Barton Manor’s History

Barton Manor is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continuously inhabited house in Britain. It is situated in the village of Nyetimber near Pagham on the coast of West Sussex. At its heart is a Saxon Aula which dates from the 7th Century. Built from Mitholite Mixon and local Bognor rock and glacial boulders arranged in herringbone pattern and 3 feet thick in places. An outline of a stone rounded door or window thought to date from Roman times. Below the south east window in the chapel there is a trefoiled stone piscine piscina set into the wall with chamfered heads and jambs with inset round bowl. The distinct herringbone design may once have been the Lord’s private room attached to the main hall.

Æthelwealh, King of the West Saxons) presented Saint Wilfred, Bishop of York with the Manor and land (occupied by 87 families) subsequently confirmed in a charter housed in the British Museum by Caedwalla who killed and replaced Æthelwealh in a 686 AD. This was because of the sorrow and massacres he had caused in Kent, Surrey and the Isle of Wight. Wilfred was an exiled Northumbrian nobleman who was shipwrecked off Selsey when returning from a Papal visit to Rome. He took refuge with Caedwalla and the area suffered from drought and famine and rained resulted after his praying. He also taught the fishermen how to fish with nets. He converted the Sussex pagans to Christianity and built a cathedral at Selsey now in the sea.  He later was reinstated as Bishop of York and upon Wilfred’s death in 709AD he left the Manor to the Archbishop of Canterbury and often accommodated visiting clergy, Bishops and Archbishops. Even to this day the Archbishop of Canterbury appoints the vicar of Pagham.

The name Barton originates from Bere Tun or Barley farm store. The current Chapel was constructed in approximately 1250 and was 51feet long by 25feet wide, much larger than other chapels. The chapel was constructed using Caen stone (possible ballast from smugglers boats) from France and Freshwater limestone from the Isle of Wight.

Barton Manor was mentioned in the Doomsday Book which indicated the Manor of Pagham has the richest area in West Sussex. It was visited by Thomas Becket later Saint in the period 1156 to 1162 while Chancellor  and later when he was Archbishop of Canterbury. It was in the manor chapel in 1108 AD that St Anselm consecrated the Bishop elect of London at the request of King Henry I. It was visited by Thomas Becket later Saint in the period 1162 to 1170 when he was Archbishop of Canterbury. Reports from tenants accounts exist that indicate that Archbishops and visiting clergy stayed there and held courts there ‘in July 1281 Archbishop Peckam wrote to abbot of Ghent and the Bishop of Rochester from Barton Manor’.

In 1504 the Manor was leased to Thomas Morrell by the Archbishop of Canterbury then to Robert Sandam in 1532. After 1536 with Henry VIII’s reformation and his dissolution of the monasteries the Manor was owned by the Crown. In 1560 Queen Elizabeth I granted it to Edward Darell who was clerk of the Queens Acatry (the Acatry was responsible for the reception and storage of meat for the royal tables, supplying garrisons and even the accommodation of Mary Queen of Scots). He is remembered by a memorial tablet of a ‘rampant lion’ in the south transept Thomas a Becket church in Pagham. His son Thomas Darell sold it to George Goring in 1598. In 1613 the Manor was acquired by the Bowyer family. In 1675, the Manor was bought by James Ballet and remained in his family for 250 years. In 1902, the Manor was restored by William Fletcher (a descendant of James Ballet) who also owned nearby Hotham House. He is credited with preserving the Saxon part of the manor (Aula) and the chapel.

It is also reported that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (lived in Crowborough) visited Barton Manor in 1878 gaining inspiration for some of his Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Barton Manor is thought to have been the Hurlstone Manor House in ‘The Musgrave Ritual’. There are many similarities in the histories, and Conan Doyle may have given us an indication by calling the butler ‘Brunton’ close enough to Barton.

An Archbishop of Canterbury, William Cosmo Lang visited the chapel at Barton Manor being guided through by historian Lindsay Fleming in the Easter of 1929. He was visiting King George V who was convalescing at nearby Craigwell House which was owned by Sir Arthur Du Cross the founder of Dunlop Rubber and Austin Cars. Queen Mary was a regular worshipper at St Thomas a Beckett Church in Pagham during their stay and a church window commemorates her visits. Indeed it is believed that Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) made her first shop purchase at a tuck shop (now demolished) to the south of Hotham Park as a child while visiting her grandfather. Crown Prince Olaf of Norway (later King Olaf V) stayed at the Kings Beach hotel while exiled during the Second World War.

In the late 1930’s Barton Manor was a children’s home run by nanny Reid with the chapel being referred to as the priory. The Lamb Inn was at the end of the lane as it stands today as is the duckpond on Barton close. Mr F.T.Ashton-Gwatkin purchased Barton Manor for £3750 in early 1943 moving in 5 years later staying for the next 25 years eloquently described the antiquity of Barton Manor. “It has seen the earliest Saxon settlements on the shores of the Seals Island. It has seen Wilfred and his Christian monks from the north Eddi, Padda and the rest, long before the Danes subdued by Alfred the Great. It saw Anselm the Lombard a great churchman and sent men to bolster the Barons wars and the long wars in France. It saw the monasteries fall, the Armada pass, the civil war and the wars in the 18th century, the French revolution and Napoleon. It saw the two world wars and the planes roaring out of Tangmere and strange men and weapons filling Sussex lanes all preparing for the great invasion on D-day. But nothing happens to the little house except the quiet succession of spring, summer, harvest and winter. It is like an old woman who never dies. He was a retired diplomat and collector owning a collection of pieces by Felpham’s William Hayley a poet laureate and famous friend of William Blake . 

In Nyetimber there are several ancient buildings the most important being Barton Manor House. The oldest part is the north-west wing which was the eastern part of a 13th century chapel. This is supported by the herringbone masonry indicative of Saxon building methodology. The windows have been partly restored in the gabled east wall are 3 lancet windows, they have internal splays of flint rubble with angle dressings and 2 similar lancet windows in the north wall. Under the lancets is a shallow wide buttress with two heavier buttresses of old rubble against the north wall. The wing adjoining the south of chapel is built of flint and stone rubble which has 4 courses of 17th century brickwork. H.L.F.Guermonprez researched Barton Manor as an architect specialising in ancient buildings. The interior then comprised two sitting rooms, dairy, kitchen, brewhouse, larder, store and six or seven bedrooms with attics and associated staircases and passages. It is now a private residence having been sympathetically restored with the Saxon ‘Aula’ (hall) is now the drawing room also containing the ‘piscina’ trefoil headed with a plain shallow bowl used in religious ceremonies.