The Dyke in 1949

The ruins of the Dyke Park Hotel in 1949

The ruins of the Dyke Park Hotel in 1949

[The article that follows was originally published in the Evening Argus on 4th February 1949 under the title ‘The Devil’s Dyke’. It was then reprinted, with permission, by St.Andrews Quarterly in the July issue (1.3) of that year. The author is not identified.]

Only five miles north-west of Brighton is one of the county’s loveliest beauty spots, the Devil’s Dyke, famed for the picturesque view it commands and celebrated for the amusing legend which attributes its origin to the unfinished efforts of the Devil to dig a canal to the sea in an attempt to flood the Sussex Weald. From its highest point, over 850 feet above sea level. the greater part of Sussex is spread out like a huge map. Parts of Hampshire, Surrey and Kent and 60 churches can be seen on a clear day.

But in recent years the public to whose use in 1928 the estate was “dedicated for ever”• has, for some reason, neglected the spot. People no longer flock to the dyke in their hundreds during the summer. Guide books give it a passing reference and one has to search many second-hand book­ shops before its history can be traced or geological details obtained.

Devil's Dyke Legend
Even Brighton’s well-equipped reference library boasts only of a pre-war three penny Legend and History of the ‘Devil’s Dyke’, two pages from a magazine which deals with the railways which once carried visitors to the spot and a publication issued by a former owner of the estate to attract visitors.

There was a time, however, when the Dyke enjoyed great popularity and was a •’must’• for any visitors to Brighton. At the beginning of the 19th century a Brighton confectioner, a Mr. Sharp, found that there was considerable business to be done by opening a stall there in fine weather and in the 1820s the need was such that an enterprising person built an inn, known as ‘Dyke House’. on the highest point of the northern ridge.

On lst September, 1887, a single-track railway, linking up with the Brighton-Portsmouth line, was opened by the Brighton and Dyke Railway Company to meet the demand for transport. It had a gradient of one in 40 for three miles, one of the steepest rail climbs in the country.

Cocoanut Shies
The Dyke reached the height of its popularity when the estate was purchased by Mr. J.H.Hubbard. He renamed it Dyke Park, made the inn ‘Dyke Park Hotel’ and proceeded to turn the spot into a pleasure resort by providing cocoanut shies, swings, side-shows and, in fact, all the fun of the fair.

On Whit-Monday of 1892 he excelled. Over 30,000 people flocked to the Park. The highlight of the day was a hot-air balloon ascent from the ‘Devil’s Punch-Bowl’ but to the disappointment of the crowds, it was a flop. Just when ‘gallant aviator’ Mr. Arthur Charles Spencer, was about to give the signal for release, a gust of wind caught the balloon and split it in two.

Mr. Hubbard claimed that a million people visited the Dyke that year and he became even more ambitious. He had an over­head cable railway built across the ravine at a cost of £2000. It had a clear span of 650 feet and the three-inch cable, weighing 6¾ tons, supported by two steel pylons, measured 1,200 feet between its anchorages. An oil-engine pulled the eight-passenger cagework car across the ravine in just over two minutes. Return fare cost 6d.

Steep Grade Railway

Another of his projects was a steep-grade double track railway. 840 feet long running down the side of the ridge to the lowland. A single fare of 2d was charged and it was estimated that 275,000 passengers were carried yearly. It cost £9000.

Mr. Hubbard’s schemes were not a financial success and the two main projects appear to have come to an end about 1908.

In 1925 the estate was up for sale and when Brighton Corporation hesitated Sir Herbert Carden stepped in to prevent the possibility of it being closed to the public by a private purchaser. Three years later he transferred it to the Corporation for a nominal sum.

At the end of 1925 the Southern Railway, which had absorbed the Brighton and Dyke Company in 1923, closed down the Dyke Railway. “Lack of support”, they said. [This paragraph is in error: the railway remained open until 1938].

On the 27th May, 1945, the hotel, which had been rebuilt on modern lines six years previously at a cost of £8000 was destroyed by fire.

Its ruin now stands out clearly on the skyline, and to some they may appear as a monument to the Dyke of the past.

Devil's Dyke map

Some other material relevant to the C19 and C20 history of the Dyke:

The devil’s other pub

Inn at Devil's Dyke
Although it rarely features here, readers will be familiar with the Devil’s Dyke Hotel. You may even be able to see it from where you live. However, you may not have realized that there is another pub up there, a mere 634 yards (0.36 miles) away from the latter. But further information is scanty:

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There is a wooded area at the top of the Dyke — could this pub be in there somewhere?

