The village is a small, quiet community of stone and brick cottages in the High Weald. Its landscape is dominated by the eccentric buildings and constructions of a local Member of Parliament known as Mad Jack Fuller, who died in 1834 and is buried beneath a pyramid which he had built in the churchyard in 1810. Legend asserts that Fuller sits inside the 60’ pyramid, wearing a top hat and holding a bottle of claret.
The grounds of Brightling park are adorned with a rotunda and a classical temple which Fuller had built. He is also responsible for a 40’ obelisk, now known as the Brightling Needle, on the highest point of the district. In order to win a bet that the spire of the neighbouring Dallington Church could be seen from his home, he built a folly tower, sugarloaf in shape like the church spire, within sight of his house. It still stands in a copse beside the road to the south east.
An almost unbroken line of brick-faced old shops and cottages forms the High Street of this outstandingly attractive village, which was once the home of Rudyard Kipling.
Burwash, spread along a ridge between the rivers Rother and Dudwell, was an important centre of the iron industry three centuries ago when the Weald was England's main source of iron ore. The village sign, which shows an ironworker hammering a billet of iron, testifies to the ancient work of the Burwash forgemen who used to celebrate the feast of their patron, St. Clement, on November 23, by hammering gunpowder on their anvils.
Inside St. Bartholomew's Church, at the east end of the village, is a 14th. century iron tomb slab set into a wall at the end of the south aisle. It is claimed to be one of the oldest of its kind in the county. The church has a Norman west tower with twin bell openings.
Kipling wrote that he first saw the house where he was to live, Bateman's, a stone mansion with towering chimneys, when he ventured from the village down "an enlarged rabbit hole of a lane". The description still fits the steep valley lanes there.
The house, now in the possession of the National Trust, was originally built by an ironmaster in 1634. Kipling bought the house in 1902 and it remained his home until his death in 1936. The works he wrote during this period include Puck of Pooks Hill and the poem If. His study remains just as it was when he was alive. Bateman's is reached down a narrow lane which turns south at the western end of the village. Upstream from the house is a watermill, cased in gleaming white weatherboarding, which has been restored to working order. Near by is the water-driven turbine which Kipling had installed in 1902 to light his mansion with electricity.
Good manners, good taste and a rising curve of ancient, red tiled prosperity from the village pond to the church at the top of the hill - that is Goudhurst. Even the Muscovy ducks, waddling beside the pond, share in the general affluence, for they know that should the weather turn inclement they can shelter in their neatly thatched mid-pond dwelling, thoughtfully provided with a ramp running up out of the water. Close by is a pretty tea shop, which a number of notices claim dates back to the 16th. century. Intellectual refreshment, should it be required, may be obtained in the elegant village hall, with its lattice windows and a little white tower, that lies behind the pond.
The beginning of the village street is most attractively framed by the Vine pub on one side and the village store on the other - both buildings in gleaming white timber cladding. Beyond, climbing up and reaching over one another, are the red and gold roofs of the steeply rising street - surely one of the finest massed tributes to the tiler's craft in the country. In many cases the tiles, carved or curved, extend down the walls. The lift of the street shows the whole range of tile marriages: tile with black and white timber framing, tile with sandstone, tile with brick, but always, everywhere, tile lending its glow to the large handsome houses. A slightly incongruous note is struck by the National Westminster Bank beside the Vine, a tiny dolls' house of a building, about the size of a garden shed, in herringbone patterned brick.
Many of the old houses have shops on their ground floors, making it unnecessary for the inhabitants of Goudhurst to travel far in search of supplies. They are also well supplied with pubs, for in addition to the vine there are the Eight Bells and the Star and Eagle, standing next door to each other at the top of a flight of steps at the high end of the street. The Star and Eagle, a late medieval, half timbered building with leaded windows, is particularly fine.
The church door, framed by a neatly clipped yew arch, looks down the street, while the view from the back of the churchyard across the Weald is glorious. It all looks too good to be true - as peaceful a picture of England as any tourist could wish to see. It has been like that for centuries - with occasional interruptions. In 1747, the churchyard was the setting for a spirited battle between the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and the Goudhurst Militia. While it was going on the villagers locked themselves in the church, emerging only when the militia gained the upper hand. The ringleaders of the gang were eventually hanged at Tyburn.
The interior of St. Mary's Church, some of which dates from the early 13th. century, is of massive, plain sandstone, making it look almost like a castle. It is all spaciousness and light, the latter quality being due to two German land mines that removed a considerable amount of gloomy Victorian stained glass during the Second World War.
Among the chief glories of the church - and there are many - are the painted wooden effigies of Sir Alexander Colepeper and his lady. Sir Alexander, resplendent in green and gold armour, had a foundry at Bedgebury, just south of the village, and there he cast many of the guns that smashed the Armada. The Colepepers were of considerable importance at this period. Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth queen, was a member of the family, and so was her cousin, Thomas Colepeper, executed with her for treasonable adultery.
