They had to wait a long time to ring the changes in the church of St Laurence – more than 200 years. The three church bells, the minimum needed for a peal, had been the centre of a mystery worthy of a whodunnit. One of them had been deliberately broken, by a person or persons unknown, sometime after 1724. Was it a midnight raid by the village blacksmith, upset by the ringers’ refusal to peal for the wedding of his favourite daughter? Or was it the lord of the manor, who lived next door, driven to extremes by the inferior tolling of a bell described as “lowering the tone of the place’?
The culprit will never be known. But in 1984 a £5,000 appeal in the village restored the bells, including the recasting of the cracked offender, and a fourth bell was donated by the Sussex Association of Change Ringers. St Laurence’s two sound bells were among the oldest in the country, the tenor and the treble being cast in 1408 and 1418. One is embossed with Sum rosa pulsata mundi Katerina vocata (I am the clarion rose of the world and am called Katerina) and the other with Dulcis sisto melis campana vocor Gabrielis (I am the honey voiced bell called Gabriel).
It seems strange that this peaceful village, set in the rolling, wooded countryside on the road to the Conquest battlefield at Senlac, derives its name from the packs of wild cats, which once prowled the area.
Catsfield is the last resting place of Thomas Brassey, the great railway engineer who settled in the village. This farmer’s son began by constructing the Grand Junction in Britain and went on to build railways throughout the world including opening up the vastness of India, Canada and Australia.
It had a distinguished but ill-fated visitor in 1791. Princess de Lamballe, closest and most faithful friend of the doomed Marie Antoinette, brought several possessions of the French Queen to be deposited for safekeeping in the hands of Lady Gibbs at Catsfield Place. The Princess returned to Revolutionary France and was killed within a year of her mission to East Sussex.