Fulling Mill Cottage

by Julie Grant

Fulling Mill Cottage lies in the picturesque village of Fittleworth, three miles West of Pulborough, in West Sussex. The cottage, along with it's cats, was bequeathed to Cat Welfare Sussex by it's last owner, Fred Saigeman upon his death in 2010. Fred had been a staunch supporter of our charity for many, many years. It was his greatest wish that we could restore his family home, and after careful thought the trustees have decided to restore Fulling Mill Cottage to her former Glory. Here are some photographs from the open day in May 2011.

Fittleworth

The Church of St Mary sits at the top of the hill watching over her Parishioners as she has done for centuries past. Children's laughter radiates from the modern Fittleworth School - a descendent from the Old Victorian School originally situated at the far end of School Lane - now converted into houses. Sadly the Post Office and shop, such a vital part of village life, now lies empty.

Further on towards the sixteenth century stone bridge, that spans the River Rother, and beyond the charming properties resplendent in their Summer blooms, lies the Ancient Coaching Inn now known as the Swan Inn Hotel. The Inn has been visited by many famous artists over the years. Charles Henry Simms, George Cole, Rex Vicat Cole and Phillip Stretton to name but a few.

Duncan Caste the broadcaster and explorer made his home in Fittleworth and Edward Elgar composed his most inspired Violin Sonata (otherwise known as Wood Magic) whilst staying at Brinkwells Cottage North of Fittleworth.

The outstanding Hesworth Common with it's breath taking views lies to the West of the village whilst the equally awe inspiring, wooded and mysterious Fittleworth Common lies to the East.

Fulling Mill Cottage

It is at the foot of this common - across a small stream - that one can discover an age old secret. Nestled within the grounds of the long forgotten market garden, now hidden by the tangled undergrowth of the old Victorian Orchard, stands Fulling Mill Cottage. The once neat thatch now swathed in tarpaulin, the grimy leaded windows hanging from their once smart frames. The pristine terracotta brick pathways now buried beneath a sea of mud. Brambles and nettles the only offerings from the produce garden today.

Modern day Fittleworth has grown up around the boundaries of Fulling Mill and the property is obscured from the through road. Visitors pass by totally unaware of the Ancient Cottage - once known to all.

With roof beams dating back to c1400 -1450, the timber framed hall house, would have been a prodigious property for its time and was undoubtedly owned by a person of affluence. Perhaps a noble knight or wealthy merchant stood proudly watching her construction? Sadly there are no early records of the Cottage so we are but left with our imaginings.

There is evidence, in the shallow waters of the stream, of the remains of the old Fulling Mill. A water driven mill widely used from medieval times to process cloth. This may have belonged to the Lee or Stanley family - the main land owners of the time.

During the sixteenth century the upper floors and stone built extension and fireplaces were added to the house.

The People

Many people, from all walks of life, have slept beneath her thatch. The records dating from 1631 mention, a Husbandman (smallholder), cordwainer, shoemaker, weaver, yeoman and a vet amongst others.

Some were owners, some were tenants - even sub tenants but all those families and their traditional way of life are woven into the very fabric of Fulling Mill Cottage.

At a later date the property was divided into two cottages in order to house more families. The aristocracy needed fathers and sons to work their land. The more children to follow in their fathers footsteps the better.

The brick tiled floors before the fireplaces at Fulling Mill Cottage bear shallow depressions - enclosing the ghostly footprints of the many women that struggled over the cauldron to provide sustainable meals from meagre ingredients. The exhausted men folk, having spent long hours toiling the fields, warmed aching bodies before these fires. Children would have huddled round for warmth. Life was hard and death and disease lurked in every corner. The cottage was dark and damp and fuel was scarce but Home Is where The Hearth Is.

In the early 1870's Charles and Ellen Saigeman rented the cottage. Charles, a basket maker, was the son of Charles Saigeman Snr - a much respected village elder. Ellen, a dressmaker, was the daughter of John Strudwick and sister to Sam who ran the barges that carried coal and supplies along the River Rother.

Their son Loyal was born in 1876 followed in 1887, by a daughter Alice Mary who was disabled. It is believed that she suffered from Cerebral Palsy. In 1896 Charles passed away aged 50 years. Leaving Loyal and Ellen to look after Alice Mary.

The 1901 census records Ellen's occupation as a Laundress working from home. A major feat as Fulling Mill Cottage only had one cold water tap to the scullery. Ellens life must have been fraught with difficulty and hardship.

More tragedy struck in 1906 when Alice Mary died at just nineteen years of age. She was laid to rest, with her father, in the cemetery of the Church of St Mary. Her inscription touchingly reads 'Free From Sorrow - Far from Sin - Passed Beyond all Grief and Pain'.

