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History and Myths of Chiddingly

The Name
I was told
that the name Chiddingly got its name from a man named John Chid who lived in the wood. The name of the wood was Lye.

The Headmaster of the School, Mr Sturdey, told us that Chiddingly got its name from 'the home of the son of Chid'.

It was a Saxon settlement, and it was then called Cetelingei - spelled quite differently to how we know it today. So it's a very old settlement. And we've got a Domesday plaque on the wall of Pilgrim's, because when we celebrated 900 years after Domesday, they gave us a plaque to say that we were in the original Domesday Book as a village. If you walk up to the church and look on the wall you can see the little modern plaque [on the wall of Pilgrimís] which says 1087-1987.

The Manor Houses
had three Manor Houses, which was extremely rare. Chiddingly was very wealthy and very big. It's never got back to the number of people who were living here at the end of the 1700s when it was doing very well with the iron industry. Chiddingly Parish actually extended round Alfriston, for instance, which was extremely small. There were itinerant workers living in the field next to the pub here in wooden huts, I suppose. And both the main pubs in the village are named after the casting of iron; the Bells and the Gun. Both the pubs were obviously started or run on money which was created by the iron industry.

They pulled down all three Manor Houses. Friths was one, which is now a tiny little house on top of a great mound. There was once a very big house there.

Place Farm was another. It was shaped, from above, like an 'E', and it had a moat round it. It's been terribly bashed about, but the plans still exist. It got knocked about by Cromwell, because this area was very pro- Royalist. Place Farm was where the Jefferays lived. The respect for money was heavy, and the Jefferay family obviously looked good. This led to the myth that they kept all their money in a crock which was guarded by a rooster. On one occasion a man went to steal the money and the rooster flew over his head and he went mad for the rest of his life.

Another myth about the Jefferays is that when it rained, it was so muddy to get up to the church, that they used to put cheeses down, and walk to church on cheeses. If you go and see the mausoleum in the church, you will see that where normally the carving of the body would have a lion at its foot, it's actually got round things, which are said to be cheeses. Not to say that they are definitely cheeses - but they could be! The Jefferays didn't live at Place Farm very often, though, because if you go into the barn, you will notice that some of the fireplaces, which have no floors to them now, have never been used. You know that if you use a fireplace, the brickwork gets blackened and stays like that.

It's interesting to see what happened to the rummage from the manor houses that they pulled down. There was a tremendous trade in second hand wood and bricks, and it pretty much all went to Alfriston, because Alfriston was an up-and-coming town. If you look at Alfriston High Street, you will see that even today there's fireplace bricks stuck in the middle of some of the houses!

Pekes was the third of the three manor houses. Only part of it still exists. Those three houses would have employed everybody. Jefferay, who built the house, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and hence the beautiful mausoleum in the church here. It was vandalised by the Cliff gang from Lewes at the beginning of this century. This was a very strong area for Catholics and anti-Catholics. "In case we should forget" is nothing to do with the 1914-18 war; it's an anti-Catholic phrase. I don't think people take it seriously today, although there are one or two - an anti-Catholic leaflet was thrust into my hand two or three years ago.

Historical tit-bits
The last woman
to be hanged in public was a Chiddingly lady called Mary French. The story is that Mary was married to a fellow who she didn't like, and she met a young chap, and she poisoned her husband by giving him an onion pie with poison in it. Her hanging was in Lewes, and three thousand people turned up to see her hang.
The first licensee of the Six Bells pub was a Mrs Grey. In the records it says that at the age of 60 she married a 26 year old.
This house (Ron and Nora Apps - Charity Farm?) was a school, originally. We have a copy of a map from the Archives with the date 1737. We can't read our Deeds, because of the old English writing!
I came to Chiddingly because I was interested in family history. One day we discovered in The Telegraph a bootmaker who had died in Lewes, and my cousin rang to ask if I thought he was anything to do with our family. Eventually we discovered that he was part of a family of bootmakers who lived in this cottage in Chiddingly.

My great-great-grandpa was born in the village. He was called John Clifford Russell, born 1791, father unknown, bastard son of Mary Russell who was only sixteen and a half. He grew up in the village in the care of Mr Funnell of Park Farm. He was 'put out', which was the way of caring for children of very poor families in those days.

