History of Heene

Today Heene is part of West Worthing but it was once a distinct and separate village. Only in 1865 with the establishment of the West Worthing Commissioners did the transformation of this once rural village into a suburb of Worthing commence but this process was not formalised until Worthing Borough was created by royal charter in 1890.

As recently as the early nineteenth century a wall physically divided Heene from Worthing. This wall was ordered to be built by the Worthing Town Commissioners then chaired by wealthy retired financier, Edward Ogle; as a consequence the wall was known variously as the ‘Worthing Wall’ or ‘Ogle’s Wall.’ And why was it built? To keep out the undesirables of Heene! Ogle saw the Heene people as a dissolute and lazy lot, more interested in smuggling and living off Poor Relief than doing an honest day’s work. Far better that the Heene people were kept out of Worthing, a towen that was trying very hard at that time to market itself as a seaside resort for ‘genteel and select company.’

It would seem that the Heene people had a reputation for being poor and lawless going back across the centuries. During the English Civil War in 1644, General William Waller had to call some of him men away from the siege of Arundel Castle because the people of Heene were claiming ‘wrecker’s rights’ over a merchant ship that had been beached on their shores by high seas. By the time the soldiers arrived many of the valuables had been plundered although no one in Heene could be found who had seen a single wrecker or knew the whereabouts of any hidden plunder.

In those days there was a farm, a barn and a few cottages around the current site of St. Botolph’s Church. The current building was only erected in 1877, in those days there was a medieval chapel that was already in a dilapidated state. It was said that the last sermon was preached there some decades later by a ‘mad lawyer’ named Burt and that most of his congregation consisted of sheep. Remains of this ruined chapel can still be seen in the modern churchyard to the east of the church.

Most of the people of Heene lived in what was known as ‘Little Heene’ which was situated where the modern streets of Thorn Road and Brunswick Road are located. There was one pub called the King and Queen (later the Brunswick, then the Bay Horse and now closed). If the men were mainly smugglers, the women, it was said, were mainly prostitutes. A vile slander, no doubt, but one that Edward Ogle and his fellow commissioners took seriously.

Going further back in time to the days of Henry VIII, we may find an historical reason for the destitute condition of Heene and its people. In medieval times the land at Heene had been owned by the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy, although the religious house had not physical presence there, the Heene estates merely provided them with income. The Abbey also owned land at Angmering.

When Henry VIII and his artful advisor, Thomas Cromwell decided to overcome their financial difficulties by seizing church lands and then selling these estates off to the rising class of wealthy merchants, the Fecamp lands were not excluded. The estate of Heene and Angmering was sold to Sir Thomas Palmer. He is not a man who has gone done in history for his kind and caring ways. He ordered all the peasants off his lands, tore down their cottages and grubbed up their orchards. They were forced to find refuge on the ‘roughlands’ close to the sea, where no crops would grow and in which Sir Thomas had no interest.
His evicted tenants appealed to King Henry’s Star Chamber hoping for redress, but their hopes were dashed when the Chamber upheld the actions of Palmer. He then issued a statement, which reflects his power and wealth as well as his arrogance. “Do ye not know,” he told his dejected former tenants, “that the King’s grace hath put down all houses of monks, friars and nuns, and therefore, now is the time come when we gentlemen will pull down the houses of such poor knaves as ye be.”

One of Sir Thomas Palmer’s neighbours, John Strong, a farmer not lacking in compassion, described his new ruthless neighbour as “beyng corrupt in conscience, and a man minded muche to averyce.” Sir Thomas however continued to grow ever more wealthy and his son was able to build Parham House near Storrington – one of the most impressive Tudor mansions in Sussex.

So little wonder then that future inhabitants of Little Heene learned to fend for themselves, and not worry too much about the Law of the Land, for the laws of England had certainly done precious little to uphold their rights.

According to legend, Heene smugglers built a tunnel that ran from another favourite pub of theirs, The Sportsman at 94 Heene Road, to the sea. In 1959, workmen building an extension at 116 Heene Road uncovered what some thought to be the blocked up remains of this tunnel – presumably a northerly extension from The Sportsmen? In truth, it is rather unlikely that smugglers built tunnels that would have involved a great deal of work and effort and being subject to frequent flooding. What the workmen found in 1959 were more likely to have been old cellars, although it does seem a shame to spoil a good story!

Thanks to Chris Hare, local historian and author for this article.

Image Credit - grassrootsgroundswell

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