Selmeston is located some eight miles east of Lewes, the county town of East Sussex. The village is principally focused on The Street, which runs due north from the A27, but the Parish covers a total area of 2.6 square miles both north and south of the road. Most of the Parish lies just outside the National Park but there are parts of Selmeston, south of the A27, that lie within the park. The boundaries of the Parish are shown on the map link.
Early settlement and archaeology
Selmeston has been a favoured site for settlement since Mesolithic times. Early humans would have been attracted to this area because of its natural geographical features.
It is a spring line village, which means that it contains a series of natural springs that provide drinking water. These springs are the result of Selmeston’s proximity to the South Downs, a huge block of porous chalk, and they are fed primarily by winter rain. Nearly every house built in the village before the 1960s has some form of well close by and it was only in the mid 1950s that running water was laid on to each property. There are no street lights or pavements and this gives the village some of its character, which is enhanced by large verges which are planted with wild flowers and daffodils by residents.
The geological structure of the village is very distinct, as can be seen by the map below. The light green area from the north of the railway crossing to the church represents ‘lower greensand’, whilst the turquoise-coloured area from the church to the A27 represents ‘gault’ soil which is heavy clay. This diversity explains why certain plants cannot be grown throughout the whole of the village.
The village lies between two rivers, the Cuckmere and the Ouse and the line of the village, the present day Street, is the watershed between them. Early humans would have taken advantage of the rivers and there is evidence that they did so. Usually villages were formed on ‘through routes’ from one central location to another. The word ‘Street’ was often used as a marker for these settlements.
The earliest archaeological evidence we have of some sort of settlement in Selmeston dates from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age (12,000-4,000 BC). The people at this time were ‘hunter gatherers’ and as such would have been seasonal visitors. A survey undertaken in 1933 revealed evidence of their presence in the area of the old sandpits, located close to the Church. Pit dwellings and the remains of a cooking hearth were found, along with over 130 microliths (slithers of flint ) probably used for arrow heads, spear tips and axes in the hunt for wild deer and oxen in the Wealden forests.
Intermittent settlement appears to have continued throughout the Mesolithic period, which gradually ended with the beginning of farming some 6,000 years ago. Various items of pottery dating from the Neolithic (New Stone Age) and Bronze and Iron Ages have been found, some of which are on display at the Barbican House Museum in Lewes.
Romans, Saxons and the Domesday Book
ID Margary speculated in his book “Roman Roads in Britain” (1955) that there may have been a Roman road from Newhaven to The Dicker and that this crossed another Roman road at Selmeston Church. The two purported roads are the village lane that runs from north to south and is now called The Street, and the footpath and bridleway to the south of the church, known as Slubby Lane, which runs east to west and which would have linked Selmeston with Pevensey and Glynde.
Whilst there is no archaeological support for Margary’s speculation and no evidence of a Roman settlement in Selmeston, there is considerable evidence of Roman activity in the area. Many small pieces of Roman pottery have been found in fields around the village and Bo-Peep Lane is a known Roman route to the Downs.
Between AD 450 and 600 a Saxon village was established here. There is a Saxon burial site behind Manor Cottages, evidence of which was initially found by accident in 1897 and again in 1950, and which was later professionally excavated in 1979.
At least fourteen Saxon graves were excavated, leading to the discovery of seven spearheads and five shields, along with various knives and buckles, some of which are on display in the Barbican House Museum in Lewes. The name of the village derives from the people of this period (see What’s in a name).
Selmeston is mentioned in two entries of the Domesday Book of 1086, and is shown as being in the Hundred of Wandelmestrei (see Domesday and the Lost Village). The Domesday book also has entries for the two large houses that lie in the Parish, Sherrington Manor (variously referred to as Elerintone, Serintone and Sirintone) and Tilton house (referred to as Telentone and Tilintone). Details of theses two houses can be seen under Listed Buildings in the Parish.
There is plenty of evidence of medieval habitation in the fields adjoining the village lane, and some of the present houses date from the Middle Ages (see for example Fairland). Some others were built in part with timbers taken from medieval dwellings, while others were built of both brick and flint and date mainly from the mid seventeenth century.
