Churches in Sussex

Buncton - Charter 791

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As the early condition of Sussex during the ages which succeeded its well-known conquest by AElla and Cissa, in the fifth century, however interesting, has been little adverted to, it may be well to call attention to some documents still extant, although not much consulted, and which contain grants of land to the church from South Saxon chieftains in the seventh and eighth centuries. They will afford us some explanation of the manner in which the territory was then occupied and governed, and may illustrate, by their local application, the masterly sketches of the general history of those times, on which the learning of Lappenberg and Kemble 1 have thrown so much recent light.

It is stated by Lappenberg (i, 248), that " the importance of the kingdom of Sussex had been only due to the personal character of AElla, the first Bretwalda of Anglo-Saxon tradition, and to the valour of its rugged inhabitants. As it had not been converted to Christianity, and had therefore no literary ecclesiastics to record even the names of its rulers, it sank soon after the death of that prince into a state bordering on nonentity. They were the vassals sometimes of Wessex, sometimes of Mercia. Although AEthelwealh, the first Christian king of Sussex, had received from Mercia the investiture of the Isle of Wight and of the tribe of Meanwaras (in Hampshire, near the west borders of Sussex, where so many names still recall their memory), he may nevertheless be regarded as the vassal of Wessex, as well as his successors, whether called heretogas (duces), kings, or under-kings." In the exercise of his authority in Sussex, AEthelwealh had afforded assistance to Eadric King of Kent ; but they both fell successively in battle when attacked by Ceadwealla of Wessex, who, on being exiled from thence, had taken refuge in the forests of Andredeswald, and had been converted to Christianity by Wilfrid. Having gathered around him a considerable force, he took such a violent occupation of the country as to deprive Berhthun and' AEthelhun, two ealdormen of Sussex, of all authority, and in revenge they succeeded for a time in displacing him. On the abdication however of Centwine, Ceadwealla succeeded as next heir to the throne, A.D. 685, when he immediately took vengeance on them. Berhthun fell in battle, " and Sussex was partitioned into several small states or kingdoms under the supremacy of the King of Wessex." Lappenberg, i, 259.

A deed of Ceadwealla, still remaining, will illustrate this remark ; and, as the original Latin text of this and the following charters has been printed in full by Mr. Kemble,2 it will be unnecessary to reproduce it here, as every scholar will be glad to consult with admiration and gratitude a work so full of authentic materials for the early history of England. A more summary and popular sketch of these ancient documents will be better suited to the present occasion. This deed of Ceadwealla of Wessex is of the date of August 3, A.D. 683, and " for the purpose of building a monastery at Selsey for the servants of God," it grants "through the Bishop Wilfrid (per episcopum) the land which is called Aldingeburne, and Lydesige vi cassatos, and in Grinstedisgate vi, and in Mundham viii, in Amberla and Hohtun viii, and in Waldham iiii, that is to say, of xxxii tributaries (tributariorum) with the consent of Wilfrid the Archbishop,. and AEthuald, _ Sub-king (subreguli)." After describing the boundaries of the land given, it concludes thus:

"+ I, Wilfrid, the Bishop, confirm the lands given me by the corroboration (roboratione) of the Cross of Christ-Birthwald, Archbishop-Egwald, Bishop -

+ I, Eadberht, Bishop, have consented and subscribed--I- I, Ealdulf, heretoga of the South Saxons (dux Sulk Saxonum), have consented and subscribed."3

We may remark that the small holdings of land are here called tributaries, and that the consent of the local chief Ealdulf is added to complete that of the King of Wessex. Wilfrid is styled indifferently bishop or archbishop, and, as having held the see of York, he was in fact both.

