The closure of village schools on economic grounds has become an unpleasant fact of country life. When Eridge school closed its doors for the last time in 1979 after 102 years they at least went out in style. A farewell concert featured the children performing the Song of Eridge, written by teacher Mrs Joan McHutchison, which ended:
‘Now they tell us we’re closing. We’re sad at the thought. So you’ll just have the echoes The old school has caught.’
Before the concert began a furniture van arrived sent by East Sussex County Council, which had ordered the closure, to take away the school piano. The men were made to wait until the proceedings were over. The crest of the Nevill family, Earls and Marquesses of Abergavenny, adorns many of the village houses for Eridge Park is the seat of this leading Sussex family. Even the pub is called The Nevill Crest and Gun. They have owned Eridge since at least 1300 and Queen Elizabeth I stayed at a shooting lodge here in 1573.
The house was remodelled into a vast Gothic castle by the
second Earl in 1810, who renamed it Eridge Castle and made it his chief residence instead of Kidbrooke Park, near East Grinstead. It once had 70 miles of rides and drives. The castle was demolished in 1938 and the modern house which replaced it has since been reduced to one third of its original size and is now known by its original name of Eridge Park. There is a barn in the parish which is haunted by a maid from the big house. She hanged herself from a beam in the barn in the Victorian age when suicide was preferable to disgrace for an unmarried girl who became pregnant.
There must have been considerable alarm on the estate one November day in 1830 when the ‘Swing Riots’ were breaking out. A mob of agricultural workers marched on the castle intending to besiege it in their demand for higher wages. But they were poorly organised and the leaders were arrested: James Poulter, a Frant baker accused of inciting the trouble in the first place, was imprisoned for two months. He was lucky for in East Sussex as a whole nine men were sentenced to death and 457 were transported.
The Nevill Crest and Gun has a beautifully painted bull on the front wall. But where does the gun come in? Apparently the building is 500 years old and used to be a row of homes called Gunsmith’s Cottages. They cast a cannon here in 1768 which stood on the little village green for many years and was fired, with suitable ceremony, on high days and holidays.
Always to be found at the pub bar is Neville, a stuffed brown bear standing 6ft tall with a chequered past. Neville was a dancing bear in Turkey, entertaining the crowds at markets and fairs. When he died some 60 years ago, his skin was exported to England as a rug and later stuffed. Not particularly successfully, because Neville had no hands, no feet, no tail, no ears, a shortage of teeth and the wrong colour eyes. The licensees recently spent £1,200 putting all this right and restoring Nevile to the glory of his dancing days. Eridge lays claim to another animal celebrity, this time a little dog called Prince who loved riding on the trains. The black and white collie belonged to the village stationmaster and was a great favourite with the engine drivers who took him aboard in their cabs. Prince would journey down to Eastbourne and spend the day in the engine sheds until it was time to catch the last train back to Eridge. In 1952 the BBC carried a television news feature on this seasoned traveller.
They make good use of the rugged terrain and rocky outcrops at Eridge where there is an outdoor pursuits centre. Among other things you can learn mountaineering and canoeing.