In the Great War of 1914 Loyal joined the Northumberland Fusiliers - his name is inscribed upon a plaque of those that served during the war in the church.

Thankfully, Loyal returned to Fulling Mill Cottage where he tended the local produce garden and orchard. (A book of sale found in the Old Market garden shed records sales of fruit and honey dated from 1893). He eventually purchased the cottage in 1921. Ellen living out her days there until her death in 1929.

A short time after Ellen's death - Loyal aged 54 married Susan Annie (Nancy) a schoolteacher from Brighton aged 38. Their son Frederick Loyal was born in 1933.

Hillside

In 1935 Loyal and Nancy turned the cottage into a guest house and called it 'Hillside'. Guests came from all over UK and from as far away as Canada, America and Brazil.

Honeymoon couples spent their first night of wedded bliss there, families with children came for sunny Summer holidays and those in need of rest and recuperation during and after the 2nd World War found peace in timeless Fittleworth.

The comfort of the cottage and the kindness of its proud owners emanates from the pages of the visitors book. One can almost detect the smell of roses and lavender polish and imagine the fine bone china set upon the breakfast table.

Photographed and painted by many visitors and artists - these were the Glory Days Of Fulling Mill Cottage.

Extracts from the Visitors Book 1935- 1958

"We could not wish for anything better than a thatch cottage for our Honeymoon.

"A lovely week with the sweetest couple: a comfy bed ,where I have slept all my tiredness away.

"Thank you for your unfailing kindness and help during the years of evacuation. Hillside has been an oasis.

"A beautiful spot taken out of a fairy tale

The Old Market Garden Shed evolved into a small shop selling garden produce, honey, eggs, plants and even cigarettes and sweets. Many original residents of Fittleworth still recall the Old Sweet Shop.

Fred attended the Midhurst Grammar School and went on to win a scholarship to Oxford. The local newspaper records his achievements and congratulates Fred and his Proud Parents - Mr & Mrs Saigeman.

At the end of the summer season of 1958 one of the last entries in the visitors book reads -

"Thank you for such a lovely week at your dear little cottage. I feel that I must come back again and again.

It was not to be - Loyal met with an accident and passed away in 1959; there are no further entries in the visitors book. Hillside had closed it's doors forever.

On leaving Oxford Fred went on to become a much loved and respected teacher at the Glynn School In Surrey. One of Fred's great interests was Cider making. He installed a large Cider press in the garden shed, utilizing the apples from the old orchard. Many a villager passed a pleasant evening drinking a glass or three of Fred's legendary Apple & Blackberry Cider. The hangovers were legendary too!

Sadly, Nancy became ill with Arthritis and Fred took early retirement to care for her. After her death, in 1983, Fred lived quietly in the house with just his beloved cats for company.

Many of the local feral cats had moved into the property and outbuildings over the years and were taken under Fred's wing, fed on fresh fish, milk and cream.

Sadly, Fred's health deteriorated and the cottage fell into disrepair.

The Cats

As a cat lover, Fred had been a staunch supporter of our charity for many, many years. Upon his death in 2010 he left his cats and property to Cat Welfare Sussex. It was his greatest wish that we could restore his family home.

It took sixteen months to gather all the eighty semi wild cats that lived in and around the cottage and in the outbuildings. Some of the cats were very poorly and didn't survive but over two thirds have been saved. The vast majority of which we re home to stables and smallholding where, in exchange for a dry barn, food and veterinary care, they provide a valuable service in keeping their new owners premises rodent free, thus helping the environment by reducing the need to use poisons.

The Future

The cottage is very dilapidated but equally it is a gem of history.

There have been some alterations over the years, as is only to be expected, but certainly very little since Victorian times. No 1960's kitchen or 1930's fireplace, no central heating or double glazing. Time has stood still within these walls. A shrine to the past and a simpler way of life.

Fulling Mill Cottage has endured civil wars, tyrannical rulers, the threat of invasion and bloody reform. In recent history she has stood strong in the face of the Great War and World War Two.

However , in 2011 she could face her darkest hour.

If the property were to be sold,- it would almost certainly be purchased by a development company. Eventually the Market garden would become a car park and the Old Victorian Orchard would become a housing estate.

This brave little house that has borne all the perils of the past would vanish beneath the guise of modern progress.

Fear not the mighty armoured Knight with Trusty Steed and Broadsword -

But the sharp suited Gentleman that wields a Biro and a Clipboard.

Therefore, after careful thought, we - the trustees - have decided to restore Fulling Mill Cottage to her former Glory. As a small local charity with limited funds we are aware of the challenges that lie ahead. However we cannot stand by and watch this unique corner of Rural Sussex disappear forever.

