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This includes Chiddingly Church tower

A history dissertation presented to the Brighton Polytechnic
Department of Architecture and Interior Design.

by K R Stevens, July 1971


Very few of the early medieval churches were built with towers. Of those that were, few remain.  It is understandable, when one considers that building skills were limited in Anglo-Saxon times and even some of the least ambitious projects had surely failed, that any attempt to build high and slender would result in a limited degree of success.

It is likely that the churches built in such a well wooded county, as Sussex was in those days, were constructed of timber, and consequently all traces of such work would long have disappeared. Those that were not destroyed by invaders were exposed to the danger of fire and decay.

From attempts to build in more durable materials we have evidence, in the form of the stone church with tower at Sompting, which shows us that the knowledge of buttressing was practically non-existent. At the angles and in the centre of each face, this slender helm-spired tower has narrow projecting pilasters, insufficient as stiffening. It is evident, therefore, that any masonry towers built at this time had little chance of survival.

Although not much is known about the sociological attitudes of the time it can be accepted that few towers were built for prestige reasons as the limited number of workers with the skills required to perform such work would have been fully employed providing the basic need of the time, i.e. the provision of a sanctuary within which worship could take place.

For the erection of a tower as part of the church a secondary reason would have been necessary, such as the hanging of bells, perhaps an uncommon parish possession in those times; as a place of refuge in districts that traditionally fell foul to invading forces, or a beacon or landmark. Another aspect is that of spiritual aspiration depicting a desire to be closer to the heavens.

We find in the later medieval periods, when towers proliferated, that they are usually placed at the western end of the nave. We look to the continent for clues but find that the majority of Romanesque examples in Normandy, an area which had so great an influence in many ways at the time of the conquest, rarely display western towers. These are a characteristic of German ecclesiastical architecture but they are mainly in groups and not often seen on their own as a single western tower.

An explanation may well lie in the fact that, as stated before, towers were not usually an integral part of the early medieval church and therefore offered an opportunity for the wealthy post-conquest land-owners to exercise the pious side of their nature by financing the addition of a tower to their local church. The most natural and convenient position for this would be at the western end of the nave.

It is just such ventures that have caused me to write this thesis and in particular the outstanding contribution to the Sussex rural scene in this direction by the famous Pelham family. There is very little written evidence recording that the Pelhams' philanthropy in the matter of church buildings, but the fact that the "Pelham Buckle", an old family badge the origin of which I shall explore later, appears so often adorning the churches in the areas of their association suggests conclusively that a Pelham was in some way responsible for the addition of at least part of the church bearing the symbol.

This buckle is usually carried in the stonework forming the stop to the label moulding over the western doorway in the tower, which undoubtedly indicates that the building of the tower was due to the generosity of a Pelham.

As to which particular Pelham is responsible for each of these endowments, I find it difficult to conclude from the evidence concerning the early history of the Pelham family. The least I hope to have done is to have outlined the family history as it appeared to me, to have given a description of the towers in question, a guide as to their date of origin and an indication of which member of the family would have been most likely to have made the particular contribution. For the help in enabling me to achieve this I am indebted to Mr Norman Burgis, The Hon Mrs D M Pelham, Mr Frederick E Ford and the libraries of the East Sussex County Library and the Sussex Archaeological Society.


The surname of Pelham is derived from the manor of Pelham in Hertfordshire. There are three neighbouring parishes in Hertfordshire called respectively Brent-Pelham, Stocking-Pelham and Furneax-Pelham. I have not had the opportunity to check which one possessed this coat of arms, but it is clear that this no longer exists. Philipot's pedigree of 1632 talks of his personal observation of these arms.

Although the first direct ancestor of the family on record is Walter de Pelham, who lived at the time of Edward I, there is little doubt, as Collins observes, that Pelham had been in the possession of the family from the period of the Norman Conquest [M A Lower, Sx Arch Coll 1872 Vol 24  p183 ff.  The Norman origin of the family of Pelham].  The three pelicans, the well known coat of arms of the family, were formerly painted in the Church of Pelham, fairly certain proof that the building had been erected by a family which was afterwards to become noted for the number of religious edifices erected and enriched by its generosity.

This fact proves the great antiquity of the arms of Pelham, which appear to have originated in the taste for punning so common in early heraldry. 'Pel' being the initial syllable for 'pelican' and also 'Pelham' was sufficient for the adoption of this coat of arms. In the oldest examples the pelicans were represented ‘close' i.e. with their wings down, (see fig. 1 from the spandril of the western door of Laughton Church - barely recognisable through weathering). Afterwards the wings appear slightly elevated (see fig. 2. P. 8 from a sculptured stone built into a garden wall at Robertsbridge Abbey) and finally they are upraised to their full extent (see fig. 3 as portrayed in the arms of more recent times).