With respect to the terms cassati and tributarii used in this, as well as manentes and dux which occur in other charters subsequently referred to, it is very satisfactory to be able to offer an explanation, throwing clear light upon the relation of the lords and tenants of land in these times, on the authority of the Rev. John Earle, the learned Anglo-Saxon Professor at Oxford. All members of our Society who feel an interest in understanding the condition of Sussex in these remote times will not fail gratefully to appreciate the aid of his valuable information. "Cassatus, casatus, cassta, are. equally expressions for the quantity of land which would maintain a family or household attached to a single house-casa, or cot ; familia, familiatus, familiatus terrae, are other equivalent terms for the land of a family. In Saxon this was called hiwisc h Sid, and abbreviated hid. See Glossary prefixed to vol. iii of the Codex D glom., under the word hid. Manentes (and some other variations of this word) did not differ from cassati, meaning land enough for a family to dwell on. The cassatus or manens was also called terra tributarii, that is, the land of a single renter, and thus briefly tributaries. In the charter 1000 (see p. 181), Nunna grants curtly '20 renters' or tributaries, and an endorsement putting the grant into Saxon calls it ` 20 hides,' so that the hide and the land of a tributary are thus identified. This tribute or rent was called in Saxon gafol, from the verb 'to give, gifan,' and consisted of personal service, labour clone on the lord's land or road, or errand-going, or providing draught or carriage by the renter's beasts ; or produce in corn, ale, honey, &c.; or lastly, money. This kind of tenure was only partial in Saxon times, but became universal afterwards under the feudalism of the Normans. The king then became the supreme tenant in capite, which in Saxon times was never thought of. The absolute owners of land were numerous in early times, and the basis seems to have been that of citizen-right. See Kemble's Saxons in England, cap. xi. The Latin expression dux in early Saxon times is equivalent to heretoga strictly and etymologically, as both words mean the leader of the military force. Practically it equals ealdormen, that is, lieutenant of a portion of the country, one of whose functions was to be heretoga or military chief in his district."

The next document is of the date of A.D. 692, and presents us with a different set of names in authority, though holding apparently the same relative rank as before. It is a grant by Nothhelm King of the Suth Saxons, giving freely from his own possession (de mea propria possessione libenter) to his sister Nothgith a portion of his land (which appears to be the same as in the former grant, but increased in quantity to 38 cassatos), in order to establish a monastery and build a church on it (ad construendum in ea monasterium basilicamque erigendam).

"This Charter was written in the year from the Incarnation 692. + I, Nunna, King of the Suth Saxons (Sulk Saxonum) have consented and subscribed-+ I, Wathus, King, have consented and subscribed-+ I, Coenrad, King of the West Saxons, have consented and subscribed-+ I, Ine, have consented and subscribed with my own hand-+ I, Aldhelm, Abbot have subscribed- + I. Haguna, Abbot, have subscribed." 4

As we thus have in the same document not only the sanction of the King of Wessex, but also of Nothhelm and Nunna, two kings of South Saxons, we may reasonably value these latter reges as equivalent only to duces, heretogas, or ealdormen, exercising authority in different parts of Sussex. The place is not named where the church is to be built, nor do the two abbots, whose consent was not required, but who appear as witnesses only, mention their monasteries ; but probably one of them belonged to Selsey. The phrase of " subscribing with his own hand" may perhaps not imply with certainty that King Ine was able to write, but only that he made his cross. On another occasion a bishop of Winchester was so proud of his Latin and skill in writing, that he thus ambiguously styles himself, " Ego AElfsinus Wintoniensis eeclesie speculator proprio stylo earacteravi ;"5 and indeed many of the other witnesses in the same deed seem to have indulged in fantastically varying their affirmation, contrary to the usual staid practice :- ` I, Eadgar, brother of the king, have quickly consented-Oda, the arch-prelate of the Dover church, have corroborated with a specimen of the dear Cross-I, Cenwald, am present with the heavenly sign-I, Oscytel, have agreed with a placable mind-I, Osulf, have not refused."

