Dancing fairies, jumping devils and all-female cuckoo clans – Sussex is home to some truly weird and wonderful beliefs, customs and tales.
The historic county’s folklore includes fairies, dragons, ghosts, and the devil, and is often inspired by the hills and forests of the landscape.
Sussex is home to Knuckers, a kind of water dragon which lives in ‘knuckerholes’, and fairies play a significant role in local folklore. Hilaire Belloc, a writer and historian who grew up in Sussex, once recounted the story that the fairies would come out to dance in fairy rings on Halloween, and Rudyard Kipling wrote two stories about Sussex fairies. Sussex has several landscape features named after the devil, including Devil’s Dyke, Devil’s Bog, Devil’s Book, the Devil’s Ditch, the Devil’s Humps, the Devil’s Jumps and the Devil’s Road.
In her 1878 work West Sussex Superstitions, Charlotte Lathan collected a list of the signs that the inhabitants of Sussex put their faith in.
This includes cutting one’s nails on a Monday morning without thinking of a fox’s tale in order to receive a present, looking for a lucky nine peas in the first pod you gather, and listening out for the cuckoo. Every cuckoo in Sussex is said to be female, and will ‘bring good tidings and tell us no lies’.
The fascinating folklore of Mid Sussex features ghosts a-plenty. Cuckfield’s Ye White Harte Inne, which was built in 1881 on the site of two 14th century cottages, is said to be home to a spectral figure. It has been sighted on a number of occasions, gliding from the main door towards the kitchen at the back. Another pub ghoul, The Kings Head in Cuckfield is said to be home to a spirit nicknamed Geranium Jane. Jane is thought to have been a 19th century serving maid who was seduced by her employer and later met an untimely death when hit by a flying flower pot.
Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield’s Elizabethan Manor house, is thought to be home to the grey lady, a sad by friendly ghost. She is believed to have been a chambermaid, who was killed when a tunnel leading from Ockenden Manor to the Kings Head in South Street collapsed on her after a minor quake. It is said that her ghost can be seen running to and from the old tunnel entrances.
There have been reports of screams coming from Clayton Tunnel, which was the scene of the worst train crash recorded in 1832. 23 lives were claimed and 176 passengers were left injured. The field nearby where the bodies were carried out and laid is also thought to be haunted.
Sussex is also a place often associated with Black Dog ghosts. ‘Wish Hounds’ or ‘Witch Hounds’ were thought to be omens of death, but despite many sightings of Black Dog ghosts, it was once a superstition in Sussex that when the ghosts of dogs walk abroad, they are only seen by other dogs. However, Ditchling Beacon is said to be one of their haunts where people have heard barking.
Cuckfield Park is said to be haunted by ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’, a ghost with a permanent foul mood.
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