Focus on NORTHIAM – just one of the many villages in the HRFHS area
Official registers will tell us who was born, wed and passed in any community but the area will hold further clues to those who lived and worked there in the past which bring them back to life. The Northiam Parish registers 1558-1812 have now been transcribed by HRFHS providing snapshot references to those with ancestors in the area. Looking at the history of their “home” will give an even deeper understanding of how they lived and worked.
To check if you might have a Northiam ancestor, click on the index link: The full transcription of Northiam St Marys Baptisms, Marriages & Burials 1558-1812 is available to HRFHS members in the Members Area of this site. If you are a member, simply sign in and go to the general resources where you will find it under “Northiam”. If you are not yet a member, why not join? http://www.hrfhs.org.uk/membership/
Northiam lies on the A268 approximately 7 miles north of Rye, right on the “border” of Sussex and Kent; East Sussex is very thin at that end … in fact, East Sussex, is a somewhat narrow County altogether. The River Rother forms the boundary at this end and crossing its narrow bridge out of Northiam takes you into Newenden, the first Kent village.
Small pleasure boats ply the Rother to and from Northiam and Bodiam and a short distance away the lovingly restored Northiam Station by the Kent & East Sussex Railway operates a steam train service to Bodiam and Tenterden. Northiam Station is a museum as much as anything else and the train journey allows some of the best countryside views you will find anywhere as it meanders along the Rother Valley.
Back in the village proper – about a mile away – there are several attractions and Northiam can also boast its share of famous events:
The Parish Pump on the village green is a rare survivor. No doubt it was used by most of the inhabitants in the past but now simply a reminder of the kind of water supply our ancestors relied upon.
Also on the Green is what remains of “Elizabeth’s Oak”. Back in the day – 11th August 1573 – George Bishop of Hayes Farm provided a meal for Queen Elizabeth I on this very spot. She rested on her way to Rye and enjoyed the repast with the Bishop family and, no doubt, with plenty of our ancestral onlookers. In thanks, Good Queen Bess made a gift of a pair of green damask slippers which remain today in Frewen College, aka Brickwall House, the home of the Frewens for centuries. The oak tree looks somewhat battered, as we might do when we are over 450-years-old, with little growth above about 5m except for the choking ivy. However there are other oaks on the Green which, although clearly very old, look in better condition and are probably grown from the original acorns.
A far more recent attraction to the Green is the War Memorial in honour of the fallen sons of the village in both World wars. The sacrifice is honoured annually.
A short way from the village green, hidden from the main road, is the ancient Parish Church of St Mary which dates from 1090 … one of William the Conqueror’s earliest. Inside is another record of Northiam’s young men lost to war. Many of the names are the same as some of those recorded in the Parish registers from the earliest records in 1558.
Percy BARNES Fred GOODSELL John PARRIS
Frederick C BATES Albert A HOLMES William J PAINE
Fredrick BEAN Charles HOBDEN Harry PLAYFORD
George A BEECHING William A HOLDSTOCK William POILE
Charles CARTER William P HOLDSTOCK George RIPLEY
William CARTER William JARMAN Charles H SCOTT
George COLLINS Frederick JARMAN Albert SKINNER
Edward G COX Edmund G JOHNSON William STACE
Douglas CROUCH James A KENWARD Reginald VIDLER
Ernest EASTON Frederick G MARCHANT Herbert J WATERS
Henry W FAIRBRASS
Fred H DELAMARE John A J JARMAN Ronald WILLIAMS
George EDWARDS Victor MURDUCK Kenneth WILLIAMS
Edward P B FREWEN John PARTLETON
Also in the Church is a plaque which reads, “Bell frame rehung 1938 by Maude, Violet and Peter FREWEN in memory of Edward, Anne Mary and Thomas FREWEN”.
The Frewens are a long-established family of Northiam and, indeed, other parts of the County. There were a number of St Marys rectors among them. A little over 100 years ago, the Northiam home of the Frewens, Brickwall House, was placed into Trust by Admiral Frewen and established as “Frewen College” the first school for teaching students with dyslexia anywhere in the World. It now enjoys a fine reputation for teaching boarding and day students from 7-19-years-of-age with dyslexia and other learning impairment conditions. The extensive fine grounds are open to the public at certain times of the year.
Just up a narrow lane is an even larger house, the 15thC Great Dixter Tudor manor. This famous National Trust house and grounds attracts visitors from all over and is well worth a visit.
On the way up to Great Dixter there are a couple of reminders of the more ordinary. One is the funeral director business of “Perigoe” which name resonates with Perigo/Perigoe in the registers since the 17thC. Another regular name represented throughout the Northiam registers is “Higham” along with its variations and this family is remembered with the designation of “Higham Lane”.
With its proximity to the coast, Northiam would have been well aware of the dangers presented by World War II. The inhabitants, as anywhere else in Britain at the time, would have been tested to extremes by the privations caused by years of conflict. Ancestors in the village in May 1944, however, would have had their spirits lifted when they hosted a final inspection of troops before D-Day. The forces of Southern Command massed on Northiam Playing Fields for no less than four prime ministers including Winston Churchill. The other three were: Mackenzie King of Canada; Field Marshall Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa; Sir Godfrey M Huggins of Southern Rhodesia. The names are recorded on the playing field gates to commemorate the visit.
A couple of “celebrity” links: Joanna Lumley attended school in the village; John Andrews, author of the Price Guide to Antique Furniture made his home here.
Northiam has long held hopes to be the UK’s first “green village” although recent attempts to obtain the necessary planning permissions have not materialised. The plan is to supply its own independent energy sources and other self-sufficiency projects for its 2,083 inhabitants (2011 figures). This is a clear indication of the nature of the village which is one of a vibrant community, one which maintains its strong links to the past yet has an eye to the future.