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The ancient Church of St. Peter, Hamsey stands on its hillock in a curve of the river Ouse, just north of Lewes. It is difficult to accurately assess the date on which this church was built as there is no evidence of a pre-Norman structure. Nevertheless we know that there was a building on this site in 925 when the Saxon King Athelstan held a meeting of his counsellors there.


It has served as a Parish Church since the Norman conquest in 1066 and is recorded as a church in the Doomsday survey of 1086 which not only gave details of the manor, but adds "there was a Church". There is a contract from 1321 for a large stone hall to be built to the the east of the church, Whether it was ever completed has not been proven although traces of foundations were still visible in 1777.


The basic structure of the nave and chancel is Norman, and there is further evidence of the Norman influence with the arches over the main door to the church on the south side of the nave, with the former door now sealed on the north side and with another small sealed door on the north side of the chancel. There have been several later alterations and additions since the original Norman building - for example in the 14th century the original chancel was extended eastward, the porch on the south side was built, and a trussed and crown post oak construction was built into the roof of the nave and the chancel. At the west end of the nave and aisle, a fine octagonal limestone font in perpendicular style with cusped panels on the sides was added. The stone altar was erected as a memorial to those of the parish who died in the 1914/18 war and their names are inscribed on its sides.

The religious census of Sussex on 30th March 1851, states there were two well-attended services at Hamsey, with a congregation of 121 in the morning (including 34 "Sunday Scholars") and 58 in the afternoon. Rev. George C. Shiffner, the then Rector, wrote in the census:* "The present Church is most inconveniently placed, being so remote from the habitations of the people as to be inaccessible to the old & infirm, & to render the attendance of the rest almost as variable as the weather.....

A new church is much needed".


In the Victorian era, when a lot of money was spent all over the country on restoring or rebuilding churches, the parishioners of Hamsey decided to demolish their church and to build a new Parish Church at Offham, which had now become the major centre of population. In 1860, St. Peter’s Church, Offham, was consecrated. Hamsey Church was demoted to the status of chapel-of-ease and was used as a mortuary chapel because the parish burial ground continued to be there and it is still used today.Fortunately, the original intention to demolish Hamsey Church was never carried out. It fell into increasing neglect until, in the 1920’s, considerable sums of money were raised to repair it.

Much of the church’s charm derives from the fact that it escaped restoration at the hands of the Victorians, so what one now sees has the feel of a medieval church. This is accentuated by the fact that there is no heating or electricity in the church so, consequently, it is only used for regular services in the summer months and for a very popular Carol Service, when it is filled to capacity as people flock with their candles and rugs.

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