First off, a little bit of history. Ditchling has quite the back story, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period, with first mention of the village in 765AD. In the 9th century it was recorded as belonging to King Alfred the Great, and at the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Ditchling was recorded as a former Royal Manor, held by William de Warenne, Lord of the Rape of Lewis. According to the Book, Ditchling had 196 households – one of the largest manors in the county.
Over the next century, lands in the village passed through different hands; the most notable being the gift of Ditchling Garden Manor to Anne of Cleves, as part of her divorce settlement from King Henry VIII in 1541. The house – now known as ‘Wings Place’ remains one of the village’s most iconic landmarks, and is considered one of the best examples of a complete Tudor house in the country.
Ditchling was changed forever by the arrival of sculptor and letter cutter Eric Gill, who moved to the village in 1907. Other craftsmen soon followed him, and in 1921 they founded the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic – a Roman Catholic community of artists and craftsmen, including painters, silversmiths, sculptors, ceramicists and weavers. The community was part of the wider Arts and Crafts movement of the time, and the Guild remained active until it was finally disbanded in 1989. Much of the history of the Guild, and an exhibition of works by Guild artists, can be seen at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.
Today, Ditchling is a flourishing village with a strong artistic community, and a desire to keep alive the traditions that help maintain its authentic feel. Every two years, the Ditchling Fair brings the whole village together – just as it has for over 700 years, since King Edward II granted John de Warenne, Lord of the Manor, the right to run a fair in Ditchling in 1312.
With over 40 listed buildings in Ditchling, there is history on every corner – and the village offers a unique insight into over a thousand years of Sussex heritage. If you’re interested to learn more, visit the Ditchling History Project; a fascinating website with stories, anecdotes and personal histories from Ditchling’s colourful past.