Careful consideration of historical facts connected with Hooe leads us to conclude the church is the site of a Saxon Church built in the eighth century.
Meaning of "Hooe" and Spelling
The name Hooe is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Hou, meaning an elevation (from the root HUH). The spelling is very varied, being rendered Hoe, Hoo, Hooe, Hou, Hov, How, Howe, Ow and Owe. Rouse in his "Beauties of Sussex" (p.4) suggests Eu (which includes Ewe) is another form. Lower adopts "Hooe" throughout his "History of Sussex". In the Domesday Book it is spelt Hou (Hov or How). There is a Hoo, near Rochester, Kent; another near Wickham Market, Suffolk; and Hooe, near Plymstock, Devon.
Earl Godwin, Lord of the Manor
The manor was part of the famous Earl Godwin's estates, and near the important town of Northeye, which has long since been swept away by the sea, but the position of which is indicated by the Sluice.
Domesday Book and Hooe Church
It was a sad day for our churches when the Conqueror landed. Domesday Book tells us many churches of Sussex were laid waste by his soldiers; and mentions Hooe Church as one of the seven small churches in the county.
Norman Destruction of the Saxon Church (?)
Hooe was part of King Harold's private possessions left him by his father, Earl Godwin, in 1053. How exultant the Normans must have been when destroying the property of their foe! Surely Hooe Church was one of the first to fall a prey to them and with it the cell of the Saxon ecclesiastics, the altar, font and muniment chest only being spared. In Edward the Confessor's reign (1042-1066) the manor of Hooe was valued at £25; but after the Conquest at £14.
Priory of St. Martin′s–in–the–Wood
Hooe and Hurstmonceux were among the fifty–two manors given by the Conqueror to his faithful follower Robert, earl of Eu, in 1067 (A). His son was implicated in a conspiracy against William II, for which he suffered the loss of his eyes and died in 1096. His possessions were forfeited to the King, who however subsequently restored them. Soon after Henry gave the manor of Hooe (RS 4) to the Benedictine abbot and monks of Bec in Normandy. Before 1139 (1120 appears to have been the date) they somewhere founded in it a Priory which they named the Priory of St. martin's-in-the-Wood (6). The descendants of Robert, Earl of Eu, were honoured as Lords Hastings. (M.B.V. 465).
Number of Monks and their Cell
We may reasonably suppose there were at first only two or three monks - a prior and a lay brother or two, who required but a small residence.* It is not unreasonable to conclude the present vestry was originally their living room, built against the ruin of the Saxon edifice; and that a turret staircase led to a dormitory overhead. The stream which ran along the west of their domain would supply them with water. The Chapel of Hinton Charterhouse, Somerset, has two stories though it is unusually small and belonged to a monastery. (N.Q.). According to Lewis's Topographical Dictionary the foundafions of the priory were remaining in 1849. Remains of former buildings have been discovered on The Grove farm. No foundations are now to be seen but much old stone is to be found built in the farm buildings at 'Parsonage Farm' and 'The Olives'.
* St. John Hope arrived at the same conclusion respecting Boxgrove Church and Priory ('Sussex Express', Aug. 12 1899)
St. Martin's Marsh
Ingelram, of Barnhorn, gave Battle Abbey St. Martin's Marsh in Hooe. This was probably named after the priory.
The Cell given to monks at Okeburne
In course of time the cell was placed in charge of the monastery at Okeburne, Wiltshire, the principal cell of Bec Abbey in England. It was afterwards considered to belong to it.
Hooe a Prebend
Hooe was once a prebend (H) of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary-in-the-Castle, Hastings, an establishment in the hands of a dean and secular canons. (N). Part of the endowment of the prebend was derived from the churches of Ninfield and Wartling. At that time the parish was divided among several ecclesiastical owners. Twenty-five acres formed part of the endowment of St. Martin's, Hollington; fifty acres belonged to the Leuga (F) of Battle Abbey, free from all episcopal and other ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and from all temporal exaction and service, besides marsh land and two salt-works given by Reginald, Earl of Ashburnham; the Canons of Holy Trinity, Hastings, (See Appendix H) were provided with a salt-pan by Peter de Scotney; and 20 acres of marsh were given to the Chapel of St. James', Northeye by William de Northeye. The object of this last gift was the salvation of his soul and those of his predecessors and successors, and the support of a chaplain to perform Divine Service in the Chapel. These benefits appear to have been generally expected in return for such benefactions. In the fourteenth century there was quite a mania for erecting and endowing such chapels and chantries. (AR III 288, 289).
