Sunday, 26 February 2012

A jewel of history - "real" Bexhill

Since the February sun was blindingly bright today, we drove down to the south coast of England.

The name Bexhill (meaning boxhill) conjures up for many people a modern resort with a handsome esplanade for retired sun-worshippers who might not quite afford elegant Eastbourne. However, on a hill east of its seafront (right) with its newly modernised de la Warre Pavilion - which is a good place to take morning coffee - we discovered a gem.  This is the Saxon village from which plain and level Bexhill (right) stole its name. In fact, the sea resort is called Bexhill-on-Sea but most people forget that and think of it as "Bexhill". It is not the "real" Bexhill. Even the road signs call real Bexhill "Old Bexhill".

Bexhill or now "Old Bexhill" is on a hill overlooking Bexhill-on-Sea to the east. It has a charming church and delightful white clapboard houses (below). My heart leapt when we wandered into what we thought was a mere municipal garden and stumbled into the ruins of a living room.  I immediately recognised a Tudor fireplace (below). What long lost silver candlesticks once adorned this noble mantlepiece? This room, once linen-fold panelled, belonged first to the Bishops of Chichester, then to the influential Sackville family. The old walls have been swept away by the slow motion tsunami of time. Indeed this photo (below) reminds me of photos following a tidal wave. But the manor's gardens, its magnificent, uneven barn (below), stables and library have survived.  Their walls are flint hard and faced with what look like pebbles taken from the sea shore, centuries ago.  They have withstood time.

This once royal Bexhill Manor had been  the eastern manor of the Bishops of Chichester when touring parishes in East Sussex. Along with up to a hundred other properties, Bexhill fell to Queen Elizabeth 1st who gave it, along with Knole, the stately home in Sevenoaks, to the Sackville family and it remained in the Duke of Dorset's family until the 1860s. Apparently, the ancient house, but not its lovely barns (partly shown below), stables and cottages succumbed to fire, in 1967.

Bexhill Manor stands on a fine hill. No doubt, in its heyday, it had magnificent views over the English Channel.  Possibly, Queen Elizabeth 1st visited here when she came to nearby Rye, on summer progress.  It is known she would take excursion rides with a small entourage. Is this plot where the wealthy Sackvilles and Dorsets spent their sunny, summer holidays? I now think of it as "The Tudor Riviera".

This is why I love Southern England. Every inch is replete with history - if one cares to explore a bit - and tries to recognise what one sees.

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