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.