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001 - Geographical History

The Position of the Village

The village of Hooe is situated on rising ground to the north-east of the town of Pevensey (the site of the ancient Roman fortress, Anderida) and beyond the River Ashbourne, and above the marsh. It occupies a central position between Bexhill, Battle, and Pevensey, and, in the past it has been of considerable importance.

Almost an island - The Bridges and the Streams

The parish of Hooe is almost an island in that it is bounded by several streams; Moorhall, Wallers Haven, and Waterlot on the north, west, and south, while close to the boundary, on the east, are Whydown and East Stream; because of this remarkable number of streams, seven miles of the nine-mile boundary of Hooe, is actually water, making the village, and its farmland almost an island. These streams are crossed by substantial bridges - Hogtrough Bridge, Home Bridge, Horse Bridge, Middle Bridge, Sewer Bridge, Stone Bridge and Waterlot Bridge, and by wooden footbridges, which, according to my grandfather in his book on Hooe, were at one time, and may still be today by a few local people, known as "liggers", one meaning of which, according to the dictionary, is a "plank bridge" and would seem to be a word of Scandinavian origin.

These streams are very important to the past and present existence of the village because Hooe stands on land reclaimed from the sea many years ago. Without the streams to drain away the water the land would be marshland and there would be no fields of grass on which the cattle and sheep now graze.

To complete the picture, of an island, to the south is the sea.

The End of the Last Ice Age

If we go back, roughly ten thousand years, to the end of the last Ice Age, as the ice and snow melted, the sea levels rose causing flooding in all low lying areas; not just in England but throughout Europe and the world. The "Pevensey Levels", which includes Hooe, became a wide, shallow bay. Over the coming millennia, shingle beaches or strips of shingle developed across the mouth of this bay and,, behind these, alluvium deposits built up. The salt marsh slowly turned to meadows with reeds and grasses and with small "islands" of clay on which, later, it seems, the Romans built small settlements; these "islands" are known as "eyots" or "aits"; both being pronounced the same and both rhyming with "eight". The words are only used when referring to islands in a river or a lake and there are many such "aits" or "eyots" recorded in the names of places on the Thames - such as Ravens Ait and Stevens Eyot

At best it had never been anything more than marshland, though the pre-history of the levels is, still, really unknown. In historical times, many unsuccessful attempts to reclaim the land from the sea were made but the area was, probably, never really settled until draining the marsh resulted in some small success, which then allowed establishment of small settlements. The sea, however, continued, on occasion, to completely flood the land and, as far as is known or can be seen, there could have been no long-lasting or permanent settlements with the result that archaeological finds are rare.

The 1946-1947 issue of "Sussex Notes and Queries" (Volume X), however, says that in Hooe, in East Sussex, "children used to play marbles around the tumulus"; what it doesn't"t do is say when they used to play or where the tumulus was located; if it actually did. It does refer to - "S.A.C. LXXV p238" (Sussex Archaeological Collection) but, on the pages referred to in that book, there is no mention of Hooe.

I contacted the, Archaeological Consultant for the East Sussex County Council, who was most helpful, sending me a report and a map showing what he believed may have been the tumulus in question. It appears, however, that technically, today anyway, it isn't in Hooe but in the area of Northeye, but boundaries do change and may have been associated with Hooe, in the past. It probably started life as a Bronze Age burial mound, later, perhaps, having a windmill built upon it. Hooe used to have a windmill but as I can't find the original location of this, so it doesn't help!

The report says that the mound is about 30 metres in diameter and about 3 metres high (which, in the olden days, BCM (Before Common Market), would have been roughly 98' 6" by 9' 10" high). Just a couple of small political points here -- how I hate seeing "feet" and "inches" now referred to as "American measurements" and being told that I now speak "British English" - when we invented both! The map reference for the mound is TQ 69200787 - and I have no political feelings about that!

It was only when people began to occupy this marshy land on a more permanent basis that they found it necessary to build earth banks to keep out the exceptional high spring tides and those caused by storms at sea. At the same time, they needed to cut out channels or ditches to drain away the water from the land during low tide and build sluices to close off those same channels during high. It was by these means that they controlled the draining of the land and its reclamation from the sea: a process known as "inning".