Northeye Chapel is shown in Speed′s map of Sussex in his book ~ "Theatre of Great Britain", first published in 1611. Saxon′s map of 1579 perhaps gives the coast–line more correctly. There are yet remains of this old building at Barnhorn. The author traced about eighteen feet of wall in the hedge. The highest piece covered with ivy was about six feet in height; but very little can be seen.
Click on a picture for a larger image and some explanation [JWN]
The Patron Saint
According to some books, Hooe Church is dedicated to St. James and by others to St. Oswald. It is known locally as St. Oswald's. It is suggested St. Oswald was the patron saint of the Saxon Church and has come down as tradition; and that to St. James the Norman edifice was dedicated. More than forty dedications of Sussex churches are lost, from causes unknown (NQ 8th XII 448); but may have disappeared through the claims of rivals being unsettled. There are ten other churches in the country known to be dedicated to St. Oswald. Among these are Ashbourne, Paddlesworth and Lower Peover (NQ).
The Church and the Village
According to Domesday Book there were four salt pans in Hooe. The question arises "Where were these pans?" In answer, it has been conjectured that a lagoon once covered the low–lying land between Hurstmonceux and Hooe — land which is below high-water level and sometimes flooded in Winter (AC "Sussex Coastline").
In his "Britannia" (1586), the historian Camden gives us a plan of the village, from which it is clear the inhabitants lived mainly in the spot known as The Grove, and consequently, near the Church. (The halfndash;timbered cottage at Hall's Cross is probably the only remnant of the village of his day). Broken bricks 1 ¾" thick found near the old Kiln testify to its age. From this we conclude the village has sprung away from the Church Ndash; perhaps on account of some special industry in the neighbourhood such as brick–making, or leather–tanning. Brickworks and a tannery, of which there are remains, existed in the north of the parish.
Grove House and Court Lodge possessed their own pews in the Church.
The Prebend Divided
Ralph de Warham, Bishop of Chichester (1217-1222) sanctioned the division of the prebend into three - Hooe, Ninfield and Wartling. (B). This was done with the permission of the patroness - Alice, Countess of Eu - and at the request of Peter de Collemede, who was then the prebendary and chaplain to Pope Honorius III. He resigned his position in favour of it. The value of the endowment in 1291, according to Pope Nicolas' taxation, was £16 13s. 4d.
Trials, Poverty and Changes
Between 1278 and 1280 Edward I seized the barony of Hastings, among others, and held the prebends in his own possession. This appears to have been from his need of money, his dislike to the wealth and growth of the monastic bodies, and his strained relationship with France.
In the reign of Edward I there was a dispute as to the Bishop of Chichester's right to cite the chaplains and canons to his Synod; and the dean petitioned to be allowed to resign. On April 13 1299 a writ was issued to Robert de Burghurshe, warden of the Cinque Ports to enquire of and certify the truth of the premises to the King at his next parliament, to which the bishop was also summoned, and to cause all the prebends there to attend to defend his and their own privileges. On January 28, the Archbishop of Canterbury was prohibited visiting the chapel and prebends. In the next year when the Archbishop attempted again to visit, the constable of the castle was ordered not to admit him or any one from him. On September 15th 1302 the Archdeacon of Lewes was also prohibited visiting. The year following the Archbishop cited John de Cadom whom the King had collated to answer for the intrusion. The King immediately ordered the Archbishop not to intermeddle till the affair was determined by his own Court.
But in 1305 the Archbishop did visit, and appointed a dean. For this he was summoned before the King for contempt (FY1H. 89.90). It does not appear how the matter terminated; but not until the reign of Henry VI were the chapel and its appendages put under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Chichester (GA).
The Church is mentioned in the Nonae Roll of Edward III (1341). That monarch probably seized it among the alien priories which he appropriated in 1340. About that time many troubles appear to have befallen the parish. Much damage is recorded to have been done to cultivated land by floods, and the parish was so poor one-third of the manorial land was waste.
Was the diminution of income the reason why a vicar could not be retained any length of time? It looks much like it, for at least thirty-three persons held the living during the fourteenth century.
Royal and Noble Owners - Sir Thomas Hoo.
