A small village, Ditchling lies at the foot of the Downs in East Sussex. The village stands around a crossroads with Brighton to the South, Haywards Heath to the North, Keymer and Hassocks to the west and Lewes to the East and is built on a slight spur of land between the Downs to the South and Lodge Hill to the north.
Though it probably goes back further, the history of Ditchling starts properly in Saxon times when the people of Dicul settled here and King Alfred held lands as a Royal Manor, but is most remembered today as an artistic commune where several famous artists lived and worked.
Though its history and importance can be traced far back in time, the village is still quite small and unspoilt. The village is contained within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park; the order confirming the establishment of the park was signed in Ditchling.
St. Margarets Church
One of the most ancient buildings in Ditchling today is St. Margarets church which stands on the west side of the crossroads on a small sandstone hillock. It is cruciform in design and dates back to Pre-conquest times. The Nave is the earliest part of the building with the South Aisle being built in the 12th century. The next major additions in the 13th century were a Tower to replace the old Chancel, Transepts, a new larger Chancel and the Chapel now known as the Abergavenny Chapel, followed by the more modest addition of a West door in the Nave and a porch on the South side in the 15th century. Finally, the North Transcept was rebuilt in 1863 and the north wall of the Nave was rebuilt more recently, removing a blocked north doorway. Traces of mural paintings were found under puritan whitewash at the same time, but were unfortunately destroyed. The church register dates back to 1556 and though the dedication is to St. Margaret, an early reference refers to the church as "All Seyntes".
When the churchyard was being extended early in the 20th century, workmen found an ancient well. Down to 8 feet it was walled with flints, below this it was walled with blocks of chalk and down to 22 feet it was walled with blocks of hewn sandstone. Antlers and the bones of fallow deer were found at the bottom, one of which seemed to have been attached to something else by an iron nail.
An ancient burial has also been found, the body being placed without a coffin in a grave cut out of the sandstone that underlies the church, a Saxon burial? Also in the churchyard is a sundial moved there to commemorate the coronation of George V in 1911. The sundial was originally constructed in 1719 and was to be found at the Rangers House in the Park.
Anne Of Cleves House
A fine Tudor building, now called Wings Place but originally Ditchling Garden Manor, the large house across the road from St. Margarets church was once known as "Anne of Cleves House". The reason for this title is due to the house and its estates supposedly being given as part of the divorce settlement by King Henry VIII to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. It is doubtful whether she ever stayed there, but the name is at least more likely than another title it has been known as, "King Alfred's Palace".
It is recorded that the manor once belonged to the Prior of Lewes who surrendered it to Henry VIII who gave it to Anne of Cleves. After her death, the estate reverted to the crown under Queen Elizabeth I, who gave it to Sir Edward, the son of Sir John Gage, chamberlain to three monarchs. Sadly, only about half of the original house remains