Although the name Pelham has a strong Saxon character, Mr M A Lower puts up a strong argument, in Vol. 24 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections, for the belief that they were as Norman as any of the other major landowners of the time [M A Lower, Sx Arch Coll 1872 Vol 24 p183 ff  The Norman origin of the family of Pelham].  His arguments are based upon the research and statements of a Mr E Avenel that indicate the Pelhams were originally a branch of the Barons of Bec or Bec-Crespin of Normandy.

It has been suggested that the first association that the Pelham family had with Sussex was due to the Battle of Lewes in 1264. At that time Henry III, on the advice he sought from Louis IX of France, was failing to observe the conditions imposed by Magna Carta and by the provisions of Oxford. There were strong feelings against this principally from the Londoners, numbering with them the Pelhams who at this time were thought to have migrated from Hertfordshire, and the Cinque Ports who joined with the army of Simon de Montfort in an attempt to force the King’s hand.

Lewes was the setting for the confrontation, and it is quite likely, since the battle lasted only one day, that adventurous Londoners might have explored the country and noted its possibilities.

There are records showing that between 1282 and 1292 Ralph and Thomas de Pelham owned property in the neighbourhood of Warbleton. We will see in a later chapter that the Pelhams of the 15th century had connections with Warbleton that may indicate an involvement with the building of some part of the church.  The early Warbleton Pelhams may have lived at Bucksteep which is known to have been their home in the 16th century.  This Thomas de Pelham senior, was according to Collins [Pelham and McLean, Some Early Pelhams, Hove 1931 p37, referring to Collins Peerage] the son of Walter de Pelham, who "had a confirmation grant from William le Hupere, of one messuage with gardens, pastures, etc., in the parish of Heylesham (Hailsham) in Sussex, and one messuage at Escetune, with lands etc. extending from Heylesham to Horseye; as also the lands of the Eagle (The "Lands of the Eagle" must refer to some part of the "Honour of the Eagle" a term often used in connection with Pevensey Castle, to which it was attached), and one...dated at Heylesham the 3rd of the nones of August in 28 Edward I." (1300)

We hear no more about this Hailsham property owned by the Pelhams but we do know that the Pelham family were large owners of iron works in Warbleton until the 17th century. There is no evidence of the date on which these first began. It is also known that they had forges and iron works at Dallington and other places in the near neighbourhood.

Although there is little written evidence to support the theory, it seems certain that this Thomas de Pelham was the father of John de Pelham and Thomas de Pelham. The latter took over his father's post as coroner and was such until 1372. The former was probably the John de Pelham mentioned in Collins Peerage, under Winchelsea, as having married Joan Finch of the Finches, Earls of Winchelsea, about the latter end of Edward II's reign, 1307 - 1327 [Pelham and McLean, Some Early Pelhams, Hove 1931  p42].

Their son, John de Pelham, appears to have been in a very confidential position with the Earl of Oxford and probably attended him at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. This association gave him the opportunity to have a part in the capture of King John of France which would give some basis to the legend that ‘the buckle’, the latterday Pelham family badge, was taken from the belt of the King as a mark of the honour of his capture. It would also seem that he was no regular soldier, for he ended his life as Rector of Wykeham in Hampshire and is thought to have been buried in Canterbury Cathedral. This is possibly untrue as confusion may have resulted from the fact that his cousin Sir John de Pelham, Constable of Pevensey Castle, formerly appeared in a window of the Chapter-house of Canterbury Cathedral and some historians believe this John de Pelham to be the one who assisted in the capture of King John at Poitiers in 1356. As Sir John died in 1429, 73 years after the battle took place, it seems extremely unlikely that this is the case.

This Sir John de Pelham was the son of the 2nd Thomas de Pelham and as mentioned before cousin to the Sir John de Pelham who attended at the Battle of Poitiers. The latter does not appear to have married and therefore it seems quite natural for his cousin to have adopted the badge so nobly earned.

The following tentative pedigree will show a probable arrangement of the family tree before the advent of Sir John de Pelham, Knight of the Bath, Constable of Pevensey Castle, of whose life a later chapter will tell, since it is probable that this was the Pelham most likely to have been responsible for the church tower building of which we shall be investigating. After this date there exists plenty of evidence concerning the family and their residences.


The well known badge of the Pelham family, a buckle, has been the cause of a good deal of controversy amongst archaeologists.

Tradition has it that it was granted to one John de Pelham as a token to be used by his family in recognition of his feat in assisting in the capture of the French King John at the Battle of Poitiers in 1556. Because there is no written record of this before about 1503 some of our historians have inclined to the conclusion that the claim of the family has no foundation. This attitude seems to me a little short-sighted as the bearing of a badge by a family of such standing in those times was of considerable significance. This is made clear by Mrs Bury Palliser in her "Historic Devices, Badges and War Cries" (London 1870) a passage of which is worth quoting:

"Devices and Badges form a branch of heraldic study the importance of which has not been sufficiently appreciated. It is of the greatest value to archaeologist, in helping him to ascertain the origin and fix the date of an infinity of works of art. The knight bore his device upon various parts of his dress; it was embroidered upon his sun coat and on the caparisions of his horse; it was engraved upon his armour and arms, inscribed upon his objects of daily use, his books, his plate, his bed and his household furniture ...

