I live in Riverdale, a collection of 4 houses built around 1978 on a meadow which has been part of the Malling Deanery estate for centuries. Two of the houses are built within the walls of the Deanery’s old kitchen garden, and this project was sparked off by the discovery that our house was built on the standing of the vinery hothouse. Accordingly, I thought I would look into the history of the gardens and farmlands belonging to Malling Deanery.
That may have been somewhat naïve… Our Deeds took me immediately back to 1623, when John Stansfield of Cliffe bought the Malling Deanery estate from Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset. It had been the property of the Collegiate Church of South Malling and was given to the Earls of Dorset after the dissolution. A reading of the secondary sources, and discussions with History Group members and neighbours led me to the Library of the Sussex Archaeological Society. There I found a wealth of primary sources such as the detailed valuation of the estate, and a drawing or map of the buildings, gardens and lands, both for the 1623 sale. These were in different manuscript volumes, but matched perfectly. I discovered that Riverdale was called Green Croft Meadow, and aside from the 1978 houses, it has barely changed at all.
Map of Malling Deanery, by John DeWard, 1622 (detail). Sussex Archaeological Society, Barbican House Museum
Valuation of Malling Deanery, attrib. John DeWard 1622.
Woollgar’s Spicilegia Vol. II. Sussex Archaeological Society,
Barbican House Museum.
From these sources, and the collections of the East Sussex Records Office and Lewes Library, I have uncovered some intriguing stories about Malling Deanery, such as what happened to the Lewes Old Mill in the Pells, the story behind the April 1969 Evening Argus headline “Town will buy house for £47,500”, and early tussles between property developers and Lewes Borough Council over riverside development. There are fascinating insights into the lives of the sometimes illustrious owners of the estate, who include the diarist John Evelyn, Richard Russell (who popularised Brighton with his sea water cures), and the MP Sir Frank Sanderson. I discovered a bit about the gardens and farmland as well….
This research is ongoing and evolving, and I hope to present some of these stories on this website.
The first story completed is: From Green Croft to Riverdale – the Story of a Sussex Meadow. This is the Riverdale street story, published as part of the Lewes History Group’s Street Stories Project.
I am most grateful to the individuals who have contacted me with their memories, photos, and documents. If you are able to help in any way, please contact me using the form below.
Researcher: Barbara Merchant