The Ancient Britons

We have no known remains in Ardingly of the ancient British race which peopled this island when it first began to take its place in the written history of the world. At that time our own little corner of the land was probably covered with dense forests, the haunt of wild beasts such as are no longer found in England, while the human inhabitants congregated on the bare Downs and along the openings cut through the forests by the rivers.

But although no tangible relics of the early Britons have been found here they have left us other memorials in the shape of names and words, which we use every day without a thought about their history.

Our language as a whole belongs to the much later period of the Anglo-Saxons, and did not make its appearance here till 500 years after the time now being considered. But many of the natural features of the country, such as rivers and hills, still keep the names given them by the old British or Celtic tribes, whose tongue is yet spoken in far-away Wales.

The names of the rivers of England are almost all Celtic (i.e. ancient British) in origin and the Ouze which runs through our own parish is an example in point—the word simply means “the water.” [It is just possible that the name “Avins” may mark the place up to which the Ouze was tidal in those old days, but that is a matter on which experts have not yet expressed an opinion; at any rate we must remember that the river was very much wider then than it is now.]

We turn from the river with its primeval name and look across to the hills, the Downs, so called from the Duns or earthworks of the old race which still crown their summits. In the long summer evenings the western sun throws every combe (cwm – a hollow in the hill) into shadow and lights up the great chalk pits of Mount Caburn (Caerbryn – the brow fort). In the springtime we see the sheep go through the village on the way to Romney (Ruimne – the marsh) and they cross Pellingbridge, in Lindfield, which if its first syllable is spelt Pwl (a pool) will show its connection also with the ancient language and make us fancy that we are in Wales? And lest we should think that these early inhabitants were entirely uncivilized we must remember that among the words we gain from them are “button,” “darn,” “bat,” “bran,” “lad,” “lass,” “dad “ and “ daddy,” for which they could have had no use had they no home-life with simple occupations and pleasures.

These words are part of our heritage, and they come to us from the race which possessed this island, “set in the silver sea,” long ere it was called England. The old British people were heathen when we first know of them, and it is possible that the Long Man of Wilmington, the great giant cut in the chalk on the side of the Down near Berwick Station, is a relic of their savage worship. If it is true that they filled the outline with blazing wood it would have been a signal which could be seen and understood by the whole surrounding country including our own district, from which the Down is quite visible.

But during the Roman occupation of Britain its native people became very largely Christian, as the Roman Empire with its wonderful system of roads and communications opened a great door to the spread of the Faith of the Risen Lord.

Even this little spot of earth had its connection with the great city in the south, and what is known of that link will be told another time.

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Notes from copies of the original documents:
Also A-FEN, a marsh
AVENER. Peter le Avener – Post of provider of forage (avens oats) for the Kings horses
Avens – Oat farm as distinguished from his next farm Ryelands.
The chalk pits visible from Ardingly are on Malling Hill – Mt Caburn lies on the further side M.S.H .