|Map Ref : TQ521031|
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From Tun (Farmstead) belonging to Aelfric (South Saxon Name)
Orig. Alvricestone (Doomsday 1086)
Traditionally Pronounced Awlfriston and earlier Ahson town
HINDOVER HILL :
From Hean Ofre (High Bank)
Orig. Heyovere (1287) then Heghenovere (1352) then Hindover (1824)
Also. High-And-Over (Ordnance Survery)
From Tun (Farmstead) belonging to Lulla (South Saxon Name)
Orig. Lullinton (1192)
Archaic Pronunciation Loynton
From Tun (Farmstead) belonging to Lytela
Orig. Variously Litlinton, Litleton and Litelington (12th century)
FROG FIRLE :
From Fierol (Saxon meaning Oak Covered)
Orig. Ferle (Domesday 1086) then Froggeferle (1288)
From Tun (Farmstead) belonging to Wiga (South Saxon Name)
Orig. Wigentone (Domesday 1086) then Wengeton (1223) then Wynton (1548)
CUCKMERE (RIVER) :
From Mere (O.E. lake, pond or M.E. moor) and Cuca (pers. name) or Cucu (O.E. for Living) Orig Cookemere (1335) then Cokemer(e) (1352) then Cuckmer (1586) then Cockmare (1724)
Alfriston is a charming village nestling within the South Downs and around the River Cuckmere. So charming in fact, it has become the victim of its own success and is swamped with tourists and shops for tourists. We cannot tell when the area was first inhabited, apart from the earlier remains on the downs, the earliest archaeological features in the Cuckmere Valley are Roman roads, there being a crossroads at Winton. Settlement in the area really took off in the Saxon period beginning in the 5th century and later in the Middle Ages a market town developed with probably more people than there are today, the numbers in the village being drastically reduced by the "Black Death". Alfriston became quite prosperous during the late 18th and early 19th century when troops were there during the Napoleonic War. There was a Tannery, a Tallow-Chandlery and a Glove Factory. When the war ended and the troops left, the economy collapsed and Alfriston settled down to the quiet village we see today. Alfriston has not grown much over the years, mainly due to the bounds of the South Downs either side, though the tourists have certainly changed the face of the main streets.
Alfriston's Market Cross is northwest of the church in Waterloo Square and is now but one of two surviving examples, the other being in Chichester and still intact, compared to the stump of the Alfriston cross. The cross was probably first erected about 1405 when King Henry IV allowed a market in Alfriston every Tuesday and two annual fairs on the feasts of Saint Andrew (29th of November) and Saints Philip and James (30th April). Since it was first constructed, it lost the steps surrounding it in the early nineteenth century and in the 1870's the base was replaced with some stone from St. Andrews church which was undergoing restoration at the time. Some of the steps have gone onto a life of being doorsteps. In 1955 a lorry crashed into it destroying the shaft. Today's shaft is a modern replica topped by a carving of a 'Shepherds Crown', a form of sea urchin carried by downland shepherds for good luck.
The Star Inn
The villages oldest inn, The Star Inn, originally known as the Starre Inn, is said to have been built by the Abbot of Battle in 1520 as a hostel for mendicant friars, only later becoming the more secular Inn it is today. The front is adorned with several carvings including St. Giles, St. Julian, patron saint of wayfarers, St. George killing the dragon (or St. Michael killing a Basilisk), a greyhound, two serpents with tails intertwined, two heraldic animals supporting a staff topped by a coronet and once upon a time, a Bacchanalian figure which is no more. On a beam below the line of the main carvings are several heads in the style of the Green Men found in some churches. Inside, an angel is carved on a mantelpiece in the kitchen. A large wooden statue of a lions head stands beside the Inn, it is a figurehead from a Dutch ship wrecked in Cuckmere Haven in the middle of the 19th century, and raided it is said, along with the figurehead, by Stanton Collins, the notorious smuggler. The Inn was once a place where one could go for 'Sanctuary', the sanctuary post can be seem in the bar by the door and has the letters 'jKL' on engraved on a shield. The Star in is one of two Inns left in Alfriston, there used to be four. The Star, George and Dragon, Steamer and Market Cross (now the Smugglers Inn).
