Map Ref : TQ326152

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Name Derivation Name Derivation
From Ingas (Saxon, meaning 'people of') and Dicel (Saxon Name)
Orig. Dicelinga (765), Diccelingum (880, Alfred's Will), Diceninges, Dicelinges, Digelinges (1086, DB), Dicheling (1230) and Dichlinge (1589).

Orig. Ditchling Castle
Note Changed to beacon suffix as site was used as a coastal defence beacon site.

From Westmest (Western most?) and Tun (Farmstead)
Orig. Westmæstun (765), Westmestun (DB 1086) and Westminston (1623)

Map Map
  Blackdog Hill Lodge Hill Ditchling Church Roman Road Ditchling Beacon Anne Of Cleves House Westmeston Church Bronze Age Enclosure Ditchling Common

History History

The small and picturesque village of Ditchling lies at the foot of the Downs in East Sussex, but very close to the border with West Sussex. The settlement stands around a crossroads with Brighton to the South, Haywards Heath to the North, Keymer and Hassocks to the west and Lewes to the East and is built on a slight spur of land between the Downs to the South and Lodge Hill to the north. Though it probably goes back farther, the history of Ditchling starts properly in Saxon times when the people of Dicul settled here and King Alfred held lands as a Royal Manor, but is most remembered today as an artistic commune where several famous artists lived and worked. Though its history and importance can be traced far back in time, the village it still quite small and unspoilt, pertly due to the holding of much of the land by the Manor, partly due to being missed by the railway but mostly due to the actions of its residents.

Restricted Planning

The village is quite charming and the residents like to keep it that way, even if that means telling residents which colour to paint their house and not allowing the painting of double yellow lines, even if it means people parking in ridiculous places and causing horrible traffic congestion. Many housing projects developers have thought up for the village have been squashed by local protest, such as a project though up in 1939 which would have increased the population of the village fivefold by building on land sold by the Abergavenney Estate. This project was stopped after a two year battle by the residents. Further destruction was stopped when a bypass to the village was proposed in the 1950's. The good work of the residents has several times stopped the area being spoiled by development, while many ancient building are preserved in the centre of the village, the older houses being a mixture of Tudor, Jacobean and Stuart.

St. Margarets Church

One of the most ancient buildings in Ditchling today is St. Margarets which stands on the west side of the crossroads on a small sandstone hillock. It is cruciform in design and dates back to Pre-conquest times. The Nave is the earliest part of the building with the South Aisle being built in the 12th century. The next major additions were a Tower to replace the old Chancel, Transepts, a new larger Chancel and the Chapel now known as the Abergavenny Chapel in the 13th century followed by the more modest addition of a West door in the Nave and a porch on the South side in the 15th century. Finally, the North Transcept was rebuilt in 1863 and the north wall of the Nave was rebuilt more recently, removing a blocked north doorway. Traces of mural paintings were found under puritan whitewash at the same time, but were unfortunately destroyed. The church register dates back to 1556 and though the dedication is to St. Margaret, an early reference refers to the church as "All Seyntes".

When the churchyard was being extended early in the 20th century, workmen found an ancient well. Down to 8 feet it was walled with flints, below this it was walled with blocks of chalk and down to 22 feet it was walled with blocks of hewn sandstone. Antlers and the bones of fallow deer were found at the bottom, one of which seemed to have been attached to something else by an iron nail. An ancient burial has also been found, the body being placed without a coffin in a grave cut out of the sandstone that underlies the church, a Saxon burial? Also in the churchyard is a sundial moved there to commemorate the coronation of George V in 1911. The sundial was originally constructed in 1719 and was to be found at the Rangers House in the Park.

Anne Of Cleves House

A fine Tudor building, now called Wings Place but originally Ditchling Garden Manor, the large house across the road from St. Margarets church was once known as "Anne of Cleves House". The reason for this title is due to the house and its estates supposedly being given as part of the divorce settlement by King Henry VIII to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. It is doubtful whether she ever stayed there, but the name is at least more likely than another title it has been known as, "King Alfred's Palace". It is recorded that the manor once belonged to the Prior of Lewes who surrended it to Henry VIII who gave to to Anne of Cleves. After her death, the estate reverted to the crown under Queen Elizabeth I, who gave it to Sir Edward, the son of Sir John Gage, chamberlain to three monarchs. Sadly, only about half of the original house remains.

