History of Combe Valley

A developing essay on the 10,000 years of history since the last Ice Age, in Combe Valley, near Bexhill, East Sussex, England

This essay will be updated and refined periodically.



10,000 – Ice caps melting

300 – Brythonic-speaking Celts of the Belgae lived in the area


43 – Emperor Claudius causes Roman Navy and Army to invade Britain and seize the iron mines.

300 – Saxons attack Romans

383 – Roman start to depart from Britain

410 – Romans depart totally leaving Romano- British to fight off Saxons

700 to 800 – the Haestingas Tribe of Jutes move from Kent into the local area

1066 – Battle of Hastings

1310 – John de Bretagne, lord of the manor of Bulverhythe receives permission from King Edward III to hold a weekly market and a fair once a year.

1335 – mention of a ferry being used to cross the marshy river Asten to get to the small harbour of Hastings.

1359 – King Edward III appoints Bulverhythe as a ‘limb port’ of the Cinque Ports and orders that the manor of Bulverhythe shall provide one ship, this duty to be supported by the people of Pebsham (called then Petit Ihamme or Pyppels Ham)

1369 – At what is now Abbey Drive on the hill slope above Glyne Gap a causeway was built across the marsh gap to allow people to walk to Hastings, replacing the ferry.

1370 – A local watercourse, sometimes called ‘Stordisdale’ which may now be called Sheepwash Bridge at the junction of the A259 and Combe Haven Caravan Park access road was used to drown criminals sentenced for execution.

1377   The records of King Edward III state about Bulverhythe: ‘Bulewarehuth. 20a. salt pasture, 53s. 10d. yearly assisted rent, and a ferry across the water of Bulewarehuth.’

1700 – to late 1700s – Bulverhythe Harbour is used to export Wealden Iron, including cannons made at the Ashburnham forge and foundry.

1748 – On 14th January the Dutch East Indiaman the Amsterdam ran ashore near Bulverhythe. This 700-ton ship laden with silver was on its way to Batavia from Amsterdam had a crew infected with Black Death and had been at sea trying to get through the English Channel for two solid months. Her rudder broke in a storm and she was cast up near Glyne Gap directly opposite what is now called ‘Bridge Way’.

1800s – Martello Tower built at Bulverhythe to guard against invasion by Napoleon

1806 – Cannons installed at Martello Tower and gunner starts duty – may have been a Scottish gunner invalided from Wellington’s Army based in Europe.

1823  – In the area called ‘Bulverhythe Salts – a set or horse races were held annually.

1841 – The new Brighton to Hastings Railway terminated at Bulverhythe Salts.

1846 – The railway line was extended from Bulverhythe Salts station to St Leonards.

1899 – The Crowhurst Viaduct (17 Arches) owned by Crowhurst Sidley & Bexhill Railway carrying the railway across Combe Valley is being built by engineer Lt Col A J Barry at a cost of £244,000.

1902 – First train runs across the viaduct on test. The viaduct is 416 yards long and 67 feet above the marsh but the marshy ground meant that the plinths that supports the arches were 30 feet down into the marsh – as massive concrete rafts.

1906 – On 9th April the second electric tramway began to run from Bulverhythe to St Leonards, turning on the tramway loop at the Bull Inn. By 28th July this year the line was extended to Cooden Beach.

1907 – On 12th January the second independent section of the electric tramway was connected to the first independent section which began at Silverhill and the two lines became one service.

1925 – Local councils failed to buy the Hastings Tramway Co. in 1925 causing it to consider closing down.

1929 – The tramway closed on 15th May and was replaced by electric trolley buses. The owner of the private right of way across the bottom of Combe Valley called Pebsham Marsh refused to permit them through.

1940 – Adolf Hitler turns his attentions to invading Britain, forming Operation Sealion, so south coast defensive works are begun with anti-tank blocks along the coast especially at Galley hill.

1942-43 – A ‘doodlebug’ Nazi winged V1 rocket lands next to Sheepwash Bridge on the A259 and stays there until at least 1951, growing ever more rusty.

1944 – Operation Driver – 4 40mm Bofors Guns positioned on beach at back of anti-tank blocks near Galley Hill.

1946 – Part of very old boat and half a sword found in Combe Valley – local authority destroys them both as being ‘of no useful purpose’.

1950 – Pebsham Aerodrome active – see photos:


1956 – 57 – An application was made to turn the Pebsham Airfield into a motor racing circuit.

1964 – The Bexhill West railway line to Crowhurst is closed on 15th June. The viaduct is dynamited but only part of the 9 million bricks collapse so another attempt it made.