The manor once belonged to Henry \J; then to John, Duke of Bedford, who had no legal descendant, and whose wife married Sir Richard Woodville (MB. V. 508). He passed it on to Henry VI in 1434. In 1445 this king presented it to Sir Thomas Hoo as a reward for his faithful services as soldier and statesman, especially in suppressing a rebellion at Caux in Normandy. From Lord Hoo's daughters it passed to Eton College, founded in 1441, and was then given by Edward IV to Ashford College in Kent.
Prebends held by one person
At times, two or three of the prebends were held by the same person. The prebendary in 1535 was Robert Phipps, and the value of the endowments - Hooe £3, Ninfield £2 and Wartling £2.
The Prebend ceased in 1537
Hooe ceased to be a prebend in 1537 when Henry VIII suppressed the larger monasteries and demolished colleges, St. Mary's-in-the-Castle, Hastings, being among them. In 1547 the King granted the property to Sir Anthony Browne.
When the Spanish Armada threatened our country the clergy were called upon to assist in its defence. For years after many spiritual pastors possessed weapons of temporal warfare. A return of such in 1612 credits the parson of Hooe, Marmaduke Burton, with possessing a musket.
In 1645 the vicarage was sequestered to the use of William White, minister of the Word; and it seems, was received by Robert James in the following year.
Revolution and Destruction
With other churches at the time, without doubt the church lost many of its beauties and treasures in the Revolution of 1649. The brasses that once adorned its flooring slabs were then removed; mural paintings were daubed over; the holy rood and any statuary destroyed; piscinae and stoups broken. The font may have suffered at the same time. An idea of the wealth of the parish may be formed from the fact that its value was two-and-a-half times that of Ninfield, and twice that of Catsfield. A return in 1648 gives its value as £872 10s. The residence of J. E. Brand Esq., C. C. is the old manor house. Court Lodge was built in 1637.
In a Parliamentary Survey in 1650 five closes of marsh lands, then called Priest's lands, were accounted to belong to Charles Stuart, King of England.
Other buildings, including Hooe Hall, have been demolished; but the fact of their existence goes to show the wealth and prosperity of by-gone days. Several houses are of considerable age as proved by the dates some of them bear - these being 1651, 1672, 1693.
On account of the awful earthquake at Lisbon, which even affected the sea round the Sussex coast, a general fast was appointed for Friday February 6th 1756. (0). Nathanael Torriano M.D., minister of Hooe and Ninfield, preached two sermons which were printed, secured much notice, and obtained a large circulation. Copies of them are in the British Museum. His congregation on the Thursday evening must have been more sleepy than usual, for he said: "Do not prostitute this house of prayer by changing it into a dormitory." In defence of his hearers we may point out the need of apex ventilation - which at that time must have been more necessary than now.
Torriano had a singular career for he was first a linen draper, then a clerk, afterwards a doctor, and lastly a divine.
The manor has been held by the Sackvilles and the Fullers. In 1808 the patron was Lord Holland, the value of the tithe £7 2s. 6d., and the population was 424.
Several years ago the old Vicarage was pulled down. It was built of timber. Some of the massive beams are still in the parish witnessing to the age of the demolished structure. It was erected in 1667. There is no vicarage now.
The hamlet at the junction of the church road with the main road is known as Hall's Cross or Hole's Cross. The nearby farm was Hole's Farm. Village crosses were frequently places of important meetings, business and preaching.
The Present Church
A singular feature of Hooe Church is that the chancel arch is not at right angles to the nave. As a result the church appears to be "bent" (deflected) at that part.
The walls (except those of the tower) were at some time covered with stucco. Time has destroyed most of this, especially on the south.
The gargoyles of the tower and the dripstones of the south (except the south-east of the chancel) are ornamented in the Gothic style.
On the nave and porch we see specimens of the head-gear of the fourteenth century, which may be taken to represent ecclesiastics (on the nave) and civilians (on the porch). The heads on the chancel are those of a monster, a cockatrice, (west) and a Saracen.
It may be the south-east window of the chancel with its plain dripstones (exterior) and low-side (interior) was used for auricular confessions. (See AC XLII).
The church (except the vestry) is probably the Norman edifice, fashioned to the Perpendicular Style between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is conjectured this was about the year 1370, as that was the time when so many churches were renovated, under the patronage of Edward III and his queen. Some traces of earlier work have been discovered in various parts of the nave. In the restoration in 1890, fragments of stone were found under the floor of the nave. Three of these were parts of windows of the twelfth century.
Some Corbells and their Story
The corbels we now find in the chancel appear to be four out of twelve which at one time supported the roof and suggest the roofs were originally groined. As they are plain they are evidently Norman. (EB II. 462).
