In June 1677 the treasurer of the Earl of Sussex recorded a successful sporting bet by his master and inadvertently put Dicker into the record books. The wager dutifully put down on paper was: ‘Paid to my lord when his lordship went to the creckitt match at ye Dicker 03.00.0’ (the princely sum, in those days, of £3).
No details of this match of long ago survive, but it proved that cricket flourished in the village and is one of the earliest recorded encounters in the history of the game. It has been played in Dicker ever since and the 300th anniversary was celebrated in suitable style when the local lads entertained teams from the MCC and Sussex County Cricket Club. In 1880 Luther Page was captain of the side, ‘taking many wickets with his slow tweekers’, and his descendants have played for the village ever since. President of Dicker Cricket Club in the early years of the 20th century was Horatio Bottomley, one of the most colourful characters of his era. There are still some old folks who remember with affection Upper Dicker’s squire – Bottomley the MP, the financial wizard, the brilliant orator, womaniser and mammoth swindler. He is recalled by them as a kind and generous man who built many of the comfortable cottages, livened-up country life with lavish parties, knew everyone by name and made patriotic speeches at the village school. Bottomley, the orphan who made a fortune through newspapers and publishing, built himself a mansion at Upper Dicker where he had the only telephone in the parish but allowed everyone to use it. Fraudulent Australian gold boom companies, rigged competitions and lotteries were his undoing and in 1922 he appeared at the Old Bailey on 24 fraud counts and was jailed for seven years. He came out of prison a broken man and died, bankrupt, in 1933. The Dicker, the mansion home of his heyday and declining years, is now a school.
At Upper Dicker can be found Michelham Priory, the loveliest bit of the river Cuckmere, founded in 1229 for Augustinian canons on an island surrounded by a moat. Parts of the priory buildings, including the church, were destroyed in the Dissolution in 1536 and the remaining buildings formed the nucleus of a Tudor house. It was given to the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1959. Like all good priories, it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a monk.
Lower Dicker, with Sussex perversity, lies a mile or so to the north, a straggling place torn in half by the busy A22. Old postcards show it to have been a peaceful place in earlier days and it was famous for its clay flowerpots as the local hostelry, The Potter’s Arms, testifies.
Upper or Lower, how did the Dickers get their name? It has been suggested it comes from the 10-rod dickers’ of iron paid in lieu of tax or rent by some ironworks. The word originated as Latin dicora, meaning ten or tenth, which developed to medieval dyker.