Fairlight Hall, a brief history: 1066 to the present day

Hastings History

William the Conquerer was crowned King on Christmas Day in 1066,  just weeks after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. Fairlight, within sight of the French coast and part of the ancient Rape of Hastings, was a key strategic gift in William’s post-war division of the spoils. The Rape was one of six administrative areas in Saxon Sussex known to exist before 1066 but the Manor of Fairlight  passed almost instantly in to the hands of what were to become the  country’s  first Anglo Norman aristocrats, the Counts of Eu.  Each Rape was its own administrative and fiscal unit and the  Rape of Hastings, including the Manor of Fairlight, was now governed and taxed through the Eu Family. Within a 100 years the Counts of Eu gave the Rape to Robert St Ledger and ownership of Fairlight Manor itself then travelled through the bloodline of numerous patrician families including the Beauchamps, the Audleys, the Passeleys and Sackvilles.  It was absorbed in to the Ashburnham estate in the 1730s before the parcel upon which Fairlight Hall sits was sold to William Drew Lucas Shadwell (1817-1875) in the early 1840s.

Fairlight Hall, or 'Shadwell's folly'

Fairlight Hall sits at the head of a valley just to the north of Fairlight village.  It is a splendid example of a Victorian neo-gothic or ‘picturesque’ mansion, although some members of Lucas Shadwell’s family were appalled by the scale and presumptuousness of its Castle-like bearing: “Mullioned and transomed windows and everywhere battlements and a profusion of chimneystacks” wrote Pevsner of the Hall. Now replete with his uncle’s inheritance, the 24-year-old Lucas-Shadwell commissioned architect John Crake (1811-1859) to design the home in 1843.  Crake was a pupil at the Royal Academy School and protege of the neoclassical architect Decimus Burton.  In his design of Fairlight Hall, however, he adopted a radically different approach to the architectural principles observed by his mentor.  Crake designed a rock-faced, castellated building with octagonal turrets, taking his inspiration from the 14th century Great Gatehouse at neighbouring Battle Abbey.

Arms of the Counts of Eu,

House of Normandy:D’azur, au lion d’or,

l’écu semé de billettes d’or

19th Century

William Drew Lucas Shadwell (1817-1875)

Amended plans for the new mansion were finalised in 1848 and construction began a year later using local stone. Building work was complete in 1855 and Lucas Shadwell moved in with his young wife Florentia Wynch (1831-1921) the  daughter of the Vicar of St Mary and St Paul, Pett.  By now he had produced a son and heir, William Peter (1852-1915), and a daughter Florentia Sarah (1854-1924).

20th Century

The Queens School 1940

During the Second World War Queen’s School was home to a number of German Jewish refugee children sent to England by their parents to escape the persecution in their native counntry. After the war, and somewhat in decline, the Hall was used in 1949 for the filming of the Edgar Allan Poe adapatation,  The Fall of the House of Usher. The school was closed shortly thereafter and the house was bought in 1951 by a Major John Reginald Mundy. 

21st Century

Fairlight Hall today

The current owners purchased the property in 2002, gave it back its former name, Fairlight Hall, and embarked upon a major infrastructural renovation. With the exception of the late Victorian extension at the north wing, the sandstone mansion is unchanged from its original design.   But aside from undertaking major repairs to the main building, the owners deployed considerable resources to reinstate the surrounding pleasure gardens and parkland.