Smuggling In Alfriston
The other pub in the village belonged to a notorious smuggler. The Smugglers Inn originally went by the name of Market Cross House, as it is indeed very near the market cross. The house itself has 21 rooms, 47 doors and 6 staircases, as well as an assortment of hiding places such as the cellars and a hiding place in the roof, all intended to confuse the enemy and allow easy escape from excise men. There were even said to be tunnels leading to other houses in Alfriston, and one going as far as the Long Man of WilmingtonThe smuggler and owner of this house was one Stanton Collins who led the local smuggling gang in Alfriston. His father was the butcher at Chiddingly before he bought the house, leaving it to his son who became the local butcher in 1822, at a time when the troops stationed at Alfriston during the Napoleonic Wars left, leaving Alfriston a less prosperous place to live. Not much is known about Collins smuggling exploits, which probably means he was very good at it. He and his gang were fairly ruthless and their influence within Alfriston was great. When a new minister was installed in the Lady Huntingdon Chapel (now the United Reformed Church) who wasn't to the liking of Mr. Collins, he and his men forceably removed the upstart and brought back the old minister, a Mr. Betts, to complete the service, posting guards outside to make sure their wasn't any further disturbance. Collins was eventually arrested in 1831, but not for smuggling. Reports say it was either sheep stealing or theft of barley from Litlington Farm. The last member of Collins gang died in the workhouse at Eastbourne in 1890, aged 94.
Smuggling was not the only illegal pastime in the Alfriston area. The looting of cargo from a wrecked ship could bring in much money to the area and any inteference could provoke violence. Such was the case in 1635 when the son of Thomas Chowne, the JP living in Frog-Firle, tried to stop looters on Seaford beach.
The . . . Thing|
In the Dene car park on the north side of town is a strange building with an unknown history. Constructed of flint, theories regarding it's use include a shot tower, a lock-up, a dovecote, a kiln and a gun store.
Alfriston's 14th century church stands a graveyard within a circular wall, a usual indication of pre-Christian use of the site as is built on an old Saxon mound, either to replace an earlier pagan shrine or to escape the prospect of flooding. The area seems to have been in use for quite a while as a Paleolithic handaxe was found nearby. The church itself is dedicated to St. Andrew and is built of flint with Greensand quoins and facings in a cruciform shape, probably on the site of an earlier building and has not been added to since it was first built. The church records are notable for starting in 1504, much earlier than when it was legally required, while the list of Rectors and Vicars goes back to 1272.
The main entrance to the church today is from the west though there is another door on the south side of the chancel which has a scratch dial on the west side and another door on the north side of the nave which is now blocked up, perhaps the remnants of a so-called "Devil's Door". The north and south transepts were formally chapels and it is known that the southern transept was a "Lady Chapel". The north wall of the sanctuary contains an Easter Sepulchre, one of three left in Sussex, above which are two carved figures, one the face of a women, allegedly St. Lewinna, the other a dog like animal with its head between its hind legs. The chancel still contains the hooks on which the Lenten Veil was hung before the Reformation.
Despite its grand appearance, the church was once in a state of disrepair as most of the villagers were non conformists who didn't want to worship in the Church of England church.
The Clergy House
The 14th century timber framed Clergy House near Alfriston's church is also worthy of note, it was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, back in 1896 for the sum of £10 in a ruinous state before further renovated in 1977. It sits rather squat next to St. Andrews Church standing on it's mound. It should be noted that the Clergy House was not always used by the clergy. Many of the Vicars were pluralists who resided outside of the parish and the house eventually became a residence for farm labourers before purchase by the Trust.