"The badge ... was a figure selected either from some part of the family coat, or chosen by the owner as attending to his name, office or estate, or to some family exploit; and sometimes it was granted by the sovereign as a token of his favour ...

"Badges were greatly in favour in England from Edward I to the time of Queen Elizabeth ... Badges were hereditary in families and to deprive a nobleman of his badge was a punishment of the deepest degradation ...

"There are few now of our nobility who retain this ancient appendage. The Stafford Knot and the Pelham Buckle are among the rare exceptions."  [Pelham and McLean, Some Early Pelhams, Hove 1931 p45  quoting Palliser]

There are various accounts of the Battle of Poitiers which are contradictory where the activities of John de Pelham are concerned, but an account of the origin of the badge is given in Collins Peerage (Edit 1768 ii 87) [taken from article by M A Lower in Sx Arch Coll Vol 3] and as these works are usually taken to be authentically based I shall adhere to this version of the story.

"John de Pelham was a person of great fame in the reign of Edward III. He attended that victorious monarch in his wars with the French, and was a competitor in taking John, King of France, prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers, on Monday, Sept. 19th, 1556, 30th of Edward III. Froysart gives an account, that with the King were taken, beside his son Philip, the Earl of Tankeville, Sir Jaques of Bourbon, the Earls of Ponthieu and Eue, with ... more than 10 knights and esquires challenged the taking of the King. Among these (adds Collins) Sir Roger la Warr and John de Pelham were most concerned; and in memory of so signal an action, and the King surrendering his sword to them, Sir Roger la Warr, Lord la Warr, had the Crampet or Chape of his sword for a badge of that honour, and John de Pelham, afterwards knighted, had the Buckle of a belt as the mark of the same honour, which was sometimes used by his descendants as a seal manual, and ..."

It is uncertain that the badge of the buckle was borne by the first Sir John Pelham himself, though there is curious presumptive evidence that it was. Although Sir John's family had been settled in Sussex for several generations, they still retained their original estate at Pelham. Attached to the priory of Ware in Hertfordshire is the Church of Thundridge (originally Thunderich) which bears the buckle in two places on the tower, [the tower is the only remaining part of the church, the rest was demolished in the 19thC when a new church was built in a better position to serve the community] once in the south spandril of the western doorway and twice upon a stone fixed in the south wall of the tower. As the family do not appear to have held any lands in the parish, it is difficult to account for the existence of the badge at this church, except upon the supposition that Pelham obtained, as reward for his services at Poitiers, a grant of the profits of a portion of property belonging to the priory which was confiscated at the time of these wars, because of its connections with the monks of St Elbruf, at Utica in Normandy. Having received these profits he may have felt the need to become a benefactor to the Church of Thundridge. This tower may well have been the forerunner to the Pelham Towers in Sussex.

The Pelham 'Buckle' or the Pelican coat of arms appears many times throughout the regions that are associated with the life of the family. The buckle was usually evident in some part of the various buildings which were their residences from time to time. Of those that remain (or parts thereof) the buckle can be seen adorning the ruins of Laughton Place (due to the dangerous condition of this building investigation may be discouraged, but one of the carved terracotta buckles taken from it is in the possession of the Hon Mrs D M Pelham and stands in front of her home, the White Bungalow in Ringmer. Incidentally, this bungalow is the only Pelham owned property in Sussex today). It is reputed that the buckle can also be seen on the ruins of Halland Park, a Pelham residence from 1595 to circa 1800, Stanmer House proudly bears it as part of the coat of arms exhibited in the entrance hall and I have seen it on a fireplace in Foxhunt Manor, Foxhunt Green near Waldron. There are probably other manor houses in Sussex that bear evidence of Pelham occupation. There are six churches that bear the buckle carved as a stop to the label moulding over the western door to the tower and it is this together with the general similarity in form, described in detail later, that show us beyond reasonable doubt that a Pelham instigated the addition of these towers at Laughton, Chiddingly, Ripe, East Hoathly, Ashburnham and Crowhurst.

The buckle appears twice carved on the battlements of the west face of the tower at Dallington also does a shield bearing the three pelicans and another a tau cross: these indicate, if the existence of the tower as a whole was not due to the involvement of a Pelham, that they had some hand in the latter stages of its construction. One cannot somehow help feeling that, had they been involved at the initial stage, they would not have been able to resist having the label stops carved as buckles. On the other hand, although the tower is thought to have been built in the late 15th century, this may not be the case. It could have been one of the earliest towers built, perhaps, before the idea of carving label stops as buckles. This conjecture is based upon the assumption that the same Pelham was the benefactor of this church as well as the others, whereas it can be seen, from the pedigree of the family after the first Sir John Pelham in Appendix I, that one Thomas Pelham, 3rd son of Sir John Pelham Knight II, lived at Bucksteep in Warbleton, not far distant from Dallington, and was probably involved with the iron works at both these places as previously mentioned. The tau cross could well be the representation of T(homas) and therefore, there is every indication that this Thomas Pelham built the tower.

