Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 33

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Highways and Byways in Sussex by Edward Verrall Lucas
Heathfield and the "Lies"

CHAPTER XXXIII


HEATHFIELD AND THE "LIES."


The two Heathfields—Heathfield Park—"Hefful" Fair and the spring—The death of Jack Cade—Warbleton's martyr—Three "lies" and all true—An ecclesiastical confection—The bloodthirsty Colonel Lunsford—Halland—Tarble Down—Breeches Wood—Mr. Thomas Turner's diary—Laughton—Chiddingly's inhospitable fane—The Jefferay cheese—A devoted campanologist—Hellingly—Hailsham.


There are two Heathfields: the old village, with its pleasant Sussex church and ancient cottages close to the park gates; and the new brick and slate town that has gathered round the station and the natural gas-works. The park lies between the two, remarkable among Sussex parks for the variety of its trees and the unusual proportion of them. The spacious lawns which are characteristic of the parks in the south, here, on Heathfield's sandy undulations, give place to heather, fern and trees. I never remember to have seen a richer contrast of greens than in early spring, looking west from the house, between the masses of dark evergreens that had borne the rigours of the winter and the young leaves just breaking through. Heathfield's park is, I think, the loveliest in Sussex, lying as it does on a southern slope, with its opulence of foliage, its many rushing burns (the source of the Cuckmere), its hidden ravines and deep silent tarns, and its wonderful view of the Downs and the sea. The park once belonged to the Dacres of Hurstmonceaux, whom we are about to meet. Traces of the original house, dating probably from Henry VII.'s reign, are still to be seen in the basement. Upon this foundation was imposed a new building towards the end of the seventeenth century. The park was then known as Bailey Park. A century later, George Augustus Eliott (afterwards Lord Heathfield), the hero of Gibraltar, and earlier of Cuba, acquired it with his Havana prize money. After Lord Heathfield died, in 1790, the park became the property of Francis Newbery, son of the bookseller of St. Paul's Churchyard. The present owner, Mr. Alexander, has added greatly to the house.

Gibraltar Tower, on the highest point of the park, was built by Newbery in honour of his predecessor. From its summit a vast prospect is visible, and forty churches, it is said, may be counted. I saw but few of these. In the east, similarly elevated, is seen the Brightling Needle. Mr. Alexander has gathered together in the tower a number of souvenirs of old English life which make it a Lewes Castle museum in little. Here are stocks, horn glasses, drinking vessels, rushlight holders, leather bottels, and one of those quaint wooden machines for teaching babies to walk. An old manuscript history of the tower, in Mr. Alexander's possession, contains at least one passage that is perhaps worth noting, as it may help to clear up any confusion that exists in connection with Lord Heathfield's marriage. "The lady to whom his lordship meant to be united," says the historian, "and who would certainly have been his wife had not death stepped in, is the sister of a lady of whom his lordship was extremely fond, but she, dying about ten years ago, he transferred his affections to the other, who is about thirty-five years of age."

A Heathfield worthy of a hundred years ago was Sylvan Harmer, chiefly a stone cutter (he cut the stone for the tower), but also the modeller in clay of some very ingenious and pretty bas-relief designs for funeral urns, notably a group known as Charity.

The following scene from The Second Part of Henry VI. although Shakespeare places it in Kent, belongs to a little hamlet known as Cade Street, close to Heathfield:—

Scene X.—Kent. Iden's Garden.

Enter Cade.

Cade. Fie on ambition! fie on myself; that have a sword, and yet am ready to famish! These five days have I hid me in these woods, and durst not peep out, for all the country is laid for me; but now am I so hungry, that if I might have a lease of my life for a thousand years, I could stay no longer. Wherefore, on a brick-wall have I climbed into this garden, to see if I can eat grass, or pick a sallet another while, which is not amiss to cool a man's stomach this hot weather. And, I think, this word sallet was born to do me good: for, many a time, but for a sallet, my brain-pan had been cleft with a brown bill; and, many a time, when I have been dry, and bravely marching, it hath served me instead of a quart-pot to drink in; and now the word sallet must serve me to feed on.

Enter Iden, with Servants, behind.

Iden. Lord! who would live turmoiléd in the court,
       And may enjoy such quiet walks as these!
       This small inheritance, my father left me,
       Contenteth me, and worth a monarchy.
       I seek not to wax great by others' waning;
       Or gather wealth I care not with what envy:
       Sufficeth that I have maintains my state,
       And sends the poor well pleaséd from my gate.