To return however to the documents relating to Sussex. Nunna, one of the sub-kings already mentioned, again appears in other charters. In one of the year 714 he says :

" I, Nunna, King of the Suth Saxons, for the welfare of my soul, will give some part of the land under my authority ( juris mei) to Beadufrid and the brethren who inhabit the island called Seolesige, where I wish my body may rest, that is to say, in Herotun iiii manentes,6 and in Broclaeshamstede iiii cassatos, and Sidleshamstede iiii ----, in presence of the most reverend Bishop Eollan--1- I AEthelstan, the king, have consented and subscribed-}- I . AEtheldryth, the Quecn have consented." 7

In a later charter, A.D. 725, Nunna styles himself " King of the Austral (Australium) Saxons," and for the love of God and the heavenly country (celestis patrie) gives (attribuo) the venerable Bishop Eadbirht certain lands-"xx tributaries," imperfectly described in the mutilated MS., which ends thus:

"I, Nunna, King the first fortify (munio) this with the sign of the Cross of Christ + I, Wattus, King, have consented and subscribed + I, Coenrad, King of the West Saxons, have confirmed (rex West Saxonum roboravi)--+ I, Eadbirht, Bishop, confirm the land granted to me with the sign of the Cross of Christ -+ I, Ine, have consented and written (scripsi) with my own hand."8

Nunna, King of the Suth Saxons, appears again as a benefactor, probably to the same head of the Selsey monastery, where he was to be buried, granting "to the servant of God named Behrfrid four tributaries in Pipering, near the river Tarente, on condition that prayers should be offered up for him day and night by the servants of God." Behrfrid seems to have retired into the monastery, for the document continues, that he did not retain the gift, but in his old age "having released himself from all secular affairs, wishing to serve God only, and surrendering all his property with his own body (cum semetipso), Eolla receives the money and accepts the gift, with the consent of the brethren, and of our King Nunnan of West Sussex (Westsussexie)-+ This my gift I, Nunna, King, have subscribed with my own hand, all my earls (comitibus) consenting together with me-+ Osric. + Eadberht. + I, Eolla, have consented and subscribed-+ I, Beowa, have willingly consented that this land of my jurisdiction, which my kinsfolk gave me, with the consent of King Nunna and Bishop Eolla (King AEtilbert and Bishops Sigfrid, Beorran, and Eccan also assenting), should be in their power while I am alive, and that after my death they should have leave to possess and give to whomsoever they may please.-+ The same land, I, Osmund, King, have redeemed at a price from my Earl Erran (pretio redemi ab Errano comite meo) with the consent of our Bishop. -+ Osa, Bishop."9

The grant of land next in date, August 3, 765, was made by Osmund, who does not in this charter more distinctly describe himself, but who styles himself king in another, five years later. " At the request of his Earl Walhere (rogatus a comite meo) he enables him to build a monastery on the land granted, which consisted of xii tributaries called Ferring, with all their appurtenances, in fields, woods, meadows, rivers, springs, and woodland, Coponora and Titlesham."-" + I, Osmund, have subscribed this grant with my own hand-+ I, Osa, Bishop, have consented and subscribed," &c.1

Another grant of this Osmund, A.D. 770, shows him to have been one of the sub-kings, or heretogas (duces) of Sussex (the witnesses proving how numerous these were), and was given at the request of his earl and his wife, Warbald and Tidburge. It put him into full possession of xv manors (manencium) to endow " the church of the Blessed Peter the Apostle situated in a place called Hanefeld." " + I, Osmund, King, have subscribed this grant with my own hand-+ I, Osa, Archbishop-+ I, Hedde, Bishop-+ I, Eadbright, Bishop+ I, Offa, with the above-named persons, willingly corroborate this page (hanc paginulam manio)-I, Wilfrid, Bishop-I, Brodda, Heretoga (dux)-+ I, Berhtwald, Heretoga-+ I, Eadbald, Heretoga-+ I, Esne, Heretoga-+ I, Aldwlf, Heretoga." 11

Offa, the real Superior lord, again appears sanctioning a grant of AEthelbert, King of South Saxons (Sussaxonum) in A.D. 774. The purport of this charter, though imperfect, is to enable the venerable man Diozsan to build a monastery by the gift of xviii manors (manentes) in Wistrings. To this Seffrid, the Bishop,-Wyghere,-Beoba,-Wygaa, appear as witnesses, followed by " I, Diozsan, in the liberty of my right, will give to my dearest sister the land of this gift, which AEthelbert, King, has granted me. + I, Offa the King, sign and confirm with my own hand-+ I, Osenedred (probably for Cunethryth) the Queen, confirm and sign."12

