Heritage Website – History & Architecture

The year 2003 marked 900 years in the history of the Church of St Mary de Haura, New Shoreham. The church was founded by Philip de Braose, whose father, William, had fought with William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The church today is Grade I listed.


As a young Norman baron, Philip de Braose probably campaigned in the First Crusade (1096–99) in Jerusalem. It is recorded that he had returned to England by 1103, when he presented the church to the Abbey of St Florent, Saumur (mid-west France). In the 15th century, the patronage passed to Magdalen College, Oxford.

The original Norman church of c. 1100 consisted of the lower stage of the tower, the transepts, a nave of unknown length (probably aisleless), and a chancel with an apsidal (semi-circular) end. Around 1130–40, the nave was enlarged by the addition of aisles. Of these works, the tower and transepts alone have survived intact, the chancel having been redesigned by the end of the 12th century and the nave falling into disrepair from the late medieval period.

Plan of St Mary's Church

Plan of St Mary's Church showing ruined nave
and south porch by Michael Norman

Font and Crossing

The Norman font is carved with different designs on all four sides, and would have originally stood at the back of the nave.

The font today is under the tower crossing, four joined arches which support the huge weight of the tower above. Three of these form part of the original Norman church of c. 1100, and are plain and without ornate carving.

The arch nearest the entrance is particularly impressive in both height and decoration, and dates to the extension of the nave, c. 1130–40.


St Mary's was designed with two transepts, which were used as chapels in medieval times. They have small rounded windows at high level, characteristic of the Norman period. In 1947, the north transept was reordered as a Memorial Chapel. It is open daily for private prayer.


In the second half of the 12th century, the Norman chancel was taken down and replaced by the present chancel. This is much larger, consisting of five bays on three levels, and built in the Transitional style between Norman (rounded arches) and Gothic (pointed arches). Both the chancel and its aisles are vaulted in stone, supported by flying buttresses. These features are most unusual for a parish church.

Chancel looking east

The columns in the chancel arcade are different on either side. Those on the north side are alternately round and octagonal (similar to the arrangement in Canterbury Cathedral choir), while those on the south side are of a more complex shape and uniform design. The capitals (at the top of the columns) on both sides are richly decorated with foliage, some as if blown by the wind.

Chancel capitals

Chancel capital

On the first octagonal column on the north side is an ornate cross carved into the stone. This is thought to commemorate a visit by the Patriarch of Jerusalem or some other important person at the time of the rebuilding of the chancel.

South Chancel Aisle

In the vaulted ceiling of the south chancel aisle there are at intervals three separate faces with branches coming out of their mouths. Known traditionally as 'Green Men', such carvings appear in medieval buildings throughout Europe and further afield, although their significance is still not fully understood.

A little further along the south chancel aisle are two brasses. These full-length portraits depict a civilian and his wife in a style of clothes fashionable around 1450. Although their names are unknown, they appear to be among the wealthiest of New Shoreham's inhabitants, the man most likely having been a merchant in the town during the 15th century. They were buried in the chancel where their grave was marked on the floor with these brasses.

Mass (Scratch) Dial

An indication of the organisation and ritual of the medieval services at St Mary's is offered by the presence of an incised 'mass dial' (or 'scratch dial') on the south face of the westernmost flying buttress, on the exterior of the south aisle of the chancel. This early form of sundial was used by a priest to calculate the time of services (mass), by placing a gnomon or small rod into the central hole of the circular of semi-circular dial to cast a shadow.

The position of the mass dial, close to the (now-blocked) medieval priest's door towards the east of the chancel, suggests that this dial may have been used by a chantry priest, who might have required to enter into that bay of the chancel south aisle at particular times. It may otherwise have been used by the parish priest, who may have entered the chancel through the priest's door, whilst the parishioners entered the nave via the south porch. Further details of the medieval mass dial can be found on the Historical Articles page.

Medieval Paint

The medieval interior of St Mary's was originally painted, in natural pigments of red and yellow ochre, chalk white, and carbon black, and lead pigments in red and white. This decorative paintwork was applied to all the architectural features in the chancel following its completion in c. 1210, most likely under the direction of the master mason.

Two main schemes were employed, the first in red and black in bands and solid blocks, and the second in yellow with coloured dots to imitate marble. A similar scheme of red and black paint was applied within nearby Chichester Cathedral around the 1240s. An article on the medieval paint has been published in the Archaeological Journal vol. 163.

Oyster Shell Colour-Dish

Evidence of the Norman artists who worked within St Mary's has also been discovered, in the form of an oyster shell colour-dish, mortared into the inside face of the north aisle wall of the ruined nave. Paint analysis has shown the contents of this shell 'paint pot' to be yellow ochre, the same material used to paint parts of the church interior.

