original Norman pillars in the south aisle. Due regard was also given to the lancer windows. Perhaps not so much care was taken with the roof because instead of proper battens, oak laths were used and these gradually perished leaving the tiles to slip out of place.

copyright © D.Sharp
Brackenbury Chapel, to the left are the ruins of Portslade's Norman Manor


copyright © J.Middleton
West window of Brackenbury Chapel depicts
left:- St James,
centre:- Raising of the daughter of Jairus
right:- St Luke
The chapel was erected in 1869 on the north-west side of the church. It could not be more different from the plain interior of the church because the chapel is a riot of carved oak, marble, beautiful floor tiles and stained glass windows. The Brighton Gazette (13 March 1873) had this to say ‘Everything connected with the chapel is of a finished and elaborate character, and bespeaks great care and taste, which have been expended upon it. In the centre is the tomb having the armorial bearings of the family sculptured on the front in stone; the base consisting of a fine piece of polished marble, perfectly black, and the top also of black marble, slightly veined. The floor is composed of mosaic work and coloured tiles’. In 1965 Nairn & Pevsner in their Buildings of England ; Sussex remarked that the chapel was ‘far more ornate than anything else in the church, and successful out and in. Heavy grief, like a mausoleum’.

copyright © J.Middleton
North window of
Brackenbury Chapel
depicting the
 Family's Coat of Arms

Hannah Brackenbury commissioned and paid for the chapel but it is something of a mystery as to why Portslade was the chosen spot. The Brackenburys originated in Yorkshire but moved south to benefit her brother’s health. Hannah was unmarried and lived with her widower brother James Blackledge Brackenbury at Hove. But he died in 1844 and was buried in St Nicolas Churchyard. Her other brother Ralph died in 1846 and Harriette Mary, James’s only child, died in 1861. This meant that Hannah Brackenbury became the last survivor of her family and inherited a wealth so great that she was able to give away £100,000 during her lifetime not to mention the many bequests from her will. Like many people today Hannah was interested in family history and believed she was descended from an ancient family with links to the Norman Conquest. In fact there is no concrete proof but she was rich enough to indulge her fantasies and create a magnificent family mausoleum to state her belief. An example of family pride is the small window in the north wall of the chapel depicting a black lion under an oak tree (the crest of Sir Perse de Brackenbury) and the family motto Sans recueller jamais (Without ever drawing back). This motto is also to be found at Balliol College, Oxford of which Hannah was a benefactress.

As to the architect responsible for the chapel, it is very odd that his name is not known despite research in various archives. All that can be said is that he was most probably Edmund Evan Scott since he was responsible for the Brackenbury Schools in Portslade, which opened in 1872 and paid for by Hannah. Scott also designed St Andrew’s Church, Portslade in 1864 and the chapels in Portslade Cemetery. His most famous work was St Bartholomew’s Church, Brighton, opened in 1874.

Brackenbury Coat of Arms
at Balliol College,
University of Oxford
Hannah Brackenbury died on 28th February 1873 and in 1874 a trust fund was established to look after the upkeep of the chapel with ‘£200 consolidated’. By 1901 the balance stood at £91 but by 1946 all that was left in the kitty was £33-17-4d. The final payment was made in February 1953 when £8 was paid for shares in the East India Railway Company. Incidentally, it was judicious investment in early railway developments that earned the Brackenburys their vast wealth.

Today the chapel represents a major problem. The stonework around the windows is crumbling and keeping the damp out and reducing the condensation inside has always been a worry. To put it bluntly the chapel is of absolutely no use in the modern running of the church. It is interesting because it is beautiful and of historical importance. But where would the money for a proper restoration come from? In 1998 the cost of repairs was put at £60,000 and an application for Lottery funding was unsuccessful. Neither was Balliol College interested in helping out although Hannah donated at least £20,000 to the college for the construction of buildings on the south side of the quadrangle as well as endowing some scholarships, which still exist to this day.

copyright © J.Middleton
Hannah Brackenbury donated £15,000 to Balliol College, Oxford, 
for the Brackenbury Buildings to be erected designed by eminent architect
 Alfred Waterhouse.