Many of the houses in the village have names that tell something of their history, such as Church Farm (c. 1548), Wheelwrights (c. 1570), The Old Poor House (c. 1640) and East View (c. 1650). The Green House (c. 1600) was originally a thirteenth-century Wealden hall house (typically built by wealthy yeoman farmers from the late 1300s). It was also used as a priest’s ‘safe house’ at the time of the Reformation (a tell-tale stone is set in the wall near the front door).
Church Farm is first recorded in 1288, with the present building ( built c. 1548) located almost in the centre of the village. The farm was owned and run by the Marchant family from 1903. It provided milk from the dairy and work for the villagers, most of whom were employed in agriculture. Church Farm became a restaurant during the 1980s and was well known under the name of Corrin’s and then Sillett’s, but after changing ownership in 2005 it reverted to its original name of Church Farm.
This and a number of other properties in the parish are listed buildings and brief details of their listing can be found on this website.
In 1300, Edward 1 stayed at the Priory in Lewes. Thirty-eight years earlier, his father had suffered a crushing defeat there at the hands of Simon de Montfort. With his court entourage, it is believed that he then progressed past Firle and through Alciston and Selmeston on his way to Michelham Priory. There have been no subsequent royal visits!
The Black Death may have had an impact on the area at about this time and may be part of the reason that the village of Sidenore, which is referred to in the Domesday Book and may have been just to the North of Selmeston, had ‘disappeared‘ by 1350.
An interesting insight into village life in the C15th is given in the record of a “Proof of Age” hearing held in Selmeston on the Monday after Epiphany in 1425. This was convened to confirm that William Selwyn had reached the age of majority and could therefore inherit property. There were three important pieces of evidence to support the claim that Selwyn was 21 on “the feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle (24 August) last, ” implying that he was born on 24 August 1403.
William Gyle (52) remembered the day of Selwyn’s birth because “one William Colley hanged himself at Eastbourne, near Selmeston, and the said deponent went to Eastbourne to see him hanging. On his return he met a woman carrying the said William (Selwyn) to Selmeston to be baptised.” A child was normally baptised on the day of his or her birth.
Robert Proudfoot (60) said that John Yford, his servant, was taken at Selmeston by the French enemies and “carried” to Harfleur on that day. French raids along the Sussex coast were frequent during the C14th and sometimes later and1403 was the year that the French tried to take the Isle of Wight. However, their visit as far inland as Selmeston is quite surprising.
John Hendyman (54) remembered the day because “immediately after the baptism of the said William, he played with other companions at football and so playing broke his left leg.” It is recorded that in 1403 and 1404 games of ‘foteball’ were played in both Selmeston and Chidham as part of baptisms, and that on both occasions, one of the players suffered a broken leg. King Henry IV issued a proclamation in 1410 forbidding the levying of money for ‘foteball’ and imposing fines of 20 shillings on mayors and bailiffs in towns where misdemeanours such as ‘foteball’ occurred.
It is not known if any fines were imposed on Selmeston!
Another early game played in Selmeston, as well as other villages in East Sussex, was stoolball (sometimes called “cricket in the air” ). This game was first recorded being played in 1450, and gets a mention in The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play attributed to John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. It is also referred to in Parish’s dictionary by the name of bittle-battle.
Stoolball was probably at its height from 1866 to1887 when the Selmeston Harvest Bugs were often matched against other local teams such as the Firle Blues, the Glynde Butterflies and the Chailey Grasshoppers. It was revived during the First World War at the Royal Brighton Pavilion Military Hospital for the injured troops, as it was not as strenuous as the proper game of cricket. Stoolball is still being played today in East Sussex and, until very recently, was a feature of the annual Selmeston Flower Show.
Selmeston from the seventeenth century to the First World War
A Parish register was started in 1563, following a decree imposed by Thomas Cromwell in 1538 that all births, baptisms, weddings and burials be recorded. Inside the front cover of the first volume of the present register is written: “The Old Register which began in the year 1563 and continued to this present year 1667 is to be found in the Church Chest.” However, the old register seems to have been lost at some time after 1780, when Sir William Burrell made extracts from it as part of his Sussex Collections now at the British Museum.
