A Sussex village by the sea

Barden's Wheelwrights of Fairlight
Barden's Wheelwrights of Fairlight

Part of the attraction of Hastings is how closely the rural surroundings impinge on the town.

For many it is Fairlight that comes first to mind when speaking of the countryside in connection with Hastings. The existence of the Hastings Country Park enforces that view; it reaches deep into Fairlight, which, although never having been the scene of any great historic event, has its own story, stretching back to the days of the dinosaurs and through the Napoleonic threat, to two world wars. All of which and more is included in a new book by Haydon Luke, “Fairlight A Sussex Village by the Sea.”

He describes how Fairlight Cove developed and became the thriving community it is today, the 1000 year history of St Andrew’s Church, the resilience of the community and village school under fire and the courage of the locals in attending the many wrecks and rescues off the coast. The book also explores the various threats there have been to the village’s well-being, including oil-drilling, sand-quarrying and the epic battle against sea erosion. Covered in detail is Fairlight’s all-important agricultural and rural life and the story of its many historic farms and distinguished houses; Fairlight Hall, Fairlight Place and Fairlight Lodge. The most obvious aspect of Fairlight’s history is in its farms: until the mid-20th century the majority of the buildings in the parish were cottages, many forming part of the Fairlight Hall Estate. Most of the farm buildings date back several hundred years but they have been altered and adapted to meet changing demands over that time. East Sussex has many beautiful old farmhouses and Haydon has chosen as an example Cherry Garden Farm in Peter James Lane; parts of the house date from the 17th century. The current occupant has traced the ownership of and residents at the farm via legal documents and the census, but it is the relics discovered during 21st century restoration work that speak most clearly of past times. A small and damaged wooden doll was found, plastered into the base of a wall, it could have been there since 17th or 19th century; was it a worker’s prank on future builders or intended to ward off bad luck? Religious writings, possibly Victorian, were discovered pasted onto the wall in one of the bedrooms, doubtless those who lived in the house were very devout. Whatever treasures lay in the silt of an old well were protected by today’s health and safety laws but its old pump was restored to working order and is preserved as a curiosity for future generations. One piece of domestic equipment that was found rotting outside the Cherry Garden farmhouse was a clothes mangle; it had rusted badly but the builders cleaned and returned it to its original working condition. The mangle had been supplied by the famous George Street Hastings Butler’s Emporium, which has also passed into history. Further reading: Fairlight A Sussex Village by the Sea by Haydon Luke, priced £19.99 is available from the History House or direct from the author on eandhluke.plus.com