‘Herrinly, Chidd’nly and Hoadly, Three lies, and all true.’
An old rhyme of which most counties seem to have a version, but a look on the map will show that in this case the three parishes at least adjoin each other. Many of Hellingly’s residents are unaware that they belong to the parish, however, because the boundary is deep inside the northward expansion of Hailsham.
It can cause headaches for the parish council but clerk Bert Crouch took it all in his stride, as he did with the intricacies of running Hellingly for half a century, from 1939. His period of service must be something of a record.
The Rev Frank Fox-Wilson was a rector here in recent years whose artistic talents helped fill the church coffers. His carvings of wildlife were sold at auction and prompted some spirited bidding.
One of his predecessors was John Milles, a Protestant rector who died for his faith as one of the 300 victims of Queen Mary, being burned at the stake in Lewes in 1557.
Horselunges, a moated Tudor mansion, was the scene of a bizarre ‘miracle’ during the reign of Henry VI. Quite how young Agnes Devenish managed to get a plum stone lodged in one of her nostrils is a mystery. But it must have been extremely uncomfortable and later led to fears that Agnes would die. Her mother invoked the blessed king’ – and the stone fell out.
There was a murder at Horselunges which must have caused a local sensation in 1541 in the days when it formed part of the Pelham family’s hunting ground of Laughton Chase. Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre of Herstmonceux, planned a little illegal deer hunting with a group of friends one April night but at Pikehay in Hellingly they got involved in a row with three local men which ended in a fight in which one John Busbrig, Sir Nicholas Pelham’s gamekeeper, was mortally wounded. Three men with Lord Dacre were executed and the young lord, after being tried by his peers, went to the scaffold as well, the execution going ahead after what must have been an agonising five-hour wait in vain for a pardon from King Henry VIII. It was the first time in English history that a man of noble birth was executed for killing a commoner.
The heart of Hellingly is a charming array of old cottages around the oval shaped churchyard which rises seven feet in some places above the roads around it. It is the only ‘ciric’ or Celtic burial ground in Sussex to be preserved intact. The dead were lain in raised circular mounds because they were dry and because the circle was the old pagan symbol of immortality.
Towards the end of 1897 an area of 400 acres at Park Farm, Hellingly, was offered by the Earl of Chichester to Sussex
County Council for £16,000 as the site for an asylum. Hellingly Hospital, known to old village residents as ‘The Top’, was opened in 1903 as the East Sussex County Mental Hospital and remained as such until the National Health Service was introduced in 1948.
In the early days the stark and enormous red brick structure must have caused a lot of comment. Efforts were being made to humanise it soon after its opening. The Hailsham Historical and Natural History Society has an Edwardian photograph of the hospital soon after its completion bearing the legend “Hellingly Asylum’, together with the words ‘Wishing you a happy Christmas.’
A scheme was mooted in 1792 to construct a canal from the river Ouse near Beddingham to Horsebridge Mill to open up this part of the county for better trading, but the project was abandoned. The mill was seriously damaged by fire in 1908 but was rebuilt and remained busy grinding not only English corn but Rumanian and Canadian as well until its closure by Ranks Ltd in 1969.
Coager cakes are an old Sussex speciality based on pastry left over from pie making. Mrs Pont, a native of Hellingly, kept a tasty link with home when she emigrated to South Africa. Her method was to roll out the pastry in thin rounds about the size of the top of a teacup. In the middle put quite a small knob of butter, a half-teaspoon of moist sugar and about four sultanas. Catch it all up round to the middle, press and put a little bit of pastry on the top and bake in the ordinary way.