In 1603 a bell was hung in the church tower with the inscription ‘ Joseph Haton made me’. A village fayre was recorded adjacent to the church in 1617, with that particular piece of land (extending up to the main road), taking on the name of Fairfields.
During the Civil War, the immediate area around Selmeston saw little by way of actual fighting but significant local people were for Parliament and did well out of the war.
Before 1819, Common Lane was part of the main route to Eastbourne, which left the Old Coach Road at Bo-Peep Lane, then swung south of the current Arlington Reservoir, and on to Swines Hill (now Polegate). A new turnpike road, now the A27, was built in 1759, linking Eastbourne and Lewes.
Until well into the twentieth century the economy of the village was based on agriculture and the Parish retains a number of farms, including a large area of land off Common Lane that is used today to grow commercial turf. The largest sheep fair in East Sussex was traditionally held on September 19 each year on the village common, the area through which Common Lane now runs, a short distance east of The Street. A local farmer, John Thomas Ellman (1753-1832) of Place Farm, Glynde, selectively bred the Southdown breed of sheep from which all modern meat-producing sheep are descended. His grandson was the Reverend Edwards Boys Ellman, who became the vicar of Berwick, and later wrote Recollections of a Sussex Parson, a book that provides a fascinating record of country life in the C19th.
See Village Tales for a description of how sheep are counted in Sussex.
The Church and the Vicarage
The original church was Saxon, and was brought under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Chichester in 1100. There was a fire in 1860, and by 1867 it was in such a state of disrepair that four sailors were able to pull it down in a single day. It was then largely rebuilt, the timbers having been numbered. It is constructed of flint in a typical 14th Century Sussex style, with a red tiled roof and tall bell turret, and it has tiled walls and a shingled spire. The wooden lych gate (‘lych‘ is Anglo-Saxon for ‘corpse’) was originally used as a stopping point for the bearers of a coffin, and was where the priest carried out the first part of the burial ceremony under cover. The nave of the church is dominated by an unusual wooden arcade (see Selmeston Church ) and has many features retained from the older building.
The old church had an altar tomb (a tomb located in the graveyard adjacent to the altar in the church), with a loose lid and, according to village tradition, this was used as a temporary store for contraband goods placed there by the Alfriston Gang of smugglers, at a time when smuggling represented a not insignificant part of the local economy. The gang was led by Stanton Collins who used The Market Cross Inn (now Ye Olde Smugglers) in Alfriston as his headquarters, during the early1800’s. Most of this work was undertaken in the dead of night, and the smugglers would often spread rumours that certain houses and the church graveyard were haunted. This helped to scare off any inquisitive villagers who might stray out at night on hearing any strange noises. A ’tub’ of cognac was evidently occasionally left by the Alfriston Gang at the door of the vicarage by way of a rough rental for use of the ‘altar tomb’. The gang were never caught, but they dispersed after Collins was convicted of sheep-stealing in the 1830s.
Later in the nineteenth century Lewis Carroll, who was a friend of the vicar, W D Parish, visited the vicarage.
Selmeston Church of England School
In 1818 the vicar of Selmeston, the Reverend J. Griffin, wrote to Parliament declaring that: ‘ the poor are desirous of having the means of education for their children here’.
The village finally had a school by 1846. The necessary land was gifted by the then owner of Sherrington Manor, Dr James Skinner. The vicar, the Reverend Henry Latham, provided most of the money needed to build it and he dedicated it to the memory of his wife Maria. There were also subscriptions from local churchgoers and it was known as Selmeston Church of England School. Initially it had only one classroom along with accommodation for the teacher, but over the years it was expanded.
The building, now a private residence, is situated at the southern end of The Street. It is built of Sussex flint with a tiled roof and is now aptly named The Flint House. It is a Grade II listed building.
It is not known how many pupils there were at first but in 1866 there were forty-seven. By 1873, the number had risen to sixty-three, reportedly because the Rev. W D Parish had introduced a scheme to ensure regular attendance. The plan was that each child should pay three pence a week instead of one penny as before. The parents of any child who, within seven months of the start of the school year, had completed two hundred half-day attendances would receive a rebate of two pence per week. There were various other payments for children presented for examinations and a shilling extra was paid for each child who attended four hundred sessions.
