SLIDESHOW: Litlington - a little gem steeped in history

LITLINGTON was a fortified hill village, probably settled by Aeile just after 477 AD.

The name means ‘the white fortified village on the hill’ although it moved to the more productive lowlands once the area was under Saxon control.

Just after the Norman Conquest – in typical, organised Norman fashion - clerks counted the population to find just 37 peasants living there.

By 1327 there were 24 taxpayers and more than 45 people owned wool by 1347.

By 1377, 235 adults paid the poll tax – as unpopular then as it was last century – and the population rose to more than 300 in the early 1600s.

Now ‘peasants’ homes’ have been converted into bijou, roses-round-the-door cottages, much loved by emigre Londoners, although the village still boasts several long-established land-owning families who rear livestock and farm arable crops on the productive neighbouring Downland.

During August residents fall asleep to the drone of combine harvesters which often work through the night making the most of a late, dry spell of weather.

Litlington is distinguished by its Downs.

It typifies every ex-pat Englishman’s dream image of an idyllic Sussex village – Hilaire Belloc’s ‘whaleback downs’ swooping down to the the River Cuckmere with Litlington snaking in flint and mellowed brick along its reedy, eastern banks.

Taking tea, that most British of traditions was given a new twist at the turn of the century by Mr Russell who added outdoor charm to the affair by introducing the county’s first tea gardens.

A rarity these days, but Litlington’s Tea Garden is still going strong where afternoons can be spend on quiet lawns or in neat pavilions surrounded byherbaceous borders.

The County’s white horse chalk carving gazes down on the village from the hills where sure-footed walkers head down from the National Trust’s High and Over to turn left along the Cuckmere and cross the bridge for a hearty lunch at popular pub, the Plough and Harrow.

Onwards towards Seaford, Charleston Manor – with its heritage listed garden and dovecot – was the home of Sir Oswald and Lady Birley and is now back in the hands of the famous Birley family (best known members, Annabel Goldsmith and Jemina Khan.)

Mrs Maria Fitzherbert, by tradition, lived at Clapham House before she married King George IV. He seems to have been an energetic suitor, riding 18 miles over the hills to see her.

The couple, dubbed as Mr and Mrs Payne, secretly married in the village’s parish church.

One of their children was born at Clapham before George abandoned her for the Princess of Brunswick.

But perhaps better known is the Church of the Good Shepherd, a mile or so north at Lullington, and claimed to be the smallest church in England at just five metres square and seating 20 people.

It was built from the remains of the chancel of an earlier church destroyed by fire at the time of Oliver Cromwell.

The sloping garden – offering fine views westwards along the Downland ridge towards Mount Caburn and Lewes – contains a drift of snowdrops in the early Spring.

Directly opposite is the holiday home of the late Sir Dirk Bogarde who wrote movingly about his inter-war childhood in Great Meadow.

Lovers of his books can walk across the Cuckmere’s White Bridge, past the rather smart Great Meadow barn (formerly known as Plonk Barn,) up a gradual hill and still recapture some of the country magic the writer and actor described so vividly.

On the tops of the western Downs walkers and riders can stumble into bramble-filled hollows in the chalk, said to be caused when the Luftwaffe unloaded surplus bombs en route back to occupied France. Much of the dogfighting between English and German pilots during the Battle of Britain scrawled vapour trail graffiti in the skies above Litlington 70 years ago.