KEVIN GORDON - Smugglers used to frequent pub with a past

This was the  Plough and Harrow in the 1920s. The pub guarantees a warm welcome today, but during the 18th and 19th centuries it stood in the heart of smuggling territory.
This was the Plough and Harrow in the 1920s. The pub guarantees a warm welcome today, but during the 18th and 19th centuries it stood in the heart of smuggling territory.
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The Plough and Harrow pub in Litlington is a favourite of mine. It is rather off the beaten track but you can always be guaranteed to get a warm welcome, good food and a decent pint.

It not only stocks Harveys but tasty beer from the nearby Long Man Brewery.

You get the feeling that the pub has been here for centuries. The building (actually two linked farm buildings) dates from the 17th century and has probably been the village ale house since this time although the earliest reference I have managed to find dates from April 1760.

An advertisement in the Sussex Advertiser (a forerunner of the Sussex Express) relates to a a large freehold house with malthouse, stables, garden and orchard for sale in the village.

For further information about the property, readers were asked to enquire of Richard Ockenden of the Black Hart at Litlington. Could this have been an early name for the Plough and Harrow?

Around this time and until the 1830s the area was rife with smuggling, much of it controlled by the infamous Alfriston Gang whose headquarters were just across the river.

It is likely that the pub would have benefited from this elicit trade. In January 1823, Mr Aldrich the Chief Officer for the Coastguard station at Seaford, carefully tracked some smugglers from Seaford Head to Litlington.

He lost the trail near the Plough and Harrow but a search revealed 12 casks of spirits hidden in a nearby garden. When he tried to retrieve the contraband, he was set upon by a group of men armed with bludgeons and stones. The leader of the Alfriston Gang was the infamous Stanton Collins whose last crime was the theft of barley from a farm at Litlington. He appeared at Lewes Assizes in 1831 and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.

On 26th March, 1857, George Harrison, an itinerant saw-sharpener from Brighton, stopped off at the Plough and Harrow and spent two hours sharpening a saw belonging to the landlord, John Terry.

Mr Terry had two large cuts of bacon hanging from a hook in the chimney of the fireplace but when the pedlar left, he noticed that slices had been cut from one. The local policeman was called and apprehended Harrison nearby.

A quick search revealed that he had about three quarters of a pound of freshly cut bacon hidden about his person. He pleaded guilty to the crime at Hailsham Magistrates and received one months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

A correspondent to the Sussex Agricultural Express wrote about a visit to the Plough and Harrow in 1909. He got chatting and mused on how wet the summer had been; one old local agreed but said it wasn’t as bad a summer as 1860. It was true that 1860 was indeed a particularly bad summer when many sheep died ‘of the rot’ and crops lay drenched on the ground until they also rotted.

This old Litlington resident said that he had had 11 children but his wife had ‘saved ten of them’ by doctoring them with herbs, especially dandelions and nettles.

Another man said that he had just heard that his cousin from Waldron had died. The correspondent asked him if he had read of this in the paper, but the old man laughed saying he was unable to read and received no letters.

He had heard the news from the huckster (a travelling greengrocer) who travelled around East Sussex buying and selling fruit and vegetables and spreading local news from village to village.

The photograph dates from the 1920s. I am pleased to see that the horses are under control. In March, 1896, the local constable, PC Steer of Alfriston, was walking past the Plough and Harrow when he noticed four stray horses on the road towards Seaford. He established they belonged to Thomas Hughes , a hawker from Brighton. He duly appeared before the Hailsham Magistrates and was fined 2s 6d for each stray horse.

You will get a warm welcome today - but don’t forget to tether your horse first!