The Glyndebourne Opera House is just over the parish boundary in Ringmer, but over the years it is the name of Glynde that has become synonymous with opera so let’s cheat a little. As a world famous centre for that art, the al fresco champagne picnics on golden summer lawns have become just as much a part of the social calendar as Ascot, Badminton or the Centre Court at Wimbledon.
The opera house, opened in 1934, was created by John Christie who inherited the Tudor house which stands beside it and a fortune from his father on condition that he did something good with his life. Music, and opera in particular, were the great loves of this former Eton science master and so that was his gift to the world in a building designed for him by Edmond Warre. It had a mellow look from the start for Mr Christie spent years collecting weathered bricks to make the opera house blend with its surroundings.
Glynde also produced an art form on four legs in the South Down sheep. John Ellman lived here for 60 years until the dawn of the Victorian era and during that time reformed and refined the thin, scraggy and coarse-woolled sheep of Sussex. He developed a breed that retained its small stature, was a pleasant mixture of fat and lean with the sweetness that comes from hilly pastures. In addition to bringing the dinner tables a superior mutton he brought about a similar improvement in the quantity and quality of the wool.
Ellman’s success as a breeder made him a wealthy man and Glynde a place of agricultural pilgrimage. He was a model employer, lodging all his unmarried servants in his own house and when they married giving them a cottage and enough land for a pig, a cow and a garden. He built the school and kept the village free from public houses. At the annual Glynde sale rams often commanded three-figure fees and sheep were transported all over England, and to New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
Ellman’s Home Farm was later the residence of one of the most famous soldiers of the Queen, Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley. Quick-witted and energetic, ‘Britain’s Only General’ did much to improve the lot of the enlisted man and the phrase All Sir Garnet’ passed briefly into the language.
The village huddles under the massive dome of Mount Caburn and the Romans are supposed to have cultivated grapevines in these parts. Perhaps this prompted one cynic of long ago to christen a valley of the hill Vinegar Bottom.
Apart from the great arch in the shape of a horseshoe at the old village forge, Glynde’s most striking piece of architecture is its church, a controversial Grecian creation built for Bishop Trevor in 1763 on the site of an old church that was falling down. It has been variously described as being ‘in very bad taste’ and uninteresting, chiefly because it is quite out of the picture’. Others have spoken of its elegance and charm.
Glynde’s musical traditions have roots deeper than Glyndebourne and are of a more earthy nature. The Glynde and Beddingham Brass Band was formed in 1925 by the village stationmaster Mr Turner. And at the diamond jubilee celebrations members paid tribute to Bert Beech, who joined the band at its formation. Bert started as a cornettist at the age of nine, but switched to the euphonium when the cornet became too much for his teeth. When the band re-formed at the end of the Second World War the euphonium was found to be riddled with machine gun bullets, apparently inflicted by the Home Guard.
William Hay, born at Glyndebourne in 1695, was scarcely five feet in height, had a hump-back and misshapen limbs. But he was elected member of Parliament for Seaford and became Keeper of the Records at the Tower of London, in addition to travelling widely and writing essays and poems. He wrote an
essay on deformity, describing in a pleasant, bantering style how he had come to terms with his afflictions, in which he states: “When I am in a coach with a fair lady, I am hid by silk and whalebone. When I sit next to her at table, my arm is pinioned, I can neither help her nor myself. We are deprived of the pleasure of seeing each other; she would scarce know I was there if she did not sometimes hear me under her wing. I am in Purgatory, on the confines of Paradise! I therefore beg one favour which she may grant with honour, that – since I despair of supplanting her lap-dog – she will allow me a cushion to raise me above such misfortunes.’
Edward Boys Ellman, in Recollections of a Sussex Parson, relates how the Misses Tuttee at Glyndebourne once made a complaint to his grandfather of boys bathing within sight of their house, in a pond, and that it was a most indecent sight for any lady to see. The boys, on being spoken to on the subject, said they were so far off that they were sure the ladies could not have seen anything indecent, unless they stared at them through a glass.’