An introduction to Polegate and its history
In a fertile valley in the lee of the South Downs, nineteenth century railway engineers built the railway line to Eastbourne and later, to Hastings. The village of Polegate grew up at the busy junction of these two routes and became the home to many local railway employees.
Polegate’s role as an important railway junction has declined, but with the fast railway services from Eastbourne to Gatwick Airport and London and east and west along the coast between Ashford (for a direct service to connect to the Eurostar Channel Tunnel Service), Hastings and Brighton, the former village of Polegate has grown into a pleasant town ideally suited for road and rail travel, and with excellent residential developments and good local shopping and social facilities for the local population.
South of the Town the landscape is dominated by the brow of the chalk escarpment where the South Downs stretch along the skyline to the famous white cliffs at Beachy Head. From Beachy Head starts the South Downs Way which provides an attractive walk through unspoilt countryside for ramblers and horse riders right across Sussex and into Hampshire.
North of the Town lies the Weald of Sussex where some of the old woodland still remains providing pleasant walks through the trees and lanes. To the west are some of the prettiest of the County’s villages. These lie snugly under the brow of the Downs like Berwick, Alciston, Folkington and Wilmington, with its strange “Long Man” cut over 200 feet tall out of the chalk, or in the Cuckmere Valley like Westdean, Littlington, Milton Street and the very popular Alfriston.
The levels east of Polegate have been reclaimed from the sea by man and by nature over many hundreds of years as Pevensey Bay has slowly silted up. This is probably where Polegate got its name. The old name for land reclaimed from the sea is Polder, which is still used in Holland. Therefore Polder gate (or Polegate) is the gateway to the Polder. The resulting farmland was irrigated to improve it further and is now as rich and productive a farming area as anywhere in the County.
Where history was made
Although Polegate is a relatively modern Town, it lies only few miles from the spot where Julius Caesar first landed at Pevensey Bay in 55BC and began the conquest of Britain. Parts of the original Roman Road between the port and iron ore sites in the Ashdown Forest can still be seen today in Farnestreet, a lane to the west of Polegate and to the east of the Town on the way to Stone Cross.
A little further north east lies Battle, where, on Senlac Hill, on 14th October 1066, William Duke of Normandy defeated the English King Harold and established the rule which has given Great Britain political stability, and introduced a new language. William, like the Romans, landed at Pevensey but with the silting up of the Bay the remains of the Roman and Norman Castles now lie a good mile inland.
Medieval and Tudor times
Two private houses of note stand within the Polegate Town boundary, built on the site of an old Grange which once housed the Canons of the Premonstratensian Order from Premontre in France. Later they built Bayham Abbey at Lamberhurst in Kent and moved there.
Sayerlands House now stands where their farm had been. Its timber framed Tudor construction dates from the sixteenth century but it was refronted two hundred years later with three bays, the centre one of which contains the front entrance standing importantly between the two supporting columns.
Nearby Otteham Court stands on the actual site of the Grange granted to the Canons by King Henry II whose father and wife were both French. It retains an interesting medieval chapel dating from the early fourteenth century which features little gabled stone priests’ seats and a stone basin once used for rinsing the Eucharist chalice and plate after communion. These are called sedilia and piscina respectively. There are also two windows dating from the same Gothic period and these features have led to Otteham Court being listed for preservation as a building of special architectural and historic interest.