A village with its share of eccentrics

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THIS is Sellens in East Hoathly. The ancient photograph was sent in by Jane Seabrook of East Hoathly who confirms that the structure is not the ‘house near Lewes’ that Rouser was recently ruminating upon.

The village, which has its eccentric side, lies within the gently sloping agricultural landscape between the High Weald and the South Downs.

The settlement dates back to Anglo Saxon times when it was known as Aist Hoadlye. In the Domesday Book it was entered as Estothingham. It originally centred around the former village green and pond, which is now the site of the chapel built at the turn of the century.

The diarist Thomas Turner occupied a house in the village between 1750 and 1787 and his diaries, written over 11 years, are an invaluable historic account of 18th century village life.

In addition to problems with the bottle, Turner seems to have had problems with his wife, Peggy Slater, though after her death she is always referred to in his diary in the most reverent terms.

His intimate disclosures cease with his second marriage, to Molly Hicks, though not before revealing that she was rather plain!

The ‘Sussex Cannibal’ lived in East Hoathly. He was the Cavalier, Colonel Sir Thomas Lunsford, a giant of a man who was said to dine on children. He supposedly went about with infant limbs in his pocket by way of mid-meal snacks. Whatever his gruesome reputation, it was for killing deer in the park of Sir Thomas Pelham that the colonel was tried in 1632 and for a murderous assault upon that gentleman when he took a pot shot at him outside the church.

The trail of the bullet can still be seen on the stonework on the south side of the west door.

The colonel seems to have escaped with a hefty fine and in 1649 he sold all he had and emigrated with his family to Virginia.

One of the numerous Sussex homes of the Pelhams was Halland Place, which lies on the parish boundary between East Hoathly and Laughton.

When one of the family’s old retainers fell into pauperism, the two parishes went to Law to decide which would have to foot the bill for his claim for relief.

The pauper had spent most of his life at Halland Place but a survey revealed that his bed stood over the parish boundary. The Law duly decided that East Hoathly should have to pay for his shelter and sustenance because his head had lain in that parish when he was asleep.

One village parson of the old days was a renowned scruff, with a shirt that was always hanging out and ragged breeches. A bountiful lady of the village found his sartorial style particularly offensive and so bequeathed him one pair of breeches a year.

She also presented his successors with an area of glebe and woodland, the income from which was to be devoted to a new pair of breeches for the parish parson. The site is still known as Breeches Wood.

Of particular local interest is the use of very large stone bricks in some of the older garden walls. These bricks, which are thought to have been made in response to a tax on such materials, are reputed to have been made locally but apparently were so heavy that local craftsmen refused to use them on buildings and went on strike to protest against their impracticality.

East Hoathly certainly had its characters. And probably still has.