Sussex Life scrapbook - A miscellany of Sussex history, anecdotes and folklore

PUBLISHED: 17:21 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:49 20 February 2013

This is the famous Cat House at Henfield, which is unusually decorated with cut-out metal cats just under the roof line, each with a bird in its paws.

This is the famous Cat House at Henfield, which is unusually decorated with cut-out metal cats just under the roof line, each with a bird in its paws.

compiled by Chris Horlock

Revenge for a cats crime

This is the famous Cat House at Henfield, which is unusually decorated with cut-out metal cats just under the roof line, each with a bird in its paws.

The house was once owned by a Mr Robert Ward, an eccentric, and the story goes that a cat belonging to the local vicar killed one of Wards pet canaries, which really annoyed him, so a bizarre revenge was planned.
Ward bought a number of metal bird scarers the cats that now line the upper storey and positioned them all round his house, at ground level, threading a long string through them on which he tied a large number of bells. Whenever the vicar Nathaniel Woodward passed on his way to or from Henfield Church, a vigorous pulling of the string saw him greeted by a huge jangling of metalwork and bells, to remind him of the crime his cat committed. Ward also blew on a rams horn through a hole in the house he called the Zulu Hole he was a veteran of the Zulu wars just to add to the mayhem!

Today, the cats survive as decoration and are fixed permanently to the building. The Zulu hole also survives apparently. Sadly, a pub in Henfield used to be called The Cat & Canary, in memory of this event, but its now the Old Railway Tavern.

Stop press

An old Sussex Weekly Advertiser item, of 11th September 1780, gives minimal details perhaps wisely of a truly ghastly incident involving the press gang at Brighton and one mans efforts to escape being taken
Last Saturday one of the fishermen at Brighthelmstone on being impressed, attempted to cut off his left hand, to prevent his being sent on board a man-of-war, which he so nearly effected, that it was thought surgeons assistance would be required to complete the amputation. He had been pressed before he made his escape.

Love child

From the parish register of Angmering, 1749
Baptised George, son (perhaps) of Richard, certainly of Sarah Amore.

Fish tales

Our Sussex picture from the past shows a group of very intense-looking men assessing some fish for sale at Hastings fishmarket in about 1900. Something seems to have caught their eye!

The gantry behind them would be for attaching lamps, to guide fishing boats towards the shore at night. To the left, also in the background, can be seen the circular handle for an ice crushing machine, ice being the only way of keeping the fish fresh at this time.

Rock knot

In one of his Sussex books, Arthur Becket, editor of the old Sussex County Magazine (published 1927 to 1956), recalled a certain Hastings parson, named Whistler, who he described as a humorist and an eccentric. He used to keep a coffin under his bed as a reminder of his own mortality.

Rushing into one of Hastings shops one day, Whistler loudly declared he had just tied a woman to a rock. When asked why, he replied, because she wanted me to! And off he went. Puzzlement all round!
What happened was that he had just married the woman to a man named Rock but it was typical of him not to explain his actions!

Sad omen

A strange story about Chichester, not generally known, is given in Daniel Defoes three volume travel memoir A Tour Thro the Whole Island of Great Britain, published between 1724 and 1727. Defoe states: They have a story in this city that whenever a bishop of that diocese is to dye, a heron comes and sits upon the pinnacle of the spire of the cathedral.

This accordingly happend when Dr Williams was bishop. A butcher, standing at his shop door in South Street, saw it, and ran in for his gun, and being a good marksman shot the heron and killd it, at which his mother was very angry with him, and said hed killed the bishop, and the next day news came to the town that Dr Williams, the last bishop, was dead; this was affirmd by many people, including inhabitants of the place.

Grave offences

One topic thats been left out of Sussex Scrapbook or has it been deliberately avoided? is the subject of grave robbing and the resurrection men who carried it out. In the early 1800s many people feared the activities of grave robbers who opened up graves of the recently buried. Some were looking for valuables which might have been buried with the corpses but most stole the actual bodies to supply doctors interested in dissecting them to further their knowledge of human anatomy.

Two men named Williamson and Bishop were hanged in 1831 for grave robbing. We know that in 1820, it was this same Williamson who removed at least one body from a grave in Brightons St Nicholas churchyard, then the only cemetery in the town.

The practice was pretty widespread and different means were used to thwart the activities of the grave robbers. They included delaying burial by interring bodies in back gardens or in cellars until the corpses were no longer in a suitable state for anatomical research, mounting watchers (sometimes armed) to guard recently buried bodies, or enclosing graves with anti-bodysnatching railings or grilles. In 1830, a Brighton firm named Duplocks, advertised metallic coffins which, they claimed, would foil the efforts of any body snatcher.

The Anatomy Act of 1832 allowed the bodies of workhouse paupers to be used for anatomical research and this reduced the activities of body snatchers to a large extent.

Over to you...

Do you have any stories from the countys past?
Wed like to hear from you: Please email

Latest from the Sussex Life