History of Ovingdean

The farmyard at Ovingdean
From the private collection of Jennifer Drury: click on the imgage to open a large version in a new window.

Early settlements
Settlements have existed in and around Ovingdean since at least during the Iron Age about 600BC. In ancient documents the area is described as ‘Ofamn-inge-denu’ or ‘the valley of the meadow of Ofa’. The Domesday book of 1086 records that the manor of ‘hovingedene’ was held by Godfrey de Pierpoint from William de Warrene. This William was related by marriage to William the Conqueror. At that time the population of Ovingdean was about 90 people who included the lord of the manor and his family. The other inhabitants were villagers, serfs, a priest and his family and several shepherds and labourers.

Beginnings of residential development
In the census records of 1911 the population of Ovingdean was recorded as 248; not a very significant increase in relation to the passage of time. But it was only several years later that the gradual development of the modern residential area we see today had its beginnings. In the period from 1919-39 first generation shacks and bungalows were built on plots on Long Hill. The most significant stage of development began in the 1970s when second generation ‘upmarket’ houses were built and infilling was prevalent.

Notable buildings
The oldest building in Ovingdean is St. Wulfran’s which is the ‘little church’ mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is essentially an early Norman building which has been restored and altered many times. Ovingdean Grange, (Grade II listed building) began its life as a Tudor farmhouse but has been very extensively rebuilt over the centuries. It was immortalised by Harrison Ainsworth in the book of the same name. Unfortunately the legend that Charles II stayed there during his escape from the battle of Worcester in 1651, is not historically corroborated.

Comments about this page

  • Ovingdean was one of our playgrounds when we were kids in the 50s. We lived in Bennett Road and it wasn’t far to the Downs and the East Brighton Golf Course where we would play soldiers in the massive bomb craters. Over the hill then down to Ovingdean where we would spend time at Bakers farm. We could see the calves and the piglets just up the hill past the hollow oak tree. I went back in the 70s and saw that the old oak tree was still there. It looked a bit worse for wear by then. I wonder if it is still there? There were conker trees and loads of crows. There was a cafe called Little Vienna if I remember. The farmer never told us kids off for being on his land, probably because we didn’t have the urge to destroy or damage anything, and he knew it. Beacon Hill was a lovely spot with a little shop. You could sit in the fields and listen and watch skylarks hovering all day if you wanted, there were loads of them. If it was a really nice day we would venture a bit further and walk with the blind men from St. Dunstans. They were only too pleased to have some company and a chat. Sometimes we would go home via the Undercliff Walk to Black Rock which was only five minutes from my house. I would love to go back to those times when kids were relatively safe compared to today. We walked for miles.

    By Mick Peirson (18/11/2006)
  • I was born at Grange Farm Cottages and the photo above was the view from my bedroom window (although much earlier in time). Frank Masefield-Baker lived in the Grange at that time and ran Bulstrode Farm. My dad Jim Driver worked on the farm and my mum Angie worked at “The Old Vienna Cafe” which took in boarders as well as serving the most delicious shortbread and strudle. Many happy memories and school holidays at Ovingdean Gap.

    By Sally Salvage (02/11/2016)

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