Delightful Danehill

Delightful Danehill

by Robert Veitch

The village of Danehill has much more about it than meets the eye. We sent Robert Veitch and illustrator Amy Dunne to find out more.

To some, Danehill might just be a graceful curve on the highway, but this village of almost 2,000 residents has more about it than a bend in road.

It’s 5 miles south of Forest Row and 5 miles north of Chailey, equidistant between them on the A275. The name has Anglo Saxon origins, being a clearing in the forest by a hill – denbera hyll as it once was.

There’s been settlement here since the mid 13th century, with dwellings first constructed around 1400. By 1660, a coaching inn called the Red Lion was a stopping point for travellers making the journey from Lewes to London. In 1851 it became White’s general store and post office. It was also the telephone exchange until 1947, then finally changing to a private residence.

With turnpike funding highways improved, and with better roads came new, affluent arrivals. A notable resident was Henry Holroyd, who became the third Earl of Sheffield. In 1876 he marked out a cricket pitch at his home nearby. It was used in 1884 as the venue for an early Test Match between England and Australia. Australia won quite comfortably. In 1891 the Earl donated money to the New South Wales Cricket Association, from which they created a prize – The Sheffield Shield – it remains the premier Australian domestic cricket competition to this day.

Once upon a pint, there was a pub called the Crocodile. It’s thought the name derives from a tool like a crocodile’s mouth, that smugglers used for hiding contraband in hard to reach places. Apparently, in 1966 former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan appeared at the bar, although there’s no record of what he drank and whether he stayed for a second.

Bee Gee Maurice Gibb moved to Danehill in the early 1970’s and was a frequent visitor to the Crocodile, even giving one of his white Saturday Night Fever outfits to a member of staff. Maurice married his second wife, Yvonne, at Haywards Heath registry office in 1975. They lived in Danehill with their two children until they sold up and moved to the Isle of Man in the early 1980’s.

Another pub called The Black Dog was located on Church Lane. Once the main road was re-routed to the east, the inn went the way of the blacksmith, wheelwright, cobbler, baker and the grocer. But Danehill is more than a quiet dormitory village. A festival called The Ashdown Weekend began in 1972 as a community based charitable event. It’s still going strong all these years later and takes place inside and around a marquee in Danehill.

In the year 2000 villagers got together to erect an obelisk, which sits on the line of the Prime Meridian. It houses a time capsule, containing a book and photographs documenting the village during the millennium. Bricks for the obelisk came from the local brickworks and the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex performed the unveiling on the first day of the 21st century.

Along Church Lane atop a small hill, is All Saints Church, which was built during the 1890’s. Pollarded lime trees, planted in 1919 to mark the end of The Great War, line the gravel path to the entrance. Inside, the stained glass windows are by the renowned Victorian, Charles Kempe of Lindfield. The church cemetery is home to the grave of Viscount Cecil of Chelwood. He was born Robert Cecil in 1864, growing up to become a lawyer, politician and diplomat. His greatest achievement was to help create the League of Nations, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. He died at his Chelwood Gate home in 1958, leaving no children.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of Carry On star Peter Butterworth and his wife Janet Brown, who lived in Danehill for many years. Butterworth was most famous for his sixteen Carry On appearances, while Brown came to national attention for impersonations of Margaret Thatcher in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Some curves in the road are arcs to another place and other adventures, but in Danehill it’s a good reason to pause, park up and learn a little more.

Illustrations: Amy Dunne