Great place for an afternoon out: take the children, fly kites, give the dogs a run, admire the view – even see France on a clear day. Everyone agrees there’s not a parish in England with as spectacular a setting as Fairlight with the Fire Hills and the dramatic view over Rye Bay. But Fairlight is so much more than that, as my recently published book Fairlight: A Sussex Village by the Sea, makes clear.
And, what is more, there can scarcely be a parish more woven into the broadcloth of British history than Fairlight. Granted no major national event took place there – no famous battle or great discovery (though it is widely reported that John Logie Baird gained inspiration for his development of television whilst walking on the cliffs and in Fairlight Glen in the autumn of 1922).
But many national events find a distinctive local echo in Fairlight, and its position on the Channel coast means that it has been in the front row for many significant episodes in national history, from the Spanish Armada through Napoleon to the defence of Britain in the second world war. War and peace, smuggling, shipwrecks, dramatic cliff rescues, agricultural discontent, famous writers, artists and celebrities – all relate to Fairlight and find their way into the book along, of course, with the detailed story of Fairlight Cove’s development.
In researching the material for the book many sources have been used, many residents have contributed information, anecdotes and photographs, and much archive material has been incorporated.
From flyer Amy Johnson’s surprise visit in the 1930s to the secret underground bunker that still exists under the Fire Hills, from tea rooms to tombstones, all aspects of the Fairlight story are included. How did Fairlight nearly become an English Dallas? What is the full story of Fairlight Hall? Which world famous Pre-Raphaelite picture was painted on the cliffs by Fairlight Glen? How did Fairlight become part of a famous fashion designer’s catwalk collection? How does Fairlight come to have Mallydams nature reserve in the parish? The answers to these questions and many more are all in the book. And don’t forget the dinosaurs whose fossilised footprints may still be found in the rocks of the Fairlight cliffs.
The book, with 382 pages and many full colour illustrations, is available at £19.99 from the Fairlight Post Office, the Coastguards Tea Room, and the Hastings Country Park Information Centre. Alternatively contact Rye News to be put in touch with the author who can arrange a free local delivery service.
Haydon Luke is a local historian and author