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The History of Alfriston

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Alfriston lies in the Cuckmere valley and is found just off the A27 road. The origin of name of the East Sussex village Alfriston comes from the original name for the settlement, Aelfric tun. This meant the 'farmstead of Alfric' in Anglo Saxon times. Alfriston was recorded in the great Norman tally of English estates, the Domesday Book , where it is listed as Alvriceston. Some hold the view that the name derives from ‘Aella fyrst tun’, meaning ‘Aella the Saxon's first settlement’ but there is no satisfactory architectural evidence to support this conjecture. Prior to the Saxons it is likely that the area around Alfriston was occupied from neolithic times, large numbers of prehistoric barrows are still evident higher up in the surrounding Downs . A later burial mound now lies under the site of the church, this was once an old Saxon burial ground. St Lewinna a Saxon virgin Christian was killed by the Saxons in 690AD and her body was interred at the church. Her relics were later attributed to a number of miracles. They attracted so much attention, and desire, that the relics were taken by a Belgian monk and spirited away to the Priory of Bergue St Winox in 1058.

King Alfred ’s famous cake burning incident is supposed to have occurred at the Star Inn in the village, a fact supported by the fact that the king had properties at nearby West Dean. The the church of St Andrews was originally built in the 1300's, it has come to be known as ‘The Cathedral of the Downs’. The wattle and daub Priest House next to the church was built in the 14th century and is a rare example of a Wealden Hall House. It was the first building acquired by the National Trust in 1896 and is open to the public. Many of the old buildings in the picturesque East Sussex village are still tiled in Horsham Slate, created from Sussex Wealden sandstone and used in the Sussex for roofing on more prestigious buildings since roman times.

The Star Inn is thought to have been originally constructed as a hostel in 1345 by the Abbot of Battle . In the 1500's was converted into an Inn and part of the refurbishment numerous wooden figures. Even after looking down on passing travellers over many hundreds of years, these carvings still remain watching. Outside the Inn there stands a red lion, said to have once been the figurehead of a Dutch ship wrecked in the 1800's. The ship was raided by the notorious Stanton Collins and his smugglers, who used the old inn as their base.

A local story tells of how, at end of the 1700's, the son and heir of the Chowne family who owned Place House Estate went for a walk with his dog. When attacked by thieves the young man was killed by a blow to the head and hastily buried by the gang. According to legend, seven years after the incident a couple out walking saw a small white dog that disappeared as into the bank of the road. Every seven years
thereafter the ghostly dog returned until the early 1800s a skeleton of a young man was unearthed during works to widen the road. The bones were moved to be laid to rest at the church and from that time on the phantom dog was never seen again.

During the Napoleonic Wars Alfriston billeted large numbers of troops. The soldiers were stationed there in case the invaders should they have got past the Martello towers and the cliffs along the Channel coast. The village thrived as a result of this friendly invasion, villagers provided food, drink and many other services to the troops. When the Napoleonic wars ended the village turned to smuggling for
making a living. The notoriously violent Alfriston gang used the Cuckmere river to bring their illegally landed duty-free goods in to the village ready for distribution inland. The gang’s leader Stanton Collins was caught for sheep rustling in the early 1830's. The gang broke apart when Collins was transported to Australia.

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