The same "AEthelberht, King of the Austral Saxons," confirms another grant of half a tributary near the moor on the south side of Chichester, with Bishop Wilfrid as witness.13

After this, in A.D. 780, comes a charter of Oslac,14 Heretoga of the South Saxons (dux Suth Saxonum), drawn up at Selsey. It gave, " for the remedy of his soul to the venerable church of St. Peter the Apostle, that is, to God, the land called Earnleagh, Tielesora, with all their appurtenances." The crosses written in attestation were those of Oslac-Gislehere, Bishop-Eadwulf I, Offa, by the gift of God, King of the Mercians, have sanctioned the said land according to the petition of Wethun, Bishop of the South Saxons, and will confirm it with the sign of the Lord's cross."

It will be remarked that the sanction of the King of Mercia, not of Wessex, seems at this period to have been requisite ; and that the bishop was the medium to bring the matter duly before him. This arrangement continued at the date, about A. D. 791, of a grant to Selsey by Ealdwulf, Heretoga, -Mix of Suth Saxons. "Aldwlf, Heretoga, who am the donor, have placed on it the sign of the Holy Cross-+ Gislehere, Bishop -Offa, King of the Mercians, on the petition of Weytun, Bishop, confirm this woodland (of 3 tributaries) and subscribe with the sign of the Holy Cross-I, Ealdfrid, King, have consented and subscribed.""

The same king of the Mercians, the same bishop, and the same heretoga, appear again in another charter of the same date, A.D. 791, which shall be here given in full, not only as displaying the usual form of the grant, but also as there will be much interest in the names of places introduced, those of the place where signed, and of the land given. The former may with great probability be identified, and the latter is remarkable as establishing at so early a period the use of the word "Borstal," which has survived in common parlance to this day in Sussex alone.

" In the name of the Holy Saviour ;-all the things, in which we busy ourselves for this present world, scarcely endure to our death, whereas what is done for eternal life is preserved beyond death-Wherefore I, Ealdwulf, Heretoga of the South Saxons, have been minded to grant to Wethun, the Bishop, and to describe a certain portion of a wood of my jurisdiction, with the consent and license of Offa, King of the Angles, in the place called Cealtborgsteal, for the church of Saint Andrew, which is situated in the territory called Ferring. Moreover this wood is comprised within, certain boundaries : on the western side, near the upper way which runs from the southern part towards the north, and in the other part is open country around. Whosoever may be willing to augment and amplify the bounty of this small donation, may God augment his share in the book of life. But if, which God forbid, any one relying on tyrannous power should wish rashly to withhold or diminish it, let him know that on the trial of the terrible Day of Judgement he will fall with horror into the hands of the living God. Moreover this has been transacted on the hill called Biohchandoune in the year of our Lord Jesu Christ, 791, all the persons named and described beneath agreeing and confirming-+ I, Ealdwlf, who have made this gift, have first marked the sign of the Holy Cross.-+ I, Eadelwlf, consent and subscribe." is

" + In nomine sancti salvatoris. Omnia que secundum presens seculum laboramus, vix usque ad mortem sufficiunt ; quod vero pro eterna vita agatur utique post mortem conservatur. Idcirco ego Aldwlfus dux Suth Saxonum, aliquantulam silve partem juris mei Wethuno episcopo largiri atque describere curabam, cum consensu et licentia Offe Regis Anglorum, in loco qui dicitur Cealtborgsteal, ad ecclesiam sancti Andree quae sita est in terra que vocatur Ferring. Hec autem silva certis finibus terminatur : in occidentali plaga juxta superiorem viam que currit ab australi parte usque ad septentrionem, et in altera parte in circuitu campestria. Qui hanc parvam donationis munificentiam augere et amplificare voluerit, augeat Deus partem ejus in libro vite. Si vero, quod absit, aliquis tyranniea fretus potestate temerarie tenere aut minuere voluerit, sciat se in tremendo examinis judicio horribiliter incidere in manus dei viventis. Et hec acta sunt in monte qui vocatur Biohchandoune anno incarnationis domini nostri Jhesu Christi DCCXCI cunctis astipulantibus et confirmantibus nominatis atque infra descriptis.

