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MARKET TOWNS OF SUSSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Pevensey in 1842

Pevensey, which gave its name to the rape, and was once formidable for its castle and useful for its harbour, is now an insignificant village with only 49 houses, and had, in. 1831, a population of 343. It is 60 miles from London. The Saxon name was Pevensea, and the Norman Peovensels. Its first authentic mention in history is in 792, when it was given, together with Hastings, by Berodaldus, one of the generals of King Offa, to the abbey of St. Denis at Paris. In the reign of Edward the Confessor it had only 24 burgesses, and yet the port was of sufficient importance to be ravaged by Earl Godwin and his son Harold in 1043, when many ships were taken : it was at that time one of the chief ports for communication with France and Flanders.

In the bay of Pevensey William the Conqueror landed with his army from Normandy prior to the decisive battle of Hastings ; and it was this port which Swane, son of Earl Godwin, entered with eight ships on his return to England after his abduction of the abbess of Leominster. In the reign of Henry III the port was still available, but it soon afterwards fell into decay owing to the withdrawal of the sea : the original outlet is now choked up, and the water drained through the beach by means of a sluice. Pevensey, like other places on the southern coast, has been claimed as the site of the ancient British city of Anderida, with little more than conjecture to support the claim. The only object of interest is the castle, of which many interesting remains exist. The outer work contains many Roman bricks, and much of what is called ‘herring-bone work,’ from which it has been inferred that this was a Roman fortress. No mention is made of its existence in the Saxon times ; but, if not erected by the Romans, it was certainly built from the remains of an older fortress. The outer walls, which constitute the most ancient part of the fortification, enclose a space of seven acres, and are from 20 to 25 feet high. The moat on the south side is still wide and deep ; on the other sides it has been filled up. The entrance is on the west or land side, between two round towers, over a drawbridge. Within the walls is another and much more modern fortification, approaching a pentagonal form, with five nearly circular towers, moated on the north and west. It is entered from the outer court by a draw bridge on the west side between two towers. The principal barbican or watch-tower is not at the entrance, but towards the north-east corner. The walls are nine feet thick, and the towers were two and three stories in height. The castle was of great strength : it withstood the attacks of William Rufus’s army for six days, protecting Odo, bishop of Bayeux, who ultimately yielded only for want of provisions ; and it afterwards successfully resisted the siege of King Stephen, who personally superintended the attack, but met with so gallant an opposition from Gilbert, earl of Clare, that he was obliged to withdraw his forces, leaving only a small body to blockade it by sea and by land.

It once more resisted hostile attacks, when it was fruitlessly assailed, in 1265, by Simon Montford, son of the renowned earl of Leicester. Again, when Sir John Pelham was in Yorkshire, in 1339, assisting Henry, duke of Lancaster, to gain the crown, the castle, left under the command of Lady Jane Pelham, was attacked by large bodies of the yeomen of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, who favoured the deposed king Richard, and was bravely and successfully defended by Lady Jane. The castle remained as a fortress till the reign of Elizabeth ; two ancient culverins, one of which bears her initials, are yet preserved : after which its history is not traced till the parliamentary survey of 1675, when the castle was in ruins, and the ground within the walls was cultivated as a garden. Pevensey is a member of the Cinque Port of Hastings, and the liberty includes the parishes of Pevensey and Westham, and 500 acres in the parish of Hailsham. It never had a charter, but is a corporation by prescription, left untouched by the act 5 and 6 William IV, c.76. It consists of a bailiff and jurats ; the style is ‘The bailiff, jurats, and commonalty of the town and liberty of Pevensey.’ The bailiff and jurats hold courts of session and general gaol delivery four times a year, and have jurisdiction in capital felonies, which has not been exercised of late years.

The inhabitants had formerly an hospital dedicated to St. John, long since lost. Of the church dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the sailors, a portion only remains. The benefice is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Lewes, and deanery of Pevensey, of the annual net value, as returned in 1835, of £948. There is an endowment of £100 a year for almshouses, and a school for girls held every day in the church, and there is also a day-school for 50 or 60 boys. The famous physician Andrew Borde, better known as ‘Merry Andrew,’ was born at Pevensey.