Other churches bear or have borne evidence of Pelham interest. These are Penhurst, Burwash, Wartling, Warbleton, Waldron and Robertsbridge Abbey.

Penhurst Church, near Ashburnham, had a unique window, a description of which is taken from Horsefield's History of Sussex " ... the most southerly is filled with an angel depicted, having his under-garment reaching to his heels white; a robe, crimson fringed with gold; wings of gold. On his breast and over his body an escutcheon with ar. three pelicans, close, vulning themselves, arg. for Pelham."

I shall talk more of the possibilities of the tower of this church being a Pelham Tower in a later chapter.

Burwash Church had a buckle carved into the tracery of the west window of the south aisle which originally dated from the 14th century, but was rebuilt in 1856, at which time the buckle disappeared. It appears twice on the font surplanted on shields on two of the eight facets. This is attributed to the early 15th century and is obviously a Pelham addition.

At Wartling Church the chapel of St. Catherine has a buckle carved into the ashlar work of the south wall externally, near to the west corner. The dedication of this chapel could have had a connection with the Katherine, daughter of Sir John Pelham Knight II. A catherine wheel is also carved into the stone-work of the buttress on the south wall of this chapel.

According to Mr Lower, the Pelham arms appeared in a window at Waldron Church. The shield was of high antiquity and could have dated back to Thomas de Pelham, grandfather of Sir John Pelham Knight I, who was connected with the parish as early as the commencement of the reign of Edward II. There is a shield in the north window of the chancel at Warbleton impaling the arms of Pelham, three pelicans, and Lewknor, three chevrons. It can be seen from the family tree in Appendix I that Sir John Pelham Knight III married Alice Lewknor.

The Pelham arms, carved on a stone, can be seen on a garden wall at Robertsbridge Abbey. Also a portion of stonework bearing the buckle in two places, almost certainly to have been part of the monument to Sir John Pelham Knight I, has been sketched by Mr M A Lower and appears in Volume 5 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections, but this relic has since disappeared from the site of the ruined abbey.


There are no extant records giving details of the tower building efforts of the Pelhams, but we have enough circumstantial evidence to enable us to make connections between the lives of certain Pelhams and the events of the time; thus drawing conclusions regarding the date of erection of the towers, and to which Pelham we owe their existence. Conclusions that it will be difficult to refute.

We will talk firstly of Sir John Pelham, Constable of Pevensey Castle from 1394 to 1415, who did most to establish the high esteem in which the family were later held and who accumulated a fortune which was a basis for all that the Pelhams later achieved. We follow with the life, as much as the depleted records will allow, of his only son, also Sir John Pelham. We will refer to them as Knight I and Knight II. Sir John Knight II's six children, John, William, Thomas, Katherine, Cecily and Joan play a significant part in this story as will be seen.

Sir John Pelham Knight I lived during a period full of interest and significance, the reigns of four kings, Richard II, and the Henries IV, V and VI.  A little of his early life can be reconstructed by conjecture and interpretation of incidents recorded in historic writings.

There are records in the calendar of Patent Rolls that a John de Pelham committed various discreditable acts between 1356 - 1359, but it would seem extremely unlikely that this was our John Pelham who is known to have died in 1429, some 73 years after these incidents. However, in 1376 there was a complaint by William Philipot, carpenter, against John Pelham and others, for assault at Brede in Sussex. These gentlemen "so threatened him that he dares not till his land there or go forth from the town to exercise his craft" [Calendar of Patent Rolls Ed III].  There are other incidents recorded in this year and the following year and it is quite possible that this John Pelham was our man; it is conceivable that, for a man to attain the position in life that he did, in those times, he would have had to have a forceful side to his nature.

As stated, in a previous chapter there is strong evidence that this John Pelham was the son of the 2nd Thomas Pelham and it is probable that they lived near Warbleton where they owned land. One can suppose that the young John Pelham made his first contacts with Henry, son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, later to become Henry IV, perhaps hunting and hawking in what was known as Lancaster Great Park, at Maresfield not far distant from Warbleton. This contact seemed to bear fruit later in 1394 during the reign of Richard II when John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, "knowing and confiding in the loyalty and discretion of his most dear and well-beloved John Pelham Esq., to his said son, [granted] to him the office of Constable of his Castle of Pevensey, during life, with the fees, wages, etc., thereto belonging" [Calendar of Patent Rolls Ric II].  After this appointment, John of Gaunt also made him a grant "of all his lands in the marshes of Pevensey, with the tenements, messuages [dwelling houses], etc., thereto belonging" [Calendar of Patent Rolls Ric II].