Cade. Here's the lord of the soil come to seize me for a stray, for entering his fee-simple without leave. Ah, villain, thou wilt betray me, and get a thousand crowns of the king by carrying my head to him; but I'll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword like a great pin, ere thou and I part.

Iden. Why, rude companion, whatsoe'er thou be,
       I know thee not; why then should I betray thee?
       Is't not enough, to break into my garden,
       And like a thief to come to rob my grounds,
       Climbing my walls in spite of me, the owner,
       But thou wilt brave me with these saucy terms?

Cade. Brave thee? ay, by the best blood that ever was broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men; and if I do not leave you all as dead as a door-nail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

Iden. Nay, it shall ne'er be said, while England stands,
       That Alexander Iden, an esquire of Kent,

       Took odds to combat a poor famished man.
       Oppose thy steadfast-gazing eyes to mine,
       See if thou canst outface me with thy looks:
       Set limb to limb, and thou art far the lesser;
       Thy hand is but a finger to my fist;
       Thy leg a stick, comparéd with this truncheon;
       My foot shall fight with all the strength thou hast;
       And if mine arm be heavéd in the air,
       Thy grave is digged already in the earth.
       As for words, whose greatness answers words,
       Let this my sword report what speech forbears.

Cade. By my valour, the most complete champion that ever I heard.—Steel, if thou turn the edge, or cut not out the burly-boned clown in chines of beef ere thou sleep in thy sheath, I beseech Jove on my knees, thou mayest be turned to hobnails. [They fight. Cade falls.] O! I am slain. Famine, and no other, hath slain me: let ten thousand devils come against me, and give me but the ten meals I have lost, and I'd defy them all. Wither, garden; and be henceforth a burying-place to all that do dwell in this house, because the unconquered soul of Cade is fled.

Iden. Is't Cade that I have slain, that monstrous traitor?
       Sword, I will hallow thee for this thy deed,
       And hang thee o'er my tomb, when I am dead:
       Ne'er shall this blood be wipéd from thy point,
       But thou shalt wear it as a herald's coat,
       To emblaze the honour that thy master got.

Cade. Iden, farewell; and be proud of thy victory. Tell Kent from me, she hath lost her best man, and exhort all the world to be cowards; for I, that never feared any, am vanquished by famine, not by valour.

[Dies.

That was on July 12, 1450. Cade did not die at once, but on the way to London, whither he was conveyed in a cart. On the 16th his body was drawn and quartered and dragged through London on a hurdle. One quarter was then sent to Blackheath; the other three to Norwich, Gloucester and Salisbury. Cade's head was set up on London Bridge. Iden was knighted. A pillar was erected at Cade Street by Newbery on the piece of land that he possessed nearest to the probable scene of the event. "Near this spot was slain the notorious rebel Jack Cade, by Alexander Iden, Esq.," is the inscription.

Slaughter Common, near Heathfield, is said to be the scene of a more wholesale carnage, Heathfield people claiming that there Caedwalla in 635 fought the Saxons and killed Eadwine, king of Northumbria. Sylvan Harmer, in his manuscript history of Heathfield, is determined that Heathfield shall have the credit of the fray, but, as a matter of fact, if Slaughter Common really took its name from a battle it was a very different one, for Caedwalla and Eadwine met, not at Heathfield, but Hatfield Chase, near Doncaster.

It is at Hefful Cuckoo fair on April 14—Hefful being Sussex for Heathfield—that, tradition states, the old woman lets the cuckoo out of her basket and starts him on his course through the summer months. A local story tells of a Heathfield man who had a quarrel with his wife and left for Ditchling. After some days he returned, remarking, "I've had enough of furrin parts—nothing like old England yet."

If any one, walking from Heathfield towards Burwash, is astonished to find a "Railway Inn," let him spend no time in seeking a station, for there is none within some miles. This inn was once "The Labour in Vain," with a signboard representing two men hard at work scrubbing a nigger till the white should gleam through. Then came a scheme to run a line to Eastbourne, midway between the present Heathfield line and the Burwash line, and enterprise dictated the changing of the sign to one more in keeping with the times. The railway project was abandoned but the inn retains its new style.

