Some moments in Little Common and Cooden’s History.
Little Common does not appear on Sussex maps until 1813. But let us go back to about 1800. What did the village look like then?
The village developed around the crossroads on the main road from Hastings to Pevensey. It had a big triangular green, then common land, on which cattle, sheep, horses and pigs grazed, together with ducks and chicken.
At one end of it a narrow cart-track led over Cooden Down (where in Armada days a beacon would have been lighted immediately) to Cooden Farm and the sea. The old Coastguard Cottages stood opposite what is now the Cooden Beach Hotel.
Another cart-track from the village of Bexhill passed Kewhurst House, went right through the present churchyard, came past Peach Cottage (in what we now call The Twitten) and ended at Stride’s Castle.
In those days a Mr Dick Stride ran the only shop in the village, a general store, and he sold everything from bacon to women’s clothes, from black treacle to shoe oil. His shop stood on the site of Peartree Court (currently opposite the Post Office).
Had you been shopping then, a loaf of bread would cost you 1½d. and 1lb of butter 1s.2d. They called it Stride’s Castle because he owned the bit of green in front of it, a pond, and Cannon Cottage (now Cooden Clinic). Opposite Stride’s Castle in about 1850 Bob Elliott opened the first bakery business. Today it is Bolt Bikes.
By 1860 Stride’s shop had become Elliott’s stores and stayed in the Elliott family for many years. It was pulled down in 1937. Why was Cannon Cottage so named? In about 1850 a Major Armstrong was demonstrating to the War Office a new cannon on the bit of green in front of Stride’s Castle, firing at a Martello Tower at Normans Bay!
Across the green from Strides Castle was the Wheatsheaf (the old part is Tudor), where another cart-track led up to Barnhorne. Moving onto Cooden Sea Road, there was a blacksmith’s cottage, next door to an old forge run by Mr Crocker. At the far end of his showroom the horses stood waiting to be shod; in the middle was the anvil and the bellows.
The old village pond was on what is now Shepherd’s Close. When it overflowed it ran right through Pond Cottages, which stood opposite but have since been pulled down. Where the Catholic Church now stands was a timber-framed Tudor house at least 500 years old. Opposite that was a grocers (begun about 1880) run by the Duke family. There were many more old cottages and farms and numerous quaint characters who you would see walking about the village.
Farming was the major occupation in the 1800s, but it did not pay half as well as smuggling. The village had one of the best-known smuggling gangs in East Sussex, led by George Gillham and his family at Peach Cottage: respectable builders and carpenters by day, outrageous smugglers by night. Many of the older houses in the village were built by the Gillhams.
Well organised, the Little Common gang who often met at The Wheatsheaf to plan their forays, fought bloody battles where you now do your shopping, until 1850, when it was no longer worthwhile. On January 6th 1805 for example, more than 300 smugglers tried to collect 500 parcels of tea from a lugger off Cooden Beach. They were beaten back by the excise men. The smugglers operated two vessels, concealed at a secret location near the Star Inn at Normans Bay when not in use.
The village has obviously changed since the 1800s, particularly with the advent of faster transport links. Cooden Beach station was first opened on 11 September 1905 as Cooden Golf Halt to serve a growing area of new, mainly high quality, housing located close to the beach. By 1922, the name had been simplified to Cooden Halt, adopting its present name of Cooden Beach on 7 July 1935. Trolley buses first made their appearance at Cooden Beach terminus in 1928 replacing the trams which turned round at a specially created mini roundabout for the return journey to the Metropole Hotel in Bexhill. A collection of shops was transformed into the Cooden Beach Hotel in the 1930s.
In the village, some features remain the same. The Wheatsheaf maintains a prominent position at the round-about, previously called the Crossways. The Little Common war memorial was unveiled on 21st November 1920. This iconic feature is a central focal point in the village. It is a physically massive stone about 15 feet high, made of very hard granite and was carved by William Bridgland, a survivor of the Somme. Remembrance Services, organ-ised by the Royal British Legion, have since been held annually each November.
St. Marks school, which was next to the church, has been demolished. The village school is now located at the top of Shepherds Close and renamed Little Common Primary School. In its place a relatively new church hall has been erected which has a number of amenities, including the Ark which hosts a regular pop-in coffee session each weekday morning. The Community Centre is on an adjacent site to the school, again offering a range of activities for local groups.
Today, Little Common is a bustling, thriving community with three churches, a primary school, a doctor’s surgery, dental practices and a wealth of leisure, craft and social clubs and activities. The wide range of independent businesses and national stores covers all your everyday needs from fresh food to home goods, hairdressing and beauticians to cafes and restaurants, a stamp from the post office to quirky craft goods.