ABOUT THE STAR INN IN NORMANS BAY

The Star Inn was formerly a sluice house and became an inn around the time of the civil war in Cromwell’s era.

It almost certainly got its name “star” because it was frequented by shepherds and was so known as “The Star of Bethlehem” which was eventually shortened to “the star”

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The Star has seen some hectic days in its time but never more so than in the 18th century when organised smugglers, using wooden clubs and poles, fought customs men armed with cutlasses in front of the The Star Inn.

The Following history was written by James Donne, Formerly editor of the Sussex County magazine.

The Star Inn is as old as the river which flows by its pleasant garden, and that is over 500 years old. Both were born together in the year 1402 and have never been separated.

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They were the result of a struggle which began soon after the Norman conquest, when the Pevensey marsh was an inland sea, lapping the walls of Pevensey Castle and up to where Hurstmonceux Castle now stands. In this inland sea there were little islands which the Saxons called “eyes” and so we have the names of Pevensey, Langley, Horse Eye, Rickney, Chilley and Northeye, the last being about a mile inland from The Star Inn.

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Drainage of the marshes was commenced soon after the Norman conquest and one of the earliest records is dated 1180 showing that ”a new marsh had been created”. In 1282 a sea-wall, from where Cooden now is to Pevensey, was being repaired and this ran where the present railway line is and where this wall ended at Pevensey the name ”Wallsend” is still used. In 1287 a “great storm” breached this wall and the sea rushed in flooding the land which had been reclaimed.

The fight against the sea went on and it was realised that Pevensey was the key to the problem as all the rivers and streams in the Pevensey Marsh drained into the sea there, and in 1396 the “Commissioners of the sewers of Sussex” created a new “cut” at the sea, but this proved to be only a temporary solution. The key to the whole problem was to divert the River Ashburn from the river at Pevensey to what is now Normans’ Bay. This was done in 1402, and from a point about half a mile above Middle Bridge on the A259 road known as Dowes Corner the River Ashburn was diverted to Normans’ Bay through the lands of Steven Waller of Hooe. This explains why the river flowing past The Star Inn is known as Wallers Haven instead of by its earlier name of the river Ashburn.

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Flood gates were erected near where The Star Inn is now situated and in 1402 the “Sluice House” was built to house men to control the water which in times of flood rushed down from Asburnham, and at high tide the sea trying to force the marsh defences.

The “Sluice House” is The Star Inn of today and the earliest documentary evidence of The Star Inn is contained in a deed in the possession of the Hastings Corporation dated 1597.

Maps and drawings in the possession of the Hastings Corporation which go back to 1700 show The Star Inn much the same as it is today, and also show the two cottages (erected in Tudor times) on the other side of the river, which as I write this article in 1963 are still there, although in ruins. These were the “lookerers” cottages and a lookerer was a man who contracted to look after sheep and cattle for any farmer who was fattening them up on the rich grass of the marshland.

At some time (probably around the time of the Civil War in Cromwell’s time) the “Sluice House” became an inn and it almost certainly got its name the “Star” because it was frequented by shepherds and may have originally been called the “Star of Bethlehem” which eventually was shortened to “The Star”. However, it may have got its name from the fact that when it was a coaching inn a light was normally hung outside such hostelries and because of this it became known as “The Star”.

When the river Ashburn was diverted to the “Sluice” (now Normans’ Bay) this created a small port and there is documentary evidence to prove that it was well established by 1607.

Even at that time it was involved in smuggling in one form or another. Wool, shorn from thousands of sheep on the marshes was being smuggled to France to evade customs duty and because they worked only at night the smugglers were known as “Owlers”.

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Eight miles up the river the then famous Ashburnham ironworks were making cannon under Admiralty contract and they were brought down the river in barges to the “Sluice” to be taken to Hastings for shipment to Chatham. Smuggling guns to Britain’s traditional enemy, at that time France, was more profitable than wool smuggling and Britain was also then at war with Holland. Years later guns captured from the French and the Dutch were found to have been made at Ashburnham.

But the most hectic days The Star Inn has ever known began in the 18th century when organised smugglers, using wooden clubs and poles , fought the customs men armed with cutlasses in front of this old inn.

The Local gang of smugglers were led and organised by a local family of nearby Little Common. The gang numbered about thirty resolute men and records show that they owned two boats, the “Queen Charlotte” (named after the wife of George 111 and “The Long Boat”. Both of these boats were kept at a spot known locally as “Willow Tot” almost in front of the then lonely Star Inn, They were big boats capable of bringing hundreds of tubs of contraband brandy each from France.

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Memories of bloody fights almost on the doorstep of The Star Inn are still handed down from father to son among the families still in existence in the neighbourhood. The family memories are good but not sufficient for this historical survey which is based upon hard facts.

