The Street, Firle
Firle shown within East Sussex
|Area||13.9 km2 (5.4 sq mi) |
|Population||327 (Parish-2007) |
|– density||61/sq mi (24/km2)|
|OS grid reference|
|– London||47 miles (76 km) NNW|
|Shire county||East Sussex|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||South East Coast|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
Firle (//; Sussex dialect: Furrel //) is a village and civil parish in the Lewes District of East Sussex, England. Firle refers to an old-English/Anglo-Saxon word fierol meaning overgrown with oak. Although the original division of East Firle and West Firle still remains, East Firle is now simply confined to the houses of Heighton Street, which lie to the east of the Firle Park. West Firle is now generally referred to as Firle although West Firle remains its official name. It is located south of the A27 road four miles (9 km) east of Lewes.
History of the village
During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–66) Firle was part of the Abbey of Wilton's estate. Following the Norman conquest of England the village and surrounding lands were passed to Robert, Count of Mortain. Half-brother of King William I, Robert was the largest landowner in the country after the monarch. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, referred to as 'Ferla'. The value of the village is listed as being £44, which was amongst the highest values in the county.
The manor house, the site on which Firle Place now stands, was occupied from the early fourteenth century by the 'de Livet' (Levett) family, an ancient Sussex gentry family of Norman descent who owned the manor. The Levett family would later include founders of Sussex's iron industry, royal courtiers, knights, rectors, an Oxford University dean, a prominent early physician and medical educator, and even a lord mayor of London. An ancient bronze seal found in the 1800s near Eastbourne (now in the collection of the Lewes Castle Museum) shows the coat-of-arms of John Livet and is believed to have belonged to the first member of the family named lord of Firle in 1316. On the bankruptcy of lord of the manor Thomas Levett in 1440, the ownership passed to Bartholomew Bolney, whose daughter married William Gage in 1472. Following the death of Bartholomew Bolney (d. 1476) without a male heir, the seat of Firle Place was passed to William Gage. Firle Place has remained the seat of the Viscount Gage ever since. During the Second World War, Firle Plantation to the south of the village was the operational base of a four-man Home Guard Auxiliary Unit.
The Greengage at Firle
The commonly used word greengage almost certainly derives from a member of the Gage family, though there is some confusion over whether it was the Reverend John Gage or Sir William Gage, 7th Baronet who are both variously credited for the import of this fruit into Britain from France.
The writer Virginia Woolf visited nearby Lewes in December 1910  and decided to relocate in Firle, where she rented a house and renamed it Little Talland House. Pointz Hall, a fictional manor from her novel Between the Acts, is believed to be inspired by Firle Place. Woolf's sister – painter and interior designer Vanessa Bell – moved to Firle in 1916 taking residence with her live-in lover Duncan Grant in Charleston Farmhouse, which subsequently became a regular haunt of the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa Bell, her son Quentin Bell, and Duncan Grant are all buried in the churchyard of St Peter's, Firle.
Writer Katherine Mansfield, who had close ties with the Bloomsbury Group, also lived in Firle for a brief time. Her landlord was economist John Maynard Keynes, who moved to Firle in 1925 and died there in 1946. Keynes was cremated and his ashes scattered above the downs of nearby Tilton.
British General Thomas Gage was born in Firle.
St Peter's Church notably contains an alabaster effigy of Sir John Gage wearing his Order of the Garter and lying beside his wife Philippa. It also has a John Piper stained-glass window in warm colours, depicting Blake's Tree of Life. There are also memorials for those named Bolney, Moreton, Levett, Swaffield and others. The current vicar is The Reverend Peter Owen-Jones.
The Ram Inn is the only remaining one of the village's three original public houses, that previously all acted as resting stops on the Lewes to Alfriston coach road. It used also to be the village court room where the rents for tenants farmers were collected and set. The area in front of the Ram is called the Beach, not to be confused with the Dock which is further up the street.
Firle Cricket Club was founded in 1758 and is said to be one of the oldest in the country. Even earlier in 1725 Sir William Gage, 7th Baronet challenged the Duke of Richmond to a game of cricket, one of the first recorded matches. The club continues to be central to village life and has two teams which both compete in the East Sussex Cricket League. The Firle 1st XI are in ESCL Division 3 and the Firle 2nd XI are in ESCL Division 9. Previously both teams played in the Cuckmere Valley League; 2007 was their first year in the ESCL.
South of the village lie the South Downs and Firle Beacon, which reaches a height of 712 feet (217 m). The beacon was once a lighting beacon used as part of a warning system during the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588. On the site there are also around fifty bronze age burial barrows.
Firle Bonfire Society is first mentioned in 1879 in a diary of the then vicar of Firle, Reverend Crawley. Though it was re-formed in 1982 to encourage and promote traditional bonfire festivities in the village. The society forms part of a network of bonfire societies in the Lewes area which serve the purpose both of remembering the Gunpowder Plot and of recalling the fate of the Sussex Martyrs. The village holds its celebrations in October before the main event in Lewes. Traditionally the Firle Bonfire Society Pioneers wear Valencian costumes. It is customary to burn an effigy other than Guy Fawkes; in 2003 an effigy of a gypsy caravan was used sparking a controversy that resulted in members of the bonfire society being arrested.
On a local level, Firle is governed by Firle Parish Council. Council meetings are held every two months in the Firle village memorial hall. Their responsibilities include footpaths, street lighting, playgrounds and minor planning applications. The parish council has five seats available which were uncontested in the May 2007 election.
The next level of government is the district council. The parish of Firle lies within the Ouse Valley and Ringmer ward of Lewes District Council which returns three seats to the council. The election on 4 May 2007 elected two Liberal Democrats and one local Conservative.
East Sussex County Council is the next tier of government, for which Firle is within the Ouse Valley East division, with responsibility for Education, Libraries, Social Services, Civil Registration, Trading Standards and Transport. Elections for the County Council are held every four years. The Liberal Democrat Thomas Ost was elected in the 2005 election.
The UK Parliament constituency for Firle is Lewes. The Liberal Democrat Norman Baker served as the constituency MP since 1997, before losing his seat in the 2015 general election to the Conservative member Maria Caulfield.
At European level, Firle is represented by the South-East region, which holds ten seats in the European Parliament. The June 2004 election returned four Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats, two UK Independence, one Labour and one Green, none of whom live in East Sussex.
Firle Escarpment is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the parish which extends into the neighbouring parish of Glynde and Beddingham. The site is an extensive area of chalkland which hosts a wide range of flora. The rarest of these is the early spider orchid Ophrys sphegodes.
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