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Strange Tails of Old Sussex – Heroic Hounds

It used to be said, by someone who knew about these things, that dogs look up to you, cats look down on you and pigs look you straight in the eye. I also like the train of understanding that suggests that dogs attach themselves to the person, cats attach themselves to the place, and rats will pop in just anywhere that the pickings are right.

Sussex dogs

Following the rules 

Such definitions are bound to confuse which I am sure happened to the railway porter at a railway station known to me when trying to administer the then railway companies’ regulations for the carriage of animals. “Well, it says, dogs is dogs, cats is dogs, rabbits is dogs, but this ‘ere tortoise must be an insect or I don’t know what to do with ‘un

Dogs of yesteryear

Being firmly of the dog lovers persuasion, I have looked into some of the notable canines of our county. Perhaps the earliest recorded dog did not in fact exist at all. It was a legend among the rustic inhabitants of Burwash in East Sussex that the Romans, having landed at Pevensey (Anderida) and progressed inland, brought with them a dog called Bur. As they continued their journey, Bur became so encased in mud, that they had to pause and wash him – hence the name Bur – Wash. It’s not true but a great tail!

Sussex dogs

Royalist dogs 

The next notable dog to mention certainly did exist but we do not know his name. We know the name of his master, however, which was Henry Bishopp, a staunch Royalist during the civil war of the 17th century. He was obliged to shelter in the “priest’s hole” at Parham House during the civil war and took his dog with him. Doggo was no doubt as hungry as his master but let out narry a bark so that he and his master were able to survive and go abroad (until Charles II returned to England).


In modern times, two dogs, in particular, have been recorded in Sussex literature. They were the dogs of Arthur Beckett, newspaper editor and founder of Sussex County Magazine (1926-1956) who lived at East Dean. Wire-haired terriers, they were both called Tramp and became in succession Trampus Primus and Trampus Secundus. They accompanied their master on his tramps across the Downs and you can read about his exploits in Adventures of a Quiet Man (1933).

Dogs of Sussex


One of my valued possessions is a battered volume of local postcards of Balcombe, a village where I lived with my family when we first came to Sussex (a long time ago). Amongst the views of buildings and rustic scenes (mostly produced by the village shop), there crops up in the middle a fine canine portrait entitled Mrs. Warren’s Nell.

Sussex dogs

I believe Mrs. Warren may have been the wife/widow of the Balcombe Estate’s estate foreman but what did Nell do to be commemorated in this form? Please let us know if you have the answer?

Contributed by Peter Benner 

If you like this post about old Sussex, you may also like:

Strange Tales of Old Sussex – The Sussex Dialect

Strange Tales of Old Sussex – Ghosts, Murder & Smugglers!

Strange Tales of Old Sussex – The Green Man

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