The Saxons In Ditchling

It is unknown when the people of Dicul settled here, but Ditchling is first recorded in 765 as Dicelinga in a grant by King Alduuf of land bordering that of Ditchling. Later it is recorded that the Manor and its lands were held by King Alfred who had a hunting park there, which is recorded in names like Park Barn, Park Farm and Park Corner. When Alfred died in the year 900, it was given to a kinsmen named Osferth and then reverted to the Crown under Edward the Confessor. After the Norman conquest, the land was held by William de Warenne. The Domesday book tells us that there was a church and a mill in Ditchling and the population was around 150 households. The land passed through several hands until in 1435 it was owned by the Marquess of Abergavenny who held it until the 20th century when it was sold to developers who failed to get planning permission to build.

Ditchling Common

Ditchling Common, once the King's land as part of the Saxon Manor, is now a Country Park north of Ditchling and just East of the Swelling Burgess Hill. Apart from being home to a Witch, a Healing Spring and the location of Jacob's Post, the history of the common is that of its natural inhabitants.


As an important route to London from the coast, Ditchling, like so many Sussex villages, vas a focus for smuggling activities. It was once said that the church choir were smugglers to a man and it is reported in 1774 that 400 men and 200 pack horses laden with contraband were seen passing North through the village. Everything was no always to easy for the smugglers though, as in 1781, the operation at Ditchling was successfully targeted by spies.

Westmeston Church

The church of St. Martin in Westmeston was first constructed in the early 12th century when it consisted of only the Nave. A small Chancel was added in the 13th century, a South Aisle in the 14th century and a chapel in the 15th. The porch is modern as is the rebuilding of most of the Chancel and Chapel.

Archaeology Archaeology
  Ditchling Beacon

Air Photograph of Ditchling Beacon c.1930
Ditchling Beacon is an Early Iron Age contour hillfort that sits on the Downs just south of the village of Ditchling and commands a grand view of the weald to the north. The defences consist of a single bank and ditch and enclose around 5.5 hectares, making it one of the larger camps in Sussex. What excavation has been done on the camp has produced few internal features and little dating evidence. The pottery found dates to the Early Iron Age similar to that found at Hollingbury to the south with later Roman use of the area, while a single piece of bone was carbon dated to 902-340 BC and an antler to 510-710 bc. Despite being scheduled in 1932, the camp has been severely damaged by ploughing on the southern and western sides and several trackways which pass through it, some due to the construction of two Dew Ponds of uncertain date which can be seen on the air photograph as circular depressions on the north side of the camp. Also on the photograph, taken around 1912, there are two vague parallel lines marked by two arrows which seem to pass into the camp on the north side and indeed even more vaguely seem to carry on within the ramparts. This continuation would indicate that these lines predate the camp, perhaps a neolithic cursus monument? Finally to the name of the camp. The hill was used as a site for beacon fires that were lit in times of coastal attack, giving the fort its current name, though it was known in early sources as Ditchling Castle.

Roman Road

To the north of Ditchling passes the remains of the main East-West Roman Road in Sussex. The road runs from Stane Street in the west to a North-South road at Barcombe Mills to the east and for the most part, follows the South Downs along the greensand. In Ditchling, the road arrives from Streat to the East through farmland and crosses the main road on the North side of the village before passing just below Lodge Hill and moving on to Keymer. Some Romano-British Pottery has been found in field just north of the Roman road and just North-East of the village. While this might indicate Romano-British settlement in the area, no direct evidence has yet been found.

