As you walk from Seaford to Newhaven along the coastal path, you pass an assortment of old looking derelict foundations. Turn off the path and head inland, and you find yourself in Tide Mills, the self-described “forgotten village” that dates back to the mid 18th century.
The story of Tide Mills and its people
It’s extraordinary to imagine that the course of the River Ouse has changed so much over the centuries that whilst it used to run parallel to the coast and emerge at Seaford, by the mid 18th century it had changed its route to emerge at Newhaven, thereby creating a tidal creek where the old course of the river ran. And that was the cue for a new village.
In 1761, permission was granted to local corn merchants by the landowner to build a mill that by harnessing the power of the tides, could grind corn to flour. And the mill and surrounding village were born. One particular corn merchant, namely William Catt, took over control of the mill in 1808 and expanded the village to what must have been a bustling community with a blacksmith, a coal yard, and education provided for the children.
In 1864, the railway was extended to Seaford and a station opened at the edge of Tide Mills village and you can still cross the track and see the abandoned platform. But, after over 100 years of producing flour, in 1875, the village and mill suffered terrible storm damage and by 1883, the last of the mill machinery was sold off. The mill was finally demolished in 1901.
Notwithstanding the absence of the mill, life went on at Tide Mills, and WWI saw the installation of a seaplane station. The 1920s were similarly busy with the arrival of former jockey, David Dale, who bought stables on the seafront to make use of the saltwater to help with lame horses. It must have been quite a sight watching the horses bathe in the sea and there’s also a rather splendid story that Dale’s daughter eloped with one of the stable lads, who went on to get a job with the trainer Ernie Piggott (grandfather of the Lester Piggott, very recently deceased).
At about the same time (1924), Chailey Heritage Marine Hospital was built at Tide Mills. This offered medical care, schooling and lots of fresh sea air to boys aged 5-16 with physical disabilities. The boys apparently had lessons outside and at night, and if the weather was good, they would sleep outside too.
Sadly, the village was evacuated at the beginning of WWII and although it was then used for military training, it was demolished after the war.
Hauntingly quiet and melancholy
In 2004, a series of information boards were installed, and they really help bring the ruins alive. The boards tell the stories of the different houses, such as the Station Master’s Cottage and Meadow Cottage and provide details of archaeological excavations which revealed clues as to when the houses were built and what they would have been like. There are old photos of the houses and the people that lived there too with personal anecdotes and memories from residents past.
Tide Mills is a strangely compelling part of the East Sussex coastline today. Quiet, slightly eerie and very overgrown, you can’t help but be moved by the lives and stories of the people who lived, loved or stayed here. For those that know this stretch of coast, the ruins are a familiar sight, but for those that are new here, it’s a fascinating detour to a place that time almost forgot.
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