Grade II* building

Ovingdean Rectory built c1804
Photo by JG Davies

This beautiful Georgian residence is in private hands; it is listed Grade II (starred) and is the only starred building in Ovingdean. It has two storeys plus dormer floor and large cellar. It has red mathematical tiles on two sides and cobbles on the other two. Its porch has Doric columns and a pediment.

We know that a rectory existed on this site in 1445 and that the rectory of 1662 had ‘three hearths’. In 1780 the building was described as ‘a mean thatched Parsonage house’ and ‘only proper for a labouring Man’. In 1805 the then building was demolished and the present erected by the Revd John Marshall, the wealthy incumbent. It cost ‘upward of £2,000’ to build, a princely sum at that time.

The Revd John Marshall
In c1825 the Revd Marshall built Rectory Cottage for his son John who was also a clergyman and acted as his father’s curate. John Marshall senior died in 1835 and his son became Rector of Ovingdean serving until his untimely death by suicide in 1841. In 1949 the Rector, the Revd Alfred Stead, carried out further improvements which included the provision of a water closet. The last Rector to live in The Rectory was the Revd John B. Milne; it was sold when he left the parish in 1976.

Notice of an auction in 1841
On the death of the Revd J.W.H. Marshall in 1841, The Rectory was presented for sale. Shown below is the notice of the auction – it allows us a fascinating glimpse into the history of the building.

‘OVINGDEAN RECTORY THE MUCH ADMIRED RECTORY ON THE SUSSEX COAST NEAR BRIGHTON TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION BY MR. CREASY The Perpetual Advowson of, and next Presentation to, The Dishcharged Rectory of Ovindean, situate in the Archdeaconry of Lewes and Diocese of Chichester, and in the most beautiful and healthy part of the southern coast in the County of Sussex, about two miles from Brighton, subject to the life of the present incumbent, who is now in the 78th year.

It comprises an appropriate Rectory House, fitted with peculiar domestic comforts, approached by a carriage drive under an avenue of Limes, skirted by a quick hedge. In front of the residence is a Plantation and a Lawn on which is placed a Conservatory. It includes two Kitchens, detached Wash House or Brewery, all necessary Offices and Stores, capital Cellars, a Dining Room, Drawing Room and Study, has two staircases leading to seven Sleeping Chambers, and at a little distance a large room adapted to a Pupil Room or Library; a very productive walled Garden, a Kitchen Garden and a Grove intersected with Pleasure Walks, communicating with a Summer House on the summit, overlooking the Church, The Rectory, the Village, the Downs and on to the sea.

The Out-offices are a four stall Stable, Carriage House, and other appointments; also a Tithe Barn, which may now be pulled down. Near to the Rectory House is a Cottage Orné [a comfortable picturesque small country residence to distinguish it from a labourer’s cottage] built on the Glebe with appurtenances, designed for a Curate, which is abundant with comforts and has all Offices, Kitchen, Parlour, Drawing Room, two staircases.

The Church Yard adjoins and forms the perfect Estate, without intruding on any other property. Upwards of £2,000 were judiciously laid out on the buildings by the Father of the late Incumbent, and everything is in good order. The Tithes extend to over 1,643 acres of land, are commuted for the sum of £382 a year, payable by three persons. The Rates and Taxes amount to about £30 per year; Land Tax £8 per year.

The population of the parish, by the 1841 census, was 116. It is impossible for any Church Preferment on the Southern Coast to be more happily placed than this Rectory. It lies about a mile from the mighty Ocean, nestling in peace and quietude on the bosom of one of the Coombs of the Magnificent Downs, (between which the village is situated) and forcibly conveys to the mind feelings harrowed by the sacred duties to which it is devoted.

May be viewed by tickets only, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from two to five o’clock, which may be had of the Auctioneer, and full particulars to be had a the Auction Mart, London, of Mr. Lahee, New Bond Street, London, or of Messrs Freeman and Cornford, Solicitors, Ship Street, and of Mr. Creasy, North Street, Brighton.’