Lodge Hill

Lodge Hill is a small ridge hill that borders the village of Ditchling to the North-East. Apart from being topped by a Bronze Age barrow and passed below by the Roman Road that passes through Ditchling, Lodge Hill is also home to a Mesolithic/Neolithic flint working site at its foot on the South-West side. Fidns on the site include flint blades, microliths, scrapers (including a convex scraper), awls, points and some Neolithic pottery. More flints have been found further along the ridge at Northend Farm and Court Gardens Farm. The name Lodge hill may stem from the area being used for a hunting lodge for King Alfred, who used to hunt in the area. There is a windmill on the far north of the ridge which stopped work in 1912.

Bronze Age Enclosure

In 1990, an oval enclosure was spotted on aerial photographs just South-West of Ditchling Beacon at TQ32651280. Fieldwalking around the area of the enclosure, which is roughly 130 metres long and 60 metres wide, produced a substantial amount of flint tools and some Early Bronze Age pottery. The quantity of flintwork found suggests flint implement production on a fairly large scale. The aerial photographs also show the faint outline of what could be hut circles within the enclosure. Excavation by the Mid-Sussex Field Archaeology Team unfortunately proved the feature to be geological.

Folklore Folklore

There are various stories about a witch or witches in Ditchling. In one story the witch is unnammed, in another, she lives in a cottage called "Jack O'Spades" on Ditchling Common. The witch on the Common was credited with powers told in two common stories throughout Sussex and indeed the rest of England. The first story relates to her power to turn into a Hare, which she did one night but was attacked by a group of men with dogs and bitten on the leg before escaping by jumping through the window of her cottage. The next morning she was was seen nursing her leg, or in another version, having he bite banaged by someones grandmother. This story can be found at East Harting and Duddleswell, the next can also be found at Plumpton just to the east of Ditchling and Findon. This story relates to the power of the witch to stop carts which pass her cottage. No matter how hard the horses pull, the cart would go nowhere until the witch let it go or the spell was broken by various means. There is a local story which may relate to the witch on the Common, or another who lived slightly further east between the 'Half Moon' and Plumpton and goes thus :

"The men 'ud beat the hosses an' they'd pull an' they'd tug, but the waggon wouldn't move, an' the ol' witch 'ud come out a-laughin' an' a-jeerin' at 'em, an' they couldn't get on till she let 'em. But there wor a carter wot knew, an' he guessed he'd be even wid the ol' witch, so he druv he's waggon before her door, an' then it stopped, an' the horses they tugged, an' they pulled, an' they couldn't move it nohow, an' he heard this ol' witch a-laughin' in the cottage. Then this carter what knew, he took out a large knife an' he cuts notches on the spokes, an' there wor a screechin' an' a hollerin' inside, an' out come the ol' witch a-yellin' an' sloppin' blood, an' for every notch on the spokes there wor a cut on her fingers."

Westmeston Church

There is a piece of folklore connected with the building of Westmeston church. The tale goes thus :

"In 1096 the tennant of Westmeston Farm had taken his tithes to Lewes Priory, at that time it was the nearest place of worship, having delivered his tithes he took a walk along the river bank a barge was coming to the landing stage laden with stone, the bargee called 'Stone for Wistminster new church', 'I be from Wismistern' called the farmer, 'Then it must be for you' called back the bargee, so the farmer brought up his waggon and they loaded the stone, as he made his way back home he thought of what he had done, and was greatly afeared, so he laid them in the rickyard and rebuilt his ricks upon them. In 1099 the clerk to the Priory came to assess for tithe, and he said to the farmer, 'You and your family, all the villiens and boarders are a heathen lot according to the Prior, always missing mass, so a church must be built here'. 'Oh-Ah', says the farmer, 'I can supply one load of stone', So this little church was started with stone meant for a far larger edifice."

Jacob's post

Jacob's Post North of Ditchling village on Ditchling Common, there is a post which marks the spot where Jacob Harris, a pedlar, was hanged in 1734 for the murder of Richard Miles. Apart from the site being supposedly haunted by the ghost of Jacob himself, pieces of the post are reputed to have magical curative properties, like others hanged in a similar manner. Among the many diseases curable by carrying around a fragment of the gibbet were ague, neuralgia and toothache, while touching the hand of a man swinging on the gibbet could cure barrenness. The severed hand could also be used to create the infamous "Hand of Glory". A candle was placed in the hand and when lit, a burglar was sure to be safe when entering a house at night as the residents would stay fast asleep while the candle burned.

