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Parish History

Formation of the parish

The parish of Ripe lies north of Firle, south of Laughton and west of Chalvington. Ripe and Chalvington parish are often combined in records. 

The name is derived from a word meaning bank or slope, and the settlement is of great antiquity. The road-pattern here and in the neighbouring parish of Chalvington is at least Roman in origin, and archaeological finds provide ample evidence of Roman and Romano-British occupation.

In the Domesday Book of 1086, Ripe was in the Hundred of Edivestone and had five entries. Recorded were 32 households, including in total 23 villagers, one cottager and eight smallholders. There was land for 10 ploughs and five lord’s plough-teams and 13 men’s plough-teams. There were also eight salthouses.

Eckington, now incorporated in the parish of Ripe, also appears in the same hundred in the Domesday Book. Before 1066 the lord of part of Eckington had been Queen Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor.  In 1086 there were six entries with a total population of 22.5 households. These comprised 18 villagers and eight smallholders. There was land for 12 ploughs with 11.5 men’s plough-teams and 3 lord’s plough-teams. Eckington could easily have separated off into a parish of its own, but never in fact did so. But there was a manor of Eckington, confusingly called Eckington otherwise Ripe to distinguish it from the other manor based in the parish, Ripe otherwise Eckington! (In the 1990s a disgruntled purchaser sought legal advice when he discovered that he had been sold the ‘wrong’ manor)

Later, the parish had diverse ownership, but the main landowners in 1903 were the Gage family of Firle (who were lords of the manor of Eckington otherwise Ripe), the Glynde estate, and Sir James Duke of Laughton Lodge, a wealthy coal-merchant who had served as Lord Mayor of London.


An old plan drawing of the School house in Ripe East Sussex

A Sunday School was established in Ripe on the 9th July 1827, and later merged with the National School founded by the efforts of the rector, the Reverend W Raynes, in 1842. The school building was completed the next year, following plans by architect and builder Gideon Piper (see image). East Sussex Record Office hold a substantial archive for the school, which indicate that it was enlarged in 1875 and again in 1892, following advice from Her Majesty’s Inspectors, it eventually closed in 1960 because of its small size.

The building we now know as the Hayton Baker village hall a well used asset to the community and its also the home to the very popular and respected Ripe Nursery School.

With no social security system what was life like?

Building plans for the school

Ripe was one of the eight parishes that made up the West Firle Poor Law Union between its establishment in 1834. In 1898 it was transferred to the Hailsham Union.  

William Diplock offers a detailed account of 19th-century events in the parish in his memorandum book, part of which you can see in the reproduced image here.  Much of this is sad reading with entries recording a suicide, a farm sale with the owner being "carted to the mad house" a few days later and a record of a major fire destroying a large quantity of oat and wheat stores.

From historical records it is clear that the area had a mix of residents with extreme wealth property and land, alongside very poor farm workers and labourers.

Before the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act each individual parish was responsible for the maintenance of its own poor. The Poor Law Amendment Act changed all of that. Huge increases in parish poor rates had followed the mass demobilisation of troops after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the subsequent economic downturn that followed. The situation became so difficult that a Royal Commission was appointed in 1832 to review the administration of the poor laws. They presented their report in March 1834 and took the view that poverty was caused by the fecklessness of individuals rather than the prevailing economic conditions, reporting that large families got most support which resulted in improvident marriages; unmarried women got poor relief for their children, thus encouraging immorality; labourers could get almost as much when claiming poor relief as when in work; and employers could keep wages below a living wage as the rest would be made up from the Poor Rate. This all has a very familiar ring nearly 200 years later!

In all, the report made twenty-two main recommendations which included the grouping of parishes into Poor Law Unions for the purpose of building and operating workhouses. All poor relief would be refused to able-bodied persons and their families unless they entered the Union workhouse. The report also recommended that the conditions in the workhouse would be less eligible (ie, less pleasant) than those of a labourer and his family living outside of the workhouse. For more information on the Act and the history of workhouses see

In his book 'Recollections of a Sussex Parson' published posthumously in 1912, the Revd Edward Boys Ellman, vicar of Berwick, wrote that: 

"Glynde, Beddingham and Firle were under a private Act of Parliament for Poor Law management which, when the new Poor Law Amendment Act came in force in 1835, they refused to give up, unless they were allowed to choose their own Union of Parishes. As Ringmer and Alfriston bore a bad name for Poor Law management they refused to admit them and, consequently, the West Firle Poor Law Union was made of only eight parishes, being the smallest Union in the kingdom.