In 1889 with a new vicar, the Revd Vicars Armstrong Boyle, installed at St Nicolas, the Portslade and Hangleton Parish Magazine was launched, price one penny. The magazines provide a valuable source of information about church life and parish activities. There was a curate to assist the vicar and a lady visitor for each street in the parish. What with two churches, the Parish Room at Southern Cross, the Church Schools on Locks Hill and a number of organisations connected with the church, life was busy indeed. Amongst them was the Band of Hope, which encouraged youngsters to sign the pledge not to drink alcohol, and later boasted a fife and drum band as well as a mandolin band. If that sort of music was not to your taste, you could join the choral class and there was also the church choir, which consisted of twenty men and boys – strictly no females then. For men with more practical skills there was a wood carving class: a working party met at the vicarage once a fortnight and there were 87 members of the coal club, which purchased coal at lower summer prices.

It is worth recording that the vicar was not having an easy time in financial terms. While the population had increased and therefore the responsibilities were greater, the value of the endowment had decreased. Moreover from his income the vicar was expected to cover church expenses, pay a pension to the former incumbent as well as the wages of the curate. This left him with the princely sum of £90 a year or less than 35 shillings a week. But this was probably considerably more money than his parishioners were likely to have earned.

The vicar’s only sister Sophia Courtney Boyle lived in the vicarage and was a great help with parish work. She was also something of a ‘modern’ woman and must have convinced her brother who became a strong supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.  It was a great shock when she died aged 47 on 14th June 1908. Her photograph was distributed with the parish magazine and further copies could be obtained for a penny. The photograph shows an attractive lady with dark hair and eyes, wearing a high-necked blouse embellished with tucks and lace, a feather stole and a large hat trimmed with flowers. There were discussions about a suitable memorial to her and there was even talk about a stained glass window in the chancel. Then it was remembered how much she enjoyed seeing the trees through the plain glass and the window idea was left alone. Instead a memorial tablet was fixed to the wall south of the chancel arch, being similar in style to the Clutton memorial tablets, which she had often admired. The inscription included the words ‘She was his constant companion and fellow worker, brave, intelligent, faithful, simple, generous. She gladdened many lives with her continual joy’. The vicar missed female companionship so much that in less than a year he married on 29th April 1909.

Father Boyle was obviously a man who enjoyed nature. In the magazine he wrote about the nightingales he heard in the vicarage garden, as well as at Easthill, in the grounds of Portslade Manor and in the trees around Portslade House. It gives a rather charming vignette of the village as a quiet rural retreat. But more houses were built and the nightingales moved out until the only place in the parish they could be heard was in a coppice north of Mile Oak Gardens.

In 1915 Father Boyle’s first cousin Lieutenant-Commander Courtney Boyle was in command of the submarine E14 when he daringly dived under enemy minefields in the Sea of Marmara, sinking two vessels. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his exploits. Father Boyle’s brother was Captain Gerald Boyle of the 2nd Manchester Regiment. The girls of St Nicolas School were rather impressed when in 1916 he came to present certificates for good attendance and good conduct. Father Boyle retired in 1919 and in his memory parishioners installed the little St Francis stained glass window not far from his sister’s memorial tablet.


copyright © D.Sharp 
St Nicolas Church in the time of the Revd Vicars Armstrong Boyle in the early 1900s

The trouble with inheriting an ancient, picturesque church is the constant need for repairs. The older it gets, the more work is necessary and this, matched with dwindling numbers when compared with the size of Victorian congregations, means the problem will only get worse.

