THE MORNING Has Broken hymn written by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931 was inspired by the beauty of Alfriston and its environs – a befitting musical chant for a charming village packed with history.
To list all the interesting antiquated buildings, nuggets of yesteryear information and sightseeing spots in the settlement could fill an entire book – let alone a newspaper article. And that is why a constant stream of tourists venture across the Sussex Downs to find the place and enjoy its delights.
Alfriston’s origins apparently date back to Saxon times - the mound of St Andrew’s Church, itself built in the 1300s, sits on an old Saxon burial ground. Other hints of Saxon origins are proven with the original name of ‘Aelfrictun’ (Alfric town) for the settlement and the Domesday Book interprets this as ‘Elfricesh-tun’.
The River Cuckmere is a dominating feature, snaking down the Cuckmere Valley and glancing past the Village green, called The Tye, before wending its way to the English Channel. It heralds the ghosts of previous times when the famous ‘Alfriston gang’ smuggled goods via the water. Gang leader Stanton Collins was later sent to Australia after he was found guilty of sheep rustling in the early 1830s.
Tales of terror seem far removed from the quaint neighbourhood of today. Villagers are always busy with thriving community events such as Alfriston Festival, and Dickensian-themed Christmas celebrations.
Moonrakers Restaurant is run by Robin Bextor and his wife Polly Mockford. Robin is the father of pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and a film and TV producer in his own right.
Other notable residents include Lord Denis Healey, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and his wife Lady Edna, history writer and film maker, who died in July 2010.
The Star Inn fascinates many with its wooden figures and history dating back to the 1260s. It was known as ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ until 1520 when it was run by the monks of Battle Abbey, giving shelter to pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Richard in Chichester.
A lion figurehead dominates the frontage of the building which is thought to be from a Dutch warship wrecked in the English Channel. It is thought that smugglers brought the Lion piece into the village.
The George Inn opposite also has a fascinating architecture – its first licence dates back to 1397.
Alfriston Clergy House dating from the 14th century was the first building to be brought under the wings of the National Trust in 1896. With a thatched, timber-framed structure, the house and its cottage gardens are open to visitors at various times.
To declare that Alfriston is a ‘must visit’ village goes without saying – its elegant array of picturesque delights never fail to please.