Historians shake their heads firmly at the suggestion that Charles II rested at the manor house after his escape from Worcester and before embarking for the Continent from Shoreham. The tradition is a strong one, though, and one scribe cites a letter written to Sir William Burrell in 1780 relating how the fugitive King’s stalwart appearance ‘had such an effect upon the good woman of the house that her next child (a very fine boy) was said to be the picture of the King.’ It was another monarch who was given sanctuary here during the Second World War. He was the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who lived for a time at Woodland Grange.
Seaside suburbia has not strangled a hamlet immortalised by Harrison Ainsworth in his novel Ovingdean Grange, where he writes glowingly about the charms of the part Saxon church. Not surprisingly, it is adorned like so many others by a window by Charles Eamer Kempe, whose family lived at Ovingdean and who was buried here in 1907.
Sexual harassment by a ghost? It happened at the 16th century Horse and Cart and the victim was the new licensee, Cilla Gurden.
She was reaching for the handle of a beer pump to serve a regular customer when some ‘saucy devil’ suddenly pinched her bottom. The culprit was invisible and Cilla turned back to find the customers smiling and giggling. It was Harry,’ they assured her, the name they had given to a ghost they described as rather cheeky’.
One of the bar staff, Maria Wall, was ‘attacked’ in similar fashion and yet another victim of the phantom pincher was Linda Piggott. “We just wish he would keep his hands to himself,’ said Cilla, “but we would never call in an exorcist, for he is rather fun to have around.’
When landlord Mick Pithie left the pub he decided to give his old regulars a treat. They were all invited to the opening night of his new pub, The Curlew at Hurst Green. It promised to be a highly alcoholic affair and to avoid his former customers falling foul of drinking and driving Mr Pithie laid on a London doubledecker bus to get them all there and back safely.
A responsible approach which, according to Mark Antony Lower in The Worthies of Sussex (1865) was seriously lacking in a son of Peasmarsh from an earlier age. William Pattison was born here in 1706, a gifted poet who while at school built up debts amounting to £10 with booksellers. With the creditors getting fiercer and no money in his pockets, Pattison literally wrote himself out of trouble by penning An Ode on Christmas Day and inscribing it to Sir Christopher Musgrave of Edenhall. He then introduced himself to the baronet who was so pleased with the ode that he immediately paid off all the debts.
Pattison got to Cambridge where, in today’s parlance, he seems to have had the wrong attitude’. He was threatened with expulsion but left of his own accord and set himself up as a professional poet. He was soon homeless and starving in London and died of smallpox at the age of 21. Lower laments: “With abilities of a high order, he had no steadiness of purpose, or depth of principle. From the extreme licentiousness of his poetry the world was a gainer by his death, and Sussex can take little credit to herself for having given him birth. Most of his poems were written before he was nineteen and they show a moral depravity quite remarkable for that early period of life.’
Strong stuff! But by modern-day standards the schoolboy poet’s work is unlikely to raise any shocked eyebrows at all.
Peasmarsh church lies well away from the rest of the village, giving rise to theories of an earlier community being wiped out by the Black Death. It stands serene among meadows and nearby is Peasmarsh Place, former home of the Liddell family who had several claims to fame. The Very Rev H.G. Liddell was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford; his son Edward was a joint compiler of Liddell and Scott’s Greek Dictionary (on the bookshelf of every classicist); and his daughter Alice persuaded a friend of his to tell her a story. The friend was the Rev Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the story was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.