A series of six paintings, completed in 2017-18, based upon the ancient village of Salehurst in East Sussex covering each season from a bird’s-eye view. Please click on the image to view it in another window.
Salehurst with Robertsbridge – A Short History
Salehurst, in East Sussex, is much older than its larger, linked parish village of Robertsbridge. Salehurst is named in the Domesday Book (the “Great Survey” of much of England & Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William the Conqueror), as having “7 villagers and 8 cottagers, with 6 ploughs, a church and 16 acres”. Salehurst is said to have been attacked during the Norman invasion of England, leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
At the time the river crossing between the settlements was by ford or raft. In 1176 Robert de St. Martin granted lands in Salehurst parish to the Cistercian monks for the purpose of founding an abbey. The ‘bridge of Robert’ – probably named after the abbey founder, was established between Salehurst and Robertsbridge over the river Limenel (now Rother). The Robertsbridge and Northbridge settlements, with one of the finest medieval high streets in the area, has become the larger village. What remains today of the Abbey is mostly the foundations and part of the abbot’s residence which is now a private house.
A church at Salehurst is mentioned in the Domesday Book and it is probable that the present church is built on the site of the Saxon church. It stands on a slight mound and lies just across the Rother valley from the remains of Robertsbridge Abbey. The church, St Mary the Virgin in Salehurst, is reputed to be the largest rural parish church in East Sussex.
In 1623 there was an iron and steel works at Robertsbridge Abbey. Rock and stone from the surrounding hills of Wealden clay contained siderite – iron deposits – which were probably dug from pits and taken to the furnaces and forge at Robertsbridge Abbey where ‘cast cannon’, arms, crane, barge parts and other products were made. The products would have been carted to Bodiam, which was the furthest navigable point on the Rother at that time, and floated down the river to the port at Rye. Most Wealden estates were heavily wooded and the wood was used as a fuel for industry in those days, including smelting. The many ponds around Robertsbridge and Salehurst are thought to be the remains of medieval mining pits.
Robertsbridge between the 16th and early 19th centuries was largely a village with a market and a fair. In the survey of inns and alehouses of 1686, six alehouses are recorded (don’t forget they did not drink water in those days) and a modest provision of stabling and accommodation. Robertsbridge has 34 surviving buildings that date from between 1500 and 1800. There are eight listed buildings, or groups of buildings, (all Grade II), of which three are (1350-1499).
There was an active cloth industry and Mill in a 1567 survey. In 1878, a replacement flour mill was built in Station Road (now derelict and considered for development). The economy of Robertsbridge remained largely agricultural, with pasture dominating, and hops a significant crop until the mid-20th century. The Hop fields around Salehurst supplied the Guinness Breweries.
In December 1902 the vicar of Salehurst and Robertsbridge, the Reverend Sing, asked the Rother Valley Railway (running from Tenterden to Robertsbridge to connect to the Hastings to London line) to provide a platform and halt station for trains to stop at Salehurst on Wednesdays and Sundays so that the organist, Miss Elsham, could arrive at the church in time for services. The organist lived close to Bodiam station and usually reached the church by car, but steep hills and poor roads between Bodiam and Salehurst often made the journey difficult. The halt was provided for this purpose, and in 1929 it was officially opened to the public. The Salehurst Halt platform was used until January 1954 until when the line was closed as a result the formation of British Railways.
The nearby small village of Salehurst consists of little more than a church, a pub, two shops, a cluster of houses and several farms. The farm shop produces “home reared, grass-fed and local English meat” and has been farmed by the same family since the 1880’s. The pub is named the Salehurst Halt which is hidden away in an idyllic situation with a terrace and garden, but only half a mile from the A21. Nestling alongside the church, with an open log fire throughout the winter, the Halt epitomises all that a country pub should be.
The village, surrounded by hills, farms, the river and with its history, is inspirational!
A short history produced by David Marsh from local records and information on other websites.
David Marsh ©
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