Alfriston also has at least a partial claim to having the smallest Church in Sussex, for on the hillside just to the east over the River Cuckmere is the 12th century Lullington Church, also constructed of flint like the bigger church nearby and possibly dedicated to St. Sithe. It is small by virtue of only having it's chancel remaining, the original building being roughly three time its current size. Its position on the hillside and shortage of houses around has led to the idea that the church was built on the site of a druid grove, heightened by that fact that there is a large chunk of Sarcen stone built into the wall of the church. There seem to have been three main stages in the churches history. The first circa 1180 consisted of a tower to the west along with a Nave in the middle and the Chancel to the east. The second stage, circa 1350 was without a tower but with the addition of a porch around the south door, but not the north. The third sixteenth century stage included thickening of the walls of the nave with the addition of the above mentioned Sarcen stone and the blocking up of the north door.
The village of Lullington Court, tiny like it's church, is situated on the site of Lullington Farm. The Black Death decimated the original village which was just to the south of the church and there is a story that the church was destroyed in Cromwellian times, somewhat born out by evidence of burning in the Excavations in the 1960's. The dedication to St. Sithe, an unknown saint, is interesting as there is a Gaelic word "Sithe" which means "Fairy", similar to another place just north along the downs called Burlow Castle. A more accepted theory is that the saint may have been St. Sitha, the maidservant of Lucca, held in veneration by English housewives or the Saxon martyred princess St. Osyth. As the details of this dedication are uncertain, it was rededicated in 2000 as 'Church of the Good Shepherd'.
Just south of Lullington and east across the river from Frog-Firle is the village of Littlington with a slightly larger church built east-west on the edge of the Downs on a natural spur. The church is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel who has many connections with churches on hills. The church is Norman and roughly 800 years old with later additions to the nave and chancel of a south porch, vestry and bell turret. The list of Rectors begins in the 14th century and the windows on the north side of the nave has been blocked at some time in the past. There are three scratch-dials on the outside of the church. The hamlets of Frog Firle and Litlington are joined across the river by a bridge called the White Bridge.
The presence of three churches in such a small area points either to great importance and wealth for Alfriston in the past or a building of churches on pagan areas to convert them, requiring a greater number of churches than would otherwise be necessary.
The Litlington White Horse
Between Alfriston and Seaford a large white horse carved onto the side of the downs looks east over the river Cuckmere. The horse was carved into the chalk on Hindover Hill just below the White Way, which also takes it's name from the chalk. There are actually two white horses on the hill, the first is no more, lasting only until the 1920's, cut either in 1838 by James Pagden of Frog Firle Farm and his two brothers, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria or in 1860 by two youths who saw a patch of bare chalk in the turf that looked like a horses head and added the body. The second, still visible today and in very good condition was cut in 1924 by John T, Ade, Mr. Bovis and Eric Hobbis. The three men cut the horse overnight with a full moon to see by so as to startle the locals with the sudden appearance of the horse in the morning and make the men famous. Since it's initial cutting, the horse and Frog Firle Farm have been acquired by the National Trust in 1991 and has been scoured several times. The first scouring was after it had been camouflaged during the war in 1930. East Sussex County Council scoured it in the 1980's during which they changed the position of the legs from standing to prancing to help prevent slippage of the chalk rubble used to fill the figure. The latest scouring for this 90 foot hill figure was in 1993.
Archaeology On The Downs|
As is usual on the South Downs, this area contains several features of interest to the Archaeologist. Of the scatter of burial mounds in the area, the most striking are a large round barrow on Hindover Hill and a selection on Alfriston Down just above Alfriston to the west.
The diagram above shows the archaeological features of Alfriston Down. The brown line is the trackway that leads up the Down whilst the long black line is a Cross-Dyke feature. The small dots are round barrows and the other two larger features are Neolithic long and oval barrows. The long barrow, called Long Burgh, is 180 feet long, aligned N.E. to S.W. and has unfortunately been mutilated on the N.E. side by a track and robbed. Apparently the barrow was opened in 1767 and a skeleton and an urn were found. The smaller oval barrow was recorded in 1934 as being 2 metres high though heavy ploughing reduced it in size so much that in 1974, the barrow was the focus of a rescue excavation. At only 24 metres long, it is one of the smallest neolithic barrows in Sussex, in a different class to what is normally accepted as a Long Barrow. Excavation revealed two pits aligned axially under the mound, one of which contained the crouched skeleton of a young woman. Antler picks and other animal bones were found on the old land surface and in the flanking ditches, possible related to the burial ritual. A large quantity of worked flint was found scattered on the mound and clumped in the ditches, which were found to have been dug in seperate stages. Two bones from the oval barrow were carbon-dated. The first, a piece of antler showing signs of wear and probably used to excavate the barrows ditches, was dated to 2360 BCE, roughly the end of the Neolithic. One of the leg bones of the buried woman was dated to 640BCE, which has led to the suggestion that the burial is an intrusive one, though the barrow sections did not show this. This would leave the barrow without an internment, though this is not necessarily a problem as a similar oval barrow excavated near West Marden in West Sussex had no internment, though in both cases, a burial in the mound above the old land surface would have been lost to the plough. Remnants of thirteen postholes were found at the two ends of the barrows, possible represtenting a facade, entrance or the remains of some mortuary enclosure.