In 1879 an old scholars’ fund was set up to help fund the school but this was abandoned in 1889 after it had raised £64 and four pence. In 1891 an Act of Parliament decreed that schooling was to be free, and this had filtered down to Selmeston School by 1896.
Above the entrance door to the school is a shield inscribed ‘M L Sept 6’ and the date,1846 ( in memory of Maria Latham), while the wall at the north end of the building bears the date 1847. The date 1876 is inscribed on the wall at the south end.
The school was enlarged in 1875 and 1886, and in 1898 Cecil Long donated a piece of land for an additional playground and better sanitary arrangements . Further improvements took place in 1904. Meanwhile, water was drawn up by the teachers from the well, and lunch had to be brought to school by the pupils. Heating was provided by an open fireplace, with electricity only being laid on during the 1930s.
The last teacher of the school, Eileen Lamb, trained as a teacher in London between 1928 and 1930, and started working in Selmeston in 1941, living with her mongrel dog in the school house located next door.
In 1991 Miss Lamb and some of her former pupils were recorded giving their recollections of the school, some of which can be found here.
Miss Lamb taught swimming in addition to the more regular subjects, and would march her charges along what is now the A27 to the River Cuckmere, where the lessons took place. When asked about health and safety she explained that she always took a length of strong rope but in extremis would dive in herself!
By 1968 there were only thirty-two children attending the school, making it uneconomical to continue. This was a pattern seen nationally. Glynde, Berwick and Ripe schools all closed at around the same time.
Fields: names and distribution
The practice of ‘tithing’ was a means of supporting the clergy in the community, where one tenth of produce was paid to the rector and vicar, i.e. every tenth bushel of wheat or vegetables was given over. Tithe maps showed who owned the land along with the occupier. In 1836 the government passed a bill to commute all tithes to a money payment, with Tithe Files being generated by government inspectors. Further information can be obtained from the East Sussex Record Office at The Keep, Brighton.
Reproduced below is a tithe map of c.1810 which shows the many fields on either side of The Street, each with an individual name and reference number. There are few houses shown on the map, which makes it difficult to compare the fields accurately with the location of the houses seen today. Some of the present houses in the village bear the name of an adjacent field, hence, for example, the house called Twydown takes its name from the field of the same name (also known as Troy Town), located between the house and Manor Cottages. The field between Troy Town and Vicarage Field (around the vicarage, of course) is called Upper Field, and Barley Field, Fairlight and Coppice Field are beyond to the west. Culverake (where the house of the same name stands), is to the west of these, along with Picastes, Moat Field and Barn Field. The house called Chebbles is named after the field opposite, and Gilberts Field is to the south and extends right up to Church Farm. East of Church Farm are Old Orchard and Ocklands, with Broadlands to the south, extending to the church. Old Town Pastures and Poor House Meadows surround The Poor House, whilst The Glebe, Pierces Meadow and Old Marsh Lands are the fields opposite. The fields surrounding The Green House are Barn Field, Home Lidds and Middle Lidds. The present cricket field was originally named Easter Field, with Moons Acre and Mutton Field to the east. Fairfields, once the site of an annual fair, is opposite the cricket field, stretching from the vicarage to the present A27. MillField, Barn Field and Carrs Barn Field are situated to the west of that. Anyone interested in the name of a field not mentioned here should contact email@example.com
Selmeston society in the nineteenth century
Cricket was first played in Selmeston in 1807, thanks largely to the generosity of Lord Gage, who donated the cricket pitch (then called Easter Field ) to residents of the villages of Alciston and Selmeston. The Alciston and Selmeston Cricket Club is still active today (see Cricket Teams)
By 1834 Selmeston was one of the eight parishes that comprised the West Firle Poor Law Union (the others were Alciston, Berwick, Chalvington, Ripe, Beddingham, Glynde and West Firle). At one time the West Firle Union Workhouse had 180 inmates. It was closed in 1898. It is now two private houses in Firle, called Stanford Buildings.
In Selmeston, the names of Old Poor House and Poorhouse Cottage are a reminder of these times.