Warbleton, a village in the iron country, two miles south of Heathfield, is famous for its association with Richard Woodman, the Sussex martyr, who is mentioned in an earlier chapter. His house and foundry were hard by the churchyard. The wonderful door in the church tower, a miracle of intricate bolts and massive strength, has been attributed to Woodman's mechanical skill; and the theory has been put forward that he made this door for his own strong room, and it was afterwards moved to the church. Another story says that he was imprisoned in the church tower before being taken for trial. Warbleton has the following terse and confident epitaph upon Ann North, wife of the vicar, who died in 1780:—

          Through death's rough waves her bark serenely trod,
          Her pilot Jesus, and her harbour God.

From Horeham Road station, next Heathfield on the way to Hailsham, we can walk across the country to East Hoathly, and thence to Chiddingly and Hellingly, where we come to the railway again. ("East Hoathly, Chiddingly and Hellingly," says a local witticism: "three lies and all true.") East Hoathly stands high in not very interesting country, nor is it now a very interesting village. But it is remarkable for an admirably conducted inn and a church unique (in my experience of old churches) in its interior for a prettiness that is little short of aggressive. Whatever paint and mosaic can do to remove plain white surfaces has been done here, and the windows are gay with new glass. Were the building a new one, say at Surbiton, the effect would be harmonious; but in an old village in Sussex it seems a mistake.

Colonel Thomas Lunsford, of Whyly (now no more), near East Hoathly, a cavalier and friend of Charles I., was notoriously a consumer of the flesh of babes. How he won such a reputation is not known, but it never left him. Hudibras mentions his tastes; in one ballad of the time he figures as Lunsford that "eateth of children," and in another, recording his supposed death, he is found with "a child's arm in his pocket." After a stormy but courageous career he died in 1691, innocent of cannibalism. It was this Lunsford who fired at his relative, Sir Nicholas Pelham of Halland, as he was one day entering East Hoathly church. The huge bullet, the outcome of a long feud, missed Nicholas and lodged in the church door, where it remained for many years. It cost Lunsford £8,000 and outlawry.

Halland, one of the seats of the Pelhams, about a mile from the village, was just above Terrible Down, a tract of wild land, on which, according to local tradition, a battle was once fought so fiercely that the soldiers were up to their knees in blood. In the neighbourhood it is, of course, called Tarble Down. Local tradition also states of a certain piece of woodland attached to the glebe of this parish, called Breeches Wood, that it owes its name to the circumstance that an East Hoathly lady, noticing the vicar's breeches to be in need of mending, presented to him and his successors the wood in question as an endowment to ensure the perpetual repair of those garments.

Halland House no longer exists, but in the days of the great Duke of Newcastle, who died in 1768, it was famous for its hospitality and splendour. We meet with traces of its influence in the frequent inebriation, after visits there, of Mr. Thomas Turner, a mercer and general dealer of East Hoathly, who kept a diary from 1764, recording some of his lapses and other experiences. A few passages from the extracts quoted in the Sussex Archæological Collections may be given:

"My wife read to me that moving scene of the funeral of Miss Clarissa Harlow. Oh, may the Supreme Being give me grace to lead my life in such a manner as my exit may in some measure be like that divine creature's.

"This morn my wife and I had words about her going to Lewes to-morrow. Oh, what happiness must there be in the married state, when there is a sincere regard on both sides, and each partie truly satisfied with each other's merits. But it is impossible for tongue or pen to express the uneasiness that attends the contrary.

"Sunday, August 28th, 1756, Thos. Davey, at our house in the evening, to whom I read five of Tillotson's Sermons.

"Sunday, October 28th, Thos. Davey came in the evening to whom I read six of Tillotson's sermons.

"This day went to Mrs. Porter's to inform them the livery lace was not come, when I think Mrs. Porter treated me with as much imperious and scornful usage as if she had been, what I think she is, more of a Turk and Infidel than a Christian, and I an abject slave.

"I went down to Mrs. Porter's and acquainted her that I would not get her gown before Monday, who received me with all the affability, courtesy, and good humour imaginable. Oh! what a pleasure would it be to serve them was they always in such a temper; it would even induce me, almost, to forget to take a just profit.

"We supped at Mr. Fuller's and spent the evening with a great deal of mirth, till between one and two. Tho. Fuller brought my wife home upon his back. I cannot say I came home sober, though I was far from being bad company.

"The curate of Laughton came to the shop in the forenoon, and he having bought some things of me (and I could wish he had paid for them) dined with me, and also staid in the afternoon till he got in liquor, and being so complaisant as to keep him company, I was quite drunk. How do I detest myself for being so foolish!

