Scraps Of History
A Memory of Alciston.
Never had any direct connection with Alciston but have known it since my teens in the early 1960s and have visited many times over the years. What caught my interest is that the village has stayed relatively unchanged in the 20th and 21st centuries because it is just off the main road and has no through traffic.
A few things I have learned about Alciston:
In mediaeval times the village was 'owned' by the monks of Battle Abbey who operated as Lords of the Manor. The 'big house' Alciston Court was designed like a church building with pointed arches, some of which were retained when the house was converted to a farmhouse in the 18th/19th century. The Great Barn, once used to store the Lord's produce still exists and is still in use as a farm building. It is said to be the largest Sussex Barn still in existence.
The original road to Alciston ran just south of the village immediately below the downs. Known today as 'The Old Coach Road' it connected Lewes to Pevensey and beyond, linking the underhill villages of West Firle, Alciston, Berwick and Folkington. In the early 19th century a new turnpike road was built which in time became the A27, but the old road still survives as a bridleway and green road, passable (to the disapproval of some), by 4x4s and motorbikes. The original road up the downs, that would have led ultimately to Seaford, is still clearly etched in the side of the hills - known as are other ancient roads that climb the downs, as The Bostal, Alciston Bostal in this case.
The pub in Alciston, The Rose Cottage, has been a pub since around 1860-1870. Prior to that the nearest pub was the Half Moon, along the Old Coach Road to the west, below Bo-Peep. The Half Moon was closed and the brewery - Tamplins of Brighton, purchased a house in Alciston - Rose Cottage - to open as a pub, which it still is today, but now a Free House. One old Sussex custom still kept up at The Rose Cottage each Easter - although by Folk dance and Morris enthusiasts, not by locals anymore - is 'long rope skipping'. Traditionally this took place in Brighton (and probably Brighthelmstone before it), with fishermen skipping using a long rope on the Fish Market hard on the beach each Good Friday. At the outbreak or war in 1939 the beaches were closed against the feared invasion but at Easter 1940 some people from Brighton were in Alciston, where a rope was produced and the skipping took place in the street outside the pub. This still goes on today, every Good Friday courtesy of folk and morris dancers.
The pleasure of a visit to Alciston is the quiet peacefulness of village with no through traffic and the stunning downland scenery. This is linked to the knowledge that you are walking through a countryside that has been home to Sussex folk for as long as there have been Sussex folk. As you stroll, you can search with the eye and easily find, the tell-tale signs of past habitation and past ways of liife.
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