In 1840, The East Sussex Police force was formed, and Selmeston was lucky enough to have its own constable residing in a police house now known as East View.
The constable would probably have had his work cut out patrolling the area on foot, and managing the customers of Ye Barley Mow public house.
Although only just outside the parish boundary, a stone’s throw away on the A27, the 200-year-old listed building is considered to be Selmeston’s village pub, and has been regularly frequented by residents. It also served as a temporary courthouse, with part of it used as the slaughterhouse for local farm animals.
In his Dictionary, W D Parish notes that “in the village of Selmeston the blacksmith’s shop is next to the public-house. I have met numbers of people going up to the forge, but never one going to the Barley-mow.”
During the 1950s, the Winter family , now best known for the turf farms in Common Lane, were the landlords of the pub.
New landlords, William and Jack Willis took ownership in April 2015, and they are continuing to make many improvements.
Corner Cottage c 1821 lies diagonally opposite the Barley Mow and is the first house one passes on entering The Street from the South end, and served as the post office at one stage. Although the parish boundary defines it as being part of Alciston, it is definitely a landmark part of Selmeston Village, and now a Grade II listed building.
A major development in the nineteenth century was the railway line from Brighton through Lewes and on to Hastings ( The London Brighton and South Coast Railway). The line eventually came through Selmeston in 1846 and provided an outlet for local agricultural products. The village did not have a station as such, but it did have a halt, evidence for which can still be seen at the railway house by the level crossing. (Gatehouse Crossing c. 1847, and probably built by the same builder as Selmeston School). Goods could be loaded and taken to London, although the halt was never a commuter facility.
Population and parish
In 1801 there were 130 residents in Selmeston, a number which by 1831 had risen to 189.
In 1840 a land census was taken, and it records 719 acres of meadow and pasture, 686 acres of arable land, 30 acres of woodland, 22 acres of glebeland (land assigned to the local priest), with wasteland (uncultivated), roads and water making up 64 acres.
The first available population census of 1841 records 228 residents, but relatively few houses identified by name. One exception is the house appropriately called Wheelwrights, where William Harmer the wheelwright lived. By the 1950’s this house had been divided into two separate cottages, but was fortunately rebuilt as one house by 1978.
In 1847 the ecclesiastical parishes of Alciston and Selmeston combined. Parishes as we know them today originated around the twelfth century as a means of providing pastoral care, and in the sixteenth century Parliament realised that good use could be made of them for administrative purposes. By 1800 there were 139 parishes in East Sussex, which had responsibility for poor relief, highways and in some instances policing. There are over 300 parishes in East Sussex today.
Kelly’s Directory of 1867 (a trade directory from 1836-1970, listing all tradespeople, along with postal addresses of local gentry, landowners, charities etc ) contains the following information about Selmeston:
Elizabeth Harber was the headmistress of the village school; William Woodall ran the post office, where letters were delivered at 9.30 am and despatched at 16.55; Richard Avis was the butcher; James Potter was the grocer and draper; John Henry Ellis was the parish clerk; James Skinner was the occupant of Sherrington Manor; Charles Ellis was the owner of Mays Farm; David Pearce was the owner of Cobb Court Farm.
An 1870 entry in The Imperial Gazetter of England and Wales describes Selmeston as ‘A Parish in Lewes district, Sussex; on the South Coast Railway, 1 mile W by N of Berwick railway station, and 6 miles ESE of Lewes. It has a post-office under Lewes. Acres, 1590. Real property, £2065. Population 197. Houses 39. The manor belongs to Lord Gage. The living is a vicarage, united with Alciston, in the diocese of Chichester. Value £330. Patron, alternately the Bishop of and the Dean and Chapter of The Church which is early English.’
In 1894, Selmeston became part of the structure of local government as a Parish Meeting. Its first chairman was James Potter, who lived at Fairland and held this post until 1907. A parish meeting is the lowest tier of government, and should be distinguished from the parochial church council (PCC), which administers church affairs.
Up to the First World War Selmeston did not see any major changes and it remained a largely agricultural community.