Notes on Revd Stead’s alterations 1887-89
The following is an extract from a notebook which belonged to the Revd Stead, it was written sometime between 1887 and 1889. The Revd Alfred Stead, M.A. was Rector of Ovingdean from 1844 until his death on the 5th of September 1889. This notebook was a very important document as it contained a great deal of information which allows us to date some of the work done in the restoration of the church:

‘On taking possession of the Rectory it was found very inconvenient in its internal arrangements. There was no soft water to be had, and every grate in the house smoked almost beyond endurance. This miserable state of things was cured by an intelligent workman from Palmer and Green’s of North Street, Brighton, but at considerable expense.

I have said that there was no soft water to be had on the premises. So the next thing to be done was to make a soft water tank in the kitchen yard, holding about 2300 gallons. At first the tank was filled from the Rectory House and premises only, but after Mr. Wood had made a trench round the Church, the water which ran from the roof of the Church was guided by earthenware pipes into the tank. The roof of the larger Rectory being what is called in some places a dish, or well roof, at a violent storm of rain or snow was apt to overflow, and thus the house was never safe from an inundation.

Being thus annoyed I decided to rearrange the interior of the Rectory House and to place a different roof on it. When this was decided a Mr. R. Hussey, an architect residing in London, was consulted and by clearing away a large kitchen chimney running through the centre of the building; making a brewhouse into a back kitchen, clearing away a second staircase, placing a new window in the drawing room, and a new roof, the house, almost on the same foundation was rendered in the year 1849, a comfortable residence for a moderately sized family, at an expense of £410.’

Comments about this page

  • I was most interested in your details of the Rectory and the incumbent, Rev John Marshall. I have been researching his wife’s family – her father, John Cragg, and my ancestor, Joseph Cragg, were brothers. Jane Cragg, as she was, and her siblings inherited from Rear-Admiral Isaac Smith who, as a cabin boy, was on the Endeavour with Captain Cook and was told by Cook – ‘You go first Isaac’ and so Isaac was the first Englishman to set foot on the east coast of Australia. He evidently dined out on the story for years. Isaac’s cousin was Elizabeth Cook and therefore Captain Cook’s wife. Her mother and his father, from what information we have, were sister and brother. Isaac’s sister, Ursula, who died when her children were quite young was John Cragg’s wife and Jane’s mother. John never re-married and the children were raised very much within the Smith family of Isaac and his brother Charles. John had been apprenticed to Charles as a watchmaker in London. I believe that Jane’s father, John Cragg, is buried at Ovingdean and I was wondering if anyone would know what happened to Jane and her children after the Reverend’s death? How sad that he committed suicide – are there any theories as to why? I have tried to outline this as briefly as possible so I do hope that it makes sense. Thank you for the opportunity to comment and also for the most interesting web-site. It has helped to fill in quite a few gaps in my research.

    By Ruth Slater (22/06/2005)
  • I am fascinated and appreciative of the information about the Rectory. I have recently learned that Rev. Alfred Stead is a relative. We believe his father was brother to our first Stead immigrant to America. I am interested in learning all I can about Rev. Stead, his family, his religious training, his tenure at St. Wulfran’s. I would like to learn other details in the notebook Rev. Stead left. Are he and his wife Emma buried at St. Wulfran’s? Any information would be gratefully appreciated!

    By Martha Stead (20/05/2006)
  • Referring to the comment by Ruth Slater, I would like to know if there is an email address that I might be able to contact her.
    I have been researching the West family, and have just discovered that Christopher Matthew Shaw West married the eldest daughter of Rev. J.H.W.Marshall, May 17, 1852 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. I do have a bit of information on their life and children. One of their children is buried along with his grandfather, Christopher Brooks West in Teddington, Middlesex, England. Hoping that others may have more information – please contact me with any information that I may have.

    By Judy Anderson (29/03/2008)
  • I am a pocket watch collector and watchmaker/repairman and I purchased a pocket watch by John Cragg a few years ago. I was wondering if this is the same John Cragg that was the watchmaker in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. This watch is fully jeweled and it came with a documented letter stating each family member that owned the watch over the 200 years. Always looking for more information on John Cragg.

    By William Karris (03/09/2008)
  • William – the John Cragg who made the watch is related. This is a watchmaking tradition that develops in Horsham, Sussex although it then partly progresses to Bunhill Row near Old Street Station in London.

