Inns, inning and the ghost port
This walk graphically illustrates the battle between man and nature over a thousand years for an area which was once an indented coastline of salt marsh between spurs of higher land. Old sea walls, drainage channels, saltworks and the ghost of a port remain to mark this struggle. Meanwhile a different kind of port was amongst the goods being smuggled up to the inns of the area.
LENGTH – 4.5 miles
TIME – 2.5 hours
START – Hooe Church, Church Lane, Hooe, TN33 9HE
PARKING – Hooe Church car park, Church Lane, Ninfield, Battle, TN33 9JE
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS –Pubs on A259 and at Pevensey Sluice (½ mile off route)
CAUTION – Portions of the route cross wetland and may be flooded following wet weather. There are two crossings of the A259.
This walk contains stiles.
The Doomsday Book of 1086 shows Hooe to be the largest single settlement around the Pevensey Levels with a mill, a small church, a population of around 320 and a value of £21 7s. It had possibly been even higher before William the Conqueror’s army marched through 20 years earlier, burning and looting and dropping the value of the village from £25 to £6. However, standing by Hooe Church today, there is little sign of a village. The answer lies partly in a village now composed of isolated farms rather than a nucleated settlement and partly in the gradual switch from sea transport to land transport through the ages, with the present village centre sited about a mile north at a crossroads on the old common. Perhaps this isolation helped to preserve the contents of the church. Unusually, both the Saxon font and document chest (made from a hollowed out tree trunk) date from the original church and are older than the present building which contains them.
Between about 1100 and 1350, the pressure of an increasing population forced the pace in reclaiming land from the sea. “Inning” produced a series of piecemeal banks enclosing one small field at a time and gradually pushing the sea back. However, the population collapse after the Black Death, followed by higher tides and storms, especially the “Great Storm” of 1287, undid most of this work, leading to the re-flooding the greater part of the area. After 1400 man began again to drain the marshes, but with greater coordination than before. In this area all the land was drained into Wallers Haven which once flowed right across the marsh to an outlet forming the port of Pevensey. A new artifical outlet to the sea was constructed at Codyngeshaven in 1402, thus speeding up the flow of water from the marshes but leaving the port of Pevensey (the old haven) without enough water. Even this was not enough. Shingle choked Codyngshaven and another new channel called the Mark Dyke, was constructed further east in 1455, which remains in use today.
One advantage to locals of the new drainage system was the ability to use the channels to land smuggled goods by small boats. Isolated inns such as The Lamb situated next to such channels were obviously in an ideal position to benefit from smuggling. The casks themselves could be hidden underwater to avoid detection by customs. Increasing efforts to combat this smuggling culminated in a pitched battle between customs men and smugglers at Pevensey Sluice (where Mark Dyke enters the sea) in 1833.
On crossing the A259, the walk reaches the old shoreline at the western end of the peninsula on which Hooe lies. The Doomsday entry for Hooe includes “30 salthouses value 33s” and in this part of the walk, occasional small mounds can be seen in the fields. These mark the site of the Doomsday and later saltworks. Salt was a vitally important part of the medieval economy, as the only viable way of preserving meat, hence the expression “worth his salt”. At high tide, sea water was trapped in shallow basins and allowed to evaporate when conditions allowed or boiled in large vats; to drive off the water and leave the valuable salt behind. The salt was then removed and the other solids piled up in waste heaps, which are the main visible evidence of the industry today. As the sea was pushed back the salt industry had to move with it, leaving these debris mounds isolated inland today.
The original position of the coastline is illustrated by the Saxon place names. Names ending in “Ey” such as Rickney and Pevensey are former islands. Another such island is the ghost port of Northeye. Now visible as a mound in flat fields at a junction of six footpaths, the route passes through the humps and bumps in the ground that mark the remains of houses, inns and shops. In medieval times, ships could sail up the channel to the east of the mound to reach the port. It seemingly reached its peak in the 1200s with a foundation charter for a church here dated 1262 and the port being mentioned as a subsidiary to the Cinque Port of Hastings in a charter of 1229. It thus supplied ships for the wars with France in return for tax breaks and privileges for its inhabitants. However, the reclamation of the marshes proved its undoing as the sea was pushed back and the channel silted up. The port fell out of use about 1450. The ruins of the church lingered until about 1850 but today even those are gone.
On leaving the mound, the route crosses the former port channel, now little more than a ditch. The route then begins to rise slightly back onto “dry land”. It seems possible that the footpath was originally a causeway to the island, passable at low tide and thus similar to modern day St Michaels Mount or Lindisfarne.
The route now crosses another inlet of the sea separating the former peninsulas of Hooe and Barnhorne. The stream at the bottom marks the site of the boundary between these two Saxon estates as laid down in a charter of 772. This importance has endured and today it still marks the boundary between two modern district council areas