Brightling is a rural parish in the Sussex Weald. The parish covers approx 4,000 acres and includes the main village which consists of the church, village hall, Brightling Park mansion and half a dozen cottages. The parish includes the hamlets of Worge, Longreach, Oxley’s Green, Hollingrove, Cackle Street, Riverhouses and Darwell.
The parish is wholly within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is famed for its wide reaching views of the highly wooded undulating countryside.
The village of Brightling is 6 miles north of the nearest town, Battle. To the north is the parish of Burwash, southwest Dallington, South Ashburnham and Penhurst, southest Battle parish and east Mountfield. The parish is ‘t’shaped with a ridge line of high ground running from west to east along the top bar of the ‘T’.
In common with many Wealden settlements, the main village has always been very small with many hamlets and scattered farms. This has come about because of the way the land has been used. There are no known prehistoric finds in the parish but early man certainly was in the area, clearing the land farming and making iron. By the early middle ages however the area had reverted back to dense woodland. Much of the current settlement pattern dates back to the Saxon period, when the area was again cleared for agriculture. This clearance was a piecemeal development. Families would clear an area of woodland or scrub, just enough for them to make a living but leaving some woodland in the form of thick hedges or spinneys between fields. They would build their farm in the centre of the land and link up with a rudimentary trackway system which eventually formed the pattern of narrow winding lanes that typify this area. The gradual development of ‘assarts’ as these newly cleared lands were called happened over a long period. The last open land to be turned to agriculture happened in the late 18th/early 19th century.
The name ‘Brightling’ is said to be derived from the settlement of Britas people. The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The structure today dates from the 12th century onwards and consists of a tower, nave (14th century), north aisle, chancel and north chapel. At the west end is a timber built West Gallery which houses a working barrel organ installed in 1820. The tower houses a peal of eight bells which are regularly rung.
Brightling is famous for its collection of follies. These were all built by John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller in the early 19th century. The Fuller family earned their fortune through the manufacture of Sussex iron in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 18th century they purchased a small estate in Brightling adjacent to the church. They continued to purchase land until they owned most of the parish and extended into their estate into the surrounding areas. In this way they were able to control the parish and any changes that took place could only do so with their approval. One of these was to move the public house out of the village to Oxley’s Green and move the road through the village which formerly ran between the church and their house to the north side of the churchyard causing the road to have two ninety degree turns which still catch motorists unawares but slow traffic down!