There are two theories about the identity of the ghost at The Sussex Ox, a shadowy figure which has been spotted on the landing of this beautiful old building.
One is that it is the spirit of a butcher (the pub was a butcher’s shop until some 80 years ago), the other that it is a phantom smuggler. Because in addition to occupying an idyllic spot at the foot of the Downs, The Sussex Ox is convenient for the river Cuckmere, a popular route in times gone by for bringing contraband by boat, and close to Alfriston whose highly organised smuggling activities made it notorious in the 18th century.
On the evening of 11 December 1831 a barn was set on fire at Milton Court Farm. So fierce was the blaze that within 15 minutes the three floors of the building had collapsed and the roof had fallen in. Thirty-six quarters of wheat, 150 quarters o barley, 20 quarters of peas and three haystacks were destroyed.
Farmer Charles Ade had his suspicions as to who was responsible for the arson attack – a young employee of his called Samuel Thorncraft who bore a grudge. He stood trial at Lewes Assizes the following March when the Brighton Gazette informed its readers that “The prisoner is an exceedingly fine made man, and has jet black hair and whiskers, with a scowling eye, and a determined and resolute appearance rendered him an object of much attention.’
Twenty-two-year-old Thorncraft was found guilty and, despite a tearful appeal from his father for mercy, went to the gallows. He put the blame on drink and said his parents were to ensure his brothers did not follow the path he had taken (see also Alfriston).