Origin of the name "Hooe"

I have taken the following directly from my grandfather's book, "Records of Hooe", because it explains, perfectly, not only from where the name came but also something of the social structure of England at that time of the Saxons.

"The parish owes its name to Saxons who raided the coast in the fifth century and took possession of it as a commanding site above the marsh, the sluice land and the streams, which flowed from the Andred Forest then existing for about a hundred miles between Kent and Hampshire.

The Saxons came under their leader Ella and his sons. They landed first near Shoreham in the year 477. In 491 they attacked Pevensey and massacred all the native Britons they found there, afterwards settling in the district around.

The geographical position of Hooe was surely advantageous to both Romans and Britons. We may presume that when the Saxons came they found a British village with a church from which they acquired the muniment chest now in Hooe Church; also, that they slew every inhabitant.

Among the "gates" by which the invaders entered the country were the havens of Pevensey and Hooe, which were only about three miles distant from each other. Ascending the streams which flowed into Hooe Haven, and which bounded two sides of a triangular piece of land elevated to about a hundred feet above sea-level, they discovered the commanding site was suitable for a settlement, and named it "Huh" because of its situation, being high land somewhat like an island.

Among the newcomers were churls (freemen) and serfs (slaves) under the rule of Ella, who had proclaimed himself King of the South Saxons (that is, Sussex). To become a thane (or "Lord") a churl held not less than 500 acres of land and possessed a kitchen, a hall, a chapel and a bell (with a bell-house). Ella's son Cissa succeeded him as king and made his capital at Chichester (that is, Cissa Ceaster) early in the sixth century.

With Ella, or Cissa, as his king from whom he received a charter, a churl became the thane, or lord of the manor, of Hooe and had his residence at "The Grove," which traditionally was the Saxon manor house. Hooe Church is possibly on the site of his chapel and New Lodge Cottages on that of his bellhouse. Surrounding their homes, his churls had their arable land ("bokland," or land held by a grant, charter, or book) on which they and their serfs toiled.

Though freemen, the churls were not independent of their thane, but had to remain with him and work for him. Outside the cultivated area was the "folc-land," or "common", which any of them could use for grazing purposes.

From their village the inhabitants could look out over the marsh and scan the havens and the beach tracks (some of the beginnings of modern roads) to guard their homes from possible invasion. There is an earthwork called "Castle Croft" near the north boundary of the village.

That the Saxons enjoyed peace for any length of time is very doubtful, for the Danes and Northmen also coveted our beautiful country and fought hard for it, with considerable success.

Pevensey and Hooe havens are well marked in Saxton's map of 1579 and Speed's map of 1610."

I'm happy with that! I couldn't have put it better!

Hooe in the Domesday Book

When the "Domesday Book" was compiled, the ownership of all the land, in England, was not complicated; the king owned it all; it was as simple as that. Everyone else "held" whatever land they had, as tenants, only. England was a "fiefdom" where the word "fief" refers to the "fee" to be paid to the lord or the king by those who "held" the land. This fee was usually paid in the form of a pledge of allegiance to the lord and, in physical terms, shown in the form of the supply of military aid when, and as, required. Land, however, was not the only reason for a "fief"; others could arise from the granting of a position of high office or the rights being granted for fishing or hunting.

At the top, after the king, were the lords (or sometimes ladies) and they held their lands in return for some form of obligation to the crown or a service performed for the monarch, usually military.

Beneath these were various layers of other sub-tenants, each one owing something to the one above, all the way down to the peasant farmers.

In a similar way, the land "held" followed the feudal system with the land held by the king or by a lord for his own use, at the top of the tree; the "demesne" a word of French origin and pronounced, "de main", with the stress on the second syllable; from this word comes our, present word, "domain". This is as close as I can give the pronunciation without the use of phonetic symbols, which, I must admit, I've never really studied or understood.

Under the demesne, came the "manor", which was the main building block of the feudal system; both economically and socially. Generally, the manor comprised a manor house, several villages, and a great deal of land - forest, meadow, pasture, and the fields for cultivation.

