The Ancient Hamlet of Bilsham

The earliest evidence of habitation in the Hamlet of Bilsham so far was discovered near the Medieval Chapel in Bilsham (spelt Bilsom on the Tithe Map of 1839) Lane where late Anglo-Saxon finds were uncovered.

One of the first, if not the earliest recorded mention of Bilsham (Bilesham) was in the Domesday book of 1086. In 1066 the Lord was Godwine who was succeeded after the Norman Conquest by Hugh. The community consisted of fourteen households along with eight acres of meadow and land for three 'ploughs'. A 'plough' being the amount of land that a team of eight oxen could work.

An entry in the Testa de Nevil (a listing of feudal landholdings) listed that Phil de Croft and Henry de Preston each held a quarter of a knight's fee of the Earl of Arundel in 1241/2 (a knight's fee was an amount of land that could support a knight and his family allowing him to serve the Lord of the Manor). By the 16th century it was a tithing of the Parish of Yapton and in the hands of the Shelley family.

There appears to have been two Manors in Bilsham, one which equates to what became Hobbs Farm, referred to as Bilsham Farm in 1875, and a second which was also referred to as Bilsham Farm in the early 1900's.

 In 1571 Henry Fitz-Alan sold the Manor (Hobbs Farm) along with the Manors of Yapton Rectory and Yapton Shulbrede to John Edmunds of Bailiffs Court. By 1910 the ownership was in the hands of G. and S. Sparks and in 1927 it belonged to Miss S.E. Sparks.

The Lord of Slindon Manor, Sir Garret Kempe, owned Bilsham's second estate (Bilsham Farm) in 1608 and it remained part of the Slindon Estate until 1908. Bilsham Farm's tenant farmer, John Clampitt Loveys, bought the farm from Charles Leslie who at that time was the owner of Slindon Estate. The estate passed to his son, Walter Loveys, who passed away in 1996, the farm remaining in the Loveys family until the death of Walter's son Colin in the 1970's, at which time it was sold by his widow, Anne. The farmhouse, now called Bilsham Manor and Grade II listed, was the original 17th century Manor House. A cricket ball sized cannon ball was discovered in the ancient flint boundary wall and was thought to date back to the Civil War (1642 – 1651).

The Chapel situated on the north side of Bilsham Lane was built in the 13th or 14th century as a single celled building without a Chancel. There were no services held after 1551 and no curate. According to an Ecclesiastical valuation at the time, the lands and tithes belonged to Tortington Priory before being held by Henry, Earl of Arundel. There has been no evidence of any burials having taken place in its large churchyard which is now part of the meadow at the rear. As part of the Slindon estate it was converted into two dwellings which are recorded on the 1839 Tithe Map. At some point it fell into disrepair and the Leslie family had extensive work carried out in 1878 which included a new tie-beam roof and a doorway built into the completely re-built south wall, the north facing door being bricked up. During WW1 it was occupied by a detachment of Canadian bicycle troops. Under the ownership of the Loveys family the building was used as a store for fuel, oil and fertiliser. Following the death of Colin Loveys it was sold and once again converted into a dwelling

Bilsham Chapel c. 1955

Bilsham Chapel c. 1955

Further on down the lane, also on the north side, lies Old Bilsham Farm House and converted farm buildings. These were once Anderson's Farm, leased from the Corporation of Chichester by Mr Thomas Cowdray in 1689. Later to become part of Bilsham Farm. On the Bill of Sale to the Loveys family, the house was listed as being converted into two cottages called Cowdrays with the house numbers of 80 and 81 Bilsham Lane. The outbuildings were used as a piggery and a grain drying facility. The paddock behind the property was the site of the Canadian forces NAFFI during WWII.

Another house existed directly opposite on the south of the lane. It is unsure when this was demolished but it is listed on the 1839 Tithe Map as a Tenement and Garden owned by Richard Cosens. Behind the site of this house, in the 1950's and 60's was a Dutch barn which was completely destroyed by fire in the 1970's.


Bilsham Croft c. 1981

Bilsham Croft c. 1980

The final house in Bilsham Lane is now known as 'The Croft'. It is thought that it was built in the early 17th century as a farmhouse which according to the Tithe Map, was farmed by the Bailey family. It appears from Manor records that John Bailey of Eartham took over the running of the farm by marrying the heir to the property, Mary Peachey, in 1764. The farm eventually became part of Slindon Estates and the farmhouse converted into two cottages, numbered 82 and 83 Bilsham Lane. They were also sold off following the death of Colin Loveys and converted back into one property.

Allen Misselbrook
May 2019

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, June 2019)

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