The Saxon Invasion: AD577-1066

Long before the close of the Roman occupation of Britain her shores were being attacked by fierce barbarian tribes from across the North Sea. Internal dissensions and external attacks on all sides of the Empire necessitated the abandonment of Britain and the concentration of the Roman forces nearer home. AD 410 saw the final withdrawal of the Roman Army, and thenceforward Britain was left to defend herself alone against the barbaric races.

The Britons having been so long under the military government of Rome were at a disadvantage in dealing with savage hordes of great ferocity, but for thirty years they fought bravely against invaders from every quarter. But their final undoing was brought about when they called in the help of one set of freebooters on the Eastern Coast to help them against the inroads of the Picts in the North. These were the Jutes, who landed at Ebbsfleet, in Kent, in A.D.450, from which time the Britons steadily lost ground until Wales and Cornwall were their only refuge from those whom they had called in to their aid.

Although the Jutes were the first tribe of the Germanic people to settle in this island, they were quickly followed by the more numerous Saxons, who descended on both flanks of the Jutes in Kent the Eastern Settlement now represented by Essex, the Southern Settlement becoming our own Sussex. Finally there also came from across the North Sea the Engles, whose name had spread throughout the land till Britain was lost in the land of the stronger race and became the England that we love and for whose very existence we are now called upon to fight and to suffer.

Long before there was an united England, however, there was a Sussex, the settlement of the Saxons along the Southern shore being second only to the landing of the Jutes in Kent in the making of England. They were described by a contemporary Roman poet as:

“Foes are they, fierce beyond other foes and cunning as they are fierce; the sea is their school of war and the storm their friend; they are sea-Wolves that live on the pillage of the world”

It was men of this type who landed somewhere on the Selsey peninsula in 477, under Ella and his three sons Cymen, Wlencing and Cissa. The latter took the Roman city of Regnum and called it after his own name, now transformed into Chichester, while Cissbury Hill marks a conquest eastwards, and close by is Lancing, which gets its name from Ella`s second son. The familiar Chanctonbury, Woolstonbury and Ditchling are all Saxon names which have supplanted the British names swept away by the steady progress of the invaders. Mount Caburn alone retains its British or Celtic name, possibly because it is an outlier from the Downs and therefore more difficult of conquest.

It took Ella and his men fourteen years to conquer the coast from Selsey to Pevensey, and it was 491 before they assaulted that great Roman fortress, and when it fell before their tempestuous attack its name changed with its holders, and Anderida became the isle of Peofu – Pevensey – its Saxon name, which it retains till this day.

We must remember that this line of conquest lay along the Coast and the bare Downs. Further inland the Andreads Weald formed a great natural barrier through Which the Saxons could not penetrate for many generations. We call it still the Weald – the Saxon name for forest, and its British name Coed Antred, which means the “wood without a dwelling,” gives a graphic idea of the huge forest which cut off Sussex from the rest of Britain and made it accessible only from the sea. It was in this forest, close to the Roman road, which perhaps even then was falling into decay, that the small clearing must have been made which later on developed into our own village of Ardingly, but of that more must be told another time.

Having now cleared the way by this sketch of the beginnings of things, in future these Notes will be more concentrated upon the history of the village.

The Saxon Settlement

We now come to the time when our own village begins to emerge, for although we have not yet found any very early references to Ardingly there is no doubt that its name is Saxon in origin and betokens that there was some sort of settlement or cultivation here in Saxon days. The meaning of the name ‘Ardingly’ has often been guessed at, but the last syllable—meaning pasturage—is the only one of which we are certain. Whether that pasture was held by a man whose name began with ‘Eard,’ whether it was a place which the portion of open down and a share of forest. deer (harts) favoured, or whether the name can be traced still farther back to the old British word ‘Ard ‘—a height, can never be proved until we get hold of some old Saxon document which refers to it. The idea that Ardingly comes from a settlement here of the Azdingi, the royal tribe of the Visigoths, was a pleasing guess of Kemble’s in his History of the Saxons, for which no foundation is forthcoming. In fact it has been held up by modern authorities as an example of how not to arrive at the meaning of place names.

The earliest spelling of which at present we have documentary evidence is in the books of Lewes Priory of the date of 1107, where it appears as Hardingvellia and in 1121 as Hertingeligh. In the taxation of Pope Nicholas IV. in 1291 it appears as Herdinglega or Erdinglega. After that date the ‘H ‘ seems to be lost, and it becomes Ethingley, Echinglegh, with other varieties of spelling, perhaps the most remote being ‘Estingleth.’ in Richard Wakehurst’s will, 1454.

