There is a myth that an idyllic country lifestyle is unobtainable, and that a cramped urban existence is a necessity rather than one of choice. What is considered a dream is closer to reality than you might think. Sussex is a county that has been divided in two – east and west, in some ways similar to Germany before the wall came down but without the dividing wall and extremes of wealth! East Sussex stretches from Brighton in the west, Rye to the east and as far north as Hartfield and Forest Row. It is bordered by Kent, Surrey and its namesake West Sussex. They are like opposite sides of the same coin; East Sussex is relatively unscathed by modern lifestyle whilst West Sussex has to some extent borne the brunt with Gatwick airport and some fairly large towns.
The main coastal resorts in East Sussex are Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, while the smaller towns and villages inland help to form the special character of the county, one of these picturesque small towns is Battle a place full of character, history and delightful scenery.
The first thing you notice is the silence, the second at this time of year is the smell: the scent of wood smoke from the open fires wafts through the narrow streets during the day and hangs in the air long into the night. It hasn’t however always been a quiet sleepy place. Today it is a destination for tourists curious to see the place on which the history of England changed forever. Just as tourists come today centuries ago pilgrims visited the same spot to pray for the men who died trying to defend their country from a foreign invader.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Battle was built upon the proceeds of war, providing accommodation for the pilgrims eager to see the spot where the last Anglo Saxon king fell but this is most certainly not the case. Battle was home for one of the largest gunpowder works in the country, the quality of its gunpowder was second to none! It was said that Battle gunpowder kept all of our warships during the Napoleonic War safe from Napoleon and it was even possible that Guy Fawkes might have used this superior product to ensure that Parliament went up in one large bang!
The town was originally known as La Bataillage the name is derived from the French word - le Batailage which quite literally means the battleground. In 1251 the name of the village that grew up around the Abbey was recorded as Bataille. The construction of the abbey was started in 1070 and it was finished around 1094. It was a penance ordered by the pope for the loss of life which occurred during the Battle of Hastings. All of the landscape that today surrounds Battle formed part of the Manor of Whatlington which belonged to King Harold. It was rather unfortunate for Harold to possess a manor near a coastline that was a magnate for invaders. The particular stretch of coastline suffered greatly at the hands of invading forces including the Romans and the Normans. Although the land on which Battle was later built at the time of the Norman invasion was a mere field, the area surrounding it was fairly well populated because of the ample opportunities to fish and farm unlike the areas further north which was covered in dense woodland.
Poor Harold was a man who not only suffered at the hands of William the Conqueror but also as part of Williams public relations exercise. William needed to vilify Harold to try and legitimise his claim on the English throne and to justify ransacking the countryside of the south coast. Harold whose family tree is liberally peppered with Kings of Wessex and ultimately kings of England from Alfred the Great to Edward the Elder had a far greater claim to the English throne whereas William was the son of Herleva, the daughter of a common tanner.
Harold is one of only three Kings of England to have died in battle, alongside Richard the Lion heart and Richard III.
Although the locals living in this part of Sussex suffered greatly at the hands of William and his soldiers the abbey was to become compensation of a sort! There were plenty of pilgrims who made their way to the abbey and the very spot where King Harold was killed. It was these people that enabled the locals to rebuild their lives. All of these visitors required food and lodgings after their long journeys so settlement sprang up around the abbey and this eventually became Battle.
Justice of a sort came a little too late for Harold but he definitely had the last laugh. Unfortunately for William, Harold’s hold on the royal throne of England did not end at the Battle of Hastings, his daughter Gytha of Wessex married Vladimir Monomakh the Grand Duke of Kievan Rus – a fore runner to modern Russia. One of her descendents Isabella of France married Edward II and re introduced the Godwinson lineage!
Battle is known in almost every history book as the location of the most decisive and, because every school child knows the date the most famous battle ever fought on English soil. Despite the notoriety gained from this monumental fight there is little these days to disrupt the peace in Battle!
copyright© Wendy Stevenson 2011
Can you help? Contact us if you know the history of a town or village in Kent near you. We're also looking for Photographs of Kent, submit online
Comment about this article: email@example.com