After a drink or two at the old Star Inn the senses can start to play strange tricks. What was that eerie sound coming from over the way in the churchyard? The locals put down their glasses to listen and a hush fell upon the bar. There it was again … a ghostly groaning? A malignant icy whisper? The sound of a damned soul in torment?
Emboldened by the ale, some of the younger men in the assembled throng left the genial glow of the pub and stepped out into the wintry night to investigate the mystery. The church was outlined starkly against the moonlight and the chilling noise grew louder as they picked their way cautiously through the graveyard. It seemed to be coming from the tower itself … then there was a sudden squawk of alarm, a furious flapping of wings and an owl abandoned its slumbering place in the belfry where its sonorous snoring had been magnified dramatically by the enclosed space.
The Waldron ghost hunt found its way into the pages of the Sussex Express a few years back. A newspaper from an earlier age carried a more inexplicable story in 1756: ‘On Monday January 19 between 9 and 10 am a great noise like thunder was heard in a well belonging to the Rev Hamlin at Waldron. On examination the water was found to be several feet higher than usual and in great ferment and agitation which subsided in about 15 minutes. Between 10 and 11 it returned and continued for half-an-hour which greatly alarmed the neighbourhood.’
Things grow well around this picturesque and compact village. Just below the church, in a lane turned almost into a leafy tunnel with rocks on either side, are St George’s Vineyards, where the English wine industry has rapidly made a name for itself – as far afield as Japan, in fact, with big orders from Tokyo. And Bentham and Hooker’s British Flora asserts that the Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum) is found only about Waldron.
The village pond used to be beside the church and was used by the forge until it was filled in during the 1930s. It is spring fed and has bubbled to the surface again in the past. Now it is tarmaced over, there are still a few villagers who keep a close eye on things, half-hoping to see this relic of the past force its way back into life again.
In the church tower is a peal of eight bells, with certificates to mark the excellence of the Waldron bellringers. One, dated March 1890, states that ‘eight parishioners rang on the bells in this tower a full and complete Grandsire triples (5,040) changes.’
They achieved this feat in three hours and one minute.
Just outside the church door is one of the three great Saxon fonts in Sussex, a round monster hewn from a single block of stone. It had been lost for years and the story goes that it was found on a farm where it served as a cattle trough. Another yarn elaborates: that it was taken out of the church by Cromwell’s men and rolled down the hill.
This is a secretive village buried away in a maze of lanes and pointed at, but never quite pinpointed, by a score of signposts. Yet the parish has produced two Lord Mayors of London, the first being Sir William de Walderne in 1412 and the second Sir Thomas Offley of Possingworth in 1657, who left half his estate to the poor and was a man so abstemious in his habits that he inspired the rhyme:
“Offley three dishes had of daily roast
An egg, an apple, and the third of toast.’
Food on a grander scale than the diet of good Sir Thomas is the subject of The Waldron Cauldron, a book of recipes contributed by parishioners and compiled by Thelma Stevens, Iris Newson and the Rev David Paskins. It includes several traditional Sussex recipes, such as Lardy Johns:
4 oz lard 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 oz currants 4 oz flour
4 oz sugar
Method: Rub the lard into the flour, then add baking powder. Add currants. Mix into a stiff paste with water, roll out into two-inch squares and bake for 10-15 minutes.
Or how about a cure for night cramps, a prescription given by Sir Morton Smart, Physician to King George VI:
At bedtime, add to a tumbler of hot water two round tsps of glucose, 2 tsp bicarb of soda and 2 tsps of lemon juice. Drink every night before retiring until cramp is cured.