After this, the fields were divided up into strips of land; so much for the lord of the manor, then the church, and, finally, the peasants, who, in payment for their strips of land, would have to spend about half the week working on the lands of the lord of the manor and the church and then the rest of the week on their own land.

Finally, a parish would normally include several manors but, on occasion, the manor was far larger than the parish.

In the Domesday Book, there several references to Hooe and these I have given below. I've, also, tried to give some explanation as to what the paragraphs mean. I hope it helps but, if you're bored, please move on!

Firstly, the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicles" in the year, 1085, refers to the compilation of the "Domesday Book", as follows:

"Then, at the midwinter, was the king in Gloucester with his council, and held there his court five days. And afterwards the archbishop and clergy had a synod three days. There was Mauritius chosen Bishop of London, William of Norfolk, and Robert of Cheshire. These were all the king's clerks. After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire." Also he commissioned them to record in writing, "How much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan bishops, and his abbots, and his earls;" and though I may be prolix and tedious, "What, or how much, each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in stock, and how much money it were worth." So very narrowly, indeed, did he commission them to trace it out, that there was not one single hide, nor a yard of land, nay, moreover (it is shameful to tell, though he thought it no shame to do it), not even an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was there left, that was not set down in his writ. And all the recorded particulars were afterwards brought to him."

I've put the extracts from the Domesday Book, together with a glossary of terms, and information on the people mentioned, on separate pages. To see these pages, please click on the following link.The Domesday Book

The Salt-pans

At the time of William the Conqueror, much of the area was still under seawater but the many shallow areas were turned into salt-pans and used for the production of salt. It seems that, according to the Domesday Book, there were over one hundred salt works in the area with as many as thirty-four being located in what is now the parish of Hooe. The residue left over from salt panning has formed easily identifiable, large mounds in the Levels and, in particular, there is one Wallers Haven.

Regarding the saltpans, in 1166, Reginald de Esburneham, an ancestor of the present Ashburnham family, gave to Battle Abbey, 'all the land which he had in Hou, called Chelilande, and the land called Denne, with two salt pans in the marsh': it would be interesting to know which areas of modern day Hooe these areas of land covered.

Before going any further, it would be interesting to know where the Village name came from and my grandfather gave his opinion in his book on the history of Hooe. What he said was: -

The floods of 1283 and 1294

In the years between 1283 and 1294, extensive flooding occurred all over the Levels with four hundred acres of Hooe disappearing under water, where it stayed for many years. In this period, the worst year was 1287 when a "Great Flood" occurred that affected the low-lying coastal areas of eastern and south-eastern England and Northern Europe. In Norfolk, over five hundred people lost there lives; while the figure given for Holland was fifty thousand; no figures seem to be available for Hooe.

Though no first-hand report appears to exist for this flood and the village of Hooe, and the area immediately around, a monk, John, of St. Benet, Holme, Norfolk gave this description of what he saw of the events in his Chronica Johannis de Oxenedes, written late in the thirteenth century. He writes; -

"That same year in the month of December, year 15 in the nineteen-year cycle, 26th December, month 9, the sea stirred as much by the strength of the winds as by its own unbridled and swollen violence, began to get agitated with a thick mist, and once agitated to break its normal bounds along full shores with a huge inroad, occupying houses, fields and other places lying on its borders, and also flooding parts that no age in centuries gone by had mentioned as having been watered by the sea. About the middle of the night as it moved inland, it choked or drowned men and women as they lay in their beds together with sucklings in cradles, and also all kinds of cattle and fresh-water fish; and it tore houses with all their contents right from their foundations and hurled them into the sea with irrecoverable loss. Many people, trapped by the waters, sought a place of refuge and while they were climbing trees, broken by the cold, they were overtaken by the water and fell and drowned."

[Note The above extract was translated from the original Latin for me, by Ed Cryer, a member of the alt.language.latin newsgroup who I would like to thank. Though Ed did the main translation there were others who, also, chipped in (Evertjan from Holland and B. T. Raven) and to these I, also, give my thanks.]

