New Shoreham


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer


1386Richard Bernard
 William Corveyser
1388 (Feb.)Richard Bernard
 Simon Benefeld
1388 (Sept.)Richard Bernard
 John Skully
1390 (Jan.)Richard Bernard
 Simon Benefeld
1390 (Nov.)
1391Robert Frye I
 John Skully
1393Richard Bernard
 John Skully
1395Richard Bernard
 Simon Benefeld
1397 (Jan.)Robert Frye I
 Simon Benefeld
1397 (Sept.)Gregory Fromond
 William Hulle II
1399Robert Frye I
 John Soper
1402William Ede
 Roger Farncombe
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406William Hokere
 William Peck
1407John atte Gate
 John Skully
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)William Ede
 John Draper I
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)William Ede
 Robert Benefeld
1416 (Mar.)William Askewith
 John Draper I
1416 (Oct.)
1417Richard Dammer
 Adam Feret
1421 (May)
1421 (Dec.)John Findon
 Richard Roger

Main Article

New Shoreham, planted after the Norman Conquest at the mouth of the river Adur, near the Saxon village of Old Shoreham, became one of the most important Channel ports of the 12th and 13th centuries, and at a stage in its history even threatened to oust Chichester as the county town. It frequently provided ships for royal service: in the 1340s as many as 21 vessels manned by 300 men at a time. But thereafter the port declined. The outlet to the sea immediately to the south-west was sometimes blocked (as in the 1360s); and the shingle bar did not always protect the estuary, so that the eastern part of the town was subjected to destruction by the sea. The population fell dramatically during our period. It was claimed in a petition addressed to the Parliament of May 1421 that whereas in the early 14th century New Shoreham had contained over 500 inhabitants, there then remained just 36 impoverished residents in a place all but ‘surounde par la mere’. In 1368 the lord of New Shoreham had received only 40s. as tolls, and a total income from the town of less than £20 (which compared unfavourably with the early 13th century farm of £70 a year). The fall in estimated revenues continued in our period, declining from £19 in 1400 to £17 in 1403, and then to a mere £5 3s.4d. by 1424.1

The lordship of New Shoreham had descended, like Bramber, from the de Braoses to the Mowbrays. In earlier and more prosperous times the borough had been governed by a mayor and bailiffs, and in 1325 the burgesses had petitioned (albeit unsuccessfully) for their own royal charter. But the mayor is not mentioned after the 1340s, and in the 15th century there was but a single bailiff.2 New Shoreham had been regularly represented in Parliament from 1295 onwards, but as the port declined in importance so did its representation become more sporadic. Returns survive for only 18 of the 32 Parliaments summoned between 1386 and 1421, gaps occurring not only when the returns for all the Sussex boroughs are lost, but also for the Parliaments of 1401, 1419, 1420 and May 1421 when other places in the county are known to have sent Members. Clearly, on those occasions either the sheriff did not consider New Shoreham to be of sufficient note to be represented, or else the burgesses failed to respond to his precept. The names of 20 MPs are recorded, of whom half apparently only sat once. The gaps in the returns create difficulties when it comes to determining whether previous parliamentary experience was a factor taken into account when the burgesses made their selection. Nevertheless, it would seem that whereas in Richard II’s reign men with some prior knowledge of the workings of the Commons were preferred to those with none, under Henry IV and Henry V the reverse was apparently the case. Thus, Robert Frye I was returned to four Parliaments between 1385 and 1399, John Skully to four between 1382 and 1393 (and to another in 1407), Simon Benefeld to nine between 1381 and 1397, and Richard Bernard to ten between 1377 and 1395. All seven of the Parliaments in which both Members are known to have been experienced fell in the years 1388 to 1397, whereas the four in which New Shoreham was apparently represented entirely by novices all came later (in 1402, 1406, 1417 and December 1421). Similarly, re-election is only known to have happened in Richard II’s reign: Bernard sat in four Parliaments running (1386-90), and Skully was re-elected in 1393 and Benefeld in 1397 (Jan.). Then, too, certain experienced pairs were returned together: Bernard and Benefeld in February 1388, January 1390 and 1395; Bernard and Skully in September 1388 and 1393. It may be that as the town’s economy deteriorated and its inhabitants withdrew, so local interest in parliamentary affairs was diminished. Certainly, the borough came to be represented more often by nonentities as our period progressed: all four of those Members who remain unidentified sat after 1413.

Apart from the families of Bernard (Richard may have been the son of John) and Benefeld (Simon was quite likely the father of Robert), there is nothing to indicate the growth of a tradition of parliamentary service for New Shoreham. However, 12 of the 16 who have been convincingly identified did live there, or at least held property locally. In the late 14th century, when Shoreham was still the principal port for central Sussex, several of the MPs were shipowners and traders (for example Bernard and Frye). In all, eight of New Shoreham’s Members are known to have developed mercantile interests. But as the port fell more into disuse, so the borough’s representation came to be taken over by landowners from the surrounding area, men who held minor royal offices in the customs service or in the county at large. Such were William Hulle II (1397), who possessed land at Lancing and elsewhere and served as deputy butler and tax collector; Robert Benefeld (1414) who, even though he had family links with Shoreham, lived at Portslade, served in an undefined way in the countess of Arundel’s estate administration and was described as ‘gentleman’; and Richard Dammer (1417 and later), perhaps a lawyer by profession, who was subsequently employed as a coroner in Sussex for at least 12 years. It happened twice that New Shoreham returned someone currently engaged in tasks on behalf of the Crown: in 1395, when Simon Benefeld, collector of customs at Chichester, was elected; and in September 1397 when it was the turn of Hulle, at that time deputy butler in all the west Sussex ports. The names of the bailiffs of New Shoreham are for the most part not known for our period; certainly none of the parliamentary burgesses are recorded as holding this office. And although Simon Benefeld acted first as farmer and then as reeve of the manor of Old Shoreham, which pertained to the duchy of Cornwall, he did not do so until after his parliamentary service was over.

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. VCH Suss. vi (1), 138-40, 142, 156-7; RP, iv. 159-60; CIPM, xii. 397; xviii. 288, 908.
  • 2. VCH Suss. vi (1), 149, 165.