Fifteen men from Alciston and Selmeston were killed in the First World War and are remembered on the War Memorial at the junction of the A27 and The Street. Two further names were added after the Second World War. The names inscribed include Boys, Chilvers and Mockett, the names of families that have lived in the local community for many centuries and continue to do so.
By1917, the occasional ‘airship‘ might cause a stir among the cattle and sheep, as it was seen flying over the village from the nearby Royal Naval Air Service station located at Polegate.
Selmeston after the First World War
Even by the late 1920s, there were so few cars on the roads that boys like the blacksmith’s son at the forge, George Hufflett, (later to be the landlord of the Ram Inn at Firle), would entertain themselves by watching steam-driven motors making their way up the hill of what is now the A27 at Selmeston Bend. One of the few people to have a motor car during this time was Cecil Chandless, the owner of Sherrington Manor. Cecil had three Rolls Royces, a Daimler and a Delage motor car. During the Second World War Cecil gave one of the Rolls Royces to the fire brigade in Seaford for their use as well as one or two of his many shotguns to the home guard.
All these vehicles would be regularly seen driving through the village and on to the A27, and would probably have had to use the garage next to the war memorial for petrol. The garage still remains, selling petrol and other goods to locals. More pictures of Chandless family cars can be seen in “Village Tales”.
Before the advent of popular motoring, the village, like most others at the time, had enough shops to be virtually self-sufficient. Groceries and confectionary could be bought at Fairland and the Old Cottage. East View was the butcher’s (before becoming the police house) and Rose Cottage was the coal merchant’s. Even up to the late 1980s Culverake (an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘pigeon-oak’) was still being used as a post office subsidiary to the one at Berwick. Margaret Pike (who had previously worked at Berwick) was living in the house with her husband Len, and she sold stationary and stamps, as well as paying out pensions and child benefit to those residents who could not get to Berwick. During the Second World War this house was also used as the armoury for the home guard.
On the right of the photograph above is Fairland ( built c. 1450) which was at one time the village shop run by Mrs Potter. To the left are Twydown and Grey Cottage (centre), built in the 1840s as one house, known then as Thatched Cottage.
The Little Manor (originally named Manor Villas) was built in 1906 and was then occupied by the farm manager from Sherrington Manor.
By 1933 electricity had been installed throughout the parish. During this time, as well as the odd motor car seen driving through the lanes, a new form of transport could be seen flying overhead. The Eastbourne Flying Club was located in a field off the A27 by Sherman Bridge and the turning to Milton Street, and the two aircraft used by members (an Avro 504 and a De Havilland Re8) would often fly over Selmeston. On special days, they would give displays, with the resident Selmeston ‘bobby’, PC Fred Finlayson, controlling the crowds.
Between 1933 and 1934, electrification of the railway line was completed by the Southern Railway, with safety adjustments made to the crossing , as these plans show. Not much has changed at the crossing since those days: a half-barrier gate, with warning lights and an audible signal, is all that separates traffic and pedestrians from the trains thundering past at up to 80mph. A survey undertaken in 2014 revealed there were 136 trains carrying freight and passengers passing both ways, in a 24hr period, with a collective risk rating of 4 (1 being the highest risk, and 13 the lowest).
The village hall
The village hall dates from the 1930s and was built directly on the boundary of Alciston and Selmeston. It has since provided a focus for local entertainment, changing rooms for the cricket club and a venue for popular events such as the flower and produce show. Cricket is played on the adjacent field, and for many years there was also an active stoolball team. Further details of the village hall can be found here.
A reading room was provided by Sherrington Manor for the residents of Selmeston at the turn of the twentieth century and located in one of the Fairfield Cottages (built in 1890) Only male residents of the village were allowed to read the daily newspapers/books at first but this soon changed!