In 1969 – the remaining sections of the Crowhurst Viaduct are blown up during May and June of that year and all debris removed.

2017 – Two electric tramcars survive, 48 and 56, being under restoration by the Hastings Tramway Club.

Our area of Bulverhythe also includes the manors of Filsham and Pebsham originally Petit Ihamme which is mentioned in the Cinque Ports Charter.

In 300 BC, long before the coming of the Romans (Emperor Claudius 43 AD), the upslopes of Combe Valley were inhabited by the Brythonic Celts called Belgae who made their weapons from local iron. The area was rich in iron ore. You can see this by looking at an Ordnance Survey map for the words: ‘Pond Bay’ – a dam used for water needed in the iron forging industry. There is one near Buckholt and two in Crowhurst.

Part of the reason for the Roman invasion 43 AD was to capture the iron industry. The Roman bloomery at Beauport Park is further evidence of this. So Roman ships sailed out of Bulverhythe and the local population were their slaves in the mines.

The Romans occupying southern Britain were continually besieged by continental tribes, especially the Saxons, and formed a defensive series of forts under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. The nearest to Combe Valley were Portus Lemanis (Lympne, Kent), garrisoned by Roman auxiliaries – the Numerus Turnacensium,  and Anderitum (Pevensey Castle, East Sussex), garrisoned by the Numerus Abulcorum.

After the Romans left (between 383 and 410 AD) to deal with their own continental invasion nightmares, the Romano-British struggled on under Ambrosius Aurelianus and Arthur (Dux Bellorum) only to face the repeated onslaught and eventual settlement of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians from northern Europe.

The coming of the Haestingas Tribe of Jutes who moved from Danish Jutland to Kent and then from Kent into the Hastings area, giving it its name in the late 7th or early 8th Century, so it is thought.

Because Pevensey Marshes to the west were so vast and because Romney Marsh to the east was also very extensive, the unique Haestingas tribe felt protected as they settled in the area. They gave their name to the river that flowed out to sea at Bulverhythe – the Haesten which then became the Asten. The Haestingas eventually became part of King Alfred’s Wessex.

King Alfred, besieged by Vikings, formed a defensive system called the Burghal Hidage and one of these was formed at Bulverhythe.

As time passed and the River Asten flowed into a bay of many islands, the Anglo-Saxon manor of Bulverhythe, along with the manors of Crowhurst, Pebsham and Filsham, used Bulverhythe as their port. Thus the Hastingas Port was at what is now called Bulverhythe – not the harbour at Hastings as we know it now and the whole of Combe Valley was under the sea.

The area was used by the Romans to ship iron products from the bloomeries near Beauport to the port at Hastings.

Bulverhythe is originally an Anglo Saxon name Burgh wara hythe meaning the harbour of the people who live in the burgh(fortification) this is a burgh recorded by Alfred the Great as a defense against the Vikings . There is some evidence that William the Conqueror and his troops landed in this area, although it is possible that they landed further to the west near Hooe or possibly even Pevensey .

In 1310 the Lord of the manor John de Bretagne was granted a weekly market and an annual fair by King Edward II.

In 1359 a reference to Bulverhythe as a limb of the Cinque Ports is found in a document by Edward III , in which the manor was mentioned as supplying one ship together with Petit Ihamme (originally Pyppels Ham and now Pebsham ). The area was also used to execute felons within the Cinque Ports , the criminals were drowned in a local watercourse called Stordisdale.

The area was very marshy, and a ferry is mentioned in 1335. The chapel of St Mary is described as having a causeway which linking it to Hastings in 1369.

Bulverhythe was important as an export port for the Wealden iron industry until the late 1700’s, probably shipping the cannons and iron goods from the Ashburnham forge and foundry .

On 14th january 1748 the Dutch East Indiaman the Amsterdam ran ashore about 1/2 mile from Bulverhythe. The ship was a new ship of about 700 tons armed with 52 guns and with an original crew of 333 men. The ship was on its way from Amsterdam to Batavia with a cargo of silver, and had taken 2 months to get from Amsterdam to Beachy Head, where she had lost her rudder and all control. The crew had lost about 100 men to sickness in this time. In recent times the wreck has been thoroughly excavated during the 1980’s.

One of the great Martello Towers was built at Bulverhythe in the 1800’s as a defense against Napoleon . The first gunner was in place in March 1806, and was a scottish gunner who had been invalided from the army in Europe.

In 1823 annual horse races were established at Bulverhythe Salts, the same area in 1841 was the termination point for the Brighton to Hastings main line railway service. The railway was continued to St Leonards in 1846.

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