Subsequent radiocarbon dating of the shell has shown that the shell itself dates from c. 717–910 (the mid- to late Saxon period), suggesting that it was historic at the time of use as a paint container. On current evidence, this colour-dish represents the oldest dated example, and the oldest dish found in physical association with a building, from medieval Britain. An article discussing this rare object has been published in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association vol. 163; the shell is on public display in Marlipins Museum, Shoreham-by-Sea. Further details of the medieval colour-dish can be found on the Historical Articles page.

Ruined Nave

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the town of New Shoreham diminished both in size and wealth. At this time, the sea advanced so far inland that more than half of the medieval town was swallowed up and destroyed. The River Adur was also becoming heavily silted, preventing trade vessels from arriving or departing from the port.

The ruin at the back of the churchyard is all that remains of the back wall of St Mary's Norman nave. This part of the church was used by the town's inhabitants at services, and (unlike the chancel) was their financial responsibility. It would appear that in the late medieval period, there were too few townsfolk to maintain their part of the church, which was even larger than the chancel, leaving it to fall into disrepair. Further details of the ruined Norman nave can be found on the Historical Articles page.

A public interpretation panel has been erected within the ruined nave, in 2010, which displays information to parishioners, visitors, and passers-by on the history and loss of the Norman nave.

Ruined South Porch

From the ruin towards the church entrance, it is possible to trace the outline of the nave south wall – it appears as a long strip of raised ground. Halfway along this wall stood a large south porch, built in the 14th century. It most likely collapsed with the nave around the 17th century and is almost entirely invisible today (it extends under the Hospitallers' Garden). The porch was excavated in 1915, when medieval floor tiles were discovered.

Present West Front

Documents in the later 17th century record that a large part of the nave had collapsed. In 1677, emergency repair work, marked by a lead plaque, was carried out on the chancel roof by the two churchwardens, Richard Herring and William Harfill.

By the early 18th century, more permanent action was taken. No longer safe for services, and with limited funds, it appears that the remaining nave was demolished and some of the surviving stone, flint, brick and tile used to 'patch up' the present entrance. The four round columns near this entrance remain in place from the c. 1130–40 nave (though now outside), but the carved pointed doorway appears to have been moved from either the south porch or the original Norman west end.

Post-Medieval Graffiti

During the 17th century, a considerable amount of post-medieval graffiti were deeply cut into the south-east chancel piers in St Mary's. The designs are distinct, with houses or small churches framing the initials of the carver and the year in which it was cut (similar 17th-century graffiti occur at Chichester Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey, including motifs such as hands (or perhaps gloves), shoes, and shirt or jacket cuffs).

A large proportion of such graffiti occurred at St Mary's in the year 1669, the last year of the ministry of the Intruded Minister under the Commonwealth, Thomas Hallett (1651–70), and the year before the arrival of the Anglican Curate-in-Charge, Peter Wynn (then Rector of Southwick). It seems likely, then, that these marks may have been made by dissenting members of St Mary's parish. It may also have been they who shortly afterwards departed for America (perhaps from Shoreham itself), to start a Puritan settlement in the New World – a 'New Shoreham' was founded on Block Island, New England, in 1672 (2–3 years later). A short article on these graffiti has been published in Current Archaeology 206.

Text: Giles Standing/Jeremy Goldsmith

Photos: Giles Standing

Stained Glass Windows

By the beginning of the 13th century, when St Mary's was finally completed, the craft of stained glass design and manufacture was widespread throughout England but we have no record of windows in our church at this time or later. Not until the late 18th century did artists such as Thomas Willement start to research and revive the techniques of medieval glass making, and a single window of his design was first placed over the altar in St Mary's in 1832.

Restoration work on the church between 1876 and 1879 saw the windows at the east end re-opened and the smaller windows in the north and south aisles returned to their original Norman design. Stained glass was added throughout, in memory of Shoreham families of the time, including three fine large windows for the relatives of the benefactor Thomas Dyer-Edwardes. All the glass was obtained from the workshops of Heaton, Butler & Bayne, WG Taylor and Cox & Sons. Later additions to the east end and St George's chapel came from the renowned firm of Kempe, which originated in Brighton. Diane Smart's de Braose window is the only 20th century example and was produced by Goddard & Gibbs. Further details of the stained glass windows can be found on the Historical Articles page.

Christ the Consoler window

Christ the Consoler window

Text: Marion Standing

Photos: Ray Hopper

Historical Articles

View further information on the history
of St Mary de Haura and New Shoreham

De Braose window

De Braose window in St Mary's
by Diane Smart (1953)

Church exterior

Norman font

Norman transept

Chancel looking west

Chancel vault

Medieval incised cross

Green Man

Medieval brasses

Medieval mass dial

Medieval paint in St Mary's chancel

Medieval oyster shell colour-dish

Ruined nave in churchyard

Ruined back wall of nave

1677 lead plaque

West front

1669 graffiti

1669 graffiti

Willement window

Willement window

Annunciation window

Annunciation window

Kempe window

Kempe window