Spotlight on Ditchling

Explore this village with an artistic history that survives today

Tucked away in the Sussex Downs, just seven miles inland from Brighton, nestling below Ditchling Beacon, lies the historical village of Ditchling; a pretty village with a long history and many places to visit. Ditchling is a picturesque drive north from the coast via the A23 and A273. This road crosses part of the South Downs National Park and passes Clayton Hill with its twin Jack and Jill windmills en route.

The village dates back to Anglo-Saxon times; in the mid-9th century it was held by Alfred the Great. In the Domesday book the population was recorded as 50 households with a church and mill also listed. In the late 19th and early 20th century it became a centre for the Arts and Crafts movements, with several notable artists settling in Ditchling. This artistic tradition survives today; and the village has a thriving artistic community with painters, jewellery makers, leather crafts and other craftspeople living and working there.

The artist and print designer Eric Gill moved to Ditchling in 1907 and was soon followed by other craftsmen. In 1921 they founded the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a Roman Catholic community of artists and craftsmen, inspired by ideas of the medieval guilds and the Arts and Crafts movement. The community had its own workshops and chapel, and thrived until 1989. Their impact established the village as an important centre for visual arts and crafts in Britain. Eric Gill’s House, Sopers, can be seen in North Street and is marked with a blue plaque.

Today the village is a bustling community, with two pubs, several cafes, restaurants and interesting shops and galleries to browse in addition to the Ditchling Museum of Arts and Crafts, St Margaret’s Church and Turner Dumbrell’s Workshops, just north of the village, housed in former farm buildings where you can find artists’ studios, a jewellery maker and a hand-made leather handbag shop, as well as other craft workshops.

The Ditchling Museum of Arts and Crafts, off Keymer Road, stores work by Eric Gill – who designed the war memorial outside – and other members of the Guild, including the calligrapher Edward Johnston, the painter David Jones, the printer Hilary Pepler and the weaver Ethel Mairet. The museum café offers locally sourced refreshments and a range of products influenced by the museum’s collection and the local area. All purchases directly support the work of
the museum.

Next door St Margaret’s church dates from the late 12th century. Built on top of an earlier Saxon church referred to in the Domesday Book, remains of which can be found in the lower walls of the nave, St Margaret’s was built by Cluniac monks from Lewes in the 12th century. Eric Gill and other members of the artist’s Guild are buried in the churchyard.

Flying the flag for local wines at Ditchling Common, on Haywards Heath Road, is the Ridgeview Wine Estate, where you can sample their products and if you fancy a tour, book one online – www.ridgeview.co.uk/tours.

To the east of Ditchling, off the Hassocks Road, is Stoneywish Nature Reserve, a 50-acre stretch of Sussex countryside as it used to be – meadows, wetlands and woodland full of native flowers and home to a wealth of wildlife. Take gentle walks among the farm animals and gardens while children enjoy the dedicated play area. Much of the reserve is wheelchair accessible.

By Judie Chambers

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