The Restoration

As to the restoration itself - we do not wish to change, add or alter the cottage in any way. The shaggy thatch, leaded windows, low ceilings and tiny doorways are all part of the charm and charisma of this ancient building.

We are extremely proud to be the latest custodians of Fulling Mill Cottage and recognise that she is a valuable part of local history and very much a part of Fittleworth

In the future we wish to share our legacy with the wider community and hope that by participating in Village Events/ Open Garden days etc this beautiful cottage can once again be admired by visitors.

The cottage is grade II listed and a historical gem. It is however very dilapidated. After much careful thought, advice and research the trustees made the decision to undertake the refurbishment of the property. The major reasons are as follows -

  1. There are strict laws regarding listed buildings especially those deemed to be at risk- as is FMC
    As the owners of the property we are legally required to carry out any necessary repairs forthwith.
    Failure to do so can result in compulsory purchase (often at a much lower value) by the local authorities or by charges to the owners for the works to be done. These measures are put in place to protect old buildings and thus our heritage. As a charity we recognise our obligation to comply with these laws.

  2. We were advised that if the property were to be put up for sale, in the present housing low, it would probably be on the market for a long time (during which we would still be responsible for the repairs) and eventually would sell for a fraction of its true worth.
    If we were to invest the proceeds from the sale we could stand to lose even more - given today’s monetary difficulties and low investment return. Far better to hold the land and to maximise the asset for the future.

  3. The cottage sits in approx three acres of what was once the old orchard and market garden and includes a further acre of broadleaf woodland adjoining the grounds.

Over the years the land has become overgrown but is a haven for wildlife. Resident deer, foxes, rare birds, bats, bees and butterflies all visit the old gardens and there is a very large and active badger set within the wood.

If we were to sell - then the land would almost certainly be acquired for development and the wildlife would be decimated.
As an animal charity we feel a great responsibility to protect our wildlife for our future generations.

It was Mr. Saigeman’s dearest wish that we restore his former home and he has left us funds enough to complete the first stages of the restoration. There are some grants available for the restoration of ancient buildings and we shall be looking at these once the project has been fully costed.

We are working closely with the local authority Historic Buildings Advisors and other experts in this field. The restoration of an ancient building is a slow process - lots of meetings and onsite visits, paperwork and loads of research. However, as most of you know we like to be busy - there's never a dull moment.

The Gardens, Orchard and Woodland

The Market Gardens will be replanted in a way that is sympathetic to wildlife- with trees, shrubs, and flowers that benefit our birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial life forms.

The Old Orchards are to be restored using local Heritage varieties of apples, pears and other fruit trees such as damsons, gages and meddlars. Over time we hope to establish a Flower Meadow.

Fred also left to Cat Welfare Sussex an acre of Broadleaf Woodland adjacent to the grounds, across the stream, and forming part of Fittleworth Common. In Spring it is full of wildflowers - Snowdrops, Daffodils and Bluebells. This is nature at its most spectacular - there is also evidence of ancient hedge laying along the upper bank.

Many birds reside in the wood as do the local deer and there is a large and active Badger sett within.

We aim to put up nest boxes to encourage more wildlife but apart from minimal management, the wood will remain a quiet haven for the creatures that inhabit it.

The First Stage

At present we are in the first stages of repair:

The dangerous trees that surrounded the cottage for so long have been felled and swathes of weeds and brambles cleared.

The building is to be scaffolded, made safe and watertight, Timbers must be repaired and replaced, the chimney rebuilt and the old worn thatch replaced with new.

We are liaising with the experts in the field of Ancient Building Repair and the Historic Buildings Advisors from Chichester District Council to ensure that the repairs are meticulous.

It is encouraging to meet like minded people that so feel passionate about Ancient properties such as Fulling Mill Cottage.

We shall continue to restore the gardens over the coming months and are consulting with the Sussex Wildlife Trust on how to conserve and encourage wildlife.

It is early days yet and we are merely peeping into the pages of the past. There will be more secrets to reveal, more mysteries to unravel.

Slowly but surely we are letting the light back into Fulling Mill Cottage - may she stand for the next five hundred years!

Here is an update to our Fulling Mill Cottage project.

Help us?

If you love History and wish to make a donation to help our charity restore Fulling Mill Cottage please make cheques payable to Cat Welfare Sussex and send to Cat Welfare Sussex, 164 Mile Oak Road, Portslade, East Sussex, BN41 2PL

Or donate by our Pay Pal facility.

For further information tel 01273 423861 or email julie@catwelfaresussex.com, please note that all help is given voluntarily and we do not receive a salary.

 
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