Here's what it's like to live in Steyning
PUBLISHED: 11:09 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:10 31 October 2019
This beautiful West Sussex market town is home to more than 5,500 people and an array of sports, clubs and events that make it a delightful place to live
A highly desirable rural market town, Steyning is surrounded by the South Downs National Park yet has good connections to the rest of Sussex and beyond. The nearest railway station is Shoreham-by-Sea, about six miles away on the A283, which has a good service to London, Brighton and Portsmouth. Horsham is a half-hour's drive on the A24. Brighton & Hove Buses' number 2 service takes around 50 minutes. Compass Travel's 100 Burgess Hill-Horsham line stops in Steyning too.
The settlement is believed to date from early Saxon times and became a popular pilgrimage site for followers of St Cuthman. Legend has it that St Cuthman, a shepherd, was pulling his ailing mother around the countryside in a cart when the rope broke, much to the mirth of some passing peasants. In response, St Cuthman summoned a great storm which spoilt the hay that the peasants were harvesting. He subsequently built a church at the site, now the Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman in Steyning (it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century), where his remains are buried.
There was a port at Steyning in the 11th century, when the river Adur was much higher than it is now. Apparently located on an inlet near the church, it was abandoned due to silting and reclamation of the estuary.
The protestant martyr John Launder was executed in 1555, burnt on Chantry Green as part of the Marian persecutions. A memorial to him stands near the spot of his execution, between Steyning Museum and Library.
There are many interesting buildings on Steyning High Street, including timber-framed medieval houses and those of the Tudor or Georgian periods. Others are flint-walled or tile-hung, indicating the Sussex building vernacular. The town has more than 125 listed buildings.
Near the town are the remains of the Norman Bramber Castle - perched on a hill overlooking the River Adur, defending a gap in the South Downs. Built soon after the Norman Conquest to help protect William I's newly won territories, the castle was the Sussex seat of the de Braose family.
Bramber was beloved by generations of Sussex children as the home of Mr Potter's Museum, which displayed taxidermied animals in humorous or whimsical tableaux, such as the burial of Cock Robin. When Walter Potter died in 1918 his daughter and grandson continued to run the museum, but decided to sell in 1970s. The collection was finally sold and dispersed in the early 2000s, despite a reputed £1m bid from Damien Hirst. Many local people still recall the museum and a book, Walter Potter's Curious World of Taxidermy by Pat Morris, was published in 2013. Local author Kate Mosse used her memories of the museum as partial inspiration for her 2014 novel The Taxidermist's Daughter.
Festivals and events
Biennial, community-led Steyning Festival returns in May 2020 with a remit of showcasing local, national and international talent in the fields of theatre, music, visual arts, walks and tours, literature and talks, and community events. Steyning Country Fair is another biennial event (held most recently on 27 May 2019) celebrating the heritage of Steyning and traditional Sussex rural crafts, livestock and local produce.
Steyning and District Food and Drink Festival ran in 2019 from 7 September to 5 October. Events included The Great Steyning Bake Off, a beer festival and farmers' market.
A broad spectrum of businesses have made Sussex their home, including the popular Sussex Produce Company which started as a greengrocers and sells local fruit and veg, meat, fish, beer, wine, bread and dairy. The adjoining café serves excellent, locally sourced food throughout the day and regularly hosts special evening events (think book launches and live music). Steyning Tea Rooms serves excellent scones and plenty more besides, while The White Horse Smokehouse and Grill and The Chequer Inn both serve more substantial meals. There's a farmers' market on the first Saturday of every month in Steyning High Street car park.
The intriguing shops and stalls of Cobblestone Walk feature a wide range of crafts and treasure hunters will find plenty to occupy them in Steyning Antiques. La Maison Verte has beautiful home decor and gifts.
A host of groups and societies cover most sporting interests, as well as music and theatre. The town's conservation group, Steyning Downland Scheme, is responsible for 165 acres of woodland, chalk grassland and wetland in the South Downs National Park.
A council-run sports centre on Horsham Road provides facilities including a gym, sports hall, swimming pool, squash courts, classes, swim lessons, indoor climbing wall and indoor bowls.
Steyning has its own parish council. The town comes under the auspices of Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council. Since 2005 it has been represented in Parliament by Conservative Nick Herbert who is MP for Arundel and South Downs.
Rowan Allan, a partner at HJ Burt estate agents, says: "I have worked in Steyning for the past 27 years. My first home was in the town, a cottage which enjoyed a super view over the cricket field to the Downs. I now live in the rural outskirts within 10 minutes' drive of Steyning, so very handy for the office and all the great facilities that the old market town offers."
He is enthusiastic about Steyning's unique attractions: "The town includes a diverse and vibrant population from young professionals to families and the actively retired, creating an interesting mix of interests and homes for all, from flats and apartments to beautiful listed houses and cottages and homes from all different periods of construction."
When asked about changes to the town in recent years, he says: "Being nestled on the edge of the South Downs and National Park, Steyning has largely been unaffected by major development or changes in recent decades. With the closure of the railway station in the late 1960s and then the town bypass and infill development in the late 1980s, the town has largely been contained and served by its diverse mixture of different housing dating back to the mediaeval period or earlier. Unlike many bypassed settlements, the town has still retained a strong beating heart with the historic High Street at its core."
And how would he recommend a visitor explore the town? "To clear the cobwebs, you can do no better than enjoy a brisk walk up the Bostal to enjoy the stunning and panoramic views over the whole of Sussex and beyond and including out to sea.
"This might be followed by a spot of cricket, tennis or other games on the sports field behind Charlton Street and then a hearty lunch stop in Sussex Produce Company, with a good drop of Harveys or other local beers in Whites or another Steyning pub. Once one has worked up more of an appetite after a good stroll round the different paths and twittens off the High Street and enjoyed its beautiful historic church and houses, why not indulge in a spot of tea at Steyning Tea Rooms?"
Meet the neighbours
Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell and novelist Debbie Howells all live in the town.
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