John Pelham was now a considerable landowner and was in a position to have some influence on the community. The first instance of this, in the direction of ecclesiastical enrichment, may have been by the providing of funds to build the Chapter House at Canterbury Cathedral. Amongst those seeking to depose Richard II was Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sir John Pelham, who also was prominent in the action to achieve this, would have been in close touch with the archbishop, and this association was probably kept up until Thomas Arundel died in 1414. This is strongly indicated by the fact that Sir John was named as one of his executors. This association may well have led to some financial support towards the Chapter House which has the Pelham arms engraved on the bosses of the vaulting and according to Philipot's pedigree (l632), displayed a window incorporating a long since gone stained-glass image of Sir John Pelham.

Sir John's eminence grew with the passage of time and along with it his purse. Apart from the important task of protecting a particularly vulnerable stretch of coast line from French invasion, Sir John was entrusted with the custody of such nobles as Edward Plantagenet, Duke of York, who had been accused of an attempt to remove from Windsor Castle the two young sons of the Earl of March, the elder being the rightful heir to the Irish throne. One of his most famous prisoners was King James I of Scotland, who was retained at the castle for 10 years and by all accounts was treated with the utmost respect, kindness and consideration and according to Holinshed’s Chronicles, Sir John Pelham saw that the young king "had such perfect instructors to teach him, as well as the understanding of tongues, as the sciences, that he became right expert, and cunning in every of them. He was taught also to ride, to run at the tilt, and handle all kinds of weapons, conveniently to be used of such a personage: whereunto he was so apt and ready, that few, in any point of activity, might over-match him." For this service Sir John was paid seventy pounds a year.

Another major source of his income was from the duty he performed as a "Treasurer for the War". It was his task together with two others, John Talbot and Lord Furnival, to raise money to finance the war being waged with France. So much for his work, but did he have a family life? And if so, where? It is obvious that he must have spent a good deal of his life at the Castle, but if he did not spend it all there where else did he go? These questions are not answerable completely but we have a number of clues that, when pieced together, add up to a fairly coherent picture.

The appointment as Constable of Pevensey Castle carried with it "the honour of the Eagle" a term applied to the lands and manors about Pevensey, owned by an earlier Sussex family, the de Aquilas who forfeited them when Gilbert de Aquila went over to Normandy with the King's licence. [Aquila is the Latin word for eagle - Ed]. At the same time Sir John was granted practically all the other manors etc., within the rape of Pevensey. Laughton, one of the manors comprising the rape of Pevensey, was for many years the home of Pelhams. All that remains of the mansion, built to replace the original manor by Sir William Pelham in 1534, is the tower . That Sir John was the first Pelham to adopt Laughton as his family home is evident. In 1409, Bishop Robert Reade granted a licence to John Pelham and his wife, "to choose for themselves a fit and proper person, as their priest and confessor, to administer the Holy Eucharist, and to perform Mass in the oratory or chapel of Pevensey Castle and in their manor of Laughton" [Sx Arch Coll XVII  p249, quoting Reg. Episc. Read.  fol 22].

The establishment of this home at Laughton could well have given rise to the opportunity for him to display his piety by the physical contribution of a tower to the church. The tower at Laughton, as well as possessing label stops carved as buckles, has two shields bearing coats of arms in each of the two spandrils formed between the square label mould and the pointed arch of the doorway. The arms on the dexter side (north) are those of the Pelham family, and those on the sinister side (south) are those of the Colbrond family. Sir John's elder daughter Agnes married John Colbrond of Boreham and it would therefore seem certain that the building of the tower had a direct connection with the marriage, which puts the date of it between 1413 and 1422.

That this was the forerunner of the Pelham towers built in Sussex, is certain, for the detailing of doorways of all the other towers, with the exception of East Hoathly (dealt with later, is almost identical. Shields are included in the spandrils on all the towers, and as these are plain they indicate that they have been copied.

The latter years of the first Sir John’s life could well have been spent taking an interest in the churches of the various manors that were in his care but I do not imagine that more than one or two of them received the benefit of his attention. His son, Sir John II, is more likely to have been the Pelham for whom we are looking. He took over the office of Constable in 1415 at quite an early age. He died sometime after 1471, the date of his final will, so even if he lived to 80, an exceptionally long life in those times, he would only have been in his early twenties when granted this position from his father. The shortage of references to incidents in his life indicate that he was less active than his father in the politics of the day, and probably spent more time outside the castle than his father did. This means that his energies could have been directed towards the well being of the inhabitants of his manors.

He must have spent a fair amount of time at Laughton and in the surrounding parts and one can imagine that Ripe, being so close to Laughton, was the first church to be endowed by the good will of this Sir John. The design of the tower is so similar to that of Laughton that it indicates an instruction given to make a replica of that tower built by his father. There are four embattlements, the west window tracery is identical, and many other features are the same. The only differences are that it is slightly taller (an effect of a higher nave), the plinth mould is a plain chamfer and there is a slight difference in the carving of the buckles. [The lower part of each buckle has been restored in recent times].

