by Ruth Lawrence
This beautiful village is steeped in history and there are 54 listed buildings to be found, as Ruth Lawrence found out
Behind the Downs, a few miles due north of Brighton lies the intriguing village of Ditchling, famous for its arts and crafts heritage, its acclaimed museum and colourful history.
The first known mention of the village was in King Eadwulf’s Charter in 765AD; at one time it grew to the largest settlement in Sussex after Lewes and Chichester, perhaps due to its position at an intersection of north-south and east-west routes through the county. Its rich geology made the village not only self sufficient in building materials but allowed it to export them to other parts of the country. Chalk, clay, flint and sand extraction were major parish occupations and although these industries have left the village, another new agricultural industry has blossomed- viticulture. An award winning winery has flourished in the parish and more lie outside the boundaries. Evolving from the rich crafts legacy left by one of Ditchling’s most influential residents, Eric Gill, numerous workshops have sprung from converted farm buildings where visitors can buy superb handmade work and even take classes in various disciplines.
Surrounded by fields and graced by far reaching views of the Downs, Ditchling is visually stunning; from the High Street with its glorious vista towards Ditchling Beacon to winding, tucked away lanes, it contains an unusually high number of historic buildings. The timber frames still visible in many buildings would have been oak harvested from the forest that lay between the village and the downs while flint in both whole and knapped forms can be seen in numerous walls and buildings.
Ditchling has a surprising number of clubs and societies for a small village; whether you want to be involved in community, self improvement, the transition movement or social spheres there is almost certainly a group to join or a workshop to take. The Monday Group construct stiles and keep paths open while HKD Transition host creative and educational activities from ceilidhs and eco fairs to talks, films and craft days. The award winning Ditchling Players have been putting on plays under their name since 1945 and have one of the best amateur stages in the district; with a hundred members, they welcome anyone who’d like to be involved. Ditchling Morris has a regular Thursday evening Morris dancing practice and Ditchling Singers, one of two community choirs founded by Herbie Flowers, rehearse twice a month in the village. With clubs for cycling, rambling, table tennis and cricket, there is ample opportunity to keep fit and meet likeminded people and the Ditchling Film Society hosts a regular showing of world cinema in a village setting.
Ditchling has something for everyone and its easy to understand why the village has grown incredibly popular with those seeking a quieter, community based life away from the city; it is beautiful, friendly and most importantly, vital and evolving.