When he grew up he married the daughter of William Thorpe of Chiddingly, who owned two

cottages which were called Thorpe's Cottages. But over the years it's been corrupted to Thorn Cottages. My great-great granpa joined Mr Thorpe in his bootmaking business. He and his wife lived in Thorn Cottages all their lives, and brought up a family of six children, and he is buried in the churchyard. He built the third cottage, which has a plaque on it now with his initials. He died in 1850 and I've traced all six of his children.

One, called Albion Russell, went off to Lewes and with the help of his father, founded his first boot shop on School Hill. He must have been apprenticed to Baxters the printers for a while, as he did woodcuts, and he also executed the Jefferay Memorial, but then he went back to bootmaking. He got on, and took another shop next to the White Hart on the top of the hill. He married, and had several children. He took on an apprentice from Hastings, called George Bromley. The apprentice married one of Albion's daughters, and they set up in business in Eastbourne. And that was the first Russell and Bromley shoe shop - named after Elizabeth Russell and George Bromley.

The houses in Chiddingly were put up for sale. After they were sold, nobody from our family had been in these houses for 120 years, when we bought this little cottage back again!

Eventually I discovered who the father of John Clifford Russell was. It was a man who was a miller of Rolvenden in Kent, called John Clifford. I spent years trying to find that out.

I have in my cottage - John Clifford Russell's cottage - a photograph of a portrait of him. We discovered the portrait on the wall of some distant cousins in Hove.
J M Barrie lived at Stone Hill. I don't know how long he stayed there, I think it was at the turn of the century. And our house (?) was bought from a nephew of G K Chesterton, who had stayed there. Then there were the painters, Reubens and the lady painter, Whistler, she was local. And Sir Roland Penrose with his collection of modern art.
At Stream Farm, they used to produce iron. The iron was used for the railings at Buckingham Palace. You can still see the big round balls of molten waste that ran away, lying in the field down there. They must weigh tons.
Beard's Farm, I don't know how far back, it must have been the turn of the century, used to be an orchard. We used to have such a variety of apples. Now, I regret, they've disappeared. There was a little yellow one, it was a beautiful eater. There was a row of damson trees down the bottom field, and pear trees. We had a tractor to get a lot of the roots out of that field.

There were lots of unknown varieties in our garden as well. There were two trees, they looked a bit like Bramleys, and they used them as cookers, but as they ripened they made lovely eaters. They had a very sticky skin.

We have an orchard which somebody told me was planted during the 1914-18 war. Perhaps they were planted at the same time. Full of old varieties - russets and so on. We had some large ones a bit like Bramleys that we called Five Crowns. Lovely they were.
Chiddingly Place - quite a story goes with that. Miss Guy, she lived for one period of time down at Muddles Green right on the corner, where the boat is [was] (Birch Cottage). But her main place was Place Farm. Those Guys, they owned a big part of Chiddingly, all out round Laughton way. She was bedridden, she stayed in her bedroom for twenty years. Well, a lot of the property around Chiddingly belonged to her, to the Guy family; Muddles Green, Farleys, all that lot, and she was the eldest one of the Guy family. I think she had three brothers who had died off. The youngest one was much younger than Miss Guy. And they said he used to tell the tenants that when she died, "I'll sell all the property, you can have all the property, all the farms and everything".

Well, my brother was going down from the Six Bells towards Farley's Farm, this is early morning, going to work, and he saw a car on the side of the road, and this man was slumped over the steering wheel. So he stopped, and had a look. "Good gracious, that's Johnny Guy!"

So as far as I know, he came back up to the Six Bells to tell them "He's either ill or he's dead". They got the policeman out and evidently he'd died.

And Miss Guy carried on living, down at Muddles Green and then up at Heathfield. All those plans for the farms and that! What they weren't going to do! She was 103 when she died. That's the story of the Guys.
The Salamander is a Sussex thing. This was put into fires and got very hot, and then you made a sort of Welsh cake. The hole in it was for balancing it. Most cooking in Sussex was done on open fires.