The other towers in the immediate area, Chiddingly and East Hoathly, are unlikely to have been next in line. At Chiddingly the design is quite different from the other towers, having a stone spire and four octagonal pinnacles, apart from Dallington, already attributed to Thomas Pelham his son, the others all exhibit the basic form of Laughton. and Ripe.

It is interesting to note that an inspection of the masonry inside the bell-chamber at Laughton, will reveal corbelled arching in the corners forming an octagonal base at a little below parapet gutter level. The stone used to construct the parapet is of a varying nature to the general walling and it could be suggested that this tower originally displayed a spire, but there are facts that draw me away from this theory; firstly the quoin work of the tower is also in the same stone as the parapet; secondly, to my knowledge, admittedly limited, there have not been any discoveries of stonework in the vicinity of the tower that would suggest the tower had had a spire and finally the upper surface of the corbels is too even to suggest that a spire had been removed from. it. To my mind there are two possible reasons why the corbelling should have been built there in the first place. It could have been the intention to build a stone spire although it would not have been like the one at Chiddingly, the construction suggests a parapeted spire similar to that at Dallington would have evolved. Alternatively the corbelling could have been incorporated to strengthen the upper part of the tower. The latter reason is least likely.

East Hoathly was also unlikely to have been the next tower after Ripe because of the differences in the western door of the tower; the arch is a four-centered, one and the spandril shields display the arms of the Lunsford family. Sir John II's second-youngest daughter, Cecily, married William Lunsford, which places the construction of this tower at the time of the association of the two families.

I am of the opinion that the Crowhurst tower followed that at Ripe. In 1424, Ralph, the Earl of Westmoreland, who had a life interest in certain manors and in the Rape of Hastings, died, and Sir John I, under a grant from Henry IV, came into possession. Four years later, just before he died, Sir John made over the manors and the rape to his son.

This is part of the grant:

"To all the faithfull in Christ to whom these letters may come, John Pelham, senior., Knight, greeting. Know ye me to have given, granted, and by my present charter to have confirmed unto John Pelham, Knight, my (only) son, my lordship of the Rape of Hastings, with the manors of Crowhurst, Burghersh and Bivelham, with their appertenances in the county of Sussex: together with ... In witness whereof I have to this present charter put my seal. Witnesses to the same: Roger Fenys, Knight; Thomas Leukenore, Knight; Richard Dalyngrigge, Armiger; John Penneherst, Thomas Essburnham, and many others. Given at Laughton, the 17th day of June, in the sixth year of the reign of King Henry since the conquest of England the sixth" [Pelham and Mclean, Some Early Pelhams, Hove 1931  p98 - 99 quoting Add. Ch. 30,047 "Seal of Arms" (Dawson)].

Crowhurst, one of the manors specifically mentioned, has a Pelham tower which, although it has its differences, has many similarities to the first Pelham Towers. The tracery to the west window is almost identical with the very subtle inclusion of a Pelham buckle worked in at the point of the arch. The double light windows to the belfry have the same cusped trefoil heads and the doorway detailing is so similar. There is one major difference in that the tower itself is in two stages with a setback at the first floor level, a detail that is not seen in any of the other towers.

There are other differences such as buttress detailing and position of staircase that vary from the original but these variations occur in later works also.

Burwash or Burghersh was another manor conferred at that time, but the church there was equipped with a tower built in Norman times. The buttresses at the south-west corner of the tower are said to date from the 14th century and it is interesting to note that the staircase turret on the south side, by inference, not attributed to a period other than that of the original tower, appears to be of later date than the buttresses and the windows to this are most definitely perpendicular with cusped trefoil heads like those on early Pelham Towers. Could it be that the staircase turret was added by Sir John Pelham Knight II or a later member of the family? Perhaps a closer inspection of the work might reveal the "trade mark", a buckle, carved inside the turret. Certainly the font was a Pelham addition and the original south aisle as previously stated.

I feel that the buckle bearing towers at East Hoathly, Chiddingly and Ashburnham were the last ones to be built, and were also financed by Sir John Knight II. I am drawn to this conclusion by the fact that his two youngest daughters married into families with stronger personal connections in the areas than the Pelhams had themselves in two cases and for constructional reasons in the other case. As mentioned before, Cecily married William Lunsford, and the second husband of Joan, the youngest daughter, was William Ashburnham. The fact that William Ashburnham was Joan's second husband strongly indicates that the Ashburnham tower was built after East Hoathly.

As I have previously mentioned, the Chiddingly tower is quite different from the other towers being in possession of a spire, other features are much the same, such as buttress arrangement, west window and, of course, the doorway. The tower somehow seems to be in a class of its own, indicating that it was either the last one to be built by Sir John Knight II or that there was a different benefactor. Perhaps this was Sir John II 's son Thomas, who we remember probably built the Dallington tower which also has a spire.

I will finish this chapter by talking about the tower at the parish church of Penhurst, which has hitherto not been thought of as a Pelham Tower. I hope to convince the reader that this tower is as much a Pelham construction as any of the others.

