7. Guide to the Village

With the church behind you, look to your right, you will see the white house called ‘The Elms’, home of Rudyard Kipling for five years.  It was here he wrote many of his works such as the poem Recessional and the books Stalky & Co and Kim.

In his teens he would visit his Aunt, Georgiana Burne-Jones at Prospect House (later extended to North End House), now divided again into three properties.

Georgiana Burne-Jones and Alice Kipling, Rudyard’s mother, were sisters.

In 1902 he moved from the village, due to the lack of privacy – admirers would gather at the gate of The Elms to get a ‘chance glimpse’ of the great man at work in his study.

In the wall that surrounds the garden of The Elms about 10 metres beyond the little arched door in the wall is a ‘wishing stone’ a strange, gnome-like face, set among the flints, not easy to find.  Village tradition says you must stroke his nose with the forefinger of your right hand, make a wish, then turn around three times to make your wish come true, but never for money!  Often children can be seen performing this ritual and many adults can be seen going through the motions too.  Please be aware of the traffic!

To the side of The Plough is Whipping Post Lane, and a few metres along the lane you will find Whipping Post House a listed building from the 16th Century.  The Whipping Post and village stocks used to be in front of this house. The persons to be punished would be tied to these posts and whipped for what was often a very minor offence.  Captain Dunk lived in this early Tudor house, he was the villages most notorious smuggler.  It is believed there were cellars beneath this property, with underground passages leading to the beach.  (This was the case for many Rottingdean premises), When not occupied in outwitting the Revenue Officers, the Captain was the village butcher.

When you stroll across The Green, you will find the entrance in the North-West corner to Kipling Gardens; well worth a visit.  The plan to build houses on this land by the owners was thwarted by the opposition of the Rottingdean Preservation Society, the residents of Rottingdean and Brighton Council.  This gave the Society the opportunity to purchase the land with the help of a bequest and then to restore the gardens.   Many of the seats and ornaments in the garden have been given by Rottingdean residents or by some who love to visit here and enjoy the beauty and peace.

The oldest houses are to be found grouped round the village green, already mentioned are North End House, and The Elms.  The Dene, is now a home for retired persons.  The Grange, now the village library, has a museum dedicated to Rudyard Kipling upstairs, and also houses some wonderful art exhibitions by local artists.  The Grange was for 250 years the Vicarage.

Also to be found in the Museum at The Grange is the exhibition depicting The Copper Family. It tells the history of their farming lives dating back to the sixteenth century.  The family are a world-renowned folk group.  ‘Copper Corner’, where many of the family are buried, can be found in St Margaret’s churchyard to the right of the entrance to the Memorial Garden.

The Grange is open daily (although this may vary during winter months) admission is free and run on an entirely voluntary basis.

Turn left as you leave the Grange into Whiteway Lane, facing you is the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1958, with local flints by local craftsmen.

Further along Whiteway Lane is the Whiteway Centre this was built on land given by the St Margaret’s Church.  It is in constant use for a wide variety of community activities.  Beyond this building further along the lane is St Margaret’s Church of England (Aided) Primary School.

St. Margaret’s School was established under an agreement drawn up in 1859, by the Rt. Hon. William Earl of Abergavenny the Lord of the Manor of Rottingdean.   He gave land to the Vicar and Churchwardens of the time, and to their successors.  The Deed goes on to say The Principal Officiating Minister of the Parish shall have the superintendence of the religious and moral instruction of all scholars attending the school.

In 1986 arsonists burnt down a sizeable part of the original school.  It was rebuilt and re-opened in 1988 with the addition of a new library, which was funded, by the Church, parents and villagers of Rottingdean.

Retrace your steps, walk through Whipping Post Lane, cross the High Street to your right, opposite The Green is St Martha’s Convent, first started by a group of nuns in 1903.  Their Mother House is at Perigeux in the Dordogne.  Despite speaking very little English the sisters soon settled in Rottingdean.  Their first convent was on the sea front.  The house was called “Star of the Sea”.  Leaving their cradle home in 1925 they moved further into the village and settled in the present convent named after St. Martha.  Now St Martha’s is a beautiful and peaceful place to stay and enjoy the hospitality of the sisters.  Turn back towards the sea and you pass Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, which caters for pupils not only of Rottingdean but also the surrounding area.