What we used to have in Sussex was a thing called a Duck's Nest, which had no proper oven. There's one in the pub. They did do casserole cooking, but it was done by the side of the fire.
Chiddingly Hot Pot
1 lb beef 1 lb onions or shallots
8oz celery 1 lb potatoes
8oz olives cloves
Tarragon vinegar black peppercorns
Mixed spices

Chop onions, celery and olives. Place a layer of onions on the bottom of a large casserole dish, with some of the olives and celery. Put thin slices of beef on top of them and sprinkle with a little spice and vinegar. Cut potatoes into thin slices and place over the meat, with some more olives and celery. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Pour enough water into the casserole to nearly cover. Cook in a low oven for 3-4 hours, according to quantities used. The vinegar renders salt unnecessary.
(From E Manvel, of Broadbridge Heath, in "Sussex Recipes", published 1937)
One day I was digging the garden and I dug up a tin, and in it there were hundreds and hundreds of tokens. I said to some workmen who were next door, "Look what I found." And they said, "Well they're no blooming good." So I gave them to the kids. They were the tin tokens people used instead of money. They just had "Token" written on them.

I was digging in the garden, digging up an ashpit.  I found an 1837 fourpenny piece.  I had it put on a chain for my granddaughter, with some threepenny pieces.
When my mother died, we cleared out everything. We found a chest full of my old uncle's wife's clothes, all the old Victorian dresses and things. And also in there were parchments, dating back to 1857. What did I do with them? I burnt them. My old father and my old uncle were real characters. They had all the tools, flooring tools and old saws, because they used to go round all the woods timber-cutting, barking them. The oak bark was sent away for dye. And I threw them all away, didn't I? That was history.


There was a school at the house now called The Old School House in the 1800s, before the other school here or the subsequent one at Muddles Green. The doorways are very low. I'm only 5ft 2ins, and I can come a cropper there! That school was the brain-child of the Lower family. Richard Lower was the Schoolmaster there for many years. He gave talks and subsequently there was a book about his living there. Richard Lower had a son, Mark Anthony Lower, who became a very famous local historian and cartographer. To my mind the greatest sadness is that the new Muddles Green housing wasn't named after the Lower family, who contributed so greatly to the history of this village.

There was a woman who was called Naomi White, from the White family of Muddles Green, who also had a school, which could have been termed a Dame School.

Our house was the Forge originally, at Whitesmith. Then a lady called Miss Bradshaw took it over and ran a little Dame School. One or two of the older folk of the village went there. I think you had to pay. We had an old range affair in the corner where she used to cook the children's meals. She was still running the school in 1940.

I've often wondered whether in Chiddingly School they've still got the poem about Chiddingly that Miss Guy wrote. I remember Mr Sturdey the Headmaster read it out to us. It finished up "Chiddingly, like Rome, is built on seven hills". That's Holmes Hill, Burgh Hill, Thunders Hill, Gun Hill, Pick Hill, Stone Hill and Scrapers Hill.


There was a time when people were afraid to leave their village because they were afraid they would fall off the edge of the world. Not my generation, but a couple of generations before.
There is a local myth, that a farmer in Chiddingly became very old, and couldn't deal with his farm. He found that it was carrying on just the same if he didn't do any work and if he did do the work, and later they discovered that the 'little people' were looking after the farm. I know no more about the myth than that.
The main ghost that was ever seen was the Chiddingly Puma, which I'm told by ghost experts is a worse ghost than a human being. It was probably last seen in the 1970s. It is mentioned occasionally if you look through the old newspapers. You have to take ghosts as you find them.
There was a saying years ago, "When the Downs look close". You stand here in Chiddingly, and you look to the Downs and sometimes they look a long, long way away and sometimes they look near. The old farmers used to say, "The Downs look close today," and nip off to get a load of chalk!

If you could hear the trains down at Selmeston that was a sure sign of rain. And if you could hear the trains going up the Horam - Heathfield line, then it was going to be dry.

If it's going to rain, you'll see the sheep up grazing, getting their fill while they can. If it's going to be fine they're up fairly early in the morning and by the time you get out there they're lying down and chewing the cud because they've been up and had their fill.