Steyning's historic streets

Once a river port, stroll through Steyning's rich history and visit one of Sussex’s finest parish churches.

NEAREST LOCATION

Steyning

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

1.5 miles (2.4kms)

ASCENT
35ft (10m)
TIME
45min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Easy
STARTING POINT
TQ178112

About the walk

Time for tolls

The clock tower on the old market house at Steyning is a reminder that until 1771 there was a timber-framed market house in the middle of the High Street towards the Church Street junction. This was a market town probably since the 11th century. Tolls were claimed by the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, which then held the church and the manor and consequently controlled Steyning and its market.

Steyning’s superb Norman parish church, with its nave arcade columns and arches richly carved with chevrons, was once much larger. An Anglo-Saxon minster, it was rebuilt by Fécamp Abbey but its transepts, crossing and choir were demolished in the 16th century and only the truncated original nave remains, the decaying chancel being described in 1602 as ‘a common haunt for pigeons’.

Schola Grammatica

Although endowed in 1614 by William Holland, a local boy made good, the grammar school in Church Street is actually much older. Holland took over the old 15th-century guildhall of the Medieval Fraternity of the Holy Trinity that had been dissolved by Henry VIII. With a brick porch erected in 1614, the school is one of the best buildings in Church Street.

A Victorian scandal

On 26 June, 1891, Katherine O’Shea married Charles Stewart Parnell in a house in Church Street. A plaque commemorates this conclusion to a colossal scandal. It was a short marriage as Parnell, his health ruined and his political career as leader of the Irish MPs at Westminster in ruins, died just four months later. The pair had been lovers since the early 1880s and, scandalously, lived together from 1886 but Katharine was still married. Her husband even challenged Parnell to a duel in 1881. Adultery was in those days a very serious matter, and a mortal sin to a scandalised Irish society. Katherine O’Shea was nicknamed by the press and her detractors ‘Kitty’ – in those days slang for a prostitute. Parnell had been forced to resign as leader of the Irish MPs after O’Shea’s husband had sued for divorce in 1889. The scandal kept the Victorian press fully occupied – as it would today.

A poem by ‘Philip Johnson’

Carved on a stone panel by Steyning Museum’s door in Church Street is a poem written by a soldier who survived the Battle of the Somme in World War I. It is a powerful evocation of the town. The writer was actually John Stanley Purvis, the poem having been sent to the papers by a friend under the pseudonym ‘Philip Johnson’: ‘I can't forget the lane that goes from Steyning to the Ring
 In summer time, and on the downs how larks and linnets sing
 High in the sun. The wind comes off the sea, and oh, the air! …’

Walk directions

From the car park head towards Steyning’s Norman church, passing a statue of St Cuthman. Visit the church and leaving it go to its right, staying in the churchyard, to pass round three sides of the building. As you walk along the path behind the church look to your right at Gatewick House, a good Georgian brick house behind a folly gateway. Reaching a path junction just after you pass the tower, bear right to leave the churchyard.

Continue ahead along Tanyard Lane, and follow it past Steyning Health Centre.

At the High Street turn left to gently ascend as the street curves elegantly uphill, passing numerous coffee shops, cafes, tea rooms and pubs. You pass a strange clock turret perching on the gable of a modest tile-hung building. Pass the Church Street junction roundabout and descend the footpath with pebbled margins on the right side of the road, with a wall between you and the road, still in High Street.

Reaching the pair of preserved 19th-century parish pumps, and a horse drinking trough, cross the road and retrace your steps to the Church Street mini-roundabout.

Turn right to walk down Church Street, the prettiest road in the town, with a concentration of timber-framed houses. Pass No 2 where Charles Stewart Parnell, Irish MP, married Kitty O’Shea in 1891, and the Grammar School founded in 1614. Beyond the library car park turn right at the sign to Steyning Centre and Recycling Point to return to the car park, where the local museum has a host of material about the town's past.

Additional information

Town roads and footpaths

Historic townscape, curving streets on gentle slopes

On lead in the town

OS Explorer 122 Brighton & Hove

Steyning Centre Car Park, accessed from Vicarage Lane

In the Steyning Centre adjoining the car park

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WALKING IN SAFETY

Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.

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