He, also, writes that the disastrous flooding was due to the almost continuous rain over the previous three years, from 1284 to 1286. This rainfall was so heavy and so continuous that it caused the failure of farm crops and garden produce, drowned vast numbers of sheep and put large areas of land under water for many years to come. The appalling weather continued until 1294 when things, at last, began to improve, however, until then there could be no harvest. Though the description is of the devastation along the Norfolk coast, because the storm was so widespread over the south and east of England, much the same must have applied to the Pevensey Levels and Hooe.

It wasn't just England that had this terrible weather and flooding. On December 14th, of the same year, 1287, on the coast of Holland, during a very heavy storm, a sea-wall, holding back the North Sea, collapsed and allowed the sea-water to flood in, apparently causing the fifth largest ever recorded flood (other than the biblical one!) and killed over 50,000 people.

In 1289, because of the flooding and the damage it had caused, the King, Edward I, appointed the first "Conservator of the Pevensey Marsh", a Luke de la Gare, whose function was to keep clear the sewers and ditches, and to ensure that the important work, of draining the land, was maintained. Before this appointment, the responsibility for this work had been that of the major landowners who, because no organisation had been set up to take charge, check, and control the maintenance, carried out the work as and when they decided to, with the result that it all fell into disrepair ,

Instead of helping the situation, Luke made it worse, by building a bank, with a sluice, across the mouth of the Haven with the result that the land, virtually, drowned.

The large landowners, people like the Abbot of Battle and the Prior of Lewes, who had not been that much better at maintaining the marshes themselves, when they found their lands under water, complained to the King who set up a commission of enquiry to look into the problem.

After inspecting the drainage system, or, rather, the lack of it, this commission had the bank and sluice removed, and a workable system of channels and sluices put in their place. One of the commission members was William de Northeye after whom the, now, lost village of Northeye was named (the site of the village is still marked on to-day's Ordnance Survey maps).

Climate Change, the "Little ice Ages" & the "Medieval Warm period"

Regarding the flooding of the Hooe Levels, in the 800s up to the late 1200s, this would appear to have been caused by rising sea levels due to climate change. Climate change has been part of Earth's story since the world began but the present worry is that, while what is happening is, perhaps, a natural event, the size of the problem, and the effect on the planet, may be much greater than it would have been if it were not for the interference of man - and it may be irreversible if no way is found to check it. This would be disastrous for the world as we know it - and for the life on it.

In the 700s, northern Europe went through a "Little Ice Age" and the sea levels dropped and for a period exposed the land that was to become Hooe making it possible to cultivate areas that were no longer under water even at high tide.

In the late 800s, however, the temperature throughout Europe rose again and melting ice in the northern hemisphere, caused the sea levels to rise; this period became known as the European "Mediaeval Warm Period" (there appears to be no proof that the climate change was global - although there is argument both ways and the sea levels must have risen throughout the world.

During this time, the weather over large areas of land, in the northern hemisphere, such as Iceland and Greenland, improved to an extent where people, the Vikings for example, were able to settle and cultivate the land - and grapes, for wine making, were grown in southern England. The result, as far as Hooe was concerned, was the extent of flooding that, for those few centuries, virtually drowned the land and though the people fought to keep it drained they were not, as we have seen, very successful.

Sometime after the 1200s, the climate changed again and Europe entered another "Little Ice Age", in which the overall temperature dropped and with it the sea levels. The seasons for growing crops became shorter and with it the average length of life of a European fell by about ten years; how this was connected to the length of the seasons, if at all, is difficult to understand but it appears to have been a fact, which may go some way in explaining how and why people, in Europe, to-day are living longer.

By the middle of the 1800s, the harder winters resulted in fairs and hog roasting being held on the river Thames.

The winters then began to get warmer, though, in the early 1900s and up until more recent times, there were, still, the occasional hard winter in which rivers froze over.

With global warming and rising seas the Pevensey Levels, which include the Hooe Levels, must come under threat although there is, I understand, the possibility of a new mini-ice age, which may give some reprieve.

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