Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Halnaker and Boxgrove

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Illustrated by John William North.


Upon the southern side of the great natural defence formed by that wall of Downs running from Eastbourne to Portsdown and skirting Goodwood, lies the fine old park of Halnaker, in which stand the ruins of the ancient manor once the home of the Delawares. Like all baronial residences of an early date, its site occupies a commanding position, overlooking the great plain stretching from Portsmouth to Brighton, and having the ocean for its southern boundary. Upon the north rise the Downs, on the other side of which lies Petworth, while eastward is Goodwood, and westward the great masses of forest which hem in Slyndon, the picturesque seat of the late Countess of Newburgh.

With such accessories as these, wedded as they are to its own unrivalled beauty, the painter and lover of the picturesque would find it difficult to light upon a fairer field for labour or admiration, especially at this season

When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,

and the changing foliage starting forth from the dark background of evergreen, oak, pine, and yew, lights up the dying year with a veritable blushing smile, as if it would remind us that although we are one year older, we are one year nearer the great fruition of all hope and labour. That portion of the park which was more especially called the Home Park, presents a fair, smooth slope, surrounded by elm, beech, and Spanish chestnut, some of them of a magnificent growth.[1]

The avenue (which I imagine has skirted the lower portion of the park) had two entrances, both meeting in front of the principal gateway, up to which a straight avenue bordered by Spanish chestnut trees leads. The house itself is of very ancient date, having been granted by Henry I., together with the neighbouring priory of Boxgrove, to Robert de Haia, as a royal dowry. The Staunton St. John’s obtained it, and again lost it, by marriage, Elizabeth St. John carrying it to Sir Thomas West, Lord Delaware, well known to students of the time of Bluff King Hal,—who it seems so highly appreciated the beauty of the place and the enormous outlay made by Lord Delaware, that a royal exchange was commanded, and Boxgrove and Halnaker passed to the crown. They were thus held until Elizabeth, in the twenty-ninth year of her reign, granted the estate to Sir John Morley, whose descendant, Mary Morley, in 1708, married James, Earl of Derby. At her death the estate passed to her kinsman, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, by whom it was sold, in 1766, to the Duke of Richmond.

Boxgrove Church 1863.png

Boxgrove Church.

From that period the old house began to suffer decay, until about thirty years ago it was deemed advisable to pull down a portion of it, leaving only the outer walls, which now, mantled by ivy, form a most picturesque ruin.

The house itself in the days of its magnificence must have covered an immense extent of ground, the plan of which may still be traced in a great measure, though the main body of the building alone remains. This has a fine gateway, originally flanked by octangular towers, having greater corner towers at a considerable distance. The form is a square; the spacious court within was surrounded by the various portions of the dwelling, the windows of the principal apartments being of the sort then peculiar to baronial residences, and ornamented with fine mullions and rich carving.

I was fortunate enough to fall in with an ancient dame, who, having been “born and brought up” upon the place, could give me—partly from memory (she owned to 75), partly from hearsay—a pretty fair description of what had existed within the last hundred years. She pointed out to me the spot where her mother, in hunting for firewood, found a box of papers and deeds belonging to the Morleys, for which lucky chance the old lady and her husband obtained a life pension, and their daughter, my informant, still enjoys a cottage of the “Duke’s,” rent free, together with a pension from the Dowager Duchess of Richmond.

During the period the Manor was in the royal possession, we find that its lower apartments were found useful as dungeons, and that a number of “heretics,” taken from among the citizens of Chichester, were carried thither and confined; until fearing the fact would become known to Edward VI. on the occasion of a royal visit which he made to Halnaker, Bishop Gardiner removed them, first to Arundel, and thence for safer keeping to his immediate presence at Winchester, from which place they were again brought back to Halnaker when the king had departed, and finally taken thence to suffer their final doom of the stake and faggot at Chichester during the reign of Mary. Lord William Lennox has woven a pretty legend of love and tourney in connection with the visit of Edward VI. into one of the Annuals.

Boxgrove Priory was so inseparably connected with the history of Halnaker, that a few words descriptive of its antiquarian interest will, I think, be acceptable.

The priory was founded by the same Robert de Haia to whom Halnaker was granted. It was dedicated to the Virgin and St. Blase for three monks of the Benedictine order. It was further increased to fifteen monks in the reign of King Stephen, which number was again reduced before the suppression. When Edward took possession of the alien priories, Boxgrove was permitted the privilege of being what was called “indigena,” or denizen, thereby obtaining its independence and retaining its endowments. Of the ancient conventual buildings, the church and refectory alone remain, the remainder having been taken down to erect a farm-house; and the site was so completed obliterated, that it is impossible now even to trace the ground plan. The refectory, until the time of the present rector, the Rev. W. Burnett, formed a portion of a barn and rick-yard; but now, thanks to an improved ecclesiastical and antiquarian taste, these evidences of the age have been cleared away, and the quaint old ruin left in peace, forming, as seen side by side with the church, an object of no small beauty.

“It is probable,” says the local historian, Dalloway, “that the ancient parochial church was the nave, which from its remains was evidently of a higher era than the choir, preserved by Lord Delaware, and given for the service of the parishioners, which was done in many instances by the purchasers of the monastic sites, instead of pulling down the chapels to sell the materials. At this time the choir and semi-transepts, with the central tower, are perfect. The nave retains a low arcade only, left as a ruin, and the small chapter house at the end of the north transept may be traced. A doorway with three Norman arches, opened into the cloister, which extended to the refectory and the habitation of the monks; the tower is very low above the roof, which has windows and a general form resembling Winchester Cathedral, and of the era of Henry II.”

The portion now used as the parish church consists of a nave, chancel, and two aisles. The south transept is imperfect, and is curiously ceiled with a flat frame of timber. The dividing arcades are in the form of low pointed arches, resting upon circular pillars, having above an ambulatory lighted by open triforia. The eastern window has three long lights, internally separated by marble shafts, while externally it has the nail head-moulding. This window is now a very interesting and beautiful ornament, having been recently filled with a magnificent stained-glass memorial to the late Duke of Richmond, the spontaneous tribute of the tenantry upon the Goodwood estate. In the choir there are a number of curious monuments, and a very grand and beautiful chantry chapel, erected for the celebration of masses by Lord Delaware, and now used as a family seat by his Grace of Richmond.

The proportions and chaste appearance of the interior render it independent of any ornament, and if the disfiguring coffin-like high pews were swept away and replaced by open-backed oaken forms, Boxgrove might challenge all the country churches of England for beauty.

  1. Six of those chestnuts, forming the old avenue, measure from 18 to 19½ feet in girth, two yards from the ground. The elms and beeches are of proportionate luxuriance, and perfect studies for the artist.