What it’s like to live in Burwash
- Credit: Archant
Community lies at the very heart of this Sussex parish, which was once home to Rudyard Kipling
Situated on the A265, Burwash is five miles south-west of Hurst Green at the Kent and Sussex border, close to the historic sites of Battle Abbey and Bodiam Castle. Its nearest railway stations are Stonegate and Etchingham which provide mainline services to London’s Charing Cross or Cannon Street in just over an hour. Easy access to the A21 at Hurst Green makes Burwash just over an hour’s drive away from London Gatwick Airport.
The villages of Burwash, Burwash Common and Burwash Weald make up the parish, and in 1912, it was described by author Arthur Stanley Cooke as having a “well-to-do air about the place,” but with just two pubs and a handful of local shops, it might be hard to believe that it was once such a lively, trading area. An important centre for agriculture and local crafts from the 13th to 20th centuries, it was a popular spot for traders and shops and a weekly Friday market provided regular income. The arrival of the railway in 1851 changed the economic landscape and the village population became more mobile. Fewer and fewer people worked in the village, and instead commuted to London and towns further afield. Today High Street has been designated a conservation area by its district council, with strict building controls in place to help retain its historical character and protect its 70 listed buildings.
Like many villages throughout Sussex, Burwash has also been linked to a spate of smuggling scandals which were rife during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although very little evidence remains Gabriel Tomkins, leader of the Mayfield Gang, is alleged to have been caught in Burwash before being chased to the nearby village of Nutley. Graves marked with a skull and crossbones in St Bartholomew’s churchyard are said to be the final resting place of some of the smugglers, and a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, entitled A Smuggler’s Song, is also believed to have been a commentary on local events and stories.
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Between 1939 and 1945, a number of local residents died in conflict and many bombs were dropped on the village, making Burwash a victim of the war at both home and abroad. A local Home Guard unit was formed and evacuees from London were taken in throughout the village. Those killed are commemorated in a war memorial near the church where, to this day, its lantern is still lit on the anniversary of each death.
Annual festivals and events
End-of-summer fairs take place in Swan Meadow and Burwash Common each August Bank Holiday, a tradition which dates back to 1310. Love Burwash Day also takes place each year, when local residents get together to perform a spring clean.
Although it is not the bustling village it once was, Burwash boasts a few local shops and two public houses, The Rose and Crown and The Bear Inn. A doctor’s surgery in the main village serves a wide area, as well as a general store and post office, which still serves the main High Street. Family-owned, Jarvis Butchers has been in the same place since 1870, and still produces its award-winning sausages, known as Burwash Beauties. The parish also benefits from an estate agents, antique shop, hairdressers and florist. A larger shopping area can also be found in Heathfield, six miles to the west, with even more to find in the nearby towns of Hastings and Tunbridge Wells.
Meet the neighbours
The most well-known of Burwash residents was Rudyard Kipling, who lived there with his wife from 1902 until his death in 1936. Their home dates back to the 17th century and was described by Arthur Stanley Cooke as a “charming Tudor house set in a valley among wooded hills” in his book Off The Beaten Track In Sussex. It is now owned by the National Trust and sees more than 120,000 visitors each year.
In the first instance, Burwash is represented by a parish council which meets once a month and comprises 13 councillors elected every four years. It also forms part of the Darwell ward within Rother District Council and is further represented by East Sussex County Council. The UK Parliament constituency for Burwash is Bexhill and Battle and since the May 2015 election has been represented by Conservative MP Huw Merriman.
For parish councillor Steve Moore, community lies at the very heart of Burwash. “We have a very active community,” he says, “with more than 25 clubs and societies. Each year we hold Love Burwash Day, which was originally the idea of former councillor Jacky Nash. “From just 30 people, it has grown into a local celebration and sees us all come together from across the parish to clean road signs, tidy verges and pick up litter.”
While a number of shops have closed on the High Street over the past few years, local businesses are still an important part of the community. “We have been working closely with the National Trust to encourage the many visitors to Bateman’s to also stop off in the village,” he says. As part of its dedication to heritage and history, the community is also raising money for a statue of Rudyard Kipling to sit in a prominent location in the village.
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