RUSHLAKE Green and Warbleton are two hilltop villages separated by a valley but united by their church. Warbleton is the name of the parish but the true settlement is Rushlake Green – an idyllic English village where Tudor, Georgian and Victorian houses cluster around a green. The countryside hereabouts is the true wild east of the County. Deep ghylls, wooded hilltops and sunken by-ways recreate a mysterious Kiplingesque landscape....you expect to hear the swish of a skirt and hear hooves cantering along ‘The Way Through the Woods.’
But there are bloody and horrific undertones to all this serene sleepiness. Richard Woodman, most famous of the Sussex martyrs was imprisoned in the tower of St Mary’s Church, Warbleton. Woodman was a local ironmaster who, in the middle of the 16th century, publicly accused the curate of being a religious turncoat changing from Protestant to Catholic to suit the monarch of the day. Woodman, whose business yielded £900 a year and who had 100 men on his payroll, paid dearly for his outspoken views. He was forced to become a fugitive from the law, hiding in a wood for six weeks where his devoted wife brought him food, and later escaping to Flanders. He returned after less than a month and hid in his own house, eluding arrest until he was betrayed and finally burnt on a grid iron at Lewes in 1557 with other Protestant martyrs of the Maryan persecution.
Warbleton has always had a strong dissenting element. A century after Woodman’s death the churchwardens complained that there were 19 Quakers, six Anabaptists and nine other parishioners who did not attend church.
The local pub, formerly the Warbill in Tun, was bought by Rushlake Green couple Nikki and Gary Kinnell and quietly updated. On Jubilee weekend this year Gary reinstated the once-famous Church Hill Challenge where brakeless soapboxes race down the hill from the pub. Hundreds attended. The couple also celebrate often unsung British festivals such as Burns Night, St Patrick’s and St George’s Days with appropriate food and drink.
Rushlake Green’s Friendly Society was founded in 1855 with members paying a certain amount every year in return for compensation for sickness, medical attention and funerals. With money left over the Society had a feast day on the second Tuesday in May when members were given a slap-up dinner at The Horse and Groom including roast beef and Christmas pudding. By 1896 the Society had its own uniformed band and feast days grew more lavish with roundabouts and sideshows on the green which upset the local cricketers!
There are sites of historic ironworks adjacent to streams which still run red with ore. But there was also a living to be made in bricks with works at Three Cups, Turners Green and Foords Farm. Hops too were grown extensively and nearly every farm possessed an oast house. Warbleton woods are rich in chestnut trees because they were deliberately planted to provide timber for hop poles.
Lonely Warbleton Priory, dating from the days of Henry IV, and in later years a farm, hotel and restaurant has a sinister reputation. Bloodstains have left an indelible mark on the floor of one of its rooms and two skulls were preserved in the building. When any attempt was made to bury them there were terrible noises in the night and it ws believed that the catrtle on local farms fell sick.
Today all is calm in the villages; oast houses have long been converted into desirable executive residences, gardens are reminiscent of the Chelsea Flower Show and a preponderance of Range Rovers (and even a Maserati) are parked outside the Horse and Groom.