Any small village that doesn’t have even a small shop or post office, and can’t even boast a pub, and yet nevertheless enjoys a strong and thriving community spirit can only be to the credit of its residents.
You could argue that Stonegate punches far above its weight. For example the amateur dramatic society (S.A.D.) has a reputation that is respected far beyond the district, with an emphasis on true professionalism and the highest standards of performance, direction and technical knowhow.
The Stonegate Farmers company was founded here, and is now a large national enterprise representing the entire UK egg industry.
If you visit the village there are clues as to this singularity and togetherness. It is located on the junction of two roman roads (where almost certainly Stonegate’s name derived from) and is also perched alone on top of a significant hill.
At this crossroads, which comes complete with a 1930’s black and white fingerpost typical of the area, you feel very much at the centre of his small but active community. You can see most things from this spot, and despite no shop or pub, you still have the sense of being in the centre of somewhere.
From here, the school and church can be seen down Station Road, and a cluster of businesses in converted barns are seen along Cottenden Road (where incidentally – opposite them – are not only the best views of the valley but also welcome footpath access towards it). A little further still is the larger-than-expected village hall, complete with stage, that acts as S.A.D.’s home base.
There is very little modern housing and the properties that line the streets around this central crossroads are all well-maintained and proudly presented worker’s cottages, villas, respectfully converted farm buildings, a farm house and terraced farm cottages.
The small school is well thought of and the sound of children playing excitedly makes it seem a very happy one. Further along, St Peter’s church fits in well, being made mainly of local, red brick that matches the majority of houses. The original church was demolished in around 1900 due to poor workmanship and this replacement then built in 1904, making it seem comparatively modern.
Those responsible for this second church could not be accused of shoddy workmanship of any kind. It’s a solid, excellently presented building and unusual as it also has something of the look of a grand school hall.
Stonegate’s position on top of the hill meant it could never have a train station on it’s doorstep at any price (and when the tricky Hastings Line was built between 1845 and 1852 engineers were keen to get to the coast in the most economically viable way possible wherever they went) yet the village does have a station to call its own – located downhill a mile to the south.
This provides direct hourly services to both Hastings and London with the station building itself being designed as a solid looking property, although today only one room – a rather stripped-back and sparse ticket office – is available to the public. Also, what would then have been the connected Station Master’s house was sold off and is (quite usually) now a private residence.
If the station has relatively few points of interest then it does have a certain infamy. In 2014 it finally emerged that a city financier who used the train to commute to London every day had, for the past five years, been failing to pay his way each morning and evening. Using an unvalidated Oyster card, and avoiding inspectors, he avoided a total of £42,550 in fares. This is still regarded as the highest fare dodge in British railway history.
But with such a consistent and proud community back up on the hill, I wonder if he was given somewhat discordant glances at the next performance of H.M.S. Pinafore at the village hall? Or if he paid for his ticket.
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