Fittleworth is a picturesque village situated on the River Rother to the north east of Chichester.
Fittleworth sits within the South Downs National Park, and includes the hamlets of Little Bognor, Coates and parts of Egdean and Bedham.
The origin of the name Fittleworth is believed to derive from the Saxon Fitele’s worth, meaning an enclosure belonging to Fitele. The Saxon Conquest of Britain took place from AD 477 to 491 and it is believed that a great battle took place close to Fittleworth, in Egdean, with the native Britons being heavily defeated.
Despite the Saxon origins of the village name, we now know that there were earlier settlements in the area thanks to a 2015 aerial survey which showed five or six circular buried ditches which would have surrounded Bronze Age barrows. These would have been places for burial as well as being used for ceremonies.
During the Norman period, Fittleworth was in the administrative area of the Rape of Arundel and within that, was part of a smaller area known as the Hundred of Bury.
Hundreds were further divided into ‘Tithings’ and much of Fittleworth was part of the Tithing called ‘Sande’. As the village was so small it was not featured in the Domesday Book of 1086 but is listed by 1186.
Within the village lies the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. The building is Grade I listed and was built sometime before 1200, possibly on the site of an earlier wooden church. The font dates from the 15th century and is carved from local ‘Petworth marble’. The church was extensively rebuilt in 1871, with the nave being demolished and the boxed-in pews removed.
The village’s pub, The Swan Inn, dates back to 1382. It became a coaching inn in 1536, offering rooms and a change of horses on the route from London.
The inn’s visitors’ book dated 1880 – 1913 contains annotated entries from illustrious guests such as composer Hubert Parry and author Rudyard Kipling, who drove there in 1902.
There is a well-known ‘picture room’, restored in the late 1990s, that contains 33 oil paintings which were given to the innkeeper in lieu of payment for board and lodging during the Victorian era.
One of the village’s oldest farms is Fitzleroi, which is believed to have been established as a hunting lodge for the son of King Henry I. The house currently on the site was built in 1623 by Francis Dawtry and is a Grade II listed building.
Coates Castle, a mansion, was built in 1820 by John King and it is believed that Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm visited the house. Coates Castle was taken over by the Army during the Second World War and it was here Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Blacker invented the Blacker Bombard, an anti-tank weapon that was issued to Home Guard units to protect against invasion. The site has now been converted into several flats.
Crowsole Watermill is an L-shaped building which stands on an island between two branches of the River Rother. It was built by Thomas Stanley in 1628 and was enlarged in 1742. The site has inspired many artists, including JMW Turner, who painted and sketched it in c1826, as well as John Constable, who created a pencil and watercolor image in c1834. The site is currently a private residence.
A cottage in the woods called Brinkwells, whose name derives from the nearby spring that rises in the copse, is where composer Sir Edward Elgar stayed between 1917 – 1921 to get away from London during and after the First World War. Elgar wrote four compositions in the garden studio at Brickwells before he left following the death of his wife.
In May, 1889, Fittleworth railway station opened. Fittleworth was on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s line between Midhurst – Pulborough. The station closed to passengers in 1955 and freight services in 1963.
Sir Ivor Maxse, an ex-Army Officer who fought during the First World War, set up the successful Maxey Fruit Co. Ltd in Little Bognor after he retired in 1926.
The company ran as a commercial business and included apple orchards which were cultivated for many years.
By Amanda Rogan, learning officer and Pat Saunders, volunteer, at the Novium Museum