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Gotham, Sussex

R.A. Stevens

Of course it might be questionable to lay claim to the ‘original village of mad people’ from Andrew Borde’s Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham with several counties having villages with the same name. I believe the one in Nottinghamshire is the odds-on favourite. However, recently ‘discovered’ a place by this name in East Sussex I feel this county should lay claim to this scheme of feigning madness as an early tax-avoidance scheme.

Two contemporary portraits of Andrew Borde from sixteenth century woodcuts.

Borde did a lot of his writing at ‘The Mint House’, Pevensey, East Sussex and this was only twenty-or-so miles from Borde Hill near Cuckfield where he was born. Andrew’s brother, Richard, became Vicar of Pevensey in 1520 but, after only a few years in the turbulent times of the Reformation and not wanting to change either his views or add more fuel to the fires of Smithfield, fled from England. He never returned and, when he died, left Andrew a substantial amount of local property. The newly-rich Borde bought ‘The Mint House’, moved in and carried on with his various careers. One was to write a book on the village of Gotham - the others being a monk, a doctor, an envoy for Thomas Cromwell and even a dubious claim to fame for being the first man to bring rhubarb seeds to Britain!

Looking at a nineteenth century OS map I saw about half-a-dozen miles or so away from Pevensey a place named ‘Gotham’. Because this was close to where Borde lived, I thought this might prove interesting. Unfortunately, none of the later maps seemed to have Gotham marked and much of the area has been over-run by the urban sprawl of Hastings, Bexhill and St Leonards. Luckily, the roads on the earlier map seemed to still be there. With visions of finding the whole place covered by some appropriately picturesquely-named ugly housing estate I set out in search of Gotham. Within a short distance from Bexhill the road led out into the country and I found a lane where Gotham was marked.

If Gotham was ever a village [see Frank Earp’s article] there is hardly any trace now except for a modern farm house named ‘Gotham Farm’ which is only slightly higher ground to the east of the marshes. More research shows it was not mentioned in Domesday Book but was recognised in the twelfth century. I would think that this was one of the many small hamlets which can be found on the marshes between Pevensey and Hastings but are now only farmhouses.

If Borde wrote, as it seems likely to me, on local places and events then it would be obvious that the Gotham he mentioned would be the one which lay only a few miles from his front door and not in Nottinghamshire or elsewhere. Maybe the dreaded ‘Marsh Fever’ of the locality might have added to stories of ‘mad’ villagers?

Originally published in At the Edge No.1 1996.


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Created April 1996; updated November 2008