Continuing towards the sea you will pass the Black Horse the oldest of the five public houses in the village, dating back to 1513.

Further on, this time on your left, is St Aubyn’s Preparatory School, a Georgian building, once housed boys only, but now caters for both girls and boys.

A few steps onwards is 66 High Street, the old ‘Customs House’ (better known to many as ‘Tallboys’), this was not a popular building for the inhabitants of ‘Smugglers Village’!  Tom Paine was an excise Officer living in Lewes from 1768 where for the next six years, he combined his duties with serving on the Town Council, Paine was very active in local affairs.

He was a much travelled man, spending time in America.  In 1787 he returned to Europe.  Paine’s most influential work was ‘The Rights of Man’.  In intellectual terms this was his greatest political work.  He continued to write on political issues.  His achievements were all with his pen, so it is difficult to accurately assess his influence.

Windmill on Beacon Hill

On Beacon Hill, to the west of the village, is a fine old ‘hooded windmill’ which stands as Rottingdean’s iconic landmark.  It was once marked on Admiralty charts as a practical service to ships in the channel.   Although no longer a working mill, it is maintained and cared for by the Rottingdean Preservation Society.  The mill is open once a month on a Sunday during the summer to allow visitors to see inside this treasure. It is well worth the climb up the hill, the views are breathtaking.

Another important feature of Beacon Hill was the beacon itself.  (One of twenty-six) this would be lit, at the first sighting of an approaching enemy by sea, and then send its signal along the coast.  For centuries this practice was very successful.  The best known enemy in the 16th Century was the Spanish Armada.  When the Spanish ships were sighted off the Lizard, a beacon was lit sending its warnings of enemy in view as they sailed up the English Channel.  The vicar at that time was William Savage (his tomb is in the churchyard) and he led his flock to the shore of Rottingdean Gap, to pray for deliverance from the Spanish.  A furious storm arose and the Spaniards were driven headlong to the Straits of Dover and in to Drake’s fire ships.

In recent times, beacons and bonfires have been purposely built to celebrate anniversaries of past victories, coronations and the like. Many happy times have been enjoyed by visitors and villagers alike on this historic hill.

Many thousands of visitors come to Rottingdean and to St Margaret’s Church.  They come from all parts of the globe as is testified in our visitors’ book.  In the past some Americans who came were so delighted by the Church building, they wanted to purchase it, pull it down and rebuild it stone by stone in the great cemetery at Forest Lawn, California when this was being laid out.  The offer to the Vicar and Churchwardens was, thank goodness, refused.  A mutually acceptable compromise, the Church of the Recessional was built on the model of Rudyard Kipling’s home church, St Margaret’s Rottingdean.  The name was inspired by the famous man’s poem ‘Recessional’.



Much has been written of the historic and fascinating village of Rottingdean as well as St Margaret’s Church.  It would be quite wrong to think that everything happened in the past.  Ancient and modern work well together.  From its roots in the past up until this twenty-first century the community spirit is as strong as ever.

There are two ‘fayres’ on the Green, the first in June organised by the ‘Lions’ for worthy causes, the second is the famous “Rottingdean Fayre” which for over a hundred years has taken place in August when groups from many associations are joined by private individuals, both young and old, to work together to raise money for charity.

The memorial erected on the Green opposite the Lych-gate after the First World War commemorates those from Rottingdean who died in both World Wars.  In November on Remembrance Sunday a Service of Remembrance is held on the Green and many hundreds congregate to remember all wars, past and present.  It is a moving sight to see representatives of all generations laying wreaths lest we forget the sacrifice made by those who won our freedom.

The Green is also a popular venue for brides who may choose to have their wedding photos taken there, with the village pond as a backdrop, on leaving the Church.

One does not have to be in Rottingdean long to realise that the goodwill and community spirit which perhaps caused the first church to be built here, still survives.

We hope that you enjoy your visit and look forward to your return.

Pray for the work of St Margaret’s Church and the people of Rottingdean.  Give thanks to God for to all that it offers.