West Sussex has its fair share of picturesque villages one can visit, but none more so than Steyning. Like Alfriston in East Sussex, Steyning, located a 15 minute drive north of Shoreham and Worthing on the south coast, is very much what comes to mind when one thinks of a traditional English village. Located amongst the South-Downs, Steyning has maintained something of its medieval past. The town had been a royal manor for several centuries before the Norman Conquest, and was in the possession of King Harold Godwinson in 1066. One might expect that this would have had a negative effect upon the town after 1066, but in fact the opposite was true and it continued to prosper, being held by the Abbey of Fecamp in France. The link with France stimulated trade, and Steyning soon became a market town of some importance.
To best understand the rising importance of Steyning one has to look no further than the towns impressive church. It is dedicated to Saint Cuthman, an early 8th century monk who is believed to have established the first church on the site. It’s importance is demonstrated by the fact that King Aethelwulf, the father of King Alfred the Great, is buried here. Soon after the Battle of Hastings a new church was built, with much of the earlier structure still remaining in the nave of the church.
Upon entering the visitor is immediately presented with a series of impressive romanesque arches. What makes these special is the quality of the decoration. From a distance they look the same, but upon closer examination you realise that each is of a different pattern, and of the finest workmanship. Originally this decoration, and the pillars below,would have been painted, providing a most impressive sight to a largely illiterate population unused to seeing any form of illustration. Of further interest is the fact that the decoration within the church has both Anglo-Saxon and Norman elements incorporated. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 has often been portrayed as an event that ended Anglo-Saxon England, and while this in many ways may be true, the design in this church demonstrates that the process may not have been as rapid or complete as once thought, with many elements of Anglo-Saxon culture surviving. In all, the church reflects the wealth and importance of the community in the medieval period, and the central role played by religion in the lives of those who have lived and worked in the region.
Today the village maintains much of its medieval character, with some wonderful buildings that reflect it’s rich medieval past. Many of these buildings have been turned into shops and tea rooms, providing the perfect atmosphere for a relaxed day out.