What it's like to live in Steyning
PUBLISHED: 10:35 24 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:15 24 October 2017
The West Sussex town offers a village experience in the heart of the downs, as Duncan Hall finds out
Steyning lost its railway line in 1966 following Dr Beeching’s cuts. The town’s nearest railway station is in Lancing, which is on direct routes to London Victoria, Portsmouth, Littlehampton and Brighton. But Steyning benefited from the closure of the line – as it became the route of the A283 bypass. This meant through traffic was largely kept off its beautiful High Street. The A283 connects the A24 Worthing to London road and the coastal A27, making the town easily accessible, despite being surrounded by the South Downs National Park. It is only six miles from Shoreham, eight miles from Worthing and 12 miles from Brighton.
The town is served by Brighton and Hove Buses, whose number 2 service to Rottingdean begins in Steyning, taking in Shoreham and Brighton; Compass Travel whose 100 service runs between Burgess Hill and Washington; and Southern Transit’s number 3 service between Horsham and Shoreham.
A Saxon town, Steyning’s origins are thought to date back to at least the 8th century as a site of pilgrimage to St Cuthman. The story goes that the shepherd was wheeling his paralysed mother around the countryside in a wheeled cart to beg door-to-door. When the rope he was using to tow the cart broke he built a church at the spot – which is now the Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman in Steyning (Cuthman’s name was added in 2007). According to the 1658 Acta Sanctorum (Acts of the Saints), among the church builders was a stranger who helped Cuthman fix a roof beam. When asked his name the stranger said: “I am he in whose name you are building this church.” Another story says that when peasants laughed at his mother’s misfortune after the cart broke, St Cuthman summoned up a storm to spoil the hay they were harvesting. His story features both on the town sign and on a stained glass window in East Grinstead’s St Swithun’s Church, while his wooden church, which was finished in 857AD, became the final resting place of Alfred the Great’s father King Ethelwulf. It was replaced by a stone church in the 12th century.
In the early middle ages Steyning was a river port for the downland wool trade – which came to an end when the River Adur silted up. The town is still full of Tudor-style half-timbered houses and Georgian townhouses, perhaps hinting at its past glories.
Steyning has been the site of some intriguing historical events over the years. Protestant martyr John Launder was burnt on Chantry Green in July 1555 for refusing to renounce his beliefs during the reign of Queen Mary – a memorial from the Sussex Martyrs Commemoration Council can be found in Chantry Green. And the controversial Charles Stewart Parnell, who was involved in the battle for Irish home rule, was married to divorcee Katherine ‘Kitty’ O’Shea in a secret ceremony in the office of the superintendent registrar of the Steyning Union on Thursday, 25 June 1891.
For centuries Steyning and neighbouring Bramber were rotten boroughs, returning four members of Parliament to the House of Commons between them representing just 135 easily swayed voters. Among those returned by the electorate in Bramber was William Wilberforce, who helped abolish slavery, but is only known to have passed through Bramber once on a coach journey, commenting: “Bramber? Why, that’s the place I’m Member for”. Both constituencies were abolished in favour of New Shoreham in the Great Reform Act of 1832.
Much of the town’s history can be found in the free volunteer-run Steyning Museum, in Church Street, which is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Saturdays and bank holidays, from 10.30am to 12.30pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 2.30pm to 4.30pm every day except Mondays and Thursdays.
Annual festivals and events
Steyning and District Food and Drink Festival ran from Saturday 2 September to Sunday 8 October 2017, culminating in a beer festival at Steyning Cricket Club organised by the Adur and Riverside Breweries.
Steyning Festival is a biennial event, which last took over the town in 2016. The 2018 event will run from Saturday 26 May to Sunday 10 June. The last festival welcomed speakers including DJ Craig Charles, future Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, BBC war correspondent Frank Gardner, children’s author Julia Donaldson and the Comedy Store Players, as well as hosting an art and theatre trail.
Steyning Country Fair is another biennial affair, taking odd-numbered years, and is staged by volunteers from the Steyning Chamber of Trade over the spring bank holiday. The 2017 event featured livestock shows, a companion dog show, country crafts, jugglers, musicians, side shows and stalls run by farmers and traders in 19th century country costume.
Steyning has a nice array of independent shops and restaurants, mostly located along the High Street, including 25 businesses in the shopping arcade Cobblestone Walk. Popular favourites include the Sussex Produce Company, which celebrates ten years in the town this year; Steyning Bookshop, which hosts regular author events; The White Horse Smokehouse and Grill which dates back to the 15th century and a town post office. In common with many small high streets, Steyning has lost most of its banks, with only Barclays opening five days a week between 10am and 2pm. It also offers an ATM. There were protests last Christmas when parking charges were proposed for the town centre. Annual parking discs were introduced in April.
Steyning High Street car park hosts a farmers’ market on the first Saturday of the month, which scooped the best farmers’ market award at the 2015 Sussex Food and Drink Awards.
There is a health centre in Tanyard Lane and surgery in Upper Beeding. The closest hospital is Southlands in Shoreham.
There are Steyning societies based around music, horticulture, jazz and photography, as well as a choir and conservation project, Steyning Downland Scheme, which is responsible for 165 acres of woodland, chalk grassland and wetland in the South Downs National Park.
There are also athletics, cricket, football and rugby clubs in the town, with a moto-cross practice and race track at nearby Golding Barn, in Small Dole.
Nearby attractions include the beautiful Elizabethan St Mary’s House in Bramber, with the ruins of Bramber Castle just over the road and the Iron Age hill fort Chanctonbury Ring three miles walk to the west.
Meet the neighbours
WB Yeats stayed at the Chantry House in Steyning with his mistress Edith Shackelton Heald, who also spent her last years there with the artist Gluck.
E M Delafield, author of Diary of a Provincial Lady was born and brought up in Steyning as the eldest daughter of Count Henry Philip Ducarel de la Pasture. Laurence Olivier’s final home was in Ashurst, near Steyning.
Olympic gold medal hurdler Sally Gunnell lives in the town, as does former Children’s Laureate and Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson.
Steyning has its own parish council. The town comes under Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council. Since 2005 it has been represented in Parliament by Conservative Nick Herbert who is MP for Arundel and South Downs. In the last election he took 62.4 per cent of the available vote.
Estate agent’s view
Christina Smith, associate of HJ Burt praises the community aspect of life in Steyning.
“Whilst now known as a town, Steyning has retained a wonderful village atmosphere.
The enchanting and ancient High Street is a mixture of old properties and highly popular shops such as The Sussex Produce Company and the Steyning Book Shop which offer so much more than the obvious. The popularity of local events such as the Steyning May Fair, Christmas Fair and the Steyning Arts Festival are indicative of the attraction of living in Steyning.
Steyning has a wide variety of properties, from century-old cottages to modern executive homes. And the town has a wonderful vibrant and lively community – close to the South Downs yet within easy reach of Chichester to the West and Brighton to the East – what more could you want?!
H.J. Burt Steyning Branch, The Estate Offices, 53 High Street, Steyning, West Sussex. BN44 3RE; 01903 879488; hjburt.co.uk
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