    By Simon Kyte (21/12/2008)
  • Please also let me know about the 200 years of history of the watch

    By Simon Kyte (21/12/2008)
  • Simon and William: I’ve recently discovered that John Cragg was the brother of my great, great, great, great grandfather. John was born in 1765 and was educated at Christ’s Hospital and started there on 17 June 1773. In those days the school was in Hertford not Horsham. John’s father, also John, was gardener to one of the governors of the school. John was apprenticed as a watch maker on his 14th birthday in October 1779 for seven years to Charles Smith of Dove Court Lombard Street, London (consideration of £20!). John I believe was actually based in Southampton making watches and then later London (Bunhill Row 1799 – 1811), but did make some while in Horsham, although these must be quite rare as he didn’t spend alot of time in Horsham according to the records. He died at an address in High Street, Croydon 1839. Thomas Cragg the brother of John and was a watch and clock maker and was based in Horsham, where he had a business on West Street in premises sold to him by Cornelius Muzzell II in 1806 (the Muzzell family were noted clockmakers in Horsham at this time and were ckearly friends as their son worked with John for some ofthe time he was in Southampton). I have copies of two adverts he placed in the Sussex Weekly Advertiser 8/12/1794 and 19/12/1796 for apprentices. Thomas lived between 1771 and 1814 (43 years). John died in High Street Croydon in 1839. I hope this is of interest. I would certainly be interested in knowing a bit more about the watch you own and even perhaps seeing it one day if that were ever possible.Kind regards to you for the new year.

    By Jonathan Dewar (29/12/2008)
  • Ruth: I’ve just read your post and see that John and my ancestor Thomas were two of your ancestor’s brothers. Joseph and Richard became linen drapers and the other two watch and clock makers. Richard Joseph and Thomas were volunteers for the Horsham militia in 1798 when an invasion seemed possible. I’ve some information on them if you’re interested. I can be contacted on

    By Jonathan Dewar (29/12/2008)
  • I would be happy to post some pictures of the watch, but not sure if it is possible on this website. I have been traveling to Newcastle for business and next time I travel I will have to bring it. I sent pictures to the London watch museum and they were impressed with the watch and history of the letter. I can be contacted at

    By William Karris (11/01/2009)
  • We have a pocket watch signed by John Cragg with address in London. Please feel free to email me and I will send photographs and detail.

    By Mari Hazledine-Barber (18/01/2009)
  • I am interested in seeing the photos of the pocket watch but can’t see your email address. [Editor’s note: email addresses are not shown unless the contributor chooses to include them in their comment].

    By Simon Kyte (29/04/2009)
  • Has anyone thought about contacting the excelent Horsham Museum with pictures of these pocket watches? They have at least one (maybe two) there and a few years ago there was quite a good aricle about the Craggs and the Muzells (don’t know if I have spelled that correctly). Maybe with a few more pictures of watches etc they could piece togther the Cragg brothers’ lives a bit more. Can’t recommend the museum, the staff and the archive there enough.

    By Simon Kyte (30/04/2009)
  • For Simon Kyte: I am researching a watchmaker who worked on Banner Street, Bunhill Row, during 1800 – 1810. In a prior post, you indicated that the watchmaking trade moved to Bunhill Row around that time. Could you provide me with the books, texts or other resources you were relying upon for that information so that perhaps I can use them for my project. I am in the U.S. You can reach me at Thank you.

    By Alan Shapiro (19/12/2009)
  • My mother is a Patricia Cragg and I was given a watch inscibed inside with the name John Cragg, it has Vauxhall, London in it. The outer case is not gold in colour, but sliver, perhaps a later addition. John Cragg, I am sure is a relative of mine and I understand we have links with Captain Cook’s wife. Love to hear from anyone linked to the family line.

    By Craig Fox (02/06/2012)
  • Just read through the articles again and I still find it very interesting to say the least.  It has been a few years since my last posting.  The John Cragg pocket watch I spoke of is one of the finest watches I own.  The case is 18k gold and the balance jewel is capped with a rose cut diamond.  I believe the family that purchased the watch originally must have been looking for something special.  The letter that accompanied the watch detailed the travels and ownership.

