A new millennium, and a new-look East Sussex Village Book. Some thirteen years have passed since it first appeared, a drop in the ocean of time for the rural communities of the county, a lot of which were around before the first millennium came to a close.
But there have been changes, as I discovered in updating this volume. Most villages have expanded slightly, though usually growth is restricted to a handful of executive style’ detached houses where once there was a field or an orchard. Property prices have long since pushed country homes out of the reach of country people who perhaps should be village dwellers by birthright, the latest in generations of families who have worked in tandem with the land and never travelled far. This is not a criticism of the new, upmarket dwellers. They are there by choice and keen to preserve the little corner of England they can call their own. Villages are not museums; they are vibrant places as much about people as buildings, where gradual change and development prevent stagnation. Each has its own particular character, and that is what this book is about.
It is not primarily a guide. It will not tell you the most scenic route from Battle to Brightling, or which days Michelham Priory is open to the public or where to find the flakiest sausage rolls between Hammersmith and Hastings.
It concentrates on the feel rather than the appearance of a village. In place of geography and gastronomy, uplift and architecture there is a little history, a pinch of legend, the odd anecdote and a swarm of characters, good, bad and indifferent, who have left their mark on our rural life. It is a book as much about the past as what goes on today.
I hope you will find much in this volume that is new: from the butcher who paid the grisly price for marrying someone old enough to be his granny, to the tinker whose hat froze to his head; from the dancing bear which found fame long after his death, to the roving dog that knew the Southern Railway timetable backwards; from the Canadian soldier who liked a pub so much he wrote a poem about it, to the lecherous ghost who made bar work hazardous.
If you bought The East Sussex Village Book the first time around, welcome to some new yarns. If this is your first encounter, welcome to the larger-than-life individuals, bizarre events and odd anecdotes which have enriched this beautiful county down the centuries.
Rupert Taylor, Ringles Cross, 1999