If there’s a ‘right proportion’ to the layout of villages, as there is to the inside of homes, East Hoathly scores a perfect ten.
The village centre is broad and open, flanked by three excellent pubs and focused on a smart village shop; one that’s used daily by local people as opposed to something set up for tourists and only selling overpriced souvenirs or fudge manufactured in the Midlands.
This elegant village - formerly astride the coaching route to the coast - has thankfully been by-passed by the A22, but it’s well worth a diversion via the imaginative wooden sign handcarved by local craftsman Keith Pettit.
You’ll come to a quiet T-junction with the High Street turning to right and left. East Hoathly is compact - within yards you are in the depths of the Wealden countryside. Two long-distance paths, the Wealdway and Vanguard Way both traverse the village. A short distance away, half-way to neighbouring Chiddingly, is Farley Farmhouse, home to farmer Tony Penrose, son of painter and Picasso biographer Roland Penrose and renowned war photographer Lee Miller. The farm was a postwar bolthole for luminaries from the Surrealist movement including Man Ray, Joan Miro and Max Ernst and is open today as a gallery.
But back to East Hoathly itself which was also home to the Sussex cannibal, 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 he was tried in 1632 and for a murderous assault on Sir Thomas 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 escaped with a hefty fine and in 1649 he sold all he had and emigrated with his family to Virginia.
East Hoathly’s most famous son was Thomas Turner (1729-1789) the village’s Samuel Pepys, whose diaries bring the atmosphere of his age vividly alive. You can read extracts from his diary in this newspaper’s weekly Parish Pump column. Turner was village schoolmaster, undertaker and draper who fought a constant battle between piety and the demon drink. In 11 years he filled more than 100 books with a full and sincere account of his lapses and repentances. The lapses were frequent with many furious drinking bouts in the village breaking his own ‘Rules of Proper Regimen’ which were ‘never to drink more than four glasses of strong beer.” If there is either wine or punch never on any terms of persuasion to drink more than eight glasses. I will always go to bed before ten.”
The lively spirit which inspired Turner exists today, elevating East Hoathly into much more than a sleepy commuter community. All three pubs have their devoted aficionadoes and a popular charity five kilometre race called the King’s Head Canter takes place every August Bank Holiday.
There’s a long-established hair salon and even a successful microbrewery. The 1648 Brewing Company operates from old stable buildings close to the King’s Head with the Old Forge opposite in Mill Lane now operating as a cold conditioning room. The idea for the brewery was conceived after a chance conversation between David Seabrook and Robert Wallace in 2002 and 18 months later the first brew flowed from the fermenting vessel into the casks.
The Parish Church has a Grade II listed 15th century tower. Inside is a dainty piece of Norman art which was once thrown out as rubbish. The pillar piscina with zig zag decoration on the shaft, was dug up in the churchyard during restoration work in the 19th century and restored to its proper place. The Cricket Club was founded in 1759. The Bonfire Society leads a colourful procession of similar societies through the parish every November on the Saturday preceding Remembrance Sunday; its proud motto being ‘Lest We Forget.’ The parish is twinned with Juziers in France and has an annual rotating visit.
Peace, community, countryside, elegant architecture, lively pubs, business, clubs and societies - East Hoathly is an archetypal Wealden village but one where scores of young families ensure the future is embraced as fondly as the past.