Firstly it can be seen that the basic form is the same: a single stage square tower with right-angle buttresses supporting the tower arch and diagonal buttresses at the south-west and north-west corners. The buttresses are, admittedly, in two stages whereas all but two of the Pelham Towers have three stage buttresses, but, the tower is smaller than all the others being joined to a smaller church.

The upper part of the tower is tiled and it has a tiled pyramidal overhanging roof. It is fairly obvious that this is not an intentional part of the design and I feel there could be two reasons for the appearance of this. Firstly, at the time of the original construction, there could have been some circumstance that interupted the proper completion of the tower, such as a shortage of stone or the death of the stone-mason at a bad time of the year with winter coming on. This might have resulted in the provision of a temporary roof and the intended roof may never have been finished. The second possibility is more likely, however; initially the tower was complete, but at some stage in its existence the upper part deteriorated or was destroyed by fire. This may have happened at a time when either the finances were not available for complete restoration or the labour was unobtainable.

The staircase turret is external at the south-east corner, as at Ashburnham and Crowhurst, but it has an octagonal plan form that does not appear in other Pelham Towers.

The tower arch is identical in both proportion and detail to the other towers, the west window has three lights a recurring feature and the doorway has square hood-mould with plain shields in the spandrils formed between the drop arch and the mould. But what of the label stop moulds? Are they buckles? Well I am afraid they are not. There are plain return stops, but a closer inspection will show that they have been carved from a limestone whereas the rest of the tower, apart from restoration work, is in local sandstone. This surely must indicate that they have been replaced at some time during the tower's existence. The church has been built on a hill in a very exposed position which could easily have led to a rapid deterioration of the label stops especially if the stone had been soft in the first place. See the detail of the mould at Chiddingly that has severely weathered. If, as I suggest, this replacement has taken place, and I am inferring that the original moulds were 'buckles', this replacement must have taken place well before 1770, the time that William Burrell wrote about this church and others. William Burrell stated that this tower did not display Pelham Buckles at that time [Sx Arch Coll Vol III].

The fact that the Pelhams had been involved in some way with this church, as indicated by the presence at one time of a window displaying an angel bearing the Pelham arms and also their associations with the nearby Ashburnhams of Ashburnham Place, shows that this tower surely must have come into being as a result of Pelham piety.


This chapter is devoted to giving a description of each of the towers which will serve also as a method of comparison between the towers. The towers are dealt with in the order that I have suggested in the previous chapter, as chronological.


A square tower 12 feet by 12 feet by approximately 60 feet high in one stage with a moulded plinth that continues around the buttresses and a scroll string mould below the embattled parapet. There are four merlons on each side with one of the embrasures on the west side filled where the staircase meets the parapet. There is a low pyramidal tiled roof.

The north-east and south-east buttresses are at right-angles to the wall and give support to the tower arch. The north-west and south-west buttresses are diagonal and in three stages. The offsets are not great enough to give a reasonable depth to the upper and middle stages.

The walling is sandstone in a rather crude fashion of ashlar work. There are rough relieving arches over the belfry windows and the west window which indicate a lack of faith in the ability of the perpendicular window to carry the load imposed by a tower.

The walling is pierced by cusped trefoil louvred openings at the belfry level, double on all sides except the east one which is single; by a small rectangular opening to the chamber below the belfry on three sides; by three narrow rectangular openings in the south wall lighting the staircase in the south-west corner which does not project outside the tower wall; by a large three light window with six tracery lights, lighting the ringing chamber, with a simple scroll hood mould over; and by the doorway in the west wall. This has a drop arch over which is a square hood mould, and in the spandril thus formed are shields bearing the arms of Pelham and Colbrond and the label stops are buckles.


This tower is similar in most respects to Laughton with the following differences. It is a little taller and of slenderer proportion. The plinth is continuous as before but with a plain chamfer, not moulded, and the parapet string mould is a plain bowtell section. The buttresses have larger offsets that bring the upper and middle stages into reasonable proportion. The ashlar work is of a better standard and the voussoirs of the relieving arch over the large window are of a more even nature. All of the belfry windows are double with cusped trefoil heads and are about one and a half times the height of those at Laughton. The window to the ringing chamber is slightly smaller and the shields in the doorway spandrils are plain and do not bear arms.


This tower is also very much alike to Laughton and I again describe it by comparison to this tower.

The proportion is almost the same but the tower is in two stages with a set back does not continue around the buttresses but it does go around the staircase turret, which is a square projection, unlike Laughton, at the south-east corner. This turret splays off at the top just below the parapet string mould. The parapet differs in that it oversails the main walling, an amount equal to the setback previously described and there are only three merlons to the battlement. The buttresses are most unusual; the right angled ones are in three stages and the diagonal ones in four, but the stages are all of varying heights and the offsets are of varying depths.

The ashlar walling is in coarser sandstone in larger pieces than Laughton but the standard of workmanship is roughly the same. The belfry windows are the same height as Ripe and the same arrangement as Laughton. The large west window has a buckle worked into the tracery at the apex. The doorway is slightly narrower and as Ripe has plain shields.