They have been hard to find. It is not enough to rely upon hear-say. Fortunately the old “Sussex Advertiser” was published from 1700 until 1830, getting its news the hard way, by despatches on a stage coach, or by special courier on horse-back from such correspondence as it had, the nearest of which, in this case, was properly at Hastings. Bexhill was just a tiny village and so was Eastbourne. It must also be remembered that anyone who talked to the press in those days was heading straight for the graveyard.

But the “Sussex Advertiser” which ceased publication about 1830 still got some news of smugglers, late though it may have been in reaching its Lewis office.

A summary of its reports for the 18th century shows that although smuggling gangs might number no more than thirty or fifty, they often teamed up when planning a big “run” using three hundred or more smugglers in broad daylight. With a fine contempt for George 111. His Navy and his Army, they would fight their way through blockades of armed customs men and dragoons by sheer weight of numbers.

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But the biggest menace to the local gang operating from The Star Inn was Captain John Clark, Commanding H.M. Revenue Cutter “Vulture” based at Newhaven. It was a fast boat with a cannon on its bows and more than a match for a lug-sail boat heavy with casks of brandy. Captain Clark knew that about eighty per cent of the contraband being landed between Newhaven and Hastings, was coming ashore at what is now Normans’ Bay.

The records of the “Sussex Advertiser” show that The Sluice (Normans’ Bay) was the very last stronghold of smuggling in Sussex, continuing right up until 1832. But locally it is known that the gang was still operating as late as 1850. Here are some of the last reports of smuggling from the “Sussex Advertiser”.

On October 21st, 1805 , Captain Clark when patrolling off Beachy Head saw a large, heavily laden lug-sail boat heading for Normans’ Bay, gave chase and caught it. He captured the crew and 540 casks of fine brandy.

Four months later, on January 6th, 1806, luck was again in Captain Clark’s way. He captured a lugger only a mile off The Star Inn and it did not contain fish. This time it was “500 parcels of tea”, then costing 28/- a pound in this country. Brandy was 5/- a gallon.

On February 13th, 1822, 300 smugglers, armed with cudgels and poles, gathered in front of The Star Inn. Close inshore a light flashed from the “Queen Charlotte”. Before the smugglers could flash the “O.K.” signal the customs men, this time armed with carbines challenged them. Brave men armed only with clubs and bats advanced in a body. The Customs men began shooting, the smugglers retreated, and so did the “Charlotte”.

The last recorded “Run” began on the night of January 3rd, 1828, ending in one of the bloodiest fights in the history of Sussex smuggling. This time the smugglers numbered 200, landed the cargo and made off with it. At Sidley Green, Bexhill they ran into the blockade of forty armed customs men and got through it leaving their dead behind, taking their wounded with them.

But the price they paid in blood was to great. From then until 1850 the local gang concentrated on relatively small “runs” before giving it up to become respectable carpenters and builders.

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Apart from the trilling smuggling days The Star Inn has seen other interesting incidents, one being in 1865 when the sea, with no regard for anybody’s feeling delivered a long dead whale on the beach in front of the “Star”. This whale was over sixty feet long and weighed seventy-two tons, the jaws were twenty-two feet long and it measured nine feet across its tail. This aroused so much interest in London that the railway, which had been built only about seventeen years previously, ran “Excursion trains” to the scene and when it was realised that there was no station at “The Sluice” one was hastily made of old sleepers and cinders. The Landlord of The Star Inn had no previous knowledge of the seas intent of bringing such an attraction near to his hostelry, and within forty-eight hours The Star Inn “ran dry”. It is said that he had to barricade himself and his family in an upstairs room as the thirsty sightseers hammered on his door.

During the “eighties” of the last century a storm rivalling that which destroyed Old Winchelsea in1287, breached the sea wall and carried away the railway line, flooding the whole of the “Sluice”. The Star Inn became a “Noah’s Ark” for days and the landlord had to retreat upstairs and with him he took his sheep and pigs until the flood subsided. On a wall in a room at The Star Inn is a mark showing the height the floods reached.

In the days when local commodities were sold nearer to where they were produced, an annual fair was held in front of The Star Inn each Whitsun Tuesday, and for many years a well-known stallholder was Lucy Knight who had a ginger bread stall in front of one of the front windows of The Star Inn.

(November 1963)

These days the Star Inn following an internal refurbishment at the end of October opened for business as a Restaurant / Pub in the November 14.

On January 8th 2015 the new full menu will be launched. Copies of which are available in reception now.

Keep an eye out on line and in your local papers (Herald/Observer) for some amazing opening offers.

Also don’t forget when dining at The Star to sign up for our SMS text messaging service for all the best offers each month.

Thank you for your support during the refurbishment and we look forward to seeing you again soon.