Steyning is a small town surrounded by the South Downs, just 6 miles from Shoreham-by-Sea, 8 miles from Worthing, 12 miles from Brighton and 13 miles from Horsham. Sadly, as with most other small villages and towns there is no longer a railway service, the closest being at Shoreham-by-Sea. There are buses that run through Steyning from Brighton, Horsham, Worthing, Pulborough and Burgess Hill.
History is all around you in Steyning. The buildings show that rich mixture of styles which is the England of your imagination. The legacy of the Normans is still here in the fine church of St Andrew’s and the ruins of Bramber Castle. Visit Steyning’s Museum to learn the story of St Cuthman and the Saxon port which took his name. For many centuries a livestock market was held in the High Street, with deals being struck in one of the old coaching inns or the Market House. A glance at the workhouse or at Penns House, where William Penn often came to preach, reminds us that history did not pass Steyning by.
It is perhaps in Church Street that our past is most keenly felt. King Charles II is thought to have tarried nervously whilst fleeing from Cromwell’s troops en route to the safety of France, at the forge which jostled side by side with the wheelwright, the barrel maker and the inn keepers. Down the street John Launder was hurried from his prison cell to be burnt for heresy on Chantry Green. In the midst of all this stands Brotherhood Hall, a school for the past 400 years which is still bustling with young people.
At Steyning’s heart are the timber framed buildings of Tudor and Stuart Tradesmen. Subtle changes over the years have only added to their attraction. Steyning has 125 listed buildings.
Steyning has many shops that can provide virtually any requirement and has places of interest to visit for anyone interested in history. There are adequate car parking facilities and when you are tired from walking around, there are tea shops, pubs and restaurants to relax in. There is an indoor swimming pool at Steyning Sports Centre.
Steyning is not only a interesting place to visit, it is also a ideal place for residents. There is a great community life with many activities organised throughout the year for the enjoyment of both residents and tourists.
There are playgroups, a Church of England Primary School and Steyning Grammar School. Steyning Grammar School has a Lower School set in a superb old building in Church Street dating back to 1614 and an Upper School, complete with a sixth form centre at Shooting Field.
There are several churches to choose from in Steyning. St Andrew’s Parish Church in Church Street, The Church of Christ the King in Bramber Road, Steyning Methodist Church and the Steyning Community church that meet in the Steyning Centre.
Steyning has been known by various names through history (Stoeningas, Stoeningum, Staninges, Stenyges, Stenyng). Despite the presence of a bronze age site on Round Hill above Steyning, evidence of the first settlement appears to stem from the Saxon era.
Steyning is first mentioned in the legend of St Cuthman who is said to have settled here and founded the town’s first church sometime before the 9th century, and whose shrine became a resort for pilgrims. The early history of the town was centred around this church and Church Street was believed to have been the first major thoroughfare of the town. St Cuthman’s wooden church has long since gone, and in it’s place stands the 12th century Norman St Andrew’s Church.
Steyning became a prosperous town of some importance due to its harbour, believed to have been located near St Andrew’s Church. It was a major port exporting a variety of goods.
By AD 858 records show that Steyning was under the patronage of the Royal House of Wessex and King Ethelwulf was buried here in the same year. Steyning remained royal land until the mid 11th century but after King Harold’s defeat at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, ownership was passed by Edward the Confessor to the Norman Abbey of Fecamp, with whom it remained until the 15th century.
Much of the town is believed to have been wasted during the Norman invasions, though the Domesday book records it as a town of 123 dwellings and an estimated population of 1500 – one of the largest towns in the South East at the time with a mint and two churches dedicated to St Cuthman and St Mary. The decay of the town began in the 14th century owing to the recession of the sea, the silting of the river Adur,the building of a new port at Shoreham and the black death which decimated the population in 1348. By 1350 Steyning had ceased to be a port. It received another blow in the suppression of its priory by Henry IV. It was afterwards granted to the abbey of Sion, which held it until the dissolution, from the reign of Edward IV to that of Richard III.
It is believed the town may have begun to prosper again in the 15th Century as many local buildings survive from this period. Steyning returned two representatives to parliament from 1298 until it was disfranchised in 1832.
In 1555 protestant John Launder was burned at the stake at Chantry Green for his religious beliefs in perhaps Steyning’s most notorious incident.
From Norman times onwards the area around Steyning has been extensively cultivated and farmed and it was a market town of some importance, markets having been held in Church Street, High Street and Sheep Pen Lane.By the 18th Century Steyning was an important town on the coach route between Brighton and London. Two inns from the period still survive today – The White Horse and The Chequer Inn.
Steyning’s industries were given a boost with the opening of the railway and station in 1861, and Steyning once again prospered. Dairy farming was an important local industry as it was easier for the farmers to move their cattle by train for the weekly market and annual horse sales commenced. Other notable employers in the town during this period were breweries and the tanning industry.
Today, Steyning remains a charming town, popular with tourists, from home and abroad, for it’s architecture, rich history and wonderful location at the foot of the South Downs.