William the Conqueror swore that he would build a church if he won the Battle of Hastings, and he fulfilled that promise, setting the high altar at the spot where Harold fell. Nothing remains of that original building now, and in 1903 Harold’s Stone was erected where the altar once stood. Benedictine monks replaced this church with St Martin’s Abbey, the remains of which are now incorporated into a school. Battle Historical Society Museum in Langton House has many relics of the Battle of Hastings, including a half size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Most popular of all the seaside towns of the south east, Brighton began life as Brighthelmstone-an unpretentious little fishing village. Its metamorphosis began in 1754 when Dr Richard Russell took up residence there and prescribed sea-air, sea water and sea bathing as the remedy for all ailments. In 1783 the Prince of Wales, later George IV, paid a visit and decided to build a villa here designed by Henry Holland but later transformed into an Indian extravaganza by John Nash.
Fashionable London flocked to Brighton, and elegant squares and terraces were built, largely around the Steyne to accommodate the new patrons. In Victorian times, the railways brought trippers in everincreasing numbers the famous Brighton Belle, which ran until the late 1960’s, could do the journey from London in 55 minutes and the town acquired a rather risqué reputation as an illicit weekend resort. Today, the town is a popular conference venue, and the vast modern marina, with moorings for more than 2000 craft, has given the seafront a new lease of life. The Kemp Town racecourse was the setting of the climax of Graham Greene’s novel of underworld life, Brighton Rock. The University of Sussex, designed by Sir Basil Spence in the 1960’s, stands next to Stanmer Park on the Brighton Road, and the influx of students and of foreign visitors to the many language schools, has made its own contribution to this cosmopolitan resort.
At the edge of the village of Bodiam the romantic silhouette of its castle is reflected among the water lillies in a moat designed to look like a lake.
Burwash was the centre of the iron industry 300 years ago, when most of the country’s ore came from the Weald. It is an outstandingly attractive village with several ironmasters’ houses surviving; one of these is Bateman’s 21 fine Restoration building where Rudyard Kipling lived from 1902 until his death in 1936. Here he wrote the poem ‘If’ and Puck of Pook’S Hill in which the Sussex countryside is described. His American wife gave Bateman’s to the National Trust on condition that his study should be kept as the writer left it.
Seven miles west is the village of Heathfield, well known for cannon making in the days of the Sussex iron industry. Hawkhurst, seven miles east of Burwash is the area’s largest village, formerly a centre of smuggling and of the iron and cloth industries. Some of the original mills survive.
The seashore here, where the English Channel retreats a mile at low tide, is a splendid place for dunes, marram grass, relics of World War II coastal defences, and acres and acres of sand, best walked late on a fine winter’s afternoon, into the setting sun. Dunkirk was one of several films made on location here. Camber Castle on the far side of Rye harbour, was built by Henry VIII as an artillery fort. It is laid out in the shape of a Tudor rose, and stood originally on the shore, as a defence against invasion from France. The sea has gradually receded and it is now about a mile inland.
One of the sunniest resorts in England, Eastbourne owes much to the Victorians who laid out many parks and gardens and built the pier. In the early 19th century, fortifications against the French included the Redoubt, transformed into a model Village, aquarium, grotto and Services museum. There is a museum of the RNLI, and housed in the Wish Tower, which incorporates a Martello tower, is the Coastal Defence Museum. In the Towner Gallery are works of 19th and 20th-century British painters an sculptors. Beachy Head, at nearly 600ft above sea-level, is one of the highest cliffs on the south coast. There are magnificent views from its top, from the Isle of Wight in the west to Dungeness in the east, and the beam of the lighthouse at its foot sweeps 16 miles across the English Channel.
One mile north of Glynde Where John Ellman bred the famous Southdown sheep in the 18th century, and where the Elizabethan Glynde Place contains fine collections of bronze, pictures and needlework, is Glyndebourne. Here in the 1930’s opera-lover John Christie built an opera-house in the grounds of his Tudor manor. Ever since the summer season at Glyndebourne has been synonymous with elegant picnics enjoyed by opera-lovers in evening dress, and is now firmly established in the social calendar.
In many ways Hastings is a typical 19th-century resort town with its pier, parade and hotels. However, reminders of its earlier history can be seen in the remains of the Norman castle, built 1067. William the Conqueror prepared for his decisive battle with Harold here in 1066, which took place six miles inland at Battle. The town hall contains a modern Bayeux Tapestry representing events from the Battle of Hastings to the 900th anniversary in 1966, known as the Hastings Embroidery. Hastings was one of the Cinque Ports, with a strong tradition of associated activities, notably fishing and smuggling. The fisherman’s museum and fishmarket in Old Hastings are worth a visit. The market is set on the beach and is among a series of tall net huts following a design dating from Elizabethan times.
During the l9th century, in its heyday as a seaside town, Hastings was visited by many writers and poets, including Byron, Keats, Mary and Charles Lamb and Christina Rossetti. Four miles north west of Hastings is Beauport Park, a Georgian mansion set in 900 acres of wooded estate. J M Barrie heard the story which inspired Captain Hook in Peter Pan when visiting Brede Place. The character was based on J M Mahler, a pirate who became a rector, but was blackmailed by a man named Smith.
