Second floor lancet (exterior)

POLING PRECEPTORY; archaeology

POLING PRECEPTORY documents

The Grade I Listed chapel is the only surviving part of the 14th century preceptory. It is built of flint and stone rubble with dressings of Pulborough and Caen stone. It measures 12.15m on the east-west axis by 6.42m with walls 0.92m thick. It has been much altered by its post-Dissolution use and later adaptation to domestic accommodation. The only extant details at ground level are the south door and a small lancet immediately to the west, both thought to date from the early 13th century. Other openings through the north and south walls are post-medieval insertions which have removed all traces of the original fenestration. However, traces of the surround of the east window do survive which, from the conjectured dimensions, may have been a 14th century replacement of an original three light lancet. The only other external detail to survive from the preceptory chapel is another 13th century lancet discovered by Johnston high up in the north wall more-or-less opposite the lancet surviving at ground level in the south wall. The position of the lancet in the north wall indicates that the western portion of the chapel was originally floored and the late 18th drawing shows that at that time there was a similar, upper, lancet in the south wall. 

​​The practice of having part of the chapel floored to provide a chamber or gallery has already been noted at Low Chibburn and Swingfield. This arrangement is further indicated at Poling by the roof structure, the western portion consisting of plain braced collar trusses while the eastern portion has curved, arched timbers of waggon or barrel vault construction of 14th century type.​ 

The remains of Poling Precptory, consisting of the Grade I Listed chapel, lie in the village of Poling (TQ04660569), about 4km east of Arundel and just beyond the southern boundary of the South Downs National Park. The site overlooks the coastal plain towards Littlehampton. 

The only published aarchaeological study of the preceptory at Poling is that by Johnston (1921). He had the opportunity of making a detailed study during the course of restoration work in the early years of the 20th century. The chapel has also been the subject of an architectural analysis by Fry (2013 Appendix 2d)). The following summary is based on these accounts, supplemented by a field visit in the autumn of 2015.

The only internal feature surviving of note is a cinquefoil piscina and credence shelf re-positioned in the east wall from its original location at the east end of the south wall. Johnston (1921) speculated that some of the domestic range to the west may incorporate parts of the preceptory's domestic accommodation. Unpublished research by the Wealden Buildings Study Group quoted by Fry (2013) has proposed that these comprised an early 15th century hall and a late 15th century cross wing. According, neither formed part of the preceptory in 1338 and nothing is known of what they replaced.

Ground floor lancet (interior)

         Chapel 'waggon' roof

POLING PRECEPTORY (ST JOHN'S PRIORY), WEST SUSSEX (NHLE 1217172)

Johnston (1921, 107-8) reported a tradition that there had been a crypt or charnel house below the chapel or immediately to the east. He found no evidence of this but did record a grave cover in Sussex marble being used as a garden seat. The cover, which has since been mounted on the wall in the house, measures 0.6m by 1.4m to its broken end. It bears a carving of a cross surrounded by a ring and with a crosslet at the centre. The ring and cross staff are inscribed in Lombardic script:

+ IHV CRIST : PVR SANTIOHAN : AIT MERCI, DEL ALME. BERNA ...

​which is translated as:

JESUS CHRIST, FOR [THE SAKE OF] SAINT JOHN, HAVE MERCY ON THE SOUL OF BERNA ...

This rare find is paralleled by the grave cover with a cross flory at Low Chibburn.

Little is known of the preceptory's history before the 1338 Extent (VCH 1973,93) though the Master (Preceptor) of Poling appears in a 1316 list of landowners in the Eastbourne area (Johnston 1921, 96) and architectural elements at the chapel can be dated to the early 13th century. 

POLING PRECEPTORY IN 1338

The entry for the Bajulia de Palyng  lists a messuagium with a garden and a dovecot worth 20 shillings. The rest of the entry lists revenues from rents, voluntary contributions, labour services and agricultural lands. A number of membris are also listed with their respective values including  a barn (grangia​) atMiddlehurst and a windmill at Isleshamme.


The Reprise lists two ordained brothers, both knights, one being the preceptor. Other personnel include a chaplain, claviger (treasurer), a cook, two boy servants for the preceptor and two clerks, one of whom was based at the preceptory. 

The preceptory was dissolved in 1541 and passed into the hands of Arundel College but became a private residence a few years later. Johnston (1921, 104) published a transcription of a drawing of the much altered chapel in the 1780s and by the late 19th century it had become a farmhouse.