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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.

Balsdean, ‘Beald’s valley’, was an isolated hamlet in the northernmost part of the Saltdean valley to the east of Woodingdean. Although it was part of the parish of Rottingdean, Balsdean formed a separate chapelry covering 1,559 acres {107} which joined the rest of the parish only at a single point on High Hill. The 792-acre manor of Balsdean, which also included the manor of Bazehill by the eighteenth century, was acquired in July 1925 by Brighton Corporation, and the entire area was annexed by the county borough on 1 April 1928.

The hamlet had become somewhat depopulated by this time and consisted of two farms: Norton Farm, and the manorial Sutton Farm which had a charming farmhouse of about 1790. There were also two cottages, a few outbuildings, and a Norman chapel which was being used as a barn. During the Second World War however, the valley was occupied by the military and the buildings were used for target practice, resulting in the complete destruction of Sutton Farm and outbuildings; the rubble was cleared at the end of the conflict and a new Balsdean Farm was erected on High Hill to the south. The Balsdean valley is now peacefully deserted apart from the three ruined barns of Norton Farm and the nearby water-pumping station, built in 1936.

The medieval chapel of Balsdean was probably erected between 1121 and 1147, a small, flint building about 35 feet long and 20 feet wide with a window and door in the northern wall. The chancel, which extended for another 17 feet, was destroyed at an unknown date to leave only the nave standing with the chancel arch bricked up. As late as 1579 the Vicar of Rottingdean was required to conduct a service at Balsdean Chapel four times a year, but by 1780 it was in use as a barn or stable. It may also have been used as a cottage at some stage as extra doors and windows were added at a later date and the roof was thatched. It was partially rebuilt in the latter eighteenth century and was still in use as a farm outbuilding until it was destroyed during the military occupation. The site was excavated after the war when three graves and some pottery were found, but the chapel is now marked only by a plaque set in a boulder on a grass bank on the western side of the bridleway leading south from Norton Farm.

To the north of Balsdean lies Castle Hill, the site of an earthwork enclosure which is now a protected ancient monument. Castle Hill is also home to an area of uncultivated downland stretching westward to include Falmer and Newmarket Bottoms; this area has been designated a site of special scientific interest and a national nature reserve in order to preserve the natural downland grasses, flowers, and other flora and associated fauna which are typical of the increasingly rare unpastured and uncultivated land of the South Downs. The site is accessed by permission only from the bridleway from Balsdean to Newmarket Hill via Falmer Bottom. {306,311}

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.

The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above:

Map of the location of Balsdean hamlet
Reproduced with permission from the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder, 1990

Comments about this page

  • I know this area very well. I lived in Woodingdean for four years from the age of 13. Some of us used to spend countless days playing near the chapel. There used to be a huge tree nearby with a hollow trunk. We used to climb in through the hole at the base and climb to the top. Sadly somebody vandalised the tree and it was removed. When I was 15 I worked as a trapper on a clay pigeon shoot in the valley near the chapel. I still return to this place on a mountain bike as often as possible.

    By Sean Clark (03/12/2006)
  • When we were at Fitzeherbert school in Woodingdean in the 50s some of us lads used to meet up at the farm in Balsdean on Saturdays and play in a hay barn for hours. Just jumping and sliding around the hay was great fun to us. When we tired of this we would wander around the fields looking for spent rifle bullet cases. We sometimes found live 303 rounds. Was this area an army training ground at sometime during the 2nd world war?

    By Mick Peirson (07/12/2006)
  • This is my favourite place on the South Downs. I love its isolation and the swirling valleys and paths. If anyone’s interested, here’s a link to my flickr photos of Balsdean & Standean Bottom.

    By Brighton DJ (24/06/2013)
  • Those are lovely photographs, Brighton DJ (I looked some of the others, and you have some great pics there!). As a Brighton girl, I’ve missed out on this lovely area! Must visit it soon – well, as soon as we get some decent weather!

    By Janet Beal (24/06/2013)
  • I’ve been told about the Battle of Balsdean, involving invading French forces but can find nothing.

    By George Harris (05/07/2013)
  • George, I’ve searched the internet but can find nothing. Could it be related to the so-called Battle of Rottingdean in 1377, when French forces landed at Rottingdean? There is quite a lot of information about it on My Brighton & Hove. Just use the search facility at the top of this page (I just typed in “1377”).

    By Janet Beal (07/07/2013)
  • I also spent my happy days playing with friends and collecting WWII relics in Balsdean Valley in the late 50s and early 60s and still go for walks there now. There is a good chapter on the history of Balsdean Valley in a book by Peter Mercer and Douglas Holland entitled ‘The Hunns Mere Pit – the story of Woodingdean and Balsdean’.

    By David Pope (30/05/2015)
  • Who owns this area now?

    By D Fleming (24/08/2015)
  • I believe Balsdean Farm is owned by Brighton & Hove City Council. The predecessor council bought it from Oscar Charles Selbach in 1925, along with Newmarket Farm and Norton Farm.

    By Renia Simmonds (24/08/2015)
  • I wonder how many of you know that Balsdean was the site of an international gliding competition in the early 1930s?

    By Pomme Homme (09/04/2016)
  • Hi all, we are a rural touring theatre company who will be putting on a play this summer in Balsdean. We’re fascinated by it’s history and it’s status as a ‘lost village’. If there are any local historians who can give us a short comment for the press release, we would love to hear from them!

    Zoe Hinks, Artistic Director

    [One for you, I expect Geoffrey Mead? Comments Editors]

    By Sabotage Theatre (30/04/2017)
  • I used to wander over from Woodingdean as a kid. I remember picking up spent bullets from WW2 and climbing in the hollow  tree and also being fascinated as small boys are peeing down the well on the ruined farm. 

    By Keith Potter (30/04/2017)
  • This is too big a project to answer here (they also want to know similar stuff about Stanmer) so I have e-mailed the group directly.

    By Geoffrey Mead (02/05/2017)

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