Pelhams, Parks and Poachers
The buckle badge of the Pelham family can be seen at many locations on this walk around Laughton and Halland. The walk takes in two of the family’s many mansions, various hunting parks (the poachers of which got very short shrift) and briefly touches upon the attempted assassination of Sir Thomas Pelham by a one-eyed assassin.
LENGTH – 8 miles
TIME – 4.5 hours
START – Laughton Post Office situated at the junction of the B2124, Church Lane and Shortgate Lane, BN8 6PG (NGR 503 132).
PARKING – Parking in layby on north side of B2124 adjacent to village shop or by village hall in Church Lane.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at East Dean (½ mile off route), Jevington, Wilmington.
This walk contains stiles.
This poem and the buckle on a sign in the middle of the green, represent the colourful Pelham family, whose own history dominates that of this area. During battle in 1356, Sir John Pelham managed to capture the king of France. The English king was so impressed that he removed the buckle of his sword belt and handed it to Sir John as a reward. It henceforth became the badge of the Pelham family and can be seen throughout this walk on houses, churches and even milestones.
Both the Pelham buckle and the family coat of arms can be seen on the tower doorway at the western end of Laughton church. Unseen below the church lies the family vault containing the remains of over sixty Pelhams including two Prime Ministers. One of these, the Duke of Newcastle, rebuilt the chancel and donated a new set of bells to the church in 1724, which he had cast on the spot by a travelling founder, possibly in the area now forming the pond immediately west of the church.
The Pelhams brought the moated manor of Laughton in the 14th century. In 1534 Sir William Pelham decided to rebuild the outdated medieval house in the latest style – brick. He constructed a large manor house, the tower of which still survives. The house was also notable for its fashionable terracotta mouldings, amongst the best in the country. However, it was never finished. Sir William died in 1538 and by 1595 the family had completely abandoned the waterlogged site and moved to Halland.
Surrounding Laughton Place was the “old park”, the first hunting park of the Pelhams, the eroded boundaries of which can just be located today. In 1541 Lord Dacre of Herstmonceux Castle and others “did illegally conspire in what manner they could best hunt in the Park of Nicholas Pelham…with dogs and nets”. On the way they attacked three of Pelham’s men near Hellingly, one of whom subsequently died. Pelham pushed for the full penalty of the law and got it. Lord Dacre was executed, the first member of the gentry to be so punished for the murder of a commoner.
Following their 1595 departure from Laughton Place, the Pelhams constructed another brick mansion at Halland in a somewhat drier location. Today this house too is in ruins, having been demolished in 1768. As the Pelhams rose higher in the political structure of England, this location proved too remote and the family moved to Bishopstone where they could ensure election in the “rotten” borough of Seaford, with an additional town house in Lewes, the county town. A farmhouse survives among the crumbling walls of the manor and the fine stable is now converted to a dwelling.
Some light on the Pelham’s role in village affairs in the mid-1700s is given by the East Hoathly village diarist Thomas Turner, who describes several well-attended, social events being held there, usually with plentiful amounts of food and drink available as the extracts below show.
“This being a publick day at Halland, I spent about two or three hours there in the afternoon, in company with several of our neighbours. There was a great company of people, of all denominations, from a duke to a beggar; among the rest of the nobility were his Grace the Duke of Newcastle, the Hon. Lord Cholmondely, Lord Gage, Earle of Ashburnham, the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, and Mr. Justice Dennison, and a great number of gentlemen. I was there three times this day. What a small pleasure it is to be in such a concourse of people! – one hour spent in solitude being, in my oppinion, worth more than a whole day in such a tumult; there being nothing but vanity and tumult in such public assemblies, and their mirth being rather obstreperious than serious and agreeable. Oh! how silly is mankind, to delight so much in vanity and transitory joys! “
“In the even, the Duke of Newcastle came to Halland, as did Lord Gage, Sir Francis Poole, Mr. Shelley, Colonel Pelham, Mr. Pelham, and several more, and stayed all night. What seems very surprising to me in the Duke of Newcastle, is, that he countenances so many Frenchmen, there being ten of his servants, cooks, & etc., which was down here, of that nation.”
“I spent most part of to-day in going to and from Halland, there being a public day, where there was to dine with his Grace the Duke of Newcastle, the Earls of Ashburnham and Northampton, Lord Viscount Gage, the Lord Abergavenny, and the two judges of assize, and a great number of gentlemen, there being, I think, upwards of forty coaches, chariots, & etc. I came home about seven, not thoroughly sober. I think it is a scene that loudly calls for the detestation of all serious and considerating people, to see the sabbath prophaned, and turned into a day of luxury and debauchery; there being no less than ten cooks, four of which are French, and perhaps fifty more, as busy as if it had been a rejoicing day. There was such huzzaing that made the very foundations (almost) of the house to shake, and all this by the order and the approbation of almost the next man to the King. Oh, what countenance does such behaviour in a person of his Grace’s rank, give to levity, drunkenness, and all sorts of immorality!”
In 1633 one Thomas Lunsford was caught poaching on the Pelham estates. He managed to keep his head but was fined the huge amount of £1750. The following year as Sir Thomas Pelham was emerging from East Hoathly church the one-eyed Lunsford opened fire with a pistol. The bullet missed Pelham (did Lunsford close the wrong eye when firing?) and lodged in the church door. Lunsford fled to France but was eventually caught and this time fined £8,000.
Surrounding Halland House was another hunting park, the “new park”, now fields farmed from Halland Park and Laughton Park farms. The route passes down the long, straight remains of the tree-lined path leading to the house. The nearby name “Shortgate” marks the site of one of the entrances into the park.
Leaving the hunting park, the route passes along the western end of Laughton Common Wood, where a somewhat the worse for wear Thomas Turner could be found on 8 December 1759, following taken a wrong turning on his way home from yet another event at Halland House.
“I walked down to Halland, there being rejoicing, on account that Admiral Hawk hath dispersed a fleet which was preparing to invade this nation. We drank a great many loyal toasts. I came home after eleven, after staying in Mr. Porter’s wood near an hour and an half, the liquor opperating so much in the head that it rendered my leggs useless.”
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The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.