World War II and beyond
In 1939, the village hall was used as a ‘collection point’ for children evacuated from London. In February 2005 Mrs Diana Harding recalled for the BBC Peoples War:-
I was nine, my elder sister thirteen, we went with my mother and our one-year-old brother to our school and were taken by coach to the railway station, where we all crowded on to a train. I remember it was a boiling hot day. We travelled all day as the steam trains then were very slow. In the afternoon we arrived , we didn’t know where, and were taken to the local church hall. We were each given a carrier bag with forty-eight-hour emergency meals, consisting of a tin of corned beef and a huge bar of chocolate which started to melt in the heat – but not for long. We were taken to different houses in Selmeston to be billeted. My mother and young brother were billeted with the local policeman, whilst my sister and I were down the lane in a cottage with a lady called Naomi and her elderly father who looked like Father Christmas, with a long white beard. The cottage had no running water, you had to go to the kitchen which had a water pump. The toilet was outside at the back of the cottage. Although we came from the East End in London at least we had running water with a flush toilet. The local school only had two rooms, so with the extra pupils we had to sit three to a desk. The village itself was just one long lane consisting of the school, church, general store with a combined post office, selling every tiny thing, and the local pub, the Barley Mow.
The next day we all went down the lane to a cottage that had a radio so we could listen to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who told us we were at war with Germany. As he was speaking I realised my mum and the other ladies were crying and I wondered why.
The first Sunday after war was declared was harvest festival at the church. I vividly remember it as I was wearing my brand-new wellington boots to walk up the pitch-black lane to the church. When the church door was opened, a bright light shone out with an earthy smell of all the vegetables and fruit the local farmers had brought. The church was packed, and I have never enjoyed a harvest festival as much as that one. I returned back to London just in time for Christmas.
There was great excitement in Selmeston in 1940, when a Messerschmitt BF 109E-1, having been badly damaged in combat with the RAF, crashed into a field of corn stacks on Mays Farm. The full story of this incident from the Battle of Britain can be found here.
During the war, six bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe within the vicinity of the village with no visible damage to any of the housing. A rail-mounted gun train with a 12-inch bore gun was kept camouflaged in the goods yard at Glynde Station. When sited at Ripe or Selmeston, the recoil of the gun could take it back along the rails, two or three miles towards Glynde.
Little Bells housed Canadian troops, who took part in various exercises at Firle and on the South Downs just prior to D-Day in June 1944.
John Charles Wilmott (1893-1964) became 1st Baron Wilmot of Selmeston in January 1950 on his retirement as a Labour Party MP. He served under Clement Atlee as Minister of Aircraft Production (1945-46) and as Minister of Supply (1945-47). On his death the title expired.
During the late 1950s residents were still using water pumped up from the wells in their gardens, and in 1963 main drainage was installed.
In June 1954, Mays Farm was again the centre of attention when another aircraft (this time a jet Meteor) crashed in one of the fields. The full story of this crash can be read here.
In 1997 the population of the parish was 180.
Just after 2000 this village, along with others in the area, was alarmed to find that plans were afoot to have a ‘land raise’ site located nearby. Fortunately, Wealden District Council listened to objections and the plan was shelved. Since the late 1980’s various plans have been submitted to the Highways Agency (now Highways England) to improve the flow of traffic and safety along the A27 Lewes to Polegate trunk road, and this is still being debated in 2015. Many vehicles passing along The Street still ignore the 30mph speed limit, with East Sussex Highways refusing to reduce this to 20mph, or to install other traffic calming methods. This increases problems of safety to both residents, cyclists and ramblers.
In the year 2000, celebrations took place in the village to mark the Millennium. As a lasting memorial of the event, the late Anne Cathcart (living in Fairland at the time) painted a map showing all the houses along The Street, including some of the history of the village, and images of the many local flowers and birds. A copy can be seen in the village hall as well as in many of the houses of present-day residents and images from the map can be seen in “A Walk Down The Street”.
Visitors to this site may want to compare this map with the two shown previously, and the map shown on the conservation area link.
In 2013 a planning application was made to Wealden District Council by Susenco for a new type of farm to be located between Wick Street and Berwick Village. This would be a Solar Farm of approximately 28Ha consisting of 45,000 solar panels in rows, which would eventually supply the electricity needs of 3,700 homes in the immediate area for the next 27 years. Planning was granted and the site eventually went ‘live’ in the spring of 2015. Further information can be obtained on the Susenco website.
As can be seen from this page, Selmeston has not undergone a great deal of change over the years. It has roughly the same number of residents it had 200 years ago, and it remains a delightful, community-led, small East Sussex village, with a history dating back to some 12,000 years ago.