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Changing Times | The history of the village of Lavant

Lavant is a village within the southern boundary of the South Downs National Park, which lies two miles north of Chichester.


The name of the village comes from the local river, the River Lavant, which is usually dry through the summer months. It was diverted by the Romans to flow around the southern walls of Chichester and then west into Chichester Harbour.


Lavant was formerly two parishes, East Lavant (which included West Lavant) and Mid Lavant. The two parishes were assessed for the Domesday book in 1086.


East Lavant comprised of 26 households, 15 villagers and 11 smallholders. It also had ploughing land, 26 acres of meadows and a mill. It had a value to the lord of the manor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of £18 a year. Mid Lavant had 20 households, ten villagers and 10 smallholders. It also had ploughing land and a mill. It had an annual value of £9.


Lavant has two medieval churches, St Mary’s and St Nicholas. St Mary’s Church consists of a 12th century nave and has had regular additions and alterations throughout the years. In 1671, a brick tower was added to the south of the Nave and the church was restored in 1863. St Nicholas’ Church dates from the 12th century. However, the church building has been substantially modified so that nowadays there are only parts of the nave and chancel which date from the 12th and 13th century.


The ‘Earl of March’ public house dates back to the early 18th century and was originally named The Bat and Ball. It served as a coaching inn on the main Chichester to Midhurst road. William Blake the visionary artist and poet was known to have been a regular visitor to Lavant, visiting local resident Miss Poole. It is believed that Blake wrote the words to ‘Jerusalem’ in 1803, while sitting in the bay window of the pub.


The 200-year-old Royal Oak public house accommodates overnight guests. The site is allegedly haunted with various stories being told. One such story describes a bearded man who was found dead in the inn at the start of the 19th century and now allegedly haunts the back rooms and can be heard climbing the stairs at night.


The other story comes from a previous owner of the site that claims to have seen the ghost of a pale woman in a white dress on several occasions, standing at the foot of her bed.


Lavant railway station opened in 1881 on the former London Brighton and South Coast Railway line between Midhurst and Chichester. Passenger services ceased in 1935, however, freight services continued until 1970. The line is now Centurion Way and is used by walkers and cyclists.


Lavant did have its own shop and post office but these closed in 2008 after nearly 100 years of trading. A post office is managed now in the old vestry of St Nicholas Church.


Lavant Memorial Hall was built in 1921 as a memorial to those who died in the First World War. Over the years, enlargements and additions have been made, including the expansion of the hall in 1973 and an extension in 1994. The hall was badly affected by flooding in 1994 and 2013, so enhanced flood defences were installed in 2014.


In 1997, prior to the construction of a water pipeline connecting reservoirs near Chalkpit Lane with facilities at Funtington and Slindon, archaeological investigations discovered a complex of concentric ditches forming a Neolithic henge monument, just west of Chalkpit Lane. Within the outer ditch archaeologists discovered a curiously large number of red deer antlers, suggesting it may have been used by a ‘red deer cult’.


A curious chalk ‘drum’ was also found during the excavations. Three other similar items were found in 1889 near the village of Folkton in Yorkshire. These now reside in the British Museum collections. Dating from the Neolithic, new research suggests they may have been designed as prehistoric ‘tape measures’ for use in the construction of monuments.


Slightly earlier, in 1993, prior to the construction of one of the reservoirs, a small settlement of between 10 and 13 Iron Age roundhouses, with associated granaries, was also discovered to the right of Chalkpit Lane.


By Pat Saunders, volunteer, and Amanda Rogan, learning officer, at the Novium Museum


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