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History of Fairland

The oldest part of the house is the dining room. This is clear from the soot patterns on the rafters in the roof. This room dates to around 1450 and would have had an open gallery above, but no chimney. The carved beam in the study indicates that this would have been the solar or higher status room for receiving visitors. The fireplace in the sitting room indicates that this would have been the kitchen. The beam above the fireplace has marks revealing where a roasting spit was installed, and the indentations at the side of the fireplace are where knives were sharpened on the wall. Also carved into the beams are various marks to ward off any witches who might try and enter the house through the chimney.

The central chimney would have been installed during the seventeenth century. Current room measurements indicate that during the eighteenth century the front of the house was moved inward by about three feet. The purpose of this was to replace the beams and plaster frontage with the present brick frontage.

In the first available census (1841), few of the houses in Selmeston are identified by names, so it is difficult to be sure who was living where. Almost all the houses were in multiple occupation by agricultural labourers and their families. Since in 1851 the houses were surveyed in linear order up the street, Fairland can be identified as the ‘shop’. In 1851, this house was occupied by Charles Newman, 36, master grocer, Caroline Newman, 31 and Emily Boys, 11, servant. Charles Newman was born in Hellingly and is listed as employing no men. Two other families also lived here, presumably separately: James Tapper, 27, Jane Tapper 22 and daughter; and the Richardsons.

In 1861, Elias Newman, 48, master grocer, had taken over the shop. He too was born in Hellingly and seems likely to have been Charles’s brother. Also here were his wife Mary, 50 (b. Eastbourne) and their niece Elizabeth Newman, 18, house servant (b. Westfield). In the other part of the house were George Rumsley, 52, agricultural labourer, his wife Harriet, 58, and their son Reuben, 18. Ten years earlier the Rumsleys had been one of three families living next door in Thatched House,  now Grey Cottage & Twydown.

In 1871, George and Harriet Rumsley were still here. Since the mid 1860s, the shop had been run by James Potter, 50 (b. Lewes), master grocer, and his huge family: his wife Anne Potter, 43 (b. Lewes) and eight children aged 14 years to 8 months. The eldest, James Potter Jnr, 14, was an invalid. Their household also included Elizabeth Simmons, Anne’s sister, 45, general servant, and Louise Stringer aged 17, general domestic servant (both b. Lewes). This was a household of fourteen people. Next door (‘New Cottage’) had been built. This is possibly the current studio. It contained a needlewoman and her two daughters.

In 1881 and in 1891, James and Anne Potter were still running the grocery store. Three of their children were still at home: Edith, 22, was a dressmaker, Caroline was 21 and Herbert, 21, the third son, was a rural postman. George Rumsley, 82, was now a widower.

Fairlands Early 1900's One of The Potter Family Stands By The Front Door?
Fairland early 1900s. One of the Potter family ? stands by the front door.

By 1901, the household had shrunk to four. James Potter was now 81, and Anne was 74. Edith, 34, and Herbert, 32, were most probably running the shop. The 16-year-old son of the Piper family living at Wheelwrights had become the postman. James and Anne’s second son, Harry, was now living with a wife and four children at Manor Cottages and was employed as a gardener.

Selmeston’s first recorded parish meeting was held in 1894, and was chaired by James Potter. Subsequently the meetings were mostly chaired by the Reverend Parish, but James Potter was regularly appointed between 1894 and 1907 as one of the two overseers for the relief of the poor. He most probably died in 1907. In 1894, Harry Potter opposed the appointment of the Reverend Parish as chair, but he was in a minority of one. Despite this, by 1897 he was paid £8 per year to act as assistant to the overseers, but in 1898 he resigned this post.

It is believed that the house remained a shop until the 1920s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the house belonged to the four unmarried Wilkinson sisters. One of them lived in the studio. At least three of them were schoolteachers. Bertha Wilkinson taught classics at Varndean Grammar School in Brighton. During the Wilkinson period, the current kitchen was constructed. The northern half of the garden was also sold off to permit the construction of Windover, the next-door house.

The house next passed to the Dinnis family. James and Dorothy Dinnis had previously lived at Mays Farm, but when James retired, they moved to Fairland, which was known as The Ridge at the time. In 1962, James Dinnis was elected chair of Selmeston parish meeting, a post he retained until 1967. Dorothy Dinnis also attended parish meetings regularly. One of the Miss Wilkinsons attended in 1962 and both Bertha and Caroline Wilkinson were present at most meetings between 1965 and 1971. After James and Dorothy moved to Fairland, their son Robert (also a farmer) and his wife June (a nurse) lived at Mays Farm. When the parents died, Robert, June and their four sons moved into Fairland. After the departure of the Dinnis family to New Zealand, the house was sold to Peter and Anne Smith in 1991. The conservatory extension was built in 2009.

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