In 1906 the roof of the south aisle as well as the roof of the porch needed attention while parts of the Horsham slate roof needed re-pointing. In 1948 it was stated that £400 was to be spent on the roof.   More repairs were carried out on the roof in 1959 and while it was being done, a jack was placed under the Norman arch to gently ease it back into its correct position as it was at least one foot out of true. In the 1980s a major overhaul was undertaken and it was estimated that over £20,000 was needed for the roof. An appeal was launched and a letter was sent to every business in Portslade, which resulted in the grand total of £300. It was discovered that the Horsham slabs had not been laid with enough overlap to ensure a watertight seal. The question was if more slabs were laid, would the walls of the church be strong enough to carry the extra weight? It was decided to install a steel truss within the walls to overcome the problem. In February 2002 the church was embellished with scaffolding and plastic sheeting while more repairs were carried out. This time the main attention was on the tower, which receives the full blast from the prevailing south-westerly winds; the objective was to prevent water penetration. The Revd Richard Rushforth, vicar since 1981, estimated that there would not be much change from £100,000. Amazingly none of this amount came from grants but from money raised in the parish or left in wills.

There were many changes inside the church during the course of the 20th century, particularly in the chancel. By 1914 the chancel was extremely cluttered with choir stalls jostling for space and the organ was there too. The chancel floor was covered with ‘very commonplace tiles’ and there was plain coconut matting in the church. There were iron gas standards for lighting. The choir stalls stayed until 1920 when choir stalls from St Patrick’s Church were substituted. It cannot have been an improvement because St Patrick’s boasted a vast interior and its stalls must have made St Nicolas even more cramped.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.   
An Edwardian postcard

In 1920 the electric cable arrived at Portslade at last and by December of that year the church was lit by electric lights. To help pay for this modern improvement, money was raised at an ambitious Whitsun Carnival at Loxdale. The event included sports, concert parties, a gymkhana and a variety of stalls including an Aunt Sally, guessing the weight of a pig and a smelling competition.

It was in the 1920s that the oak reredos designed by FT Cawthorn was installed. Mrs Blaker paid for the work and it was in memory of her son Lieutenant Arthur Wilfrid Blaker RN of HMS Inflexible who was killed in action at the Dardanelles, 18th March 1915 aged 26 years; he was buried at sea. The Bishop of Lewes dedicated the reredos on St George’s Day 1921. There are some purists who would prefer the 13th century chancel to have remained in its original state. When the reredos was installed, the tiles were taken up, and cement was put on the floor. It was not until 1934 that oak block flooring was laid in the chancel and this was done in memory of the late Archdeacon Donald Campbell of Carlisle who had been vicar of St Nicolas from 1919 to 1927.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.   
The Chancel in the 1930s before the organ and choir stalls were removed.

The year 1934 saw a major change in the ordering of the sanctuary when the choir stalls were removed and a new gallery for the choir was created high up at the west end of the church. H Milburn Pett, the Diocesan architect, was responsible for the design of the gallery. Originally it was intended that the organ should stay in the chancel after being completely restored and rebuilt. But during the work a piece of Norman chevron moulding, similar to the one above the pulpit, was discovered in the vestry. It had been completely forgotten, obscured by organ pipes for 60 or 70 years. It was felt to be too important a feature to lose sight of again and so the organ was placed in the choir gallery. But the decision added an extra £300 to the cost. Morgan & Smith of Hove carried out the work on the organ and an electric blower was provided to power it. The pulpit was also treated to a face-lift when heavy, dark varnish was removed and its appearance was much improved as a result.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  
St Nicolas in the 1930s

In 1947 the west end of the church was restored. Mrs Lloyd paid for the work in memory of her brother Brian Oscar Blaker who died in Australia in 1942. In his small memorial tablet placed on the north side of the west door, it states that the Blaker family had been associated with the church since 1485. In 1955 the Baptistery was repaired. When the perished plaster was stripped off the walls, the flints were found to be sound and after consultation with Mr Denman, the architect, it was decided that the walls should be made good and lime-washed. This treatment would be more in keeping with the character of an old church.