Further along the South Downs Way which passes by the two neolithic mounds, the long 'Cross Dyke' type earthwork crosses the path, perhaps marking some boundary long forgotten. The dyke has its bank on the east side and excavations, while far from conclusive, suggest that it is Late Bronze Age and broadly contemporary with a round barrow excavated just to the east. Pottery found in the barrow next to it was broadly similar to some found at the Late Bronze Age site on Itford Hill to the west, though that was not all that was found. Interestingly, the barrow had no ditch carved into the chalk, being constructed purely of soil and turves. The barrow was reused in Saxon times when a single burial was added to the single primary burial from the Bronze Age.
Going back to the edge of the Downs at Winton, just north of Alfriston, there are two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and further to the north and on the other side of the River Cuckmere are two earthworks which are probably the remains of fortifications which at one time protected the watery road into the Weald to the north.
Saxon Burial Ground
The major Saxon burial ground containing over 150 burials was found in 1912 on the north edge of the village in the grounds of a house called the 'Sanctuary' in Winton Street. The burial ground lies near an ancient crossroads with one track heading north through the valley towards Alciston and Lewes and the other being a ridgeway heading over the northern edge of the South Downs between the hill above The Long Man of Wilmington to the east and Firle Beacon to the west. The area of the burial ground itself had been used as farming land until the workman building the house started finding the remains of the graves, some of the ones near the surface had been disturbed by plowing. Interestingly, the name of the part of the field the burial ground was next to was "Hallow Furlong", perhaps recording a memory of the use of the site. A 30-foot wide hole in the North-East corner of the burial ground yielded little on quick inspection but the graves held many finds. The glassware was similar to that found at the Highdown Hill Saxon Cemetary which gives it a very early date of late 4th to early 5th century. All of the graves found were inhumations rather than cremations with the vast majority being aligned East-West and some contained very interesting grave goods :
Companion To The Long Man Of Wilmington|
There is a legend that on the same hill as the White Horse stands Eve, companion to The Long Man of Wilmington. There is no evidence of this though from a distance, the landscape can be viewed a woman laying on her back with the white horse on her right leg and a small woodland in an appropriate V shape in between the two legs. Another possibility is the V shape hill is the same as that on which the Long Man of Wilmington is found, indicating the position of another chalk carved figure on the V.
The Legends Of Alfriston Church
The legend of the placement of Alfriston Church, supposedly set in the 14th century, is a curious story. It tells of when the first stones were being layed in a field west of the main street called Savyne Croft, they were magically transported each night to the east, a field called The Tye, where they are now. The builders couldn't decide whether this was the work of God or the Devil until four pure white Oxen were spotted on the Tye by a wise man, lying rump to rump in the shape of a cross. This decided the matter and the shape of the church, in the Cruciform shape, and it now called the Cathedral of the Downs, though others also claim that particular title and other churches such as Durham Catherdral also have a similar legend concerning their building.
