NORTHIAM East Sussex
Almost all of Northiam sits on relatively flat land about two hundred feet above the Rother valley, but the Parish Church of St. Mary, dating from the eleventh century, was built on a spot nearly fifty feet higher still. The rare ancient spire of the Church can therefore be seen from many distant parishes, marking the site of the village. On the village green close to the Church is a gnarled and ancient oak tree still clinging to life. It was under this tree that Elizabeth 1st rested and enjoyed a meal prepared by George Bishopp and his family from Hayes Farm. The Queen was on a ‘Royal Progress’ to Rye in 1573 and left behind a pair of green brocade shoes as a lasting memento of her visit, though it seems unlikely that she presented them to the village rather that they were begged from one of her attendants.
The green is surrounded by several quaint houses, including ‘Oakside’ the largest weather boarded house in Sussex. To the south west of the village is ‘Brickwall’ a Grade 1 listed Jacobean mansion. Purchased in the late fifteenth century by Thomas White of Rye, a new front with three gables was added to the house by his descendant William White between 1617 and 1633. After his death in 1666, the estate was purchased by Stephen Frewen and remained in his family until the twentieth century. In the 1830’s Thomas Frewen made alterations and additions to the house which included: removal of the plaster to reveal the timbered façade, restoration of the Elizabethan twisted chimneys, an additional south east wing with painted imitation timbering and the erection of elaborate entrance gates. He also moved the road further away from the front of the house and had a wall built along the side which faced the Hastings Road. At one time the house contained portraits of the family and of royalty by renowned artists, including Reynolds, Kneller, Van Dyke, Lely and Holbein.
In 1946 the house took on a new role as a school which specialised in tutoring dyslexic and dyspraxic children, and as ‘Frewen College’ remains so today and has extended its facilities for boarders.
This long, rather straggling village has an abundance of half timbered, thatched cottages and houses. Among the best examples are ‘Carriers Farm’, former home of the Frewens before their acquisition of ‘Brickwall’, ‘Thistledown’ at Mill Corner and ‘Wildings Farm’, a detached, award winning conversion of a Grade 11 listed former barn. Northiam is home to the smallest cottage in East Sussex, for ‘Smuggler’s Cottage’ measures just 9’ 6” by 7’, and also to the spectacular house and gardens of ‘Great Dixter’. Entering the house through the large porch, the structure to the right is of fifteenth century origin and is one of the largest surviving timber-framed halls in the country. It measures forty feet by twenty five feet and is thirty one feet high and, despite major alterations made in 1595, the principal medieval timbers remain intact. When Nathaniel Lloyd purchased the house in 1910 he employed the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to rebuild the left hand side and design the gardens. His distinctive style and visual literacy is apparent in the tall chimneystacks which adorn the roof and the small dormer windows which are on different levels. From 1954, when Christopher Lloyd, the plants man and gardening writer, returned to live permanently at Great Dixter, the gardens were opened to the public. With his flair for providing vistas of every imaginable colour he made these ravishing gardens and the creation of the Nursery his life’s work. The sunken garden that surrounds the central pond has neutral and spiky plants whereas the garden at the back of the house is a kaleidoscope of intense colour. Elsewhere topiary is used as a shaded outline for the beds of fragrant lavender. Often weeds are left in place and plants un-labelled, which gives the sense of his philosophy that ‘If it is a living plant it has an intrinsic beauty and therefore a place’.
Situation: 8 miles North West of Rye, 12 miles North East of Hastings
Transport: Train services via Tunbridge Wells from Etchingham or Robertsbridge stations, with connections for London. Station for Kent & East Sussex Railway (steam trains) on Tenterden to Bodiam line about 1 mile from village, also river trips to Bodiam in season.
Bus services to Rye, Hastings and Tenterden.
Notable houses are Great Dixter (Tudor manor house restored by Lutyens) with its famous gardens open to the public, and Brick Wall House, now Frewen College. St Mary’s Church is in an elevated position on the picturesque village green where Queen Elizabeth 1st is said to have rested and dined under an ancient oak tree while making her progress to Rye. The green is also the site of an old well which supplied water to the village until 1907.
facilities: Primary school, Library, Doctors Surgery, Opticians, Veterinary Surgery. Bakery/Teashop, Hardware Store, two small Supermarkets & Fish and Chip Shop.
Leisure activities include Village Snooker Club, Bowls Club, Horticultural Club, Scouts, a Recreation Ground, and a new Sports Centre located at the school. Hotel with a Restaurant and Bar overlooking the village green next to the Church, and a Restaurant and Bar opposite the Kent & East Sussex Railway Station (Steam trains from Tenterden to Bodiam)
Within a few miles of Northiam are the hamlets of: Horns Cross, Mill Corner and Cripps Corner with mostly older houses but no local facilities, while the nearby village of Staplecross has a Primary School, a Church, a Pub and a Village Shop.
Newenden has a Church and a Pub and Ewhurst Green has a Pub, while Bodiam in addition to a very old Church and Inn has its C14th Castle – the last great medieval fortress to be built in England. It also has a station on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.