In the 1950s it was time to attend to more prosaic matters such as wiring and heating. In 1952 attention was drawn to the dangerous state of the wiring when in the middle of Evensong at the Patronal Festival, the electricity failed and the Corporation fuses blew. The boiler too was a worry and on one occasion it overheated, causing the water in the tank above the choir gallery to overflow; water ran along the beams into the organ and through the gallery floor into the church itself. The following year death-watch beetle put in a reappearance in two small patches in the roof timbers while the wooden floor underneath the pews in the south-east corner collapsed.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.   
St Nicolas c1950s (no iron railings on wall possibly removed during the Second World War)

In 1959 more restoration work was done and while it was carried out, some ornaments and pictures were removed and stored in the vicarage attic. It seems they were slow in re-appearing, if at all. This caused some grumbles amongst the parishioners but the incumbent said he wanted some freedom to choose what went into the church. One particular source of discontent was a statue of Our Lord as a boy, which was held in great esteem. But it never did return to the church and it was given out that it was too badly damaged.

Something else that was damaged was the new processional cross with gilt figure (£10 from Vampoules). Seventeen PCC members had voted for a gilt figure and two had voted for a hand carved wooden figure. The processional cross was only in use for a short time in 1960 when it was dropped. The ‘wood’ party said a wooden figure would have to be obtained but the gilt figure was eventually repaired. However, today it must be said the figure is of wood.

Sometimes it seems that history is circular, rather than linear. This observation could be applied to the way in which church services are conducted. Going back to the early days before the chancel was built in the 13th century, we find that the priest faced the people when celebrating Mass. Then came the building of the chancel, which automatically distanced the priest from the people, reinforced more often than not by a chancel or rood screen. The priest also had his back to the people. It was not until the 20th century that this positioning was reconsidered. At St Nicolas in 1983 the chancel floor was extended and covered with red carpeting while Ron Pumfrey constructed a moveable altar, altar rails and benches. Thus once again the priest faced the congregation when celebrating Mass. But the old altar has been kept and six candles are lit on it – such an amount of candle power would have been considered utterly Popish not that many years ago. .

Again, there is the matter of incense, which would have been familiar in the early church. It has been used at St Nicolas in modern times since 1939. Therefore it can be safely said that St Nicolas adheres to the High Anglican persuasion. This was not always so and indeed the Revd Richard Enraght, who once assisted at St Nicolas, found himself in hot water because of his support of the Oxford Movement. In the opinion of some – for instance Mr Gossett of Portslade House – this was tantamount to being a Roman Catholic. But the Oxford Movement strove to return to the practices and learning of the primitive church, in the same way as the Caroline Divines had tried to do in the 17th century.
 copyright © J.Middleton
Lisa Ward and the Revd Andrew Perry, Vicar of Portslade, 
on the day of the graffiti survey at St Nicolas on 14 January 2014

On 14 January 2014 Lisa Ward arrived at St Nicolas Church armed with various pieces of equipment including a powerful torch and an excellent camera. She had come to look for possible medieval graffiti inside the church and she was working on behalf of the East Sussex Graffiti Survey

Each piece she found was noted, measured and photographed; subsequently she published her findings in an official report. There was nothing of earth-shattering importance but the graffiti was interesting just the same. There was a simple cross on the base of one of the south aisle columns that held a certain fascination for parishioners because of the story attached to it. The tale handed down was that it was a crusader’s cross, in other words it was a mark of thanksgiving made by a crusader on his safe return from campaigning. Probably a legend but it does create a link to the distant past.

There were other crosses too; one made of punch holes and a line; another was an ordinary cross with the addition of a line going off to the left from the base. Other graffiti examples include more punch holes, circles, pointed ovals, lines, a zigzag, an arrow, and a star of three intersecting lines creating a triangle at the centre. There was an unidentified design, which looks like two feathery branches. These all belonged to the medieval period.