Although the church is dedicated to St. Andrew, it also has associations with St. Lewinna, a virgin martyr killed by a heathen Saxon about 690 AD and buried there until her remains were stolen by a monk called Balger from the Priory of Bergue St. Winox and taken to Flanders in 1058. Balger landed at Cuckmere Haven at Easter time and with his scribe, Drogo, made their way on recommendation to a church assumed today to be Alfriston, for Easter Mass and stole the bones of St. Lewinna, leaving only a few finger bones. It isn't certain that Alfriston was the church Balger visited though it is the most probable. When he landed he was told he was at "Sevordt", probably now Seaford, before he went 3 leagues (about a mile and a half in those days) inland to find the church in the story which he was told was dedicated to St. Andrew. Other churches dedicated to St. Andrew that have been claimed to be the visiting point of Balgar are Jevington, Beddingham, Lewes and Bishopstone. If the location of the church in the story is in fact Alfriston, this has some bearing upon the existance of a building on the site before the date of the current building. Drogo also records that St. Lewinna was martyred and buried in the same place indicating an even earlier date for a church in the region, despite a lot of hostility towards christians in Sussex at the time of her martyrdom, Sussex being the last of the Saxon counties to be converted to christianity.
The Fair Folk
The fairies, it is said, used to dwell in the area, just to the north-east of Alfriston is a place called Burlow (or Burlough) Castle, a natural feature on the edge of the Downs above the River Cuckmere. The top has been ploughed until nearly flat and a Paleolithic handaxe was found in the 19th century. A theory suggests the area was also used as a medieval fort though the area is now little more than a steep banked hillock topped by a meadow. There is an old story about two men who were ploughing the area and heard a fairy from below ground who said he had been baking and had broken his peel. One of the men mended it and was later rewarded with some fairy beer, but the other maintained there was no such thing as fairies and wasted away. He died exactly a year later. There is very little written about the fort though there are a few accounts of some stones from the original castle atop the mound. Thomas Geering in "Our Sussex Parish" says that the last of the stones were taken for road making by man called William Hills. Perhaps the fortification is Saxon as "Burlow" is a Saxon term for a defended place. The other earthwork just to the south is called "The Rookery", a name more to do with the current residents of the earthwork rather than it's original function as a possible Norman motte and bailey, though there was allegedly a 14th century chapel on the site.
Accusations of bewitchment were leveled against Ursual Welfare of Alfriston in 1580. She was accused of bewitching 1 Sow, 8 Chickens and 2 Hens, though she was acquitted of the charges.
It was said by a waitress at the Star Inn, by the name of Alice Carter, that a cauldron in the kitchen of the Inn was the one in which King Alfred burnt his cakes. The king is said by some to have given his name to the village of Alfriston though this has now been disproved by early forms. An even more famous king, Arthur, is supposed to have fought a battle in the area, though it appears that the folklorist who collected this nugget was obsessed with King Arthur and was leading the locals.
A rarity for Sussex, Alfriston seems to have been the site of some Standing stones. Nothing too massive as you would find in Wiltshire, but significant because the stones are not native to the area, probably coming from the area around Brighton where many such stones appear naturally. Few of the stones survive today and little is known about them. Some seem to have been used for building, such as with Lullington Church mentioned above and a stone in a wall near the Clergy House. Others stood and some still stand about the village such as one at a place called "The Spots" by the River Cuckmere, thought to be the original resting place of several of the stones. One now gone, outside Deans Place, the site of the haunting mentioned above, one buried in the road by the lane to the church, three covered by undergrowth on the inside of the south wall of the circular churchyard, another three nearby on the Tye, One very large one built into a wall near the junction of West Street and Sloe Lane, one as part of the kerb outside Badgers in North Street and two small ones helping to prop up the lion outside the Star Inn. The placement of both Alfriston church on a mound and Lullington Church in the middle of nowhere in what people believe to be an old Druids Grove, suggest some form of pagan worship in antiquity, perhaps stone worship was part of that.
The area has been visited by the crop circle phenomena in recent years. Three appeared in the 1980's and early 1990's while two more appeared in 1995. It is interesting to note that the 1990 formation appeared in the same place as the 1984 formation.
Alfriston Church (TQ522030) is the subject of several alignments :
Funerary Customs In Alfriston|
Alfriston once practiced some old funerary customs. The first, used up until the 1930's was the practice of burying a shepherd holding a small piece of fleece in his hands so when they got to heaven, St. Peter would see he was a shepherd and forgive his lack of attendance at church because of the demands of his job. Alas there are no more shepherds on the downs so the custom has died out.