" Ego Ealdwlf qui donavi primum signum sancte crucis expressi +-Ego Eadelwlf consentio et subscribo +-."

As no localities have been hitherto assigned for the residence of this Sussex chieftain, or for the wood granted, we may endeavour to add them to Sussex topography. I venture therefore the suggestion that "Biohchandoune" is now known to us as "Buncton," and it is very gratifying to have received for it the assent of the very ablest Anglo-Saxon scholars.

Situated a few miles from Ferring, for whose benefit the grant was made, about three miles west from where Saxon kings dwelt in their stronghold of Bramber, and two from Steyning, the selected abode of St. Cuthman, where, according to Asser, Ethelwulf King of Wessex was buried,17 Buncton was convenient for communication with the Downs, and looks up to the prominent point of them, crowned with the earthen entrenchments of Chanctonbury, exactly opposite on the south. Although that camp had been occupied by the Romans, its natural advantages were not likely to be overlooked by succeeding warriors.

The hill, on the top of which Buncton Chapel stands, is now a portion of Ashington parish entirely insulated within that of Wiston, a fact which in itself seems to denote an important proprietor in old times (as again in the case of Sedgewick Castle, near Horsham), and it slopes gently into the Weald on all sides, except on the north-west, where it sinks more precipitously into a woody glen, through which runs a small brook. There is a gable-ended house, at the north-east foot of the hill, surrounded by a moat. The accompanying woodcut of the steeper side from the north-west (for the drawing of which I am indebted to the Rev. Mr. Medland of Steyning, whom I had the pleasure of accompanying to the spot) will sufficiently explain the position of the chapel on the hill. In the structure of this small chapel, so simple and so massive that it might almost have been formed from the hall of a Saxon chief, many Roman tiles appear, derived probably from the ruins of that Roman villa, the hypocaust of which were recently discovered half a mile eastward.18

Mr. Earle, whom we have already had occasion to thank, has most kindly favoured me with his opinion, that the contraction of the name into its modern appearance, " the hill called Biohchandoune" of the eighth century now changed into " Buncton," is a probable modernism, and that the original name meant Birch Down. Instances of similar compression of ancient names are readily found in this vicinity, where the Donechitoune, Botechitoune, and Wistanestun of Domesday have become Duncton, Burton, and Wiston, while Buncton appears there in an intermediate form as " Bongetune, with a wood of ten hogs." The identity of the names is also considered more than probable by the eminent Anglo-Saxon scholar, Benjamin Thorpe, Esq., to whom I am much indebted for his communication on this and other points of this subject.

Being thus authorised to establish our chieftain of the South Saxons on the hill of Buncton, we must endeavour to find " the place called Cealtborgsteal " within the probable extent of his territory. In this research neither the Rev. Henry Dixon, the present vicar of " the church of St. Andrew at Ferring," nor the Rev. T. Medland of Steyning, have been able, by their local knowledge, to trace any name corresponding to " Cealtborgsteal." It is however easy to recognise in this word the description of one of those steep ways leading up the northern face of the Downs from the Weald, which still familiarly retain the name of Borstals, and of which there are several in the neighbourhood, and indeed almost within sight of Buncton. Steyning Borstal, Chantry Borstal, Washington Borstal, Amberley Borstal, are thus situated ; and of these Washington Borstal, as the road which must in all ages have been the easiest and most natural pass in the Downs, would seem to answer best to the description of " the upper road from south to north, lying on the west of the wood " given to Ferring. Mr. Dixon has also kindly pointed out another locality, a field of eighteen acres, four miles from Ferring, and insulated in Angmering parish, the small tithes of which are received by the vicar of Ferring, while the prebend of Ferring in Chichester Cathedral is endowed with the great tithes." This field, having on its west side an old road running north and south, may have some claims to be the gift in question in " Cealtborgsteal ;" but if so, it would be the only instance of any Borstal in Sussex being found on the southern slope of the Downs.

