Iford

A peaceful farming village, flanked by the Downs and the brooks of the Ouse valley, where the centuries seem to have slipped gently by with nothing to seriously ruffle the pattern of life on the land.

But wartime left its mark, literally, on Iford and gave one little girl a day of excitement she has never forgotten. Now Mrs Dorri Stevens, she was having lunch at granny’s cottage in 1942 when a German fighter plane started to open fire on the village. Dorri and grandma scrambled under the kitchen table and when the Messerschmitt had passed over they broke cover and went out to inspect the damage. A bullet had punched a hole through the weathervane of the church and the evidence of that day, though no longer adorning the church spire, is kept inside the building.

Fear of a German invasion brought a proliferation of pillboxes in the river valley, though the menfolk of these parts had their own method of preparing for the enemy. A wartime snap shows them standing proudly beside their handiwork – a machine gun post cunningly disguised as a haystack.

The Ouse once came much closer to the village site and a paved Roman causeway was discovered here some years ago. But the church is Iford’s chief glory, built of rough flints like the cottages and walls around it and little changed since it was built in the 12th century. A daughter gave the building a practical memorial to her parents in the form of electric light at a time when far more sophisticated communities were still saying their prayers by oil lamps.

Swanborough is an even smaller place a little to the north which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and boasts a manor house dating in part from the 13th century, once a grange of Lewes Priory three miles away. This hamlet gave its name to a Hundred and a court was held here up until 1860. The late Lady Reading, founder of the Women’s Voluntary Service (the ‘Royal’ came later) lived here and took her place in the House of Lords as Baroness Swanborough.