Churches in Sussex

Bramber SCM Article

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BRAMBER was an important place in Roman days, while in the Saxon period it was a royal residence. In the Doomsday Book it is described as a military holding in distinction to Steyning. which was an ecclesiastical one. The hill on which the castle stands was a Roman outpost to the fortified comps or_ the Downs. Situated as it was in those days practically on the sea coast (for the river Adur was an arts of the sea) one can realise its importance from a military point of view. In Roman times it was purely an outpost. and one could not expect to find a church there. lout in Alfred the Great's day it is not at all unlikely that something in the way of a chapel existed. perhaps on the very spot where the church now stands. Perhaps, like St. Cuthman's Church. at Steyning, it was a small wooden erection. All signs of it. if such a building ever existed. have been swept away. The present edifice is purely Norman in its architecture and design. 


Sir William de Braose built the castle in 1070.0 end erected the church at the same time. The copy of the print dated 1761 gives one an idea of its original form just outside the castle walls. the ruins of which appear in the background the tall ruin on the left is probably part of the entrance gateway to the castle. The western door. so clearly marked in this print, is much less in evidence in the 1829 print. while to-day it cannot be traced at all. This latter print :bows the church as it now is. The road iron, Bramber to Steyning was built, in 1820, to pro­vide work for the unemployed after the Napoleonic wars, and it is quite possible that these men, having completed the road. were afterwards employed to restore the church, using the materials available in the ruined structure, and also in the castle. This would give us the date of this restoration at about 1822-3. The walls of the present nave are not more than 200 or 300 years old. though they have probably been built on the old foundations. In 1730 it was partially repaired. and it may be heat the present nave dates from that period. The tower was a wreck till 1790. The ancient doorway has. however, been preserved, the curious wearing away of so many of its stone; being due to the salt airs of the sea. which has since receded. The inner doorway was probably arranged on the re-building of the nave. In 1871 the tower was restored to its present aspect. when the east window " of choice carpenter's Gothic" was replaced by the three beautiful Norman lights now in evidence. The oak fittings and the small organ were presented at the same time. The bell. which is ancient. has a curious inscription : " Xihesu Nazarinus Rex Iudiorum : Nicholas me fecit." The Royal Arms cute from the reign of Queen Anne. whose initials, A.R., can be seen on the canvas.


The above evidence is by no mean's defy to or conclusive. Against the fact that the tower was restored to its present aspect in 1871 we have the evidence of the 1829 print, which shows the tower exactly as it is to-day. The only way to reconcile these two witnesses is to assume that the artist of the 1829 print, having seen the sketch of the proposed restoration, drew in the tower as it was proposed to complete it. but the work, for some reason or another, was not completed till 1871. It is probable that the real date of the restoration of the nave was 1730. The information that the walls of the nave are not more than 200 or 300 sears old was obtained, from the foreman recently employed in the church. Then again, the 1761 print shows the ruined church which was partially restored in 1730. This is not so contradictory as might at first appear, for the nave is shown roofed. white the rest of the edifice is in ruins: also it is probable that the west door, which no longer exists. gave access to the nave.


On the outer face of the west wall can be seen to-day a short upright flanked by two small blocks, all in white stone. No explana­tion ran be given for this; the idea that they might be the remains of a shrine cannot be maintained, for no signs of these stones appear in the 1761 print. which probably shows the vest wall as it originally was. The probability is that these stones were placed here for no special reason at some time when work was being done on the church. 




Sir William de Braise granted the church to the monks of St. Florence at Saumur in France some of whom had settled at Sele, or Beeding as it is called to-day. His son Phillip confirmed the gift, and died in the Holy Land while on the First Crusade. Sele Priory was the patron of the living till it was given to Magdalen College on the disruption of the alien priories in Henry VIIIth's reign The benefice was united with that of St. Botolph in 1530 by Bishop Sherborne on account of the poverty of the parish, said to be due to the frequent floods end encroachments of the sea. In 1645 the patronage passed to the Long Parliament for a few years, but was again restored to Magdalen College, with which it rests to-day A complete list of rectors of the living is in existence from 1366 to the present date, and contains 32 names. It, 1897 the benefices of Bramber and St. Botolph were united with that of Beeding.


The patron saint is St. Nicholas, or Nlcolaus. the name being spelt: either way. He was born or December 6, in the fourth century A.D., at Patara. and was the only child of wealthy parents. From the sixth century onwards his name has been perpetuated as Santa Claus. the patron saint of children. In thls character he was adopted as the patron saint of Lancing College.


On his father's death, while he was yet a young man with strong leanings to a religious life, he spent most of his patrimony in charity. On one occasion he gave doweries to three sisters, whose poverty had brought them to great distress, and in order to conceal the identity of the donor he threw the purses of gold, or, as come say. three golden balls, through their chamber window at night. These golden balls have been regarded as St. Nicholas peculiar symbol, and are to be met with in his effigies and pictures as well as in churches dedicated to him. They are not, however, in evidence at Bramber. Having been ordained when very young, he became Bishop of Myra and Archbishop of Lycia, Nearly 400 churches are dedicated to him in England. the majority of which are on the coast


St. Nicholas was credited with power over the winds and the waves, and on this account became the patron saint of sailors and fisher­men. As, till the latter part of the 16th cen­tury. the river Adur was an arm of the sea, and the foot of the hill on which the church stands was lapped by its waves, it is easy to understand how St. Nicholas came to be chosen as the patron saint of the church, for the inhabi­tants of Bramber were in those days mostly fishermen and sailors. In later years they devoted their energies to smuggling. Here again their choice of a patron saint was justified, for St. Nicholas was also the patron saint of thieves!

The present church is only a fragment of the original edifice as can be seen by comparing the two prints. The interior is very plain, being only decorated with rude designs painted on the pillars and repeated nn the restored chancel walls.


From a print dated 1761


From Sussex County Magazine V 3 1929


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Last modified: 20 February 2010