The second custom was to lay a white wreath, called the Virgin Garland, on the coffins of unmarried women during the service and then display it in the church as a memorial, sometimes with a white glove or a piece of paper in the shape of a glove with the girls name and age attached to it. It was mainly an 18th and 19th century custom.
The village had it's own Benefit Club, similar to other friendly societies in Sussex and this club organised an annual fete on the last Thursday in May. The fete was held on the Tye where the members of the club congregated wearing rosettes of royal blue and magenta with a white flower in the centre. Dressed in their holiday clothes, the members went in procession following a band and banners reading things like "Unity Is Strength". The procession would go round the village before returning to the church for a service. The Benefit Club eventually died out and was replaced by the likes of the more ubiquitous Foresters Society and Odd fellows. Another notable celebration in Alfriston was on November 5th when the local Drum and Fife band marched through the streets.
Ghost On The White Way|
The road between Alfriston and Seaford, also called the White Way (perhaps because of the chalk it cuts though), is haunted by the ghost of a white dog who belonged to the heir of the Chowne estate. They were both killed outside Dean's place in the 18th century by robbers and buried in a shallow grave. The dog appears on Midsummers Eve, sometimes with his master, every seven years and it is very bad luck to see it, those who do experience an accident or death. A local song recalls the events:When evening closes in with shadows grey,
and ghostly vapours overhang White Way,
and the crescent moon hangs gloomy in the west,
'tis then the spirit of young Chowne can't rest,
but walks abroad with melancholy stride,
adown the path that skirts the chalk hill-side.
Seven years after the incident, a country girl and her lover saw the ghost walk into the hill-side and ran for their lives when they realised what they had seen. Another tale tells of several men drinking in the Star Inn started talking about ghosts. It was seven years to the day since the last sighting of the ghost and one man, with the bravery given by alchohol, decided to walk home along the White Way since he didn't believe in ghosts and wanted to prove the others wrong. He came across the ghost of the dog, which walked with him down the lane before walking into an embankment. Two days later, he broke his leg. The ghost was apparently laid to rest after the bones were found during road widening in the early 19th century and given a proper burial.
More Ghosts In Deans Place
Another ghost resides at Deans Place, originally a moated manor house but now a hotel, which stands on the white way on the southern edge of Alfriston. It is the ghost of a woman dressed in blue silk and known strangely enough as the Lady in Blue. She first appeared to a woman doing the washing up at the end of the 19th century but has been seen by several of the guests of the hotel, such as the daughter of a leading photographer and an American visitor. Around the time of the first appearance, during alterations to the house, a skeleton was found under the floor. Other apparitions include a disembodied and bejewelled hand and a man seen in the attics wearing a tall hat and a white coat. The house was known to be inhabited in the 14th century and further death has been attributed to the area in the 18th and 19th centuries as the village "Pest House" was in the grounds then for people who were suffering from an infectious disease to either recover out of harms way or die.
Ghost In The Star Inn
In the centre of town, servants at The Star Inn reportedly refused to stay on two occasions after ghostly goings on and in the Smugglers Inn, the owner and her daughter have seen a woman dressed in a modern looking long gown who vanished.
A house in Alfriston with a Georgian core but Victorian on the outside has two ghosts. The first is of a white haired old man in an apron seen in a now demolished stable on the outside. The description is similar to a groom who worked for a doctor who lived there at one time. Whatever the identity, a pony who lived there dislikes the stables and it was a real struggle to get it inside. The second ghost is of a governess. Long and grey haired, she used to tuck a girl living there into bed at night. The girl didn't like this so the parents stayed in the room one night and asked the ghost to leave, which seemed to do the trick.
Tales of Ghostly Black Dogs are numerous across the downs, Thomas Geering tells us that a ghostly black dog was seen several times on the full moon running down the "Town Field" to look over the flint wall at the road before running back again.
Author Unknown : Blacks Guide Books - Sussex, Adam and Charles Black 1861|
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