In the Victorian north aisle extension a W. Bailey decided to incise his name.

To view Lisa Ward's photographs of her survey of St Nicolas Church visit the East Sussex Graffiti Survey website.

See also St Nicolas Church's Mysterious Mason's Mark page

 copyright © C. Horscroft
St Nicolas Church in its tranquil setting pictured on 30 January 2022

Churchyard Trees 

 copyright © J.Middleton
View of St Nicolas Church from Manor Road / Locks Hill in the 1930s

In recent years the south part of the churchyard has become excessively gloomy because of the growth of the conifer fir tees. There is even a true story that a visitor approaching from Locks Hill was quite unable to locate St Nicolas Church, so hidden was it behind dense foliage. The trees also became a health and safety issue because young people and children regularly use the path between twitten and South Street.

 copyright © D.Sharp
St Nicolas Church in January 2016 after the churchyard was restored to its 1930s aspect 

In October 2015 work was undertaken to remedy the situation by felling and pruning the offending trees. Of course not everybody was pleased but the result has been the opening up of the view of the church from Locks Hill. Moreover, there is the valid point that the work is restoring the view to what it used to be in the 1920s and 1930s. There was concern too for the health of the nearby London Plane tree, which was specially planted to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This plane tree was being deprived of vital light and water by the encroachment of the conifer fir trees. It is as important to look after our native trees as it is to keep the historical link.

  copyright © D.Sharp
October 2015 view down to Manor Road / Locks Hill restored to its 1930s aspect


Vicars & Curates of St Nicolas Church, Portslade.

1185 Stephen
1232 Robert
1368 Bernard
1415 Thomas Legger
1415 John Westcote
1419 Thomas Devonshire
1420 Henry Tone
1444 Thomas Thakes
1444 John Dovere
1499 Henry Kentte
1499 John Galthe
1505 John Holforde
1510 Robert Gaston

1526 Henry Honeby, & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton, 1523
Richard Hide. Curate, 1551

1556 John Lowghe (or Loughe)
1562 John Englisshe
1584 Henry Englisshe, & Rector of Aldrington, 1584.
1586 Robert Johnnes M.A.
1598 John Postlethwait A.B. & Rector of St Julian Kingston Buci, Shoreham by Sea, 1605
1607 John Bridge A.M. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton, 1613
1636 Thomas White
1638 Nathaniel Hancock A.M. & Rector of St Michael & All Angels Southwick, 1643
1662 Robert Adams
1669 John Temple, & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton, 1660
1710 John Littlejohn

1722 Ralph Clutton & Rector of St Giles Horsted Keynes
John Osborne. Curate, 1742
Charles Baker. Curate, 1743

1761 John Clutton B.A. & Rector of, St Helen's Hangleton, St Giles Horsted Keynes & Aldrington,
Francis Paddey Curate 1768
Roger Challice Curate 1771
Charles Pugge Curate 1772
John Constable Curate, 1803

1815 Henry Hoper M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
Thomas Scutt. Curate, 1815
Gilbert Henry Langdon. Curate, 1830
J. W. Peers. Assistant Curate 1841
John Willoughby Hodgson, Curate 1852-1858

1859 Frederick G. Holbrooke, & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton.

1864 St Andrew Church, Portslade by Sea, is built under the direction of the Revd Holbrooke who becomes Priest in Charge of this new District Church.

1864 St. Nicolas Portslade & St Helen's Hangleton united into one Parish by Order in Council

1871-74 Richard Enraght SSC Curate-in-Charge of Portslade-by-Sea with St Helen's Hangleton

1876 The separate Parish of St Andrew is formed and no longer united with St Nicolas Portslade

1880 Charles A.Stevens M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton

1899 Vicars Armstrong Boyle M.A. B.C.L. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
Hamblin H. Jones, Curate 1913
William James, Curate 1917

1919 Donald F. Campbell M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
1927 Lubin S.Creasey M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
1928 Noel E.C. Hemsworth M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
1933 Ernest P.W. Holmes M.A. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton

1936 The Parish of St Nicolas , erect a temporary "Tin Church" at Mile Oak to cope with the increase in population, this new church is called the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mile Oak, the “Tin Church” was kindly donated to the Parish by The Church of the Good Shepherd, Dyke Road, Brighton.