    By William Karris (07/12/2013)
  • I work for an auctioneer here in Jordan, Ontario, Canada and we are doing an auction for an estate where the gentleman came from England. I am researching a watercolour painting that is in the sale with the initials EMM 83 in the bottom left hand corner.  Research has led me to here.
    Rev. John William Henry Marshall’s daughter born in Feb. 1841 just a month before her father’s suicide. A former comment had inquired about the surviving widow Jane and the three daughters. Research has revealed that Emily Mary was a wonderful watercolour painter who travelled to Europe and many parts of Britain painting street scenes, seascapes and landscapes. The research is an ongoing detail but I was very glad that there was so much info found here in regards to her family.
    If anyone wishes to contact me about the painting or my findings feel free to email me

    By Susan McShannon Monteith (09/03/2016)
  • Hi Susan.  Emily Marshall was born 15th February 1841, the daughter of the Reverend John William Henry Marshall, rector of Ovingdean. Sadly her father committed suicide by hanging himself in a wash-room on 23rd March of that same year. She was raised by her mother Jane and became well-travelled. She was an accomplished and prolific artist, painting mainly watercolour scenes from her travels in France, Belgium, Holland and Italy, together with English countryside scenes.
    She had an eye for detail, painting everything from architecture to boats with an unerring accuracy and her work competently fluctuated in style from artistic, highly detailed and atmospheric simplicity to moody complexity in her portrayal of skies and seascapes. She captured people going about their everyday work, and street scenes incorporating significant or ancient buildings and monuments with considerable ease. She also effortlessly reproduced the essence and period of each place and scene and displayed her extreme competence with the use of perspective.
    In 1911 she was living at 19, Brighton Road, Crawley with a long-term companion, Fanny Smith. She died at ‘Crow Lien’, Brighton Road, Ifield, Sussex on 14th February 1917 and left an estate of £16,255. She was interred at Ovingdean and is commemorated on the Marshal memorial plaque on the north wall of the tower.

    By Andy Grant (11/03/2016)
  • Thank you so much Andy for all your info. I know one of Emily’s sisters married a West as her two nephews who were Wests, the one carrying his Grandfather’s name were also artists. I believe one sister was Louisa Marie b. 1830 who appeared in the 1861 census living with Jane their Mother and Emily. In the 1871 census she appeared along with their Mother Jane, Emily Mary  and a gentleman named Jacob Smith.  In 1881 she appeared with Emily and Fanny. Was Fanny Smith who appears in the 1881 census as well as the 1901 and 1911 living in the home with Emily in fact Emily’s sister? I have seen some of Emily’s paintings and they are definitely wonderful. I find it most satisfying for the women painters of that era to stand along side their male counterparts and receive the recognition they deserve. As you stated in your comment she died leaving a substantial estate as well as a legacy of beautiful, intricate paintings to be enjoyed by all. Perhaps one day I shall come to see the plaque you wrote of to connect the woman with the painting I am researching.

    By Susan McShannon Monteith (18/03/2016)
  • Hi Susan. If you have any paintings that you don’t mind sharing, the site always welcomes such contributions that others might enjoy them. Regards, Andy

    By Andy Grant (22/03/2016)
  • Google John and Ursula Cragg and their family 1810. 

    By Simon Kyte (26/04/2016)
  • My husband’s West family did indeed marry into the Marshall Family. Christopher Matthew Shaw West married Sarah Jane Marshall. I have seen some of Emily Marshall’s watercolours at an antique store, in Stow-on-the- Wold.
    I have to look at my paperwork and my West family tree to confirm, but I believe Smiths were relatives. So, Fanny Smith was possibly a cousin. I believed a Charles Smith, her uncle, signed on Sarah Jane Marshall’s wedding certificate.  Fanny Smith could also have been her sister, will have to check my records.
    Would love to communicate with anyone who may be interested in this family. We are in Ditchling right now, travelling from Surrey, B.C. Canada and are hoping to get to Ovingdean either today or tomorrow. I am not sure which church to visit to see records and the rectory and where exactly Emily Marshall was buried. Would love the exact cemetery please?
    Yes, the Smith family and the Cook family were related also.
    So glad I found this site again, as I was searching for records on Rev. John William Marshall.
    My email address is

    By Judy Anderson (22/10/2016)

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