A Former Light
In the east end of the nave there was a "light" above the rood. is now filled up, but its position is shown by the stonework.
The interior arches of the windows of the nave and chancel are of different forms - that of the East Window is semi-circular (Norman)
Royal and noble personages, who held the manor, must have spent much money in adorning its roof and walls. In all probability, the building was in its glory from the later years of the fourteenth century till the beginning of the sixteenth century.
The Chancel, Piscina, Sedilium
Edward III and Queen Philippa are represented in the upper lights of the East Window. From this fact we may be sure it was put in before the end of the fourteenth century. Sir William Burrell had drawings made of those royal personages from this window in 1781. (L.S.) Their effigies are on their tombs in St. Nicholas Church, Kings Lynn, Norfolk; and in the Chaucer memorial Window, Westminster Abbey.
Two other figures appear to stand for S.S. Peter and John. Other stained glass is said to have existed in the church (Appendix N).
The Vestry — A Lady Chapel (?)
Between the chancel and the vestry is a good-sized arch closed up with a partition and a door. This suggests the vestry has been used as a lady chapel; but it is doubtful if it was originally.
The King-post and tie–beam are worth notice. They are carved and moulded in the Gothic style of the early fifteenth century. The boss is a Tudor single rose. Nail marks in the rafters tell us the roof was formerly ceiled. On the north wall are four monumental tablets. A priest's door opens into the chancel.
The reredos was given, in 1898, by the Vicar - the Rev. Cuthbert Routh. It was generously executed by Mr. Dawes, of Hurstmonceux. The oak of which it is composed was formerly in an historic building in the neighbourhood. It is an excellent piece of furniture, both in design and workmanship, and of sound, well-seasoned, enduring material.
The Communion Rails date from 1636. The Holy Table is probably older. The Communion plate consists of a silver cup and paten. On the foot of' the paten is inscribed: -
"This Cope and Cover doth
belong to the Parish of Hoe
in the countie of Sussex."
It bears the date letter of 1640, the lion passant, the leopard–s head and the maker's mark.
The Alms dishes are of brass and are inscribed: -
The Vestry was built early in the twelfth century. In the east end is a large arched recess, in which there existed an old Elizabethan fireplace. This was removed in 1890 and a stove substituted.
It is supposed an altar stood in it, but an examination of the exterior of the east wall makes it a matter of doubt. One person suggests the base of the chimney stack once supported a calvary (or stone cross) as at Romsey Church near Southampton (AS.26), or formed the steps to an entrance. Another idea is there was a room to the east of the vestry and a door where the chimney stands. The lower part of the brickwork is very old. It may be Norman or Saxon. The most reasonable solution yet advanced is: it was the prior's residence (or part of it) till about 1370, when it became a lady chapel, and in 1559-60 it was transformed into a vestry, with a fireplace where the altar had stood. A small recess is in the south-east corner of the interior, the existence of which we cannot account for.
A beam in the north wall, below the wall plate, appears to have supported rafters or joists. Its ends pierce the west and east walls. Colourwash, whitewash and plaster prevent an examination of the uneven walls. A Table of Fees hangs on the north wall.
From the appearance of the north corners of the vestry (outside) there seems to have been a crypt under it, as generally furnished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (E. B. IV 279).
Sculptured stones in the base of the chimney stack may have formed an altar. So very few altars escaped destruction at the Reformation there is great difficulty in settling the point.
The masonry in the gable ends is of a later period - probably Perpendicular.
The vestry (with its south wall) is claimed by the Earl of Ashburnham. The four corbels and the bend in the north wall of the chancel lend weight to his claim. The Ashburnham family is unable to afford us any clue to the historical mysteries of the building. The Ashburnham family is Saxon. An Earl of Ashburnham was Sheriff of Sussex at the Conquest. (M.B. V 504).
A narrow doorway connects the vestry with the nave. From its position, shape and size we may conclude it was not in the original plan.
Until 1890 this was used as a coal-hole, a high pew blocking the nave end. There is a possibility (if not a probability) a turret staircase to a dormitory above the vestry was entered here.
A Rood Loft
South of the pulpit there are the walled up entrances that led to a rood loft, (probably destroyed in 1549). (K). The corbels that supported the loft remain. In the angle formed by the buttress in the exterior south-east angle of the nave, the masonry clearly shows where the stairs existed which led to the loft. The corresponding angle on the north has a similar appearance, suggesting another staircase was there, but it is not so well defined.