Brede, and the magnificent Edwardian-style waterworks nearby, became best known in the early Twentieth Century for supplying Hastings with fresh drinking water.
Today, like many villages, it could be easy enough to drive straight through on the way down to the coast, but taking a break in your journey will reward you with some unexpected and surprising treats.
Firstly, let’s explore those waterworks. Open to the public on the first Saturday of every month – with admission normally free – they contain the glorious and enormous steam pumping engines known as the Giants of Brede. Fully restored by enthusiasts, two date from 1904, a third from 1940, and offer a remarkable and exciting opportunity to see the past in noisy action.
For younger visitors, or perhaps those with an inner-child still happily to learn and play, there are smaller pumps that can we worked by hand to demonstrate just how water was pulled up from underground and sent on its way.
The site also boasts its very own underground nuclear bunker! This was built by Southern Water at the height of the Cold War but never fully completed when the threat of a nuclear attack was felt to have diminished. Still, much of the equipment that was installed is still in excellent condition, and a guide will happily explain just what was intended to happen here if the worst did come to the worse. The bunker is normally open at the same time as the waterworks but it’s best to check before you travel.
Back above land we return to the village and head for St George’s Church. A fine example of a typical, large Sussex place of worship with notable features inside. The most diverting of these is a large tomb with the imposing figure of a knight in armour lying across the top. Resting inside is Sir Goddard Oxenbridge (born 1470) who was the victim of many a rumour during and after his lifetime, but was best known for standing seven foot tall and being referred to my those of Sussex and beyond as “The Brede Giant” or, rather less grandly “The Sussex Ogre”.
Clearly, then, the Giants of Brede in the pumping station were named so for a reason …
The stories about poor Sir Goddard were warped in the extreme. One was that he ate a human child every night. Another was that metal weaponry had no effect on his skin and he could only be killed by a wooden sword. Even in death the tale spread that he was killed by being cut in half by children using a (naturally) wooden sword after they had shown him the way to a secret stockpile of free booze and he’d passed out in a stupor.
In truth Goddard was wealthy and powerful landowner but also a kind and generous benefactor. The only clue as to why so much rhubarb was talked about him has to be that he was considerably taller than the average chap.
Across from the church is the 15th Century Red Lion pub. Here is your first clue that we are not all that far from the sea, as the low, ancient old beams decorated with metal tankards remind you of a smuggler’s den. Cosy in winter and boasting a good beer garden in summer the welcome here is notably friendly and good-humoured, and there is genuine enthusiasm and skill in the cooking. It also sells local eggs and loaves of their home baked bread. Naturally then, the pub has an enthusiastic and appreciative following and is well worth your time.
If you want to work off your lunch in a super setting then head back towards Cripps Corner and visit Brede High Woods. 262 hectares owned and managed by the Woodland Trust you in which are advised to simply “walk off into the trees” and explore the many pathways. This unique woodland is so untouched that it boasts a wonderful array of wildlife, from a beetle extinct elsewhere in the UK to deer, glow worms, and even wild boar.
One path leads you down to Powdermill Reservoir, and whilst that is managed separately to the woodland and you are reminded not to disturb the fishermen, it might be a suitable place to end your day – another part of Sussex’s water infrastructure that Brede has played such a significant roll in over the years.
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