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.
The name of Selmeston is believed to derive from the Saxon period. ‘Tun’ is a common Saxon term for ‘settlement’, while ‘sige helm’ means ‘victory helmet’. Between AD 450 and 600 a Saxon village was established here, with the main centre of a village believed to have been in the fields behind Manor Cottages. The evidence for this is the nineteenth-century discovery of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery adjacent to the cottages.
The Saxon burial site behind Manor Cottages, 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.
Subsequent excavations in the field behind the cottages (known as Troy Field or Troy Town* or Twydown) uncovered one of the largest Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in the South of England, containing at least 200 graves and believed to date from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. A wooden bucket with bronze fittings – the wood still in a perfect state of preservation- was discovered, together with swords decorated in gilt, eighteen spears, twenty-six daggers, bronze and enamel brooches and pottery of unusual design. A hexagonal-based shield boss, the first of its kind in the country, was also found.
The major archaeological work on the site was undertaken by the late Dr Martin Welch of University College London (UCL). Although stored at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and worked on by generations of conservation students since 1980, the archive from this potentially major Sussex Anglo-Saxon cemetery has yet to be brought fully into the public domain.