We get the initial ‘A’ in 1254, but ‘E’ remained the common spelling right up to the end of the 17th century, and has continued in occasional use almost to our own day. (We would put in a word here for the preservation of the Saxon pronunciation with three even syllables and the last one sounded as ‘lie.’ It is a thousand-year-old link with our first Saxon tenants which we should proudly hold against the invasion of the commonplace ‘ARD-ing-le.’)

The difficulty of tracing Saxon settlements is always great, and in the case of Ardingly it. is extreme, because there is no Manor of Ardingly, to the early court rolls of which we can turn for information. A large portion of the parish being held of the ancient Manor of Ditchelling it is amongst those records that research must be made, on the chance of finding some reference to the outlying farms at Ardingly.

The right of certain Ardingly farms to pasturage on Ditchling Common is still acknowledged on account of this connection with Ditchling Manor. Our Saxon forefathers divided the Kingdom of Sussex into six Rapes, each with its own port on the sea coast, a castle, a portion of open down and a share of forest. These divisions still remain, and until quite recently the Rural Deaneries of the Diocese were named after them. Thus Ardingly was in Lewes Third Division, while Horsted Keynes was in Pevensey.

Another smaller division is that of the Hundred. It is so ancient in its origin that it is not quite certain whether it got its name ‘ from containing a hundred families or a hundred freemen, a hundred warriors or a hundred hides of land, but it enshrines one of the oldest forms of local representative government and administration of justice. Ardingly was originally in the Hundred of Street, which doubtless took its name from the Roman street which passed through it. (Perhaps the Street field1 – the field below the College Infirmary—gets its name from the old arrangement). Ardingly is now in the Hundred of Butting Hill. These old Saxon groupings generally got their names from some natural feature which was familiar to the whole neighbourhood and served as a meeting place for the dispensation of justice and the allotment of land. The Butting Hill from which our division takes its name is said to be close to Ham Farm, on the road between Hassocks and Hurst, near where the Roman
road from Chichester to Pevensey crosses our own Street on its way to the coast, and therefore easy of access from a widespread district.

1 See record at end of Parish Register

Parish Boundaries

Some information having been given about the name of Ardingly and the Hundred in which it is included we now come to the boundaries of the parish itself and the various settlements within it.

The names, Wakehurst, Hapstead, Burstye, Strudgates, Berry (Bury), Tillinghurst, are all Saxon in origin, and though of course the present buildings are all comparatively modern the fact of their bearing Saxon names implies that they were places known in those early days and distinguished from the surrounding uncultivated waste and forest.

The coming into existence of an ancient parish and the definition of its boundaries is a matter which began in the darkness of the past. The Diocese was the original parish, and as Churches were built to serve the needs of the settlers in various parts they formed centres to which the surrounding lands paid their tithes. As cultivation increased in the Middle Ages it was a custom to have annual processions round the farms at Rogation-tide to ask for a blessing on the crops, and thus the boundaries round which they walked became more clearly defined. Later the religious side of these processions was dropped, but the perambulations for the definition of parish boundaries continued and indeed are still legal. Beating the bounds is not often practised now that we have maps and documents galore, but in old days the method of enforcing memory of certain boundary marks by beating an urchin in such a manner that he would remember it all his life was doubtless efficacious though painful.

In the Parish Accounts for 1803 is the following entry: “Pd. to James Wood for walking the bounds 2/-” but long before that date the limits of the parish were determined and various natural objects selected as boundary marks.

Amongst these still to be seen are the boundary Yew in Wakehurst Warren, the monster Beech on the Forest Farm Road, and, most remarkable of all, the magnificent Lime tree which has the reputation of being the largest in England and whose boughs are said to cover a quarter of an acre of ground. It is the old English variety with small leaves and flowers borne upwards, in .which it differs from the common imported variety. It is probably two or three hundred years old and is still vigorous. It stands on the old bank which winds through the woods for a considerable distance, and is the recognised parish boundary in that direction. Another boundary mark which has disappeared within the memory of the present generation is the Beggar’s Oak which marked the dividing line of our parish and West Hoathly, at the junction of the Stone and Rockhurst lands. It stood on the spot now occupied by Rock Cottage, built by Sir Richard Farrant some years ago.

We may seem to have wandered far from the Saxon settlement, and yet we have only followed a process which has been at work ever since that time. When our Saxon forefathers slowly settled themselves up the line of the Roman road, Town House, Ardingley Street, Tillinghurst, Wakehurst, Stone lie close along it, Hapstead was an outlier which probably grew up around a track through Berry from Lindfield, while Burstye overlooks the other chief means of communication, the water-way of the Ouse.

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