A BRIEF HISTORY OF BIXLEA
TWELVE CENTURIES OF HISTORY
Until the development of the coastal resort of Bexhill-on-Sea in the late 19th Century, the ‘Old Town’ was the main settlement. At its heart was the Manor of Bexhill, owned successively by the Church, Robert D’Eu of France, the Church (again) and the Sackville family. The settlement and the surrounding land also formed the Hundred of Bexhill and has a long and rich history, dating back to Saxon times.
Bixlea, as it was first recorded, became Bexlei at the time of the Domesday book and went through several variations before it became known as Bexhill.
ANGLO SAXON RULE
The early Saxon settlement was founded on an outcrop of Tunbridge Well Sand 150ft above sea level, looking over marshland below. It’s steep slopes and position gave it commanding views across the countryside and a huge sweep of the channel (although the modern buildings and drainage of the marshes now obscure the prominent position it once held).
The eastbound ridge (following along Hastings Road) linked Bixlea with the Saxon port at Bulverhythe, important for the settlement with no direct access to the sea.
The Sluice, another important water way that supported the port of Northeye and that saw materials and goods coming down from Ashburnham forge, was located a few miles to the west (now Normans Bay).
When King Offa of Mercia conquered the South Saxons he granted eight hides of land (nearly 500 acres) at Bixlea to Oswald, Bishop of Selsey, to build and endow a church.
This church would be the foundation of the parish of St Peters. Although the church would be extensively remodelled over time, some early stonework from this time survive buried in the current walls.
The charter which was signed on August I5th 772 AD became the first recorded date in the history of the town, and would pave the way for the Hundred of Bexlei (a division of the shire used military and judicial purposes).
After Oswald’s death, Bixlea reverted to ownership of the See of Selsey, and remained so until the Norman Conquest in 1066.
THE NORMAN CONQUEST
When William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey, Bixlea (or Bexlei as it would come to be known) became one of the many places devastated by the marching forces en route to their decisive battle, just north of Hastings, and beyond.
After his success on the battlefield and ascension to the throne, the new King seized land previously owned by the See of Selsey. This land, Including great swathes along the south coast, was taken and offered as reward to his fellow countrymen who had provided support in his venture.
One such countrymen was his cousin Robert, Count of Eu. As reward for sending 60 ships to support William’s landing, Robert d’Eu was awarded charge of the Rape of Hastings. The Rape consisted of the Cinque Port Limbs of Hastings and 12 prebends, including that of Bexlei and Bulverhythe, Crowhurst, Ninfield, Hooe and Peasmarsh.
Having to oversee such a large section of the South East, along with his extensive lands back in France, Robert d’Eu passed the control of the various prebends to family members and men loyal to his House.
The prebend of Bexlei and Bulverhythe was given to his own son, Robert de Criol. It was Robert de Criol who would build the first Manor House at Bexlei (see the Origins of the Manor House).
However, the Bishops of Selsey and Chichester did not accept the seizure of church land at Bexlei willingly. After many attempts at securing redress from William I, William II and Henry I, the ownership of the Hundred of Bexlei was returned to the See of Chichester in 1148.
This was made possible only when John d’Eu publicly acknowledged that his grandfather (Robert d’Eu) had unjustly taken land owned by the Church.
This acknowledgment in front of King Stephen would return Bexlei to bishopric rule for the next 4 centuries. Bexlei would become an important post on the eastern periphery of the diocese and remained church land until Elizabeth I aggressively acquired the manor and awarded it to Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset in 1590.