1946 Roland C.Desch M.B.E. A.K.S. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
1948 Ronald F.G.Adams A.K.C. & Rector of St Helen's Hangleton
Peter Bide, Curate 1949-1955

1955 St Helen's Hangleton becomes a separate Parish and no longer united with St Nicolas Portslade, St Nicolas Church's Curate Peter Bide is appointed Rector of St Helen's.

1962 Victor R.D. Hellaby T.D.
Kenneth Bradshaw, Curate 1965-1967

1967 a new church is built and dedicated at Mile Oak to replace the temporary "Tin Church". Mile Oak becomes a conventional district. In 1994 Parochial Status is granted and The Church of the Good Shepherd is formally consecrated into the Parish Church of Mile Oak, Portslade

1969 Peter D.A. Campbell M.A.

1981 Richard H.Rushforth M.A. & Priest in Charge of St Andrew 1984.
Peter Brooks, Curate, 1983-1986
Graham Whiting, Curate, 1987-1988

1987 St Nicolas Church united with St Andrew Church to form The Parish of St Nicolas & St Andrew.

1981-2012 Richard H. Rushforth M.A., Vicar of the Parish of St Nicolas & St Andrew Portslade

2013 The Church of The Good Shepherd Mile Oak unified with the Parish of St Nicolas and St Andrews to form the new Parish of Portslade St Nicolas & St Andrew & Mile Oak The Good Shepherd, a return to Portslade’s pre 1964 Parish boundaries.

2013-2017 Andrew Perry
Andrew Birks, Curate 2014-2019

2017 David Swyer M.A., SSC. (Interrim Vicar)

see also Biographical details about some Vicars of Portslade

copyright © D. Sharp
St Nicolas Church - Holy Week 2020


Parish of Portslade St Nicolas & St Andrew & Mile Oak The Good Shepherd
copyright © D. Sharp
The wooden Cross erected annually
in Holy Week outside the Parish Centre
in South Street


The old Parish Registers have been deposited at Lewes. The earliest one dates from 1666-1812, the previous one having been destroyed by fire in 1666. Others have been destroyed by damp because they were stored in a vault during World War II. They are the Marriage Registers for 1754-1812 / 1812-1837 and the Baptism Register 1812-1853
PAR 449/31/1 – Overseers Account Book 1760-1788

Parish Magazines from September 1899 (some missing)

PCC Minute Books from 1914

Number of other documents from 1914


Ep. 11/14/1  Ep 11/15/7  Ep 11/15/11  Churchwardens’ Presentments

Ep. 11/18/1  Church Inspection Book Lewes Archdeaconry 1686

copyright © J.Middleton
St Nicolas Church viewed from
the south west.
Ep. 11/27/210 Faculty Papers 1858

Ep. 1141/103 Faculty Papers 1868


Sussex Archaeological Collection Volumes
45,49,52,53,54,55,57,71,72,75,79, 82,87,88,95

Sussex Notes & Queries – Volume 5

Sussex Record Society – Volume 50

Victoria County History, Sussex Volume 7 (1940)

Brighton Gazette – 22 April 1875 / 24 April 1875 / 13 May 1875 / 3 June 1875 /  / 23 August 1913

Elphick (GP) Sussex Bells and Belfries (1970)

Kitch (MJ) Studies in Sussex Church History (1981)

Manning (RB) Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex (1969)

Moorman (JRH) History of the Church in England (3rd edition 1973)

See the Parish of Portslade & Mile Oak facebook page for news of forthcoming events etc

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp