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).
The Black Death may have had an impact on the area at about this time (1300) 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.
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!
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.
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.
The Barley Mow located on the A27 at the top of Selmeston is a 200 yr old public house. The building also served as a temporary courthouse, with part of it used as the slaughterhouse for local farm animals. Next door was the blacksmith’s shop.
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.
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.
William Douglas Parish (1833-1904) was vicar of Selmeston and Alciston for more than forty years and had a major impact on the village, not least because he was responsible for the demolition of the old church and the building of the present one. He is probably best known for his Dictionary of Sussex Dialect, an interest for which he excused himself because he ‘lived for several years in a village spelt Selmeston and pronounced Simpson; within reach of Brighthelmstone, pronounced Brighton; and next to the village of Chalvington, called Charnton’.
W. D. Parish was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford before being ordained to the curacy of Firle and Beddingham in 1859. In 1863, he became vicar of the adjoining parishes of Selmeston and Alciston, where he remained until his death. From 1877 to 1900 he was also chancellor of Chichester Cathedral. One of Parish’s friends was ‘Lewis Carroll’ (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and it is said that parts of the Alice books were written in the Summer House of what is now The Old Vicarage.
There is no contemporary record of Carroll’s visits but he is known to have gone to Eastbourne regularly and there is a strong oral tradition regarding his visits to Selmeston. We are all familiar with Lewis Carroll’s awe-inspiring picture of the Jabberwock; but it may be news to some that this creature of his imagination was actually constructed of papier-mâché in the dining-room of Selmeston Vicarage, Sussex, where he frequently stayed with the then vicar.
As did many rural communities, Selmeston played its part in both the first and second world wars, from land girls to hosting evacuees and our own regiment. Learn more about our community in wartime.