Part of the ‘Once Existed’ Project – Visited by the ODOstefan and ODOmatt on the 31st August 2017
Before discovering the holy grail of Northeye, our hunt for lost villages took us to Lullington on the last day of August 2017.
Parking in a tiny lay-by overlooked by the Longman of Wilmington, we ascended the thin path to Lullington Church, the sole standing testament to what was once a thriving village. Lullington is situated on the opposite side of the Cuckmere river from Alfriston and to the east is Lullington Heath Nature Reserve.
I counted a hamlet of close to seven houses in what was once Lullington, a village, unmentioned in the doomsday book, but with a recorded 21 taxpayers in 1296. According to John E. Vigar, Lullington is a derivation of the Saxon name ‘Lulla’, likely a tenant of an early ‘enclosed settlement’.
Arguably the black death of the 14th century caused the final desertion of the site. Larger conurbations, due to a variety of factors, usually remained intact after the plague but many now lost villages saw entire populations up-sticks, and it’s speculated that the small population of Lullington moved closer to Lullington farm.
Smallest church in England?
The main draw to Lullington is its famously diminutive church, the sole surviving building in what was once Lullington village. Indie band British Sea Power recorded their b-side ‘Smallest Church in Sussex’ using the harmonium in the church itself.
The church’s first mention is in 1249 but can be dated back to at least 100 years prior to this date. It’s likely the church was founded as a place of solitude for the monks of Alfriston, the high vantage point providing a space of meditative isolation and clearer air. Also known as the Church of the Good Shepard, Lullington church gained notoriety as a contender for the title of smallest church in England.
However, what is now Lullington church is actually only the chancel of what was once a much larger church. Local rumour has it that during the civil war, men loyal to Oliver Cromwell burnt down the original building. The current church’s conspicuous and elegant roof was added to the sole remaining part of the building at a later date.
It’s debatable whether this disqualifies Lullington from contention for the smallest church title but congregations up to twenty still meet every third week throughout the summer and on special dates in the 16 square feet of remaining church.
Our habit of visiting churches when they’re closed meant we didn’t get to explore inside but curious visitors can access the church daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm or dusk.
For anyone interested in small churches, a copy of ‘Tiny Churches’ by Dixie Wills is just the ticket.
Approaching from the A27, you can either turn off on the larger Alfriston Road or the smaller road through Wilmington, boldly called The Street. From Alfriston Road, take the first left on to Lullington Road, right on South Downs Way and left on Chapel Hill, where you’ll shortly see a small sign indicating the church. On The Street, continue until you see the sign which will be on your right, if you’ve reached a right hand turn (by the farm) then you’ve gone too far.
Lullington is perfectly placed for a short idyllic country stroll to the nearby picturesque village of Alfriston where you’ll find several pubs including the Ye Odle Smugglers Inn and the George Inn. Alfriston is also home to beautiful second hand book shop Much Ado Books.
On the opposite side you can ascend the downs to the Long Man of Wilmington before stopping off at local pub Giant’s Rest in Wilmington village. Heading south it’s a short distance until you meet the sea at the iconic Cuckmere haven.
Sources & Further Information