St Peter's Church, Selsey

St Peter's Church

The church from the south–southeast
50°44′13″N 0°47′18″W / 50.7369°N 0.7884°W / 50.7369; -0.7884
Location High Street/St Peter's Crescent, Selsey, West Sussex, PO20 0NP
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founded 13th century
Dedication St Peter
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Style Norman with Victorian Chancel
Parish Selsey
Deanery Chichester
Archdeaconry Chichester
Diocese Chichester
Province Canterbury
Priest(s) Fr Andy Wilkes (from 22.7.15)

St Peter's Church is the Parish Church of Selsey, West Sussex and dates from the 13th century. The Church building was originally situated at the location of St Wilfrid's first monastery and cathedral at Church Norton some 2 miles north of the present centre of population.[1]


The church was at Church Norton until 1864, and at that date it consisted of two arcades of three bays each between the nave and the aisles, of the late 12th century; it had barely been finished when it was decided to lengthen the church by one bay westward.[1] The chancel was of slightly later date, early 13th century. The date when the tower was begun is unknown. A sacristy or flanking chapel on the north of the chancel had disappeared before the 19th century.

The font c. 12th century

The chancel (which still remains at Church Norton) has clasping buttresses at each east corner, a small buttress (apparently modern) near the west end of the north wall, and buttresses (the remains of the east walls of the aisles) to north and south of the west wall.[2]

The east window is of three trefoil-headed lights with Perpendicular tracery, perhaps late 14th century; the rear-arch may be that of a former lancet triplet.[2]

In the south wall are two pointed-headed niches with chamfered arrises, the eastern is now a credence, the western a piscina; though the style of these suggests a later date than the 13th century the original moulded string-course which runs round the south, east, and north sides of the chancel rises to clear them.[2] Next are two 13th-century lancets with segmental rear-arches, and a priest's doorway with plain pointed exterior arch, 13th century but much repaired with cement, and segmental rear-arch; this is now blocked externally, and its recess serves as a cupboard. Next is a two-light window without tracery, the lights having semicircular heads, perhaps a 17th-century enlargement to light a reading-desk, the inner part of the splay and the rear-arch being those of a 13th-century lancet.[2]

In the north wall are two lancets like those in the south; perhaps a third, now blocked, exists west of them. On the outside of this wall there is a weather-mould where the roof of a building adjoined it on the north.[2]

By the middle of the 19th century the population had drifted away to Sutton (modern day Selsey), largely because of coastal erosion. It was therefore decided to move the church to the new centre of population. In 1864–66 the church was dismantled stone by stone and re-erected in its present position, only the chancel remaining at Church Norton. This is now styled St Wilfrid's Chapel, and is in the care of a national charity, the Churches Conservation Trust. A new Victorian chancel was added to the re-erected mediaeval nave.[2]

The church has a chalice dating from Elizabethan times and also an ancient font. Ian Nairn dated the font as being constructed at around 1100.[3] However this was seen as a little early by other historians. The font, which is made of Purbeck marble, Heron-Allen suggests was of a type that was very common in the south east counties in the 12th century, having shallow bodies with circular basins standing upon a square base and supported by a large central and small angle shafts.[4] Architect Philip Mainwaring Johnston was responsible for the reredos.[5]


16th-century mural showing Cædwalla granting lands to Wilfrid

According to Bede, St Wilfrid, the exiled Bishop of York, c. 680-81 evangelised the South Saxons during his stay there (c. 680-86).[6] Wilfrid founded a monastery at Selsey, a former royal estate given to him by King Aethelwealh at the entrance to Pagham Harbour (modern-day Church Norton).[7] After Caedwalla conquered the South Saxons c. 685, the area became part of the Diocese of Wessex, with its seat in Winchester. However, the bishopric of Sussex was re-established in about 705, and Wilfrid's monastery was taken over as the episcopal seat.[8]

A picture painted by Lambert Barnard, which hangs in Chichester Cathedral, represents the interview between Caedwalla and St Wilfrid. In the top left corner can be seen a representation of Selsey Church and the priory as it appeared in 1519.[7] Some historians, however, have speculated that it is possible the tower on the earthwork, was built by the Normans as part of a motte and bailey fortification close to the church.[9]

In 1075, the See was transferred to Chichester. The location of the old Selsey cathedral is not known for certain, and although some local legends suggest it is under the sea, and that the bell could be heard tolling during rough weather, it is thought unlikely.[10] A more likely explanation is that the replacement church, founded in the 13th century, was built on the site of the old cathedral.[11][12] There it remained until 1864–66, when all but the chancel was moved to the new centre of population in Selsey, where it was orientated North rather than East. The chancel that remains at Church Norton was dedicated to St Wilfrid in 1917 and is known as St Wilfrid's Chapel. The new parish church, complete with a new chancel, was consecrated on 12 April 1866.[13]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Heron-Allen. The Parish Church of St Peter on Selsey Bill Sussex". Moore and Tillyer p.6
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Selsey, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4: The Rape of Chichester" (1953), pp. 205–210. URL: Date accessed: 12 August 2009 – Description of church building.
  3. I. Nairn and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex. Harmondsworth 1965, pp. 319–20.
  4. Heron-Allen. Selsey Historic and Prehistoric. Duckworth 1911.p.185
  5. Allen, John (28 March 2013). "Architects and Artists I–J–K". Sussex Parish Churches website. Sussex Parish Churches ( Archived from the original on 16 May 2013. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  6. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 731 AD , Translation Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics (1955) ch.13 ISBN 0-14-044565-X
  7. 1 2 Heron-Allen. Selsey Historic and Prehistoric. Duckworth (1911).p.109
  8. Mee, A History of Selsey, Phillimore (1988). p.13 ISBN 0-85033-672-4
  9. "Richardson. The Owers." The English Place Name Society Journal 33 (2000–2001) pp. 72 – 73
  10. "Heron-Allen. The Parish Church of St Peter on Selsey Bill Sussex". p.6 Moore and Tillyer
  11. Michael Wood. The Doomsday Quest. p.141By about 1200 almost every Anglo-Saxon Cathedral and abbey had been demolished and replaced with Norman style a result no great Anglo-Saxon church has survived to modern times
  12. Heron-Allen. Selsey Historic and Prehistoric. Duckworth (1911).pp.105 -106
  13. "Heron-Allen. The Parish Church of St Peter on Selsey Bill Sussex". p.10 Moore and Tillyer


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