Healing Spring

Ditchling Common was once home to a Chalybeate (Iron rich) spring whose waters were once famed for curing Rheumatism and other ills, though it is now dry. At one time it was known that "in the wettest season it never overflows, nor in the time of drought does it ever fail". A Bronze Celt (Axe Head) and masses of molten copper were found near the spring in the 19th century.

Ghosts Ghosts
  Black Dogs

Just south-east Ditchling is a spur of the Downs called 'Blackdog Hill' which is haunted by the ghost of a headless Black Dog. It is interesting to note the path that runs diagonally over the hill points directly towards Westmeston Church and may be the remains of an old 'Corpse Way' or 'Coffin Road' along which the dead were taken along a dead straight line to be buried. The dog is seen by many cultures as a protector of the dead. The dog has been seen on the road from Ditchling to Westmeston which curves around the hill. Nearby is the earthworks of Ditchling Beacon hillfort where a wild hunt has been heard flying overhead with the sound of horses hooves and yapping dogs. This was a common tale told by the shepherds who worked on this area of the downs, the shepherds are all gone, but the tale remains. Another version of the tale says the phenomenon is actually a phantom army which passes over the area on May 24th to May 26th and leaves a nasty smell as it passes.

Monks And Nuns

The village of Westmeston is home to two holy ghosts. The first is a monk resident at Westmeston Place. He has been seen by several people woken from sleep in a certain room which contains many beautiful carvings, which the monk seems to be carving when seen. The second ghost is a nun who has been seen walking from the church in Westmeston and through the north wall of Church Cottage and crosses the road in front of South-Bank Cottage. The ghost is usually seen in the afternoon.

Saxon Chieftain

On the Downs above Westmeston, on a track called Westmeston Bostal, the ghost of a Saxon Chieftain has been seen looking out into the weald.

Wing's Place

Originally called "Anne of Cleves House", this old house is haunted by the ghost of a woman who likes the doors to be left open. It is unlikely to be the ghost of Anne of Cleves as she never visited the place despite owning it.

Earth Mysteries Earth Mysteries

Ditchling is on an interesting alignment of three (perhaps four) churches that sit just north of the South Downs. From east to west, the churches on the alignment are East Chiltington, Streat, Ditchling and possibly Keymer, the church there being just north of the line. All of the churches are built on prominent mounds, a possible sign of previous Pagan occupation of the site. Additionally there are other telling features such as an ancient Yew at East Chiltington which is reputedly older than the church and a scatter of surviving Sarcen Stones near the church at Ditchling, one of which is is known as the 'Altar Stone'. The line of the churches is almost exactly parallel to the Roman road to the north. An interesting piece of local folklore states that a tunnel runs across the village from east to west.

Another possible alignment is a footpath that crosses Blackdog Hill to the south-east of Ditchling and heads towards Ditchling Church. It is thought that this path may be a corpse way, a dead straight path that heads towards a church way along which coffins were carried. It is interesting to note that Ghostly Black Dogs, one of which haunts the hill, have been related to corpse ways in other parts of the country.

Sarcen Stones

The 'Altar Stone' The area around the church of St. Margaret is home to several Sarcen Stones which signify a possible link to a Pagan past in the area. The church itself is built on a huge mound surrounded by flint walling and built into the wall on the south side of the churchyard is a block of Sarcen that is known locally as the "Altar Stone", though this term doesn't seem to be very old and is probably turn of the century. The section of wall that contains this stone, has another stone which bears the date of 1648. Several other Sarcen stones line the edge of the village green to the west of the church and more sit in the water near the bank of the village pond to the north-west, totalling about 25 stones. Earlier this century, Doris Hall described the island in the village pond being reached by four stepping stones, perhaps the same type of Sarcen, though these are no longer visible. Whether these stoned once formed a stone circle at one time cannot be known, though a historical pagaent acted out by the locals early in the 20th century had people worshiping at a stone circle before a church was built.