"In the even, read the twelfth and last book of Milton's Paradise Lost, which I have now read twice through.

"Mr. Banister having lately taken from the smugglers a freight of brandy, entertained Mr. Carman, Mr. Fuller, and myself, in the even, with a bowl of punch."

Although the Pelhams owned Halland, their principal seat was at Laughton, two or three miles to the south. Of that splendid Tudor mansion little now remains but one brick tower. In the vault of the church, which has been much restored, no fewer than forty Pelhams repose.

Chiddingly church presents the completest contrast to East Hoathly's over-decorated yet accessible fane that could be imagined. Its door is not only kept shut, but a special form of locked bar seems to have been invented for it, and on the day that I was last there the churchyard gate was padlocked too. The spire of white stone (visible for many miles)—a change from the customary oak shingling of Sussex—has been bound with iron chains that suggest the possibility of imminent dissolution, while within, the building is gloomy and time-stained. If at East Hoathly the church gives the impression of a too complacent prosperity, here we have precisely the reverse. The state of the Jefferay monument behind a row of rude railings is in keeping.

In the Jefferay monument, by the way, the statues at either side stand on two circular tablets, which are not unlike the yellow cheeses of Alkmaar. It was possibly this circumstance that led to the myth that the Jefferays, too proud to walk on the ground, had on Sundays a series of cheeses ranged between their house and the church, on which to step. Their house was Chiddingly Place, built by Sir John Jefferay, who died in 1577. Remains of this great mansion are still to be seen. It was during Sir John's time that Chiddingly had a vicar, William Titelton, sufficiently flexible to retain the living under Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth.

Here, in the eighteenth century, lived one William Elphick, a devotee of bell-ringing, who computed that altogether he had rung Chiddingly's triple bell for 8,766 hours (which is six hours more than a year), and who travelled upwards of ten thousand miles to ring the bells of other churches.

Mark Antony Lower, most interesting of the Sussex archæologists, to whom these pages have been much indebted, was born at Chiddingly in 1813.

Mr. Egerton in his Sussex Folk and Sussex Ways tells a story of a couple down Chiddingly way who agreed upon a very satisfactory system of danger signals when things were not quite well with either of them. Whenever the husband came home a little "contrary" he wore his hat on the back of his head, and then she never said a word; and if she came in a little cross and crooked she threw her shawl over her left shoulder, and then he never said a word.

A little to the east of Hellingly is Amberstone, the scene, in 1814, of a pretty occurrence. Alexander, the Czar of all the Russias, travelling from Brighton to Dover with his sister, the Duchess of Oldenburgh, saw Nathaniel and Mary Rickman of Amberstone standing by their gate. From their dress he knew them to be Quakers, a sect in which he was much interested. The carriage was therefore stopped, and the Czar and his sister entered the house; they were taken all over it, praised its neatness, ate some lunch, and parted with the kindest expressions of goodwill, the Czar shaking hands with the Quaker and the Duchess kissing the Quakeress.

A few minutes on the rail bring us to Hailsham, an old market town, whose church, standing on the ridge which borders Pevensey Level on the west, is capped with pinnacles like that of East Grinstead. Walking a few yards beyond the church one comes to the edge of the high ground, with nothing before one but miles and miles of the meadow-land of this Dutch region, green and moist and dotted with cattle.

Hailsham's principal value to the traveller is that it is the station for Hurstmonceux; whither, however, we are to journey by another route. Otherwise the town exists principally in order that bullocks and sheep may change hands once a week. Hailsham's cattle market covers three acres, and on market days the wayfarers in the streets need the agility of a picador.

We ought, however, to see Michelham Priory while we are here. It lies two miles to the west of Hailsham, in the Cuckmere valley—now a beautifully-placed farmhouse, but once a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the reign of Henry III. Here one may see the old monkish fish stews, so useful on Fridays, in perfection. The moat, where fish were probably also caught, is still as it was, and the fine old three-storied gateway and the mill belonging to the monks stand to this day. The priory, although much in ruins, is very interesting, and well worth seeing and exploring with a reconstructive eye.

A little further west is the Dicker—or rather the two Dickers, Upper Dicker and Lower Dicker, large commons between Arlington in the south and Chiddingly in the north. Here are some of the many pottery works for which Sussex is famous.