Cottages covered with white weather-boarding look out over a large village green where oaks and limes grow. One great oak dominates the scene, and it is beneath this tree that Elizabeth I is reputed to have rested on August 11, 1573. She was on her way to Rye when she stopped for breakfast at Northiam.
The white boarding, the general theme of the village centre, entirely covers the walls of a three storey house by the green. To the north, several 17th. century houses and cottages front on to Main Street before the village straggles into bungalows.
A large yew tree rises from the churchyard, just above the village green. The church itself is Norman, and has a fine stone spire. It contains communion rails given by a local puritan, Thankful Frewen, in 1638.
One of the houses by a recreation ground on the north side of the village was the site of a meeting on May 12, 1944, between the prime ministers of Britain, Canada, South Africa and what was then Southern Rhodesia. They met for talks before the D-Day landings and the Normandy Invasion.
Half a mile to the north west is Great Dixter, one of the finest timber framed buildings in Sussex. The house is believed to be basically 15th. century, but was carefully rebuilt by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911. It is open to the public. Its garden is noted for its box and yew hedges.
Flint cottages and farm buildings occupy an exposed spot on the South Downs by the side of the road from Brighton to Hurstpierpoint. Some distance away is the village church which is small and built of flint and pebbledash. It dates from the 12th. century. Tracks lead off to the remains of ancient burial grounds, Iron Age forts and Celtic field systems on the open South Downs. National Trust woods, known as Newtimber, lie half a mile to the west.
Pyecombe was once a shepherds’ village, and was well known as a centre from which shepherds’ crooks were supplied. The top of the churchyard gate is in the shape of a crook, which is also used as the village sign.
The original village was close to the church, but the roadside hamlet which now contains the older dwellings was settled after the plague in 1603 had made the first site uninhabitable for a time.
The village slopes gently for nearly a mile down a Wealden hillside.
Houses cluster round the church among dense hedges at the top, but the main
settlement, known as Sedlescombe Street, lies at the lower end. There, a pump
and pillared pump-house, dated 1900, stands on a long triangular green.
On either side of the green are brick and tile hung cottages, shops and inns. One thatched cottage, the last of its kind in the village, bears the date 1506. Just past the top of the green is a large timber framed house with mullioned windows. Known as Manor Cottages it is thought to date in part from the 15th. century.
The road is a main route to Hastings, and the village has always catered for travellers to the coast. Its inns and eating places include a restaurant in a converted tanning shed.
Although restored in 1866, the church retains the 15th. century tower and old roof timbers.
Oaklands, an estate to the south east of the village once occupied by local gentry, now houses the Pestalozzi Children's Village. It was opened in 1959 by the Pestalozzi Trust which carries on the work of the Swiss educational reformer who died in 1827. The school is for deprived children of all Third World countries. Further south, just off the road to Hastings, at Norton's Farm, is a small museum of rural life.
WEST HOATHLY, SUSSEX.
Quiet lanes form a junction on a ridge of the High Weald, where West Hoathly stands in wooded country just west of Ashdown Forest. The Church of St. Margaret, which is part Norman, stands on the junction opposite a 17th. century manor house. Tile hung old cottages are clustered around the Cat Inn, said to have been a favourite spot for smugglers in the 18th. century.
The village was a centre of the iron industry, and monuments of ironmasters who died early in the 17th. century, when the industry was thriving, are set on the south wall of the church,
The manor house, originally built in 1627, is of local stone. Near by stands the 15th. century Priest House, timber framed and roofed with Horsham slate, now owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society and open to the public. The house contains a small museum.
The village street is a long lane without pavements that runs from a large green by the main road, and climbs uphill towards a church and the substantial remains of a 13th. century priory. The cottages that line the street show flint and brick work, and glimpses of thatch and medieval timbers. From the top of the hill, by the ancient church and priory, is an impressive view of the steep chalk escarpment in which is carved the mysterious figure known as the Long Man.
Wilmington is situated in farming country at the foot of the South Downs. The village school, store, stables, smithy, wheelwrights house, bakehouse and even some large flint barns have been converted into private houses. But the agricultural tradition is maintained by farm buildings which are still found among the dwellings. A few timbered cottages date from the 15th. century. The small Chantry House, of flint and brick with a thatched roof, displays a grotesque face with bulging eyes on its outside wall.
An enormous yew tree, possibly as old as the church, stands in the churchyard; its trunk is 23' in girth and its heavy boughs are supported by poles. The church, part Norman and part Gothic, with wide stone ledges where the monks sat, was connected by a cloister to the Benedictine Priory whose remains are close by. The surviving building of the priory, now owned by the Sussex Archaeological Trust, include a 13th. century hall, a gatehouse and an enclosed courtyard.
Wilmington's Long Man is carved into the slope of Windover Hill, overlooking the village. It is often in shadow. The simple outline of a human figure, 226' high, holds what appears to be a staff in each hand. The outline has been reinforced by concrete blocks in modern times, but its origin is a mystery. Some theories date it back to ancient times, pointing out that Roman coins found near by bear a figure with a similar stance. Others suggest that it may be of Saxon origin, or may even represent a medieval pilgrim.
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