This small village is the setting for an attractive, mid 15th-century moated castle. Restored in the 19308, the line fortified brick manor house contains the Royal Greenwich Observatory which moved here when Greenwich became too polluted.
The site of Lewes, on the River Ouse and in a hollow of the downs, was chosen by the Normans as the ideal place for a defensive stronghold, and a castle stood here until the 17th century, when much of the fabric was sold as building material. The only parts to survive were a stone keep and a gatehouse, now known as Barbican House and containing a museum of Sussex archaeology. Most of the old buildings in Lewes, including the market tower which holds the town bell, are 18th-century and many are attractively tile-hung. One house in Southover, however, dates from 1559; it was given to Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII and it now holds a museum of local history.
To guard the southern coast, the Romans built their fort of Anderida on a spit of land then open to the sea. In AD 491 it was besieged by and fell to Aelle, King of the South Saxons, who massacred all the Romano-British defenders. When William the Conqueror landed in Pevensey Bay in 1066, he found the fort abandoned, and promptly had a castle built on the site. Over the centuries it has been fortified many times: in World War II, camouflaged pill boxes, still difficult to spot, were built into the ancient walls. In the village High Street stands the Old Mint House built in 1342 as a mint. In 1542 Henry VIII’s physician, Dr Andrew Borde, made alterations to it and used it as a residence.
Piltdown is famous as the site of the discovery of the remains of Piltdown Man, one of the most notorious of all archaeological forgeries. The skull was ‘discovered’ in 1912 by Charles Dawson, and acclaimed by archaeologists as the ‘missing link’ between man and ape. The hoax lasted until 1953 when tests proved that an ape’s jaw-bone and a tooth had been cleverly grafted onto genuine fragments of a prehistoric skull.
Only three and a half miles along the coast from Brighton, Rottingdean maintains a village atmosphere, with a little green and pond, just off the High Street. Rudyard Kipling lived here in a house overlooking the green for several years, and a room in the Grange Museum and Art Gallery, once the home of the painter Sir William Nicholson, is devoted to the author. The museum also contains a delightful toy collection. Roedean, the famous girls’ school, lies midway between Rottingdean and Brighton, while a few miles east is Lancing College, a modern public school; its fine neo-Gothic chapel rises 94ft and is one of the highest in England. Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, was educated atthe school on which he based another novel, Decline and Fall.
Once a flourishing coastal port, Rye was one of the original Cinque Ports but in the 16th century the harbour silted up, and today this hilly town is nearly 2 miles inland. Best known of Rye’s picturesque cobbled streets is Mermaid Street, lined by 15th to 17thcentury houses, including the Mermaid Inn, dating from 1420, a notorious smugglers’ haunt in the 18th century. The 13th-century Ypres Tower contains an interesting local museum, and 18th-century Lamb House was the home of novelist Henry James from 1898 until his death in 1916. Henry James, born in America, took British citizenship in 1915 and in the same year was awarded the Order of Merit.
Sheffield Park station was built in 1882and retains its Victorian atmosphere. The line part of British Rail’s Lewes to East Grinstead track was closed in 1960. Almost immediately, a group of enthusiasts set about resurrecting the section between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes, and called it the Bluebell Line; vintage steam trains run most weekends and daily in the summer season. There is a railway museum at the station. Sheffield Park was laid out between 1769 and 1794 by the lst Earl of Sheffield. It is always beautiful, particularly in spring, when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom. The house dates back to the Tudor period, but was remodelled in the 18th century.
This village in the heart of the Weald dates back to Saxon times and was once the centre of the iron industry. Its church stands on a ridge with fine views to the south, and smugglers used to signal down the valley from the church tower before meeting at the Cat Inn. They used nearby Gravetye Manor a gabled Elizabethan house which was once the home of the famous garden designer William Robinson and is now a hotel – as a store for contraband goods. The 15th century Priest’s House contains an interesting folk museum. Great-upon Little, in the grounds of Rockhurst, is a rock formation where a large piece of sandstone is balanced on a smaller one.
The village of Wilmington lies in agricultural country at the foot of the South Downs, near the point where the famous Lon Man is carved into the chalk. The origin of the figure about 230feet in height and carrying a staff in each hand is obscure; though first recorded in 1779 it may date back to the 6th century, and it has been variously attributed to Romans, Saxons and medieval pilgrims. The church is part Norman and art Gothic, with stone ledges were the monks used to sit and a canopied Jacobean pulpit; in the churchyard stands an ancient yew tree, believed to be the oldest in the country, with a trunk 23ft in girth. A Cloister once joined the church to a 12th-century Benedictine priory (OACT), the remains of which now house the Sussex Archaeological Society’s Agricultural Museum.
A new town was built on high land above the River Brede marshes in the 13th century after the old one had been submerged, and it became an Ancient Port, attached to the original Cinque Ports. Winchelsea Museum, located in the restored 14th-century Court Hall, traces the history of these ports. Three of the gates of the original walled town still exist, the Strand Gate being of most interest. Fine workmanship from the Decorated period can be seen in the church, the nave of which was at one time the chancel; 13th-century monuments in the Farnecombe Chantry and the famous Alard tombs are noteworthy. Winchelsea’ s attractive houses are laid out in a regular pattern perhaps providing an example of medieval town planning.