The derivation of the word Borstal from the Saxon words beohr, a hill, and stigele, a steep ascent, has been already discussed in a former volume,20 on the occurrence of " Robert atte Borstalle " in the Subsidy Roll of the Rape of Lewes, A.D. 1296, and to this origin both Mr. Earle and Mr. Thorpe agree. The latter quotes Lye's Dictionary, " Burgstal, burgstol, clivus, Cott. 209 ;" and in the present instance we may consider the prefix cealt to signify cold, so that it was a part of the " Cold Borstal " which was granted by Adelwlf. Mr. Earle directs attention to the many cases in which the same form of "beohr " for hill has stereotyped itself in Sussex names, as Cisbury, Edburton (Ecg, beohr, tun, town on the hill edge or side), Burpham, Burton, Bury, Chanctonbury, while Chiltington (Cilletune, Childetune, in Domesday), may perhaps be an instance of the same prefix of cealt now changed, as also Cold Waltham.


The word Borstal seems to be implied in a passage of Domesday (p. 134) relating to East Sussex-" Essewelle Hundred-in Burgestaltune tenuit Ulsi unam virgatam, liber homo fuit." And the same word, applied to a steep hilly ascent, appears frequently in Textus Ro ffensis, referring to a locality in Kent still retaining such name-" De Borestealle, Coenuulf King of the Mercians gave 3 acres to Rochester," p.96; " Kenulfus Rex Merciorum dedit Borchstalle," p. 152; Robertus de Borcstealle omnem suam decimam de terra sua concessit S. Andreae aeternaliter," p. 166. This latter instance resembles that in the Subsidy Roll of Sussex, before referred to, where the Borstal had given name to the person. A grant of land, with the custody of Bernwood in the county of Bucks, was made by Edward the Confessor by the tenure of the Borstal horn .21 The latter half of the word has clearly an analogy with the modern German " steigen," to ascend or mount, and " steig " in Norway means a ladder, as does " stee," used in the North of England. "Stile" seems used by Chaucer in an extended sense, as in some measure representing the country, in contrast with " street," which is used to represent the town:

"Is it swiche peril with him for to mete,
I shal him seke by stile and eke by strete." 
Pardonere's Tale, 126.


1 Lappenberg's History of England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings, translated and edited by Benjamin Thorpe, Esq., 1845; The Saxons in England, by John Mitchell Kemble, Esq., 1849.
2 Codex Diplomaticus 1E vi Saxonici, from the
MSS. in the Registry of Chichester Cathedral.
3 Cod. Dipl. v, ch. 992, p. 32, from Reg. B. xviii, f. 46. Reg. A. xviii, f. 16, is nearly identical, but the sub-king is there "Ecwald."
4 Cod. Dipl. v, ch. 995, p. 36.
5 Cod. Dipl. ch. 750.
6 The analogy of this word with the English manor, the Scottish manse, old French maisnil, all derived from maneo, may be remarked.
7 Cod. Dipl. ch. 999, p. 41.
8 Id. ch. 1000, p. 42.
9 Id. ch. 1001, p. 43.
10 Id. ch. 1008, p. 49.
11 Id. ch. 1009, p. 49.
12 Id. ch. 1010.
13 Id. ch. 1011.
14 Id. ch. 1012
15 Id. ch. 1016.
16 Id. ch. 1015, p. 53.
17 See Mr. Medland's Paper, Sussex Arch. Collections, V, p. 115.
18 For an account of this discovery in 1848, see Sussex Arek. Collections, II, 315.
19 In Domesday it is said, "the Bishop holds Feringes in domain : it had a wood of 4 hogs, and for herbage every seventh hog," p. 115. Translat. Domesd.
20 See Sussex Arch. Collections, vol. II, p. 292, where this explanation of the word was suggested by S. W. Walford, Esq., and J. M. Kemble, Esq.
21 See Kennett's Paroch. Antiq. p. 51; Blount's Tenures, p. 41.

From Sussex Archaeological Collections VIII, MDCCCLVI
Reproduced by courtesy of the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS). 
SAS grants this licence for the stated purpose in respect of such rights as SAS may have over the articles, 
but those rights may not include the author's copyright in the words and/or images.

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