Clearings in the forest: the origins of “Werneham”
The early history of ‘Werneham’, ‘Villat de Wernham’ or ‘Warneham’ as it appears variously even in the eighteenth century, is obscure. Although the Romans passed nearby on Stane Street, they left no obvious trace of their presence; nor is there any reference to Warnham in the 1086 Domesday Survey.
The first settlements, temporary huts in isolated clearings in the forest, probably appeared towards the end of the eleventh century. These communities, almost certainly attached to the manor of Steyning, were swineherders there for the summer to feed their hogs on acorns and beech nuts.
Over time the temporary settlements became more permanent as areas were carved out of the forest to form a pattern of small scattered farmsteads. Some third of the farms existing in the parish in the mid-nineteenth century dated from thid period.
Image: Feeding hogs on Beech nuts in the forest (‘pannage’). Illustration from a medieval mansuscript >
Lay Subsidy Rolls, 1296, 1327, 1332
From the tax records we know where some of these were, the 22 taxpayers who occupied them and how much they paid. The names of many of the locations are still familiar or are readily identifiable – John de Kyngesfolde, Ad atte Shirmark, William de Weston, John de Langenhurst, Richard atte Douwehok (Daux), John atte Sonde (Sands), Henry atte Rowehok.
The first church
At some point towards the end of the twelth century a church or chapel was established, probably on the same site as the present church.
Originally called St Mary’s, in 1204 the income from the church was granted to the nuns at Rusper priory. The first vicar, Robert de Dorking, was appointed in 1247.
Now the only survivor from the church of that period is the Purbeck marble font. (As shown in the image >)
The beginnings of the village
The church provided a focal point for the development of a larger settlement occupying the relatively between two ridges – Bailing Hill and Knob Hill – which gradually grew into the village of Warnham.
Houses or ‘tofts’ were gradually built, the first, almost certainly along Warnham (later Church) Street.
The Caryll family and the iron industry
The iron—working industry had existed in the Weald of Sussex from early times. One of the families most successfully to exploit the industry in this part of Sussex was the Carylls who first came to Warnham at the end of the 15th century.
John Caryll was Sergeant- at Law in the time of Henry VIII and purchased property in the parish in 1513. He was buried in Warnham in 1540. His great grandson, Sir John, died in 1613. He and all his family are commemorated in a side chapel in the church.
The iron furnace and associated mill pond at Warnham were constructed around the end of the 16th century. It was an important cannon production site. But as it had produced cannon for the Royalist cause it was destroyed by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War in 1645. A few decades later the bay was converted to run a corn mill which produced flour until the 1930s.
c 1536: Warnham and the Henrician reformation
After nearly 300 years, patronage of the church was removed from Rusper Nunnery in about 1536 under King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and passed to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. It was acquired by C T Lucas in 1866 with the right to appoint the vicar.
Image: Carryl memorial in Warnham church >
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place on 4 August 1792 and baptised in Warnham Church on 7 September 1792. He received his early education from the vicar, walking over Bailing Hill from Field Place to the vicarage. Shelley is reputed to have sailed his boat on Warnham Pond; but after spending his youth in Warnham his connection with Warnham was tenuous, and he never lived here.
1825: Warnham Court
Warnham Court was built in 1825 and twelve years later a deer park was established in the surrounding grounds, initially for a herd of fallow deer. Charles Thomas Lucas bought the house and estate in 1865, when there were 30 red deer in the park. This has since grown into a world renowned herd.
Warnham National school, later Warnham C.E. school, was established 1832 with, initially, separate classes for 76 boys and 79 girls. It was relocated in 1851, in 1873 and again in 1974.
The Society of Dependants (or Cokelers) were a non-conformist Christian sect founded by John Sirgood in the mid-nineteenth century. They were based mainly West Sussex and Surrey where they formed co-operatives in a number of villages, including Warnham. A store and a chapel were established in the late 1870’s, and by 1904 the store employed 36 people. Female assistants lived in dormitories on the third floor.
1867: The arrival of the railway
The Horsham-Three Bridges railway opened in 1848 but, it was not until 1867, that the Horsham—Leatherhead line, serving Warnham, was completed.
1888: Warnham brickworks
The proximity of the railway was a key factor in the development of the brickworks. The site was bought by the Peters family (Horsham building contractors) in 1888. In 1912, by which time it had been extended and sold to the Sussex Brick Company, was producing 100,000 bricks a day.
1892: the first Village Hall
The first Village Hall, completed in 1892, was provided by Sir Henry Harben. Initially it was designed as ‘The Men’s Club’. It was demolished in 1972 and a new Village Hall built on a different site.
Warnham was known for its cricket team in the 18th century, the site of the ground which they used being possibly commemorated by Cricket Ground clump in Warnham Park. A cricket club existed by 1886. In the later 19th and the earlier 20th century both Sir Henry Harben of Warnham Lodge and the Lucas family of Warnham Court supported the game, and there were pitches on their estates.
The 1911 census recorded 1,190 men, women and children living in Warnham, of whom just under a third had been born in the parish. Of the 602 classified as earners, around a quarter worked in agriculture.
A century later the population of the parish had risen to 2,068, but by this time agriculture was a far less significant part of the economy.
There was an increase in building in the village during the 20th century. Before and after the war of 1914-18, most of the housing was provided by private enterprise; but following the second world war much of the building was originally for council housing. There was a total of 192 council houses listed in the parish in 1981.
Mains water did not reach Warnham until 1933. Any house built before then had to have either a well, or have access to one. Many of these are still visible.
1920: War memorial
The war memorial was dedicated on Sunday 3 October 1920. It listed the names of 26 individuals with Warnham connections killed in the Great War. Since then a further 17 have been added to the total , as well two tablets to remember those killed in the second world war.
1933: The village green
Land for the village green was donated to the parish in 1933 by Capt. C E Lucas.
Some further reading
Baggs, A P, Currie, C R J, Elrington, C R, Keeling, S M, and Rowland, A M, ‘Warnham’, in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 2, Bramber Rape (North-Western Part) Including Horsham, ed. T P Hudson (London, 1986), pp. 203-207. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/sussex/vol6/pt2/pp203-207.
Dales, R. (2018) The Buildings of Warnham, Warnham Society Society, (www.warnhamsociety.org.uk)
Nash, R. (2021), Dependant Brethren of Sussex and Surrey: A History of the Cokelers
Warnham Parochial Church Council, An Illustrated Guide to St Margaret’s Church Warnham,
Warnham Society, Series of booklets on the history of Warnham, (http://www.warnhamsociety.org.uk/History.htm)
Warnham Society, (2014), Warnham and the Great War