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Historically Earnley was situated in the hundred of La Manwode or Manwood, now known under the form Manhood, after a locality in the parish which was the meeting place for the hundred moot and other hundred business. It lay in the ancient pre-Conquest division of Sussex known as the Rape (county subdivision) of Chichester.
The mediæval lords of the manor here belonged to the Ernle, Ernley, or Erneley family, and derived their surname from a manor they held in this parish, which they were granted in 1166 by their kinsfolk in the de Lancing family.
Earnley Church is a grade II* listed church and together with its small graveyard is contained within retaining stone walls of an interesting boat shaped island of land. The nave is of 13th century origin. A century later the chancel was added; an aumbry fitted with a carved door dates back to the 14th century. The first recorded rector was in office in 1365; parish registers survive from 1562, but there is no record of a dedication. It has always simply been "Earnley Church".
Part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest Bracklesham Bay runs along the coastline of the parish.
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