Boxgrove Priory – a Sussex secret

A stroll focused on one of Sussex’s finest but surprisingly little-known churches, once a medieval priory.


Boxgrove Priory


1.5 miles (2.4kms)

35ft (10m)

About the walk

Situated east of the village street in a peaceful and pretty setting, Boxgrove Priory is one of the finest churches in Sussex. Being only a few miles from Chichester’s magnificent cathedral, it has been over shadowed in all ways. Its chief glory is the choir, or eastern arm, that was rebuilt soon after 1200, replacing a smaller Norman one. On a sumptuous scale, the new choir took the choir of Portsmouth Cathedral of the 1190s as its model, and developed the design of two arches enclosed within a larger one to visual perfection. Elegant stone-ribbed roof vaults soar above and the superb arcades make use of Purbeck marble from Dorset for columns, shafts and capitals. The columns get steadily more elegant and airy as you approach the high altar – a brilliantly executed device of great symbolic power.

The Priory was founded around 1115 as a cell of Lessay Abbey in the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy. The founder was the lord of nearby Halnaker, Robert de la Haye, whose family also came from near Lessay. Of his building the transepts and first bays of the nave survive as well as the chapter house west wall to the north. A nave beyond the Norman bays was built later in the 12th century, but demolished after the Priory was dissolved in 1536.

‘A poor chapel’

The choir was saved in 1536 thanks to Thomas De La Warr of Halnaker. In a letter to Thomas Cromwell, he begs for ‘his power (poor) chapel to be buried yn’ and that the choir be spared demolition. So while you admire the choir, also admire the chantry chapel in the south choir aisle that – in effect – saved this wonderful church from destruction.

As an added bonus the choir vaults were painted with heraldic shields and scrolling foliage. The artist was Lambert Barnard, probably commissioned by De La Warr in the 1530s. Barnard is better known for the huge wooden panels in Chichester Cathedral depicting the kings of England and the bishops of Chichester.

Walk directions

From the car park bear right along the village street a short way, then, opposite the 18th-century almshouses bear left, signed 'Boxgrove Priory', along a metalled track between flint and brick walls. The track bears right. On the left are the ruins of the 14th-century priory guest house that you can visit via a gate. After this go towards the priory church and through a hedge gap to pass in front of the chapter house front wall with its three Norman arches. Turn right to go through a gate and bear left through an archway to visit the priory, entering it through the south porch.

Leave the priory church by heading down the main path to the south gate in front of a thatched cottage and turn left through a kissing gate to walk alongside the churchyard’s flint boundary wall. Continue ahead across a field.

At a footpath post bear left along a field track, a large field to your right and Halnaker's restored 18th-century windmill on the skyline ahead. Continue ahead past a footpath post, now on a path and ignore paths to the right and then left at footpath signposts, as you go along an avenue of young trees, mostly rowan, lime and ash. The path bears left by a telegraph pole and, reaching a footpath fork, by the corner of a wooden fence, take the left fork. 

Carefully cross the main road, heading towards a flint archway, the early 19th-century southeast gateway to the Goodwood Estate. The main road follows the course of the old Roman road from London to Chichester, Stane (stone or paved) Street. Here you can divert right to visit The Anglesey Arms. By the archway, turn left along the lane, a view of Chichester Cathedral’s spire ahead.

At a footpath sign go left through a gate and continue half left towards another gate across the field. Through this gate cross the main road, the ruins of the priory guest house and the church tower ahead. Continue along a grassy path and at The Street bear right into the car park.

Additional information

Field tracks and paths, some roads and a village street

The Sussex coastal plain, relatively flat and a mix of arable and pasture

On a lead in Boxgrove and at Halnaker, particularly crossing the busy A285, and through the field after Boxgrove Priory

AA Walker's Map 20 Chichester & The South Downs

Boxgrove Village Hall car park, The Street, Boxgrove

None on route

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