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Telscombe: The village time forgot
Nestled in a crook of the Downs about two miles from the coast is one of the prettiest villages in Sussex.
Focussed around a church and a community hall, its population of less than 50 go about their daily lives practically undisturbed.
This is because the village of Telscombe is practically untouched by 21st century life.
Its only access is a winding road only accessible by a narrow street which leaves the Lewes to Newhaven Road at Southease.
Broadband is temperamental, shops a car ride away and traffic non-existent.
The reason is a landowner who made his money from a particularly plucky racehorse.
Ambrose Gorham was a bookmaker and racehorse trainer who lived in Stud Farm in Telscombe in 1890.
His fortunes changed in 1902 when his horse Shannon Lass won the Grand National against the odds.
Using the money he won, Gorham turned Telscombe into a thriving village with horse racing at its centre.
A club was built in 1924 so apprentices had somewhere to socialise, the 10th century church was refurbished, buildings were improved and utilities were installed.
Then on his death, he left his holdings to Brighton Corporation on the condition it established a trust to preserve the area for the people in the area.
Michael Andrews, 71, has lived in the village for more than 40 years and said his family used to know Mr Gorham.
Mr Andrews said: “He does not mean as much to residents these days but his promise to preserve the area definitely still exists through the trust.
“Every Christmas he used to give the children of the village a pair of Wellington boots and a book.
“My aunt said he used to organise car trips to take people to the carnival in Brighton.
“When he walked by, the girls used to curtsy and the boys had to take their caps off.
“I think he would be proud of his legacy. He definitely would recognise the place if he came back.”
The village is still centred around Gorham’s legacy.
Half of the buildings are still owned by the trust as is a large amount of the land which, according to recent records, are worth £2.6 million.
Pam Stiles, chairwoman of the Gorham's Gift Trustees, said: “What we are always trying to do, and is quite difficult to do, is ensure the ‘people of Brighton and Hove and environs’ know that Gorham’s estate was left in Trust in perpetuity in order that the village should remain unspoiled and there for all to enjoy the peace and tranquillity.
“It is a bit of a difficult compromise.”
Stanley Bernard, former chairman of the Peacehaven and Telscombe Historical Society, said: “There was quite a bit of tension between Gorham and Charles Neville who was behind the development of Peacehaven and Telscombe Cliffs in the 1920s.
“The two overlapped and had different views about what should happen to some of the land, particularly Telscombe Tye [which is now common land].”
Gorham’s legacy also still lives in two of his greatest passions.
Stud Farm, where he used to live, and the area around is still used for farming by town councillor Tim Armour and Jamie Poulton trains racehorses in the area.
The club is also regularly hired out for gatherings and community groups.
Alan Baker, a local artist and treasurer for Telscombe Village Club, |said: “Considering its size we have quite a vibrant club.
“I have been involved in it for about 20 years. It’s difficult as we need to balance covering the running costs while ensuring it does not become too busy so we preserve the character of the village.
“It’s the only thing in the village that’s a centre point and without it would be a real loss.
“I think Gorham would be delighted at the village today.
Pictures of villagers
“In 1902 he had pictures taken of all the villagers at the time. 100 years on we repeated it with those living there and it was amazing how things had not changed.
“There were cars and things but the actual buildings were exactly the same.
“I’d like to think it would be the same 100 years on.
“It’s become a place where a lot of people would like to live.
“It’s not always been like that. About two years ago it used to be used as a rat run for people who wanted to avoid Newhaven.
“But then 18 months ago it was gated at the top of the village so now it’s become really quiet.”
Those living in the village do have some sacrifices to make.
House prices are also very expensive.
A five-bedroom bungalow recently was on the market for £600,000 while The Old Rectory was listed at £2.5 million. Internet access is reliant on a cable under the Downs from Rottingdean.
There is no direct road access to the coast despite the sea being less than two miles away.
The steep valley and the small winding road also makes winter living challenging.
But Mr Andrews said there was recently a more permenant reminder to the man who has preserved a small corner of Sussex.
He said: “For years the small lane to the village had no name. Then a few years ago the ambulance crews said every road must have a title so it was named Gorham Lane.”
It is a simple and fitting tribute to a remarkable man.
Who was Ambrose Gorham?
Ambrose Gorham, pictured, was a bookmaker and horse trainer who was resident of Stud Farm in Telscombe in 1890.
In 1902 his horse, Shannon Lass, won the Grand National at Aintree, near Liverpool.
With winnings from the unfancied horse, he helped restore St Laurence church and in 1905 he commissioned two murals for the building.
More of the money went to buy land in the adjoining area and refurbished some of the cottages.
In 1933, after his death, all his land was bequeathed to Brighton Corporation as part of his will.
The purpose of the trust is to keep the village “as Ambrose Gorham would have liked it and to be of benefit to the people in the surrounding environs of the whole Brighton and Hove area”.
According to some, Gorham insisted the incumbent should be non-teetotal and should be a smoker.
Nearly 80 years after his death, the Gorham Trust still exists. It owns five cottages, the whole of Stud Farm and the village club, but this is leased to Telscombe Town Council.
The trust also owns some sheep “leazes” which means it has the right to graze more than 200 of the animals on Telscombe Tye.
Recent accounts show the value of its holdings is about £2.6 million.
As a legacy fund and through its agents Strutt and Parker, it rents out the land and property which, in 2010/11 generated about £47,000 towards the upkeep of certain properties in Telscombe village.
The same year showed a surplus of £7,374, which goes towards the village upkeep and good causes.
Public accounts last show details of the surplus of about £13,000 in 2009/10 was distributed.
Half went towards meeting the expenses of the vicar and parish of Telscombe.
The rest went as follows:
- £250 to “deserving poor persons residing in the village” – as none existed this went to Rodmell primary school.
- £2,000 went to St Laurence Parochial Church Council (PCC) for the repair and upkeep of the church.
- £100 to the school for upkeep.
- £4,000 to a repairs fund
- the remainder went to a reserve fund, which currently stands at £360,000.
Apart from few changes in 1970s and 2004, the trust has remained pretty much the same since its inception. Since then, management of the trust has passed onto Brighton and Hove City Council.
Its current members are Councillor Ken Norman; Councillor Brian Fitch; Councillor Chris Hawtree; John Barradell, chief executive of city council; Reverend Ian Cooper, vicar of Telscombe church; Dr B Hunt, PCC member.
Two other members - Pamela Stiles and Andy Durr – are co-opted onto the trust by other members.