The Bull Inn, St Leonards, Shepherd Neame

Local history

Bulverhythe. A Deserted Medieval Village

- Courtesy of Alex Vincent

There are more than 3000 known deserted medieval villages (DMVs) in Britain. Most were lost during the Black Death or Bubonic Plague of the mid 14th century. Bulverhythe was Burgher's landing place and was the main harbour to the folk of Hastings until the end of the 15th century. It was mentioned as a port in 1500 and was one of the limbs of the Cinque Ports of Hastings. By the end of the 17th century most of Bulverhythe was lost to the sea by coastal erosion.

The only remains of the original town today are the Bull Inn and the church, which is in ruins. These were standing on their own amongst fields until the area was built over in the 20th century. Other cottages, which once existed in the vicinity were lost after the village was deserted. Modern houses now cover their sites.

The church dedicated to St Mary dates from the 14th century, but there are traces of the original Norman church and 13th century work. The church consisted of a tower, nave and chancel. On the north side of the nave is a section of a Norman arch. The existing ruins are probably of the third church built on the site. The site of the tower is now under the road.

Excavations were carried out at the church and a human skull and remains of a skeleton dating to the Middle Ages were found. The church is marked on Richard Budgeon's map of 1724 as "Ruins of Bulverhith Chapel". Bulverhythe and the church are depicted on other old maps.

Smuggling has been a problem for centuries and the Sussex coast is no exception. Smugglers smuggled all sorts of goods such as tobacco, tea and brandy. A large consignment of tea would have been brought ashore at Bulverhythe and loaded onto packhorses. Bulverhythe Beach saw some of the worst violence during the smuggling trade. A blockademan was effectively squared at The Bull Inn at Bulverhythe.

It is said that tunnels built exist from the Bull Inn towards the church to the north and also down to the beach. Pirates came to the pub with all sorts of smuggled goods during the 1600s. There is a crack in the main road (A259) outside the pub, which is said to be where the tunnel is under the road.