A Celebration

Contact us

A glorious day of celebration for Piddinghoe Village and Church

How it all came about

Gill Davies recalled the first serious discussion in September 2018 about the state of the ancient church bells of 1713. Five years later, and after many plans, funding applications and meetings, the project team of Brigid Simmonds, Ben May, Isla Sitwell and Gill saw their efforts come to fruition with a magnificent day of celebrations in the village.

Ben managed the community programme, linking the bells, Church and the village with Newhaven schools. Many others came forward to help. All are deserving of tremendous thanks.

Gill said, ‘We could not have succeeded without Michael Royalton-Kisch, from Rodmell, who gave advice, donated generously and started training the 12 villagers who want to become bell ringers. This is a huge undertaking in itself. I have just had my 14th lesson!’

All Things New – a natural art workshop

The weather was unkind, and a marquee certainly helped as it was the centre for All Things New, a natural art workshop run by local artist Hayley Cox. The marquee smelled like a forest as beautiful creations were made from twigs, flowers and leaves. The children chattered away, constructing floatable posies and garlands which would be offered to the river, and float out to sea. Everything was organic, and it was an imaginative and creative way of involving younger members of the community.

Songs for Piddinghoe

The early evening concert, Songs for Piddinghoe, took place in our beautiful Norman church, packed for this special occasion. We were delighted to be joined by David Allam, Deputy Lieutenant of East Sussex, Maria Caulfield MP and the Mayor of Newhaven, Julie Carr, as well as our local Piddinghoe community; friends, guests, and children from Harbour Primary School and their families.

The concert was an eclectic fusion of music and verse, drawing on the community’s spirit, history and the sound of bells.

The music had been composed by Christopher Moore, especially for the occasion. Many thanks to our musicians Luke Bond, Elizabeth Ajao, Oscar Golden-Lee, Molly Noon and George Vines, The Tide Mills Choir and Harbour Primary School.

The lyrics were primarily based on poetry about East Sussex and Piddinghoe. Recollections about the village from Mary Sitwell and Nick Woolger were also gently woven into songs and tales which were beautiful and haunting. And performed movingly and artfully by VOCES8, the group assembled by composer Christopher Moore.

About the piece by Christopher Moore

‘My first thought on being asked to write a piece for this celebration was to think about everything that these walls have witnessed over the years, both momentous and mundane. We are fortunate custodians of such history. I wanted to find ways to celebrate it in song and provide a means to look at how this, and indeed any community, changes over time.

Songs from Piddinghoe are an exploration of this particular place and what it means to be part of a community in general. Much of my inspiration has come from listening to oral histories gathered from various villagers over the last couple of years. The interviews covered many topics such as the natural beauty of the village and its surroundings, memories of how the village used to be, how it has changed, the village in different seasons, and memorable events at the Church, including weddings, christenings and funerals. I have set some of these fascinating recollections almost word-for-word, such as Nick Woolger’s achingly beautiful memory of lying on a hill outside the village and watching a lark fly up into the sky. Many others are represented in more subtle ways – the piece, I hope, has a sense of these memories being woven through it like a tapestry.

The cycle begins and ends with the words of Rudyard Kipling, who mentioned Piddinghoe by name in his poem Sussex (though I gather his description of the weathervane might be taxonomically incorrect). But Kipling’s verses are more than just a fortuitous name-check – they are filled with a sense of deep love for this corner of England. They are a fitting summation of the feelings we all would hope to have for our own home, wherever that happens.

I have also set Kipling’s famous Smugglers’ Song as a nod to the village’s history in that area. Another entertaining historical diversion is provided by the Legend of Piddinghoe, a poem published in an American magazine in the early 1900s, which was discovered by villager Rowena Weald. The tale appears inspired by the old saying, “Piddinghoe people shoe their magpies.”

Primarily we celebrate the new bells, so in the middle of the cycle is an instrumental interlude for handbells, played by children from the Harbour Primary School. It is preceded by words from a poster I found in the Church in Kent, an amusing list of instructions from the 18th century on how (not) to behave when ringing bells.

Interspersed throughout the cycle are songs by the Tide Mills Community Choir which act as a contrasting emotional commentary. While the other songs tend mostly to look back at history, their songs vocalise the wider themes that doing so throws up – questions of play, identity, balancing tradition with change, community and a sense of home. Their final song, Time, reminds us that just as important as the built environment is the cultural environment that we build for ourselves with songs and stories and how important it is to keep these alive. I am very grateful to the choir for their enthusiastic, creative contributions and the opportunity to sing one of their favourite sea-shanties, Leave Her Johnny.

These songs represent a little of Piddinghoe’s past, present and yet-to-come, and it has been a privilege to get to know this wonderful community. I hope they inspire us all to cherish our rich past and ring in an exciting future.’

The Tidemills Choir and Handbells with Harbour Primary School.

‘The Tidemills Choir’ was a revelation, said Gill Davies. ‘The proof of a good choir is just how well the voices blend. They blended. The choir sang with aplomb. It includes 5 villagers: Amanda, Bev, Juliet, Mel and Sally. Please go and listen to them when they next perform.”

The most significant and emotional reaction came when the children from the Harbour Primary School in Newhaven played the handbells. Full of concentration, the group was determined not to let their teacher and families down, and you could feel everyone in the audience willing them on. They did a great job and thoroughly deserved the loudest applause of the evening.

The Piddinghoe Ceilidh

Everyone involved finally had time to let their hair down at the village ceilidh. Due to the weather, the barbecue was moved indoors to the village hall, and our volunteers did a grand job. The band, License to Ceilidh, filled the marquee with music and encouraged everyone to their feet. The event went down so well that it has been requested again next year!

And there is more to come – a book, a film and an exhibition. Isn’t it amazing what you can do with much effort, enthusiasm and a great community!

Thank you one and all especially the National Lottery Heritage Fund.