History of the Parish

The Parish of Rotherfield is one of the largest in East Sussex, and with some 3500 inhabitants in about 20 square miles it is the largest and most rural of Wealden’s 50 parishes. The main Parish communities in this part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are in Rotherfield and Mark Cross with other scattered settlements and dwellings connected by over 40 miles of footpaths.

Rotherfield is one of the oldest Anglo Saxon settlements in the High Weald, the name probably meaning country where long horned cattle feed. It was well established when the Domesday survey was done in 1086 showing the value had risen from 30s to 75s in 20 years. St Denys’ Church dates from 1060, replacing a wooden church of 792, and it contains a Norman font, 13thC wall paintings, medieval roof carvings, bells dating back to 1603, a 17thC pulpit and stained glass by William Morris.

This Grade 1 church stands in the centre of the village conservation area with buildings dating back to the 17thC with their interesting and distinctive mix of styles, weather boarding, bricks, roof shapes and tiles. The Copper Kettle dates from 16___ and some buildings reflect the once thriving iron industry. Forge Cottage dates back to 1685, Highgate Florists was once the 17thC Three Guns Inn and has three chimneys in the shape of banded naval cannons. Two of the inns have survived: The Kings Arms converted from a tithe barn in 1724 and The Catts Inn dated 1741 but formerly a tavern called The Swan in 1635. The George Inn has a blue plaque “Formerly an Inn 1593-1998” but has a history going back into the 15thC when it is mentioned in accounts of brandy smugglers selling casks on their way from the coast. There are a large number of 17thC – 18thC farm houses and barns across the Parish and there is a windmill dating from 1835 at Argos Hill.

The pattern of local employment has reflected this area of the Weald. In the 15thC forge and blast furnaces using local ironstone and clays provided work, with men felling forest and transporting cannon and iron bar on muddy tracks to waterways. But the iron industry collapsed at the end of 17thC, and people went back to agriculture growing orchards and raising livestock. The 18thC Turnpike road from Lewes to Tonbridge improved communications a little, but it was the revival of the Victorian economy that brought the railway and new wealth to the Parish as families moved out from London into the fresh air of this local countryside, beautiful again after an era of industrialisation.

The area immediately around Rotherfield village is the source of many springs and the River Rother has its source here.           

More information may be obtained from The Weald website, including a fine gallery of pictures through the years. The section dedicated to the Rothefield Village may be found at http://www.theweald.org/P5.asp?PId=PSx.Ro