This village underwent the sort of trauma that could so easily have shattered its identity. In the early years of the 19th century it abandoned its roots and moved to a new site half a mile away, leaving only its church in the middle of a private park.
The ancient settlement of Bloc Stede (Place of Beeches) was grouped around the Church of St Margaret the Queen, with a parsonage, an inn, a shop, a forge, stocks and a whipping post serving the cottages. Lord Liverpool became the owner of Buxted Place and wished to remove the village from its ancestral site so he could make his park larger and more exclusive. He offered to build new houses for the inhabitants anywhere in the parish if they would move, but not unnaturally, they turned him down.
Lord Liverpool then refused to carry out any repairs to the properties and they gradually fell into decay. The occupants were forced to leave, the houses were demolished and by 1836 there was nothing left to be seen of the old village. Only an old print in the church serves as a reminder of how things used to be.
Buxted Place itself has had a colourful career, surviving a disastrous fire in 1940 to later become a health farm and later still the home of an Arab Sheik. The park is famous for its herd of deer and the large artificial lake which is home for many exotic birds.
The new settlement grew up with the railway line to become a thriving place, popular with commuters and with more than 20 clubs and organisations to keep the locals amused. A legacy of the old days lives on in Upper Totease, the clergyman’s house, which was rebuilt on its present site after the migration from the park, with a mounting block still at its gates.
Of the scores of East Sussex villages that made a living out of the iron industry, Buxted demands a special claim on our attention for it was here that Ralf Hogge (or Huggett) perfected gun production in 1543 and became weapon maker by royal appointment:
‘Master Huggett and his man John, They did cast the first cannon.’
The Hogge House, complete with a pig emblem and the date 1581, stands at the entrance of Buxted Park.
The village was also a centre of the silk-weaving industry, introduced and taught by refugee Flemish weavers, and for the growing of hops. They were still being produced at Howbourne Farm in the 1940s in fields that have now been swallowed up by the Manor Park Estate, part of the town of Uckfield but lying within Buxted parish. The oast houses survive as homes and the hops themselves grow wild in the hedgerows, an open invitation for people to put to the test the belief that the surest way to a good night’s sleep is a pillow full of hops.
The unfortunate Nan Tuck was treated with less than civility by her contemporaries but won immortality in Buxted: ‘Nan Tuck’s Lane’ proclaims the road sign, though it was the scene of her terror and despair.
Old Nan lived here in the 17th century, not a good time for old ladies who lived on their own. Through eccentricity or senility they stood the chance of being called witches and this was the accusation that fell upon Nan. She fled down the lane with her persecutors in full cry behind, disappearing into a wood never to be seen again according to one climax of the story, or to be found hanged in Tuck’s Wood according to the sadder version. Nan’s ghost is said to haunt the lane and when efforts were made to restock the wood with trees after the Great War there was one patch on which no sapling would ever grow…
A note in the parish register records the tragedy of Mary Relfe and James Atkinson who were due to be married in December 1742. Mary suddenly fell dangerously ill and despite the constant nursing of her fiancé died one Sunday evening. James took to his bed, heartbroken and praying for death. He died the following Sunday at the same hour of the evening as Mary, and was buried beside her in the churchyard on the day they were to have been married.
Village idiots used to be an essential ingredient of the rural landscape. Buxted was no exception, but in George Watson they had an extraordinary character who made many people think again about this much-maligned segment of society. George was born in the village in 1785 and according to Hone’s Table Book was ‘ignorant in the extreme, and quite uneducated, not being able to read and write.’ Yet he was a mathematical genius and could perform amazing feats of memory, solving the most difficult calculations and recalling the events of every day in his life from an early age – ‘Upon being asked on what day a given day of the month occurred, he immediately names it, and also mentions where he was and what was the state of the weather.’
George’s powers made him something of a celebrity and he was taken on several tours and proclaimed as a wonder. Mark Antony Lower, who said George’s portrait depicted a middle aged man, of gentle though half idiotic expression’, wrote: ‘I never saw George Watson but once: he was trudging up Malling Hill, eastward to Lewes, and his hat, considerably the worse for wear, was chalked all over with figures, apparently the result of some arithmetical feat he had recently performed, and which he had forgotten to rub out.’