This tower also is basically similar to Laughton. The size and the proportions are much the same. The parapet has 5 mertons and the external staircase turret and the north east corner projects above the parapet and is similarly embattled. The buttresses again in three stages are less bulky than Laughton. The sandstone ashlar work is very similar but of better quality workmanship. There are double belfry windows on each face and the heads of the openings are finished with pointed arches. The doorway has its differences, firstly the arch is a four-centered arch (the only one that appears on a Pelham tower) and in each of the spandrils formed between the square hood mould and the arch there is a shield with the arms of the Lunsford family "a chevron between 3 boars' heads" and some foliage resembling a creeper. The arms on the dexter side are a reversal of those on the sinister which are a correct representation of the Lunsford arms. It is unusual to see arms reversed in such a way. The "buckle" on the label stop has long thin "belt fixings" and is an unusual representation of the badge. 


Most details on this tower differ in some way to those at Laughton although the basic appearance is as much alike as the other towers. There are 5 merlons to the battlement, the plinth mould is much higher and is more elaborate being in two stages. There is a projecting staircase turret at the south east corner which projects above the parapet as at East Hoathly.  The offsets to the buttresses are quite deep and result in a rather shallow upper stage. The sandstone ashlar work is of a superior finish. The belfry-windows are closer to the parapet string mould and this combined with the extra merlon gives a lightness to the top of the tower that is not consistent with the rest of the tower design. The beads of these openings are cusped cinquefoils in a pointed arch. The large window lighting the ringing chamber does not appear to be the original; the tracery is not consistent with the time. The "buckle" of the label stop is smaller than elsewhere.


This tower with stone spire (one of only four ancient stone spired towers in Sussex) has mainly similarities to the other towers. The buttress arrangement is the same, the west window and doorway are much as before and the staircase is integral with the south west corner as at Laughton.

The differences are obviously at the top, starting with the belfry windows which are single light with cusped cinquefoils in a pointed arch; the octagonal spire, with a string mould near to its apex, sits on an octagonal splayed base that overhangs slightly with its alternate edges, the walls of the tower. Plain octagonal pyramids rise from the triangular corners 1eft by the octagonal spire and these are capped with their own spirelets also sitting on a splayed base. This tower has serious structural faults and various attempts at preserving it have been made over the years. In 1897 it was struck by lightning, at which time the chain one sees encircling the base of the spire was affixed. At present work is taking place to lengthen the life of this beautiful tower.


This tower is in one stage and it has an embattled parapet similar to that of Laughton but rising from inside this parapet is a fine broach spire. As mentioned before, the "Pelham buckles" are carved on the outer merlons of the west face and there are shields bearing arms on the inner ones.

This tower has angled buttresses (upper edges restored) unlike all the other Pelham towers and these are in two stages finishing neatly below the bell-chamber giving a clean representation of the structural efficiency of the buttresses. The ashlar work although a klittle irregular in places has been skilfully placed and the relieving arch over the large west window is particularly neat. The belfry windows are similar to those at Ashburnham, being of two lights each with the heads having cusped cinquefoils in a pointed arch.

The west window has three lights as the other towers but the tracery differs somewhat. The doorway, although very much the same in basic design to the other towers, does not have buckles as label stops and instead of shields in the spandrils there are roses.


A detailed description of this tower is given at the end of the previous chapter.


It is difficult to ascertain how much influence the Pelhams themselves had on the design of the towers, apart from the representation of their authorship by the carving of the badge or arms in the fabric of the work. This is the case, unfortunately, with most artistic achievements in the gothic style. If the example had been followed that was set by Abbot Suger in the 12th century in his accounts of the building of St Denis, in France, one of the earliest examples of gothic architecture, we would have had a wealth of knowledge upon which to draw.

As it is, the information we have is fairly scanty and, I am afraid, contradictory. I hope that I have not been too guilty of choosing the information that has particularly suited me in the preparation of this thesis. I would have liked to have spent longer on the research for this work and apologise if my own conclusions have been misleading in any way.


Bond, Francis, Gothic Architecture in England.  London 1925
Tyrrell Green, E, Towers and Spires.  London, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co Ltd. 1908
Knoop, Douglas & Jones, G P,  The Medieval Mason.  Manchester University Press 1949
Lower, Mark Antony, A Compendious History of Sussex  Vols I and II.  Lewes, Geo P Bacon 1862
Lower, Mark Antony, Parochial history of Chiddingly.  Lewes, Geo P Bacon 1862
Lower, Mark Antony, writing in Sx Arch Coll.  Vols 3, 7 and 24, Lewes, Geo P Bacon
Pelham, The Hon Mrs Arthur and McLean, David, Some Early Pelhams.  Hove, Sussex, Combridges, 1931
Salzman, L F, Victoria County History of Sussex Vols 2 and 9.  Oxford University Press.
West, George H, Gothic Architecture in England and France.  London, G Bell and Sons Ltd.  1911