The West Firle Poor Law Union was formed on 25th March 1835. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 9 in number, representing its 8 constituent parishes Alciston, Beddingham, Berwick, Chalvington, Glynde, Ripe, Selmeston, West Firle..

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 2,364 with parishes ranging in size from Chalvington (population 188) to West Firle itself (618). The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1831-34 had been £2,957 or £1.5s.0d. per head of the population, which equates to around £144 in todays money.

West Firle Union workhouse 

The West Firle Union workhouse was built in 1835-6. It was designed to accommodate 180 inmates and the Poor Law Commissioners authorized an expenditure of £2,950 (equates to approx £260,000 in 2022) on its construction.

Oddly the land that the workhouse was built on was not leased to the Guardians of the Poor of West Firle Union by the Gage Estate in Firle until 16 Aug 1836. The workhouse was built on ‘part of a field called Pound Field’ at 1d a year, a very minimal sum..

Here's a map showing the location of the building.



location map of Firle workhouse

The fact that the workhouse was obliged to employ a schoolmistress must have been contentious. The workhouse schoolmistress’ post was in place before Ripe and also nearby Glynde School was opened in February 1842, so the children of the paupers were receiving more of an education than those children not in the workhouse. Not only that but the number of children she would have been teaching would have been no more than 27 in 1841 and as few as 22 in 1851.

No admission and discharge registers have survived for the workhouse so one of the few ways we can find out the numbers and names of inmates can be discovered in the census returns for the workhouse.

The main building was constructed in local flint with a large plan, including outbuildings..

The 1881 census report lists the residents of the Union Workhouse, Life would have been pretty miserable here. There are 2 residents who are listed as being born in Ripe, 23 year old Mary Harmer a domestic servant and William Shepherd a 66 year old farm labourer, along with many others from the surrounding area, and some from further afield, including what appears to be a family originally from France with three children, the youngest only 4 months old.

There are people of all ages, most of the youngsters seem to be listed with elders of the same surname so we can assume they are all the same family group, apart from tiny little Flora Iver, listed as only 2 year old, perhaps she was in the care of a cousin or other family member of a different surname. The oldest resident is Henry Kennard at 98 years of age from Firle. Perhaps having worked most of his life serving the local community including the lords and ladies of the Gage family he had no one to care for him at 98 and with no where else to go he ended up in the workhouse?  

The list of occupations is varied but it mainly consists of labourers and servants who were not protected by any employment laws and therefore provided with no contracts or job security, no pension and very poor pay from employers so they had little chance of ever saving money for later life or times of unemployment. 

census list of inmates

In 1898, West Firle Union was merged with the Chailey and Lewes Unions. 

The West Firle workhouse was closed and converted into a row of houses renamed Stamford buildings.

Later in May 1942 most of the original building was destroyed when a Spitfire on practice run flew too low below cloud and crashed into the end of the building! The pilot was killed and 22 residents were evacuated, The fire was reported in the local papers but the cause was not publicised so as not to affect morale. 

An interesting quote from the Sussex Ancestors website:

on the afternoon of the 22nd May 1942.  Two Spitfire pilots left the airfield at Redhill in Surrey for a practise flight when they came across low cloud over Firle.  Flt Lt Barrett climbed above the cloud and returned to Redhill but Sgt Harold Ernest Barton went below the cloud which was lower than expected.  He hit the end of the row of houses destroying part of it and injuring one of the residents.  Barton was killed; the end of Stanford buildings was badly damaged both by the impact and the resulting fire

Now all that remains standing is a small section of the original building that has been converted in to two houses, named Stamford Buildings.

Sussex Express & County Herald newspaper article Friday Jun 5th 1942

I would like to thank Andrew Lusted an extremely knowledgeable historian from nearby Glynde village. Andrew has kindly allowed reproduction of images and historical information about the West Firle Union House which has been invaluable. You can find more of Andrews collection at the excellent website run by Chris Whitmore. Glynde is a short distance from Ripe and the website is well worth looking at if you are interested in local area history.

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