Local Customs Local Customs

Ditchling was one of the few places that up until the end of the 19th century, had the continuing tradition of marble playing on Good Friday. Normally a solemn day, many places gave up the morning for pasttimes such as this, sometimes with a traditional end of the proceedings at noon precisely.

Morris & Mumming

Ditchling Morris are a mixed Morris Dancing side who also perform a Mummers Play on Boxing Day at one of the Ditchling Pubs. Their colours are red and blue and they have a blue dragon emblem on their baldrick. They dance at the dawn of May Day on top of Lodge Hill.

Ditchling Mummers perform in their own village!
Ditchling Mummers perform in their own village! (Jan 2000)

Ditchling Fair

In 1312, King Edward the second garnted the village of Ditchling the right to hold an annual fair which was held on three days around July 20th, St. Margarets Day. Known as "Lady Day" in 1717, the fair died out and was resurrected by the local Horticultural society in 1822 mainly as a flower show. Early in the 20th century, it was recorded that this too had nearly died out but a Gooseberry and Current Show, a Stool Ball Match and a Copper Kettle Feast were still held, all of which were run from 1822.

Ditchling Pagaent Every ten years, though originally a lot more often, a historical pagaent was performed on Lodge Hill on the north side of the village. The play was devised early in the 20th century and tells of the history of the village, starting with the conversion of the local population from a bunch of stone worshipping heathens to Christianity when the church was built. The village pagaent boom started around 1910 and finished in Ditchling when Lodge Hill went from private ownership into the care of a village trust who stopped the play being performed on the hill.

Resources Resources
  Ditchling Morris

Bibliography Bibliography
  Ackermann, Lewis T. : The Bones That Had Laughed, SCM Vol. 22, No. 3 1948
Allcroft, A.H. : Earthwork of England, Macmillan 1908
Beckett, Arthur : Historic Ditchling, SCM Vol. 16, No. 12 1942
Borrer, M.A. : Discovery at Ditchling, SAC Vol. 36 1888
Borrer, M.A. : Discovery in Ditchling Churchyard, SAC Vol. 36 1888
Butler, Chris : A Bronze Age Enclosure near Ditchling Beacon, SAC Vol.134 (224-232) 1996
Cheal, Henry : Ditchling, Lewes & South Counties Press 1901
Christie, Elizabeth M. : Ditchling, VCH Vol. 7 (102-109) 1973
Crow, D.A. : Excavations at Ditchling Beacon, SAC Vol. 71 (259-261) 1930
Fyfe, Hamilton : Ditchling's Part in the Festival of Britain, SCM Vol. 25, no. 5 1951
Garrett, Simon : Romano-British Finds from Ditchling..., SAC Vol. 114 (333) 1976
Garrett, Simon : A Mesolithic site at Lodge Hill, Ditchling, SAC Vol. 114 (326) 1976
Hall, Doris M. : Westmeston, Sussex, Delta Press 1980
Hall, Doris : Growing Up in Ditchling, Queenspark Books 1985
Hamilton, F : Ditchling's part in the Festival of Britain, SCM Vol.25, No. 5 1951
Hamilton, S & Manley, J : Points of View : Prominent Enclosures..., SAC Vol. 135 (93-112) 1997
Hutchinson, T. : Ditchling, SAC Vol. 13 1861
Kitchen, Frank : The Ghastly War Flame, SAC Vol. 124 (179-191) 1986
Margary, Ivan D. : A Roman Road from Barcombe Mills..., SAC Vol. 76 (7-34) 1935
Merrifield, Ralph : Good Friday Customs in Sussex, SAC Vol. 89 (85-97) 1950
Pepler, Rosemary : Portrait of Ditchling, Ditchling Press 1965
Rudling, David : Trial Excavation at Ditchling Beacon, SAC Vol. 123 (251-254) 1985
Simpson, Jacqueline : The Folklore Of Sussex, B. T. Batsford Ltd. 1973
Wales, Tony : Sussex Ghosts & Legends, Countryside Books 1992
Wales, Tony : Sussex Customs, Curiosities..., Ensign Publications 1990
West, Trudy : Ditchling, SCM Vol. 23, No.2 1949

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