Early history: The origins of the village are lost in the mists of time. High up and over looking the village, on Beacon Hill, where now the Windmill stands are ancient burial mounds dating back to the early Bronze Age- some 3000 years ago. Flint and stone tools have also been found in the valley below the windmill suggesting an even earlier date. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 the lands surrounding Rottingdean were held by Haminc of Earl Godwin. These were confiscated and given to the Earls Warrenne by William I. Through various bequests the lands were divided - some descending through the baronry of Abergavenny and others through the Priory of Lewes and the Priory of Sele (near Bramber, before passing eventually into the Ockenden, Challoner and Beard families. .
A smuggler's village: This is an old smuggler's village. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, smuggling was a way of life on this coast. Stories abound of ships quietly mooring offshore in the early hours of the morning and delivering cargoes of barrels of brandy, packs of tobacco and yards of French lace which were either floated or rowed ashore, of wreckers luring ships onto the hostile shore when their own smuggling activities were temporarily in decline, of running fights and ambushes with the Revenue Officers. Bouts of drunkeness on the beach were also not unknown, especially when the barrels of spirits had to be quickly got rid of!
Once on the beach it was customary for the contraband to be rapidly transferred to the honyecombe of cellars existing underneath the high street or, if danger was nearby, to the backs of ponies for a journey inland across the downs. The mood is encapsulated in Rudyard Kipling's "A Smuggler's Song", written some time after his stay in the village:
Them that asks no questions
isn't told a lie
Watch the wall my darling
while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
trotting through the dark-
Brandy for the Parson,
Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a Lady
Letters for a spy
and watch the wall my darling
while the Gentlemen go by!
The Windmill. Situated on Beacon Hill, high above the village of Rottingdean stands the old smock mill. Here in 1588 was lit the beacon that gave news of the approaching Spanish Armada attack on Elizabethan England. The mill has been here since 1802 and has been a prominent landmark to sailors and travellers alike since then. A drawing of this mill by Sir William Nicholson has since become famous as the colophon used by Heinemann, the publishers.
The mill continued to grind corn until 1881 and is now preserved by the local Rottingdean Preservation Society.
A village nestling in a downland valley: From the top of Beacon Hill the village can be seen laid out before you in the valley below. Here is the church and the ancient properties surrounding the village green. Immediately behind the trees in the foreground is North End House- a building we shall look at in closer detail later. In the background are the Chalk Downs- a vast expanse of fields and open downland that stretch some 150 miles between Beachy Head in Sussex through East and West Sussex into Hampshire.
Village pond. This is the heart of the village.Surrounding the pond are the church and the ancient Green Properties. The pond is now an ornament- the home of various ducks and wildfowl- but not so long ago it was throbbing with activity as the sheep from the nearby farms used to quench their thirsts here.
The pond retains its water because of its pudding clay lining. Here the water used to collect from the surrounding hills and was frequently topped up from the pump on pump green. Behind the pond in this picture can be seen the Plough Inn and the Grange.
Norton House is situated nearby. Situated next to the church it is an old house that has been much restored.
Dale Cottage is to be seen on the other side of the pond. In the 19th Century it was occupied by Mr Wheeler, the race horse trainer, who had his racing stables at the back of Burne Jones' house. The house was afterwards purchased by Sir Roderick Jones.
Angela Thirkell's book entitled Three Houses gives a very interesting
account of North End House, its visitors and her life there with her grandmother
and grandfather, the Burne Jones'. The house has once more been separated into
its three constituent parts
Gothic House The northern most part of North End House. Adjacent to this building stood the old granary of Court Farm.Now swept away, it was for a time the home of Magnus Volk
Timbers Now a house
this building and the buildings nearby used to be the main barn for Hillside.
Hogs Plat Between Hillside and Court House there is an ancient passageway known as Hogs Plat which takes you up onto the Downs and to the old windmill. In the olden days this was one of the routes the flocks of sheep would take to go down to the village pond which lies nearby. Much of the Plat is now occupied by allotments as the picture shows. You can also make out Hillside behind the flint boundary wall and the brick built Gazebo which lies atop it.
Now to go on a stroll through the rest of the village, starting from the North and walking towards the sea.
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