How can we weave a burning farmhouse, a dead king, a wind farm and some solar panels into a single tale? By David Dennis

The proposed solar site below Lower Wilting Farm
including Chapel Wood
PICTURE: David Dennis

Built in 1750, Upper Wilting Farmhouse at Crowhurst is a protected building, cited as List II in 1987 by Historic England, within the planning domain of Rother District Council. It has a magnificent view of Combe Valley Countryside Park and its winter-flooded valley. However, the surrounding farmland, which has been in the ownership of Hastings Borough Council since 1963, also has a remarkable history. It was once owned entirely by King Harold Godwinson, the second son of Earl Godwin and his Viking wife, Gytha, as indeed were all the bounds of Crowhurst.

In the Bayeux Tapestry tituli version, scene 46, William is told about Harold’s army and in the very next scene, 47, the tapestry states: ‘Hic domus incenditur – Here a house is burned’. Standing outside the home, holding a child’s hand, may be the very well-dressed figure of Edith the Fair or Swanneshals, sometimes called Swan Neck. She was King Harold’s right-handfasted Danish wife. The obvious implication is that Harold has rushed from the north to his land at Crowhurst and brought his family to Upper Wilting Farm for safety, but the Normans immediately burn her out. Nevertheless, she is still on hand to identify his mutilated body on the battlefield. Now she lies weeping upon the body of her dead husband in sadly eroded marble form at Bo-Peep Gardens, St Leonards.

After the Conquest the farmland estate was given in 1066 by victorious William to Robert, the Count of Eu (a town and lands on the coast of Normandy, east of Dieppe) and his wife, Lesceline.  Robert was made Lord of Hastings. His man Walter Fitz Lambert managed the land, set up collegiate churches in Hastings, and was the ancestor of Walter and Peter de Scotenie of Scotney Castle.

Meanwhile 20 years after his victory in 1066, King William instructed the compilers of the Domesday Book never to use the term ‘King’ for the defeated Godwinson – hence the actual ownership entry says, ‘formerly Earl Harold’. 

In 1087, when William died, Upper Wilting Farm seems to have reverted back to crown lands of William II and his successors. Then in 1170 the land was taken by Roger Moin. Overall there were 40 owners between 1066 and 1945, the last of whom were the Papillon family. It was eventually sold to Hastings Borough Council in 1963.

The current owners of Upper Wilting Farmhouse are Mr and Mrs Blackford, who, with their family, run a successful and popular construction business called ‘Tom’s Groundworks’. They were tenants for many years but completed a purchase of the freehold of the house in March 2017. The surrounding land, which consists not only of arable fields but also of ancient woodland, remains in the ownership of the council. It has now been divided by the Bexhill to Hastings Bypass, with Lower Wilting Farm cut off from Upper Wilting.

The council previously considered building a wind farm on its land in Combe Valley below.  Now it is proposing to install a large solar farm below Lower Wilting Farm, abutting the bypass. The plans that were presented to the council cabinet last Monday are drawn as though the site affected consists entirely of open field. This is not so. Much of the central section is, and always has been, woodland, namely the ancient and protected Chapel Wood.

The land is not only really beautiful but is located directly above a site of special scientific interest, and there is concern for the protected wildlife of Combe Valley Countryside Park. As this article shows, it also has very high historic value. It needs to be carefully evaluated before any changes are made -– not only for the echoes of the Battle of Hastings but also for Second World War plane crashes, including a shot-down Spitfire into Monkham Mead on the Upper Wilting farm edge. Every care should be taken not to spoil it.

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