The fairytale castle must not blind us to another claim to fame. The Bodiam pancake races were held here every Shrove Tuesday for many years and at one time attracted the attention of the BBC.
They were started by the Rev Algernon Cottam. Most of the able-bodied adults took part and they ran tossing their pancakes along a stretch of Levetts Lane. There was a twist: Bodiam’s runners were in competition not only with each other but with a village some 200 miles away in Lincolnshire where a friend of Mr Cottam had organised a similar frolic. Times were compared over the telephone at the end of the day and the village with the best figures won a silver cup. The pancake tradition, like ‘Bodgem’s’ train service and the Guinness hopfields, has vanished in its old form though there have been attempts at the primary school to revive it.
Building of the castle was begun in 1385, when the technology of castle building was at its peak, to protect the upper reaches of the river Rother from possible incursions by the French who a few years earlier had mauled Rye and
Winchelsea. But the arrow slits, cannon ports and ‘murder holes’ (through which missiles could be dropped through the ceiling on attackers) were never used in anger. The castle fell into decay, was rescued in 1829 by ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller (see Brightling) when a Hastings builder planned to demolish it, and was then restored by two later owners, George Cubitt and Lord Curzon, who presented it to the nation. Under the care of the National Trust it is now a breathtaking if incongruous part of this rolling landscape.
If this were the Continent or the USA, the castle would be surrounded by a plethora of hangers-on, in the form of shops and souvenir sellers. But this is Sussex (albeit that the Kent border is just an arrow shot away) and the nearest it came to ‘commercialism’ was an innocent advertisement in an Edwardian castle guide book which stated that tickets for admission to Bodiam Castle could only be obtained at The Castle Hotel, where large parties are constantly catered for … inclusive charge to visitors from 9/- per day or from £2.12s per week. No extras for light or attendance. Meals served at separate tables.’