The delightful riverside village of Piddinghoe is now by-passed by the C7 Newhaven to Lewes Road but it is well worth a visit. It used to be pronounced Pidden-hoo.
A old rhyme went.. ‘Englishmen fight, French too, We don’t - we live in Piddinghoe’.
Despite this peaceable poem much seemed to have happened in the village.
In September 1790 Piddinghoe was stunned when a rabid dog, which had escaped from nearby Denton, bit a 9-year-old girl by the name of Tutt. The poor girl contracted rabies and died shortly afterwards. It is horrible to read that the local surgeon used a knife to remove the areas where the dog had bitten her around the head in order to cut away the infection. In the days before anaesthetics, how that poor girl must have suffered. It appeared that the dog escaped capture as an ox died of rabies on a farm near Lewes a few days later.
In May 1827, a child by the name of Thomas Camfield died in Piddinghoe and I was interested to read the the verdict given at the inquest was that he died “by the visitation of God”. This simply means that the doctor had no idea how the child died.
In 1863, another Piddinghoe child, Edith Croft, died at the age of just 13 weeks old. Her grandmother, Elizabeth established a £350 fund in her memory. It is known as ‘Little Edith’s Treat’ and, on July 19 each year, a small payment was made to the children of the village from the fund. The children gathered on the village green when the story of little Edith was read. Coins were thrown in the air for children to catch and there followed games and tea. The fund is still in existence but has not been used since 2000 when the money was used for a children’s party. Parish Clerk Mr Redman tells me there are just a handful of children in the village today. However in 1904, 70 local children attended a grand tea party with biscuits, sweets and nuts. How nice that little Edith is still remembered 150 years after her death.
Of course the make-up of the village was different in 1863. Most people would have worked in agriculture and there were many more children. The Morning Chronicle reported in January 1809 that a Mrs Beck of Piddinghoe had reached her 96th birthday.
Altogether she had no fewer than 110, children, grand-children, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren living close to her in the village. (she must have been related to most of the population!)
She would have been buried in the round churchyard of St John’s Church. Its famous round tower and golden 18th century weather-vane are often mentioned in guide books,
(Rudyard Kipling mistakenly said the weather-vane depicted a dolphin) but the original village stocks near the porch are often overlooked although they are currently in a poor state of repair. The church dates from the twelfth century but was restored by the architect Philip Currey in 1882, shortly before he rebuilt St John Sub-Castro Church in Lewes.
Piddinghoe Fair in May attracted people from far and wide (well at least from Newhaven!) In 1824 one John Racket was leaving the fair to walk to Newhaven when he was accosted by - to quote the local paper - a ‘young wench who made free with him and offered her best services’. Mr Racket declined her services but she threw her arms around him to give him a farewell hug and you won’t be surprised to hear that shortly afterwards he found his wallet and his watch had been stolen.
The church records also bring to light some interesting cases. One entry of 11th November 1775 shows the baptism of Jane Collingwood Arlward, the daughter of Sarah Arlward, the entry records that “the reputed father is John Trevor Collingwood, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Navy”. Collingwood was 37 years old and a cousin of Admiral Collingwood, who was to be Nelson’s second in command at Trafalgar. Sarah was just 22 years old.
Surprisingly the good sailor returned to Piddinghoe and made an honest woman of Sarah as they were married four years later.
The people of Piddinghoe fascinated former resident Valerie Mellor. Valerie was a teacher, geographer and historian and she moved to the village in 1985 (although she never lost her Brummie accent) She was passionate about the history of the village and gathered virtually every known fact about the place by scouring archives and interviewing residents.
She lectured about the history of the village and wrote and directed short pagents, persuading local people to take the roles of former Piddinghoe villagers. Valerie was a lovely lady who was always willing to share her research. Sadly she died last year but her huge collection of local history books and archives were donated to the East Sussex County Records Office. Whenever I visit Piddinghoe I aways think of Valerie and smile as I know that she is now part of the history of the village she loved.