A village with a tale to tell

Rouser 2013
Rouser 2013

Chiddingly, in its humble way, is said to resemble Rome, because the parish rests upon seven hills: Stone Hill, Gun Hill, Thunders Hill, Burgh Hill, Holmes Hill, Scrapers Hill and Pick Hill.

There was nothing humble about the Jefferay family, the old lords of the manor, whose pride was a byword. To stop their feet from getting soiled on the way to church they had a line of cheeses laid from their mansion to the church door to use as stepping stones.

There are only three stone church spires in Sussex and Chiddingly’s has the best. It stands 130ft high, a gut-wrenching thought for vertigo sufferers but a fact that did not bother one adventurous local when the vane was re-gilded in the 1890s. He climbed to the top of the

spire and balanced on his head on the apex to the excitement of the spectators on terra firma.

It was in the church belfry that the body of William French lay after being exhumed. Tongues were wagging in the village about his sudden death in January, 1852 and a full post mortem examination established that he had died of arsenic poisoning.

The notorious crime of passion became known as The Onion Pie Murder because French’s wife Sarah administered the deadly dose in his favourite supper.

She had fallen for a younger man, James Hickman, and decided to do away with hubby. The tiny woman (she was only 4ft l0ins in height), was hanged before a crowd of more than 3,000 at Lewes on 10 April, 1852. Her body was placed in a lead coffin and buried within the outer walls of the town’s prison.

John-Clifford Russell, born at Chiddingly in 1791, overcame the disadvantages of his birth to establish a mighty business empire. His mother was an unmarried 15-year-old. but he studied hard, became a cordwainer and went on to give his name to the nationally known shoe retailing business of Russell and Bromley.

Chiddingly had its own drinking song, in rather dubious taste, which refers to the great estate of Peaks and Perryland, just over the parish boundary:

‘My daddy was a good ol’ man,

He left me Peaks an’ Perrylan’,

But in the space of twenty year,

I spent it all on gin and beer,’