Lime trees, history and a formidable community spirit – three distinguishing characteristics of one of the most beautiful of the Wealden villages.
Burwash doesn’t ‘nestle’ as estate agents would say, it stands proudly along the Roman route from Hurst Green to Heathfield with spectacular views northwards across the Rother valley and southwards to Kipling’s beloved wooded hilltops.
In the snow it’s a Christmas card or child’s picture book. Handsome pollarded lime trees provide an architectural balance to chocolate box beamed and tile-hung cottages.
Mary Taylor, Burwash correspondent for this newspaper, commends an outstanding sense of community. “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been born here like me, or arrived yesterday. You soon get swept up into village life; helping older folk, organising Jubilee celebrations and the like.”
Community is also celebrated in a sad annual ceremony when a light is turned on at the top of the War Memorial on the evening of the anniversary of the death of each of the village’s 100-plus soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Kipling moved to the old ironmaster’s house of Bateman’s in 1902 and lived in the village for 34 years where locals came to know him as a retiring, kindly man. Small boys were able to recall that they were allowed to fish in the stretch of the Dudwell which runs through the grounds and that they were told stories by the writer which were later published.
Kipling adapted the 18th century watermill in the grounds to power a generator which supplied electric light to the house until the 1920s and the mill has been recently restored by Bateman’s owners, the National Trust. The Trust stages regular events including a re-enactment of World War I battles complete with bi-plane, authentically equipped medics and Revolutionary Russian soldiers playing the balalaika; (Kipling’s beloved son John died at the battle of Loos.)
Older villagers insist on pronouncing the name ‘Burrish’ although this makes nonsense of the Rev John Coker Egerton’s story about the village’s name.
This 19th century clergyman recounted he was told by one of his parishioners that Burwash got its name from a dog. “When the Romans landed in Pevensey Bay they had with them a dog called Bur and after a while the dog got so bemired with the Sussex clay that he couldn’t travel any further, so they washed him and the place where they washed him was called Burwash.”
Another dog haunts Spring lane – the only part of this alarming canine spirit to materialise is its nose, sniffing in the darkness.
The 15th century Wealden hall house that was Burwash’s original rectory was replaced in 1711 by Glebe House built by a rich rector, the Rev George Jordan to the east of the churchyard. The old rectory became four tenements and in 1968 Battle Rural District Council bought the site for redevelopment.
Blacksmiths had a good time in Burwash. Their big occasion was St Clement’s Day (November 23) when anvils were fired with a loud explosion and a half-holiday was kept to commemorate their patron saint. In the evening there was a ‘Way Goose’ – a slap up meal of roast pork with sage and onions which all the village blacksmiths would attend.
Country walks to the north and south of the village lead ramblers along a maze of hidden paths, through plantations of firs and across swollen streams. This spectacular little village has everything – there’s even a fast train to London for happy retirees who, nonetheless, need to remind themselves what they have escaped from.