Rottingdean, just to the east of Brighton and the marina, was probably named after an invading Saxon (Rota) in 450–500 AD. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book and was part of the Rape of Lewes under Norman rule. However, people have lived here since the Neolithic period, and Bronze Age pottery fragments were found at Rottingdean Heights along with an Iron Age burial site on Beacon Hill. A hoard of over a thousand coins dating from the years 275–287 was apparently discovered in 1798 at nearby Balsdean.
In 1377, during the Hundred Years War, French forces attacked Rottingdean with forces from Lewes waging a counterattack. Legend has it that villagers fled to the church which the French then burnt, killing everybody inside. Rottingdean was also home to a thriving Quaker community in the 17th century (the village was home to one of the earliest Quaker Burial Grounds) and of course, the village didn’t escape Sussex smuggling activities. More recently, in the 19th century, the painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones and his nephew Rudyard Kipling made it their home.
Things to do in Rottingdean
Today the village is very pretty with flint stone walls, historic buildings, a village green with a pond, and a sense of rural charm that is hard to believe so close to Brighton.
A mix of pebble and sand, this is a great little beach with a seasonal lifeguard service, rock pooling, and lots more sand when the tide goes out. There are nearby cafés, pubs and eateries.
The undercliff walk
The undercliff walk goes from Brighton Marina to Saltdean and is open to cyclists and walkers. It’s 5 km long and goes via Ovingdean and Rottingdean. You can catch a bus back if you don’t want to walk.
The Terraces Stage
Between the seafront and Rottingdean Village, the terraces were built in the 1930s. These days, they act as an open-air theatre with a programme of music and theatrical events from June through to September – most of which are free. Or you can just sit and enjoy a coffee and ice cream here with a sea view.
Surrounded by flint walls, Kipling Gardens were originally the grounds of ‘The Elms’, the country house which Rudyard Kipling rented between 1897 and 1902 and where he wrote many of his ‘Just So’ stories. The gardens are free and divided into a series of little areas including a woodland garden and a rose garden. The gardens had become overgrown but were rescued and restored in the early 1980s.
St Margaret’s church
Parts of the church date from the 13th century, and it is a Grade II* listed building. It is most famous for its stained glass windows built by William Morris from the designs of the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
The Grange is home to an Art Gallery and Museum managed by Rottingdean Heritage, as well as the local library and Tourist Information Hub. In the summer, a tea garden is open in the grounds. There is a varied programme of work by local artists throughout the year, and collections of local exhibits, including a model of the Daddy Long Legs, a travelling pavilion that went from Kemp Town to Brighton, as well as information about the internationally famous Copper family of Folk Singers.
The famous black smock Rottingdean windmill stands proud above the village on Beacon Hill. It was built in 1802. The mill ceased to function in 1881 but has been restored and is a Grade 2 listed landmark. When they originally dug the foundations in 1802, the workers discovered the remains of an ancient warrior and his sword. But these finds had disappeared when the workers returned after a break.
The nature reserve
From the windmill, you can explore the 46-acre nature reserve on Beacon Hill which is part of the South Downs and an area of chalk grassland. It has fantastic views out to sea, towards Brighton and inland.
Admire historic buildings
There are lots of interesting buildings packed into Rottingdean which include the Black Horse which dates back to the 16th century, Challoners with its hidden smugglers’ tunnels, and which also dates back to the late 16th, the Tall House which was built in 1780 and served as the customs house and the Whipping Post House, once the home of Captain Dunk, village butcher by day and smuggler by night.
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