Devil’s Dyke wild food walk, talk and picnic

The Last Picnic

Friday 20th July, 10:30–13:30

Learn how our ancestors foraged for food and medicinal herbs at spectacular Devil’s Dyke where people have lived off the land for thousands of years. We’ll be taking a walk around Devil’s Dyke and pointing out the plants from the tasty and not so tasty, to those that are poisonous or have medicinal benefits. Finish off by enjoying your picnic overlooking some of the best views in Sussex. Booking essential.

The Devil’s Doggerel

The Devil's Doggerel
Following the spontaneous outburst of village enthusiasm that greeted our recent posting of contemporary topographic verse (Shepherd & Doggerel), a weightier piece by William Hamper dating back to the early nineteenth century has been added to the local history section. Nothing that includes words such as adown, cruciform, lightsome, luminary, wyght, and yclept, and a gratuitous line of Latin, employed for the rhyme, can be all bad. But it isn’t Coleridge. Rather, it is the kind of piece that a Victorian gentleman could commit to memory and then reproduce at Sussex wedding parties and other social occasions, with ribaldry and acclaim from a bibulous audience already well familiar with the plot (compare Rocky Horror sing-a-longs for a contemporary analogue). Read in that spirit, one can detect its merits.

The Devil’s Dyke

The Devil's Dyke
The following legend, founded on a popular Sussex error, from which the Devil’s Dyke takes its name, was written many years ago by William Hamper, Esq., of Birmingham, F.R.S., and Justice of Peace for the counties of Warwick and Worcester, a native of Sussex, from the family of Hamper at West Tarring, and was circulated at the time it was written amongst his Sussex friends.

Five hundred years ago, or more,
Or, if you please, in days of yore,
That wicked wyght, yclept old Nick,
Renown’d for many a wanton trick,
With envy from the Downs beheld
The studded churches of the weald;
Here Poynings cruciform — and there
Hurst, Albourne, Bolney, Newtimber, —
Cuckfield, and more, with tow’ring crest,
Quae nunc prescribere longum est; —
Oft heard the undulating chime
Proclaim around ‘t was service time;
While to the sacred House of Prayer
Went many a pious worshipper.

“Can I with common patience see
These churches — and not one for me?
Shall I be cheated of my due
By such a sanctimonoius crew?”
He mutter’d twenty things beside,
And swore that night the foaming tide,
Led through a vast and wondrous trench,
Should give these pious souls a drench.

Adown the west the steeds of day
Were hasting merrily away;
And Night in solemn pomp came on,
Her lamp a star, a cloud her throne;
The lightsome moon, she was not there,
But deck’d the other hemisphere.

Now fit with a capacious spade,
So large it was on purpose made,
Old Nick began with much ado
To cut the lofty Downs in two; —
At every lift his spade threw out
A hundred waggon loads, no doubt! —
O! had he labour’d till the morrow,
His envious work had wrought much sorrow;
The weald, with verdant beauty graced,
Changed to a sad and wat’ry waste!

But so it chanced, a good old dame,
Whose deed has long outlived her name,
Waked by the cramp at midnight hour,
Or just escaped the nightmare’s pow’r,
Rose from her humble bed; — when, lo! —
She heard Nick’s terrible ado! —
And by the starlight faintly spied
The wicked wyght — and Dyke so wide;
She knew him by his mighty size,
His tail, his horns, his saucer eyes;
And while, with wonderment amazed,
At labourer and at work she gazed,
Swift ‘cross her mind a thought there flew,
That she by stratagem might do —
A deed which luckily should save
Her country from a wat’ry grave!
By his own weapons fairly beating
The father of all lies and cheating.

Forth from a casement in a, in a minute,
A sieve with flaming candle in it
She held to view; — and simple Nick,
Who ne’er suspected such a trick,
(Old rogues are fools) when first his sight
A full-orb’d luminary bright
Beheld — he fled — his work undone,
Scared at the sight of a new sun,
And mutt’ring curses that the day
Should drive him from his work away!

Night after night, this knowing dame
Watch’d — but again Nick never came.

Who now dare call the action evil,
“To hold a candle to the devil?”

[This piece, including the title and prefatory paragraph, but not the illustration, is reproduced from pages 189-191 of James Taylor, editor, The Sussex Garland: A Collection of Ballads, Sonnets, Tales, Elegies, Songs, Epitaphs, etc. Illustrative of the County of Sussex with Notices, Historical, Biographical and Descriptive. Published by the editor in Newick, Sussex, in 1851. The line of Latin can be found in full form in one of the 1591-92 pamphlets that go to make up Robert Greene’s The Complete Cony Catching: cum multis aliis quae nunc prescribere longum est — “with many others which would be too long to describe now”. It is listed in an 1824 dictionary of popular quotations and occurs in other work. It probably predates Greene.]

Some (factual) material relevant to the C19 and C20 history of the Dyke: