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Domesday Book records a small manor

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

Rottingdean, ‘the valley of Rota’s people’, is an ancient and attractive village four miles east-south-east of Brighton. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor was tenanted by a certain Hugh from William de Warrenne, and the village had a population of around fifty to one hundred, but by the fifteenth century the parish belonged to at least four separate manors. Despite its proximity to the sea the village remained a poor but chiefly agricultural community, suffering considerable loss of land through erosion in medieval times, and having to plead against the payments of certain taxes on the grounds of poverty. In 1377 the village was raided by the French who burnt the church with many villagers in the belfry before moving on to Lewes and holding the prior to ransom. The villagers were able to improve their lot in one way, however; Rottingdean Gap is the lowest point in the cliffs between Brighton and Newhaven, and with a natural path to the beach it was the best landing place for several miles; the smuggling trade therefore thrived at Rottingdean for centuries.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century a horse-ride to Rottingdean was a popular outing from Brighton, and many sporting events, including bear-baiting, cricket and pugilism, were arranged as entertainment for visitors. Throughout the nineteenth century Rottingdean remained a popular but peaceful resort. There were a few lodging houses and a little development in the 1870s at Brighton Road (now Marine Drive) and West Street, while the village was a haunt of writers and artists including Kipling and Burne-Jones. The population grew from 543 in 1801 to 1,992 in 1901. Further limited development followed from the 1890s, and the Rottingdean Heights estate was developed by the Saltdean Estate Company from 1923; other first-class developments followed in the Dean Court Road area.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

Rottingdean looking west on the road from Saltdean c. 1920, the road continues on towards Ovingdean in the distance.
Fro the private collection of Tony Drury

Comments about this page

  • What an amazing photo of times gone by. I moved to Peacehaven in 2006, and travel on this road most days. Have many photos of this area in my collection.

    Editor’s note: Hi Josef – would you share some of them with us?

    By Jozef Kis (17/12/2016)
  • I just love this photo, and wonder what the people of that time would think of the hustles and bustle of 2018. The car driving west would be just approaching the nasty bus lane camera. Also I would like to mention that there are three more bus lane cameras between Saltdean Lido and Rottingdean traffic lights. 

    By Jozef Kis (02/04/2018)
  • Yes I found out about that “well placed” camera Jozef.  It’s not really placed to detect people driving in the bus lane, its placed just before the traffic lights (where you are entitled to move into the inside lane) to make money from those who make the mistake of moving into the inside lane, “just a bit too early”.

    By Peter Groves (02/04/2018)
  • A good photo, but might I suggest it dates from the 1930s.  There seems to be the more recent N.E. corner building at the crossroads.  No houses are visible south of the coast road as it climbs westwards: it looks as if the road widening had already taken place. The land pictured immediately ahead had been roughened through its use as a temporary building site for this widening project, also being a base for the cliff-trimming and undercliff works which took place over the same period.

    By Sam Flowers (03/04/2018)
  • I love this photo and the memories it brings. When I was a kid in the 40s and 50s we would quite often on sunny days go to Rottingdean and Ovingdean for the day – my dad with his meths stove for tea and a pile of sandwiches. We were happy, and they were happy simple days. Feeding the ducks on the pond and later on in the year picking blackberries up by the windmill. Very peaceful times. Sounds like a nightmare on the roads today. Although we live in east Kent we tune into Radio Sussex on most mornings and it seems there are nothing but traffic snarl ups as people are going to work in Brighton. What a miserable way to start the day. London was bad enough but when you remember these roads as mostly quiet when you were a kid but so full every morning now, roll on the weekend.

    By Mick Peirson (03/04/2018)

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