DENTON MANOR, EAST SUSSEX. (1724 - )

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Photo: Illustrative image for the 'DENTON MANOR, EAST SUSSEX. (1724 -    )' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'DENTON MANOR, EAST SUSSEX. (1724 -    )' page

Denton Manor; its dark history, and use during WWII.

By Geoffrey Ellis

In many villages the manor house stands next to the church: in more pious days with frequent obligatory services, this was probably for the convenience of the local lord. But many squires whose lifestyle was the envy of the villagers, even if the bane of the vicar, must have found the proximity unsettling. The morning clamour of bells 20 yards from the bedroom window must have vibrated cords of conscience in the heart of many a gentleman bleary from a night of liquor or lechery. However, historically Denton Manor near Newhaven in Sussex was a manor in name only, within the manorial district of Bishopstone, Sussex.

 

Save for one particular incident, surprisingly little has been published about Denton manor next to St Leonard’s Church in Heighton Road, Denton, near Newhaven, Sussex. Built in 1724, as a prosperous farmhouse of some fourteen rooms and a gloomy cellar, whatever its past, today its proximity to the church is very much a matter of practical convenience because on more than one occasion it has been the parish rectory. The manor house at Denton is unusually close to the church – just a footpath and enough room for a double row of graves between the outer walls of the two buildings.

 

In September 1933 however, in a very different context, the manor house achieved considerable notoriety. Mr and Mrs King moved in with their 12-year-old daughter and Mrs King’s elderly mother, Mrs Heasman, and until November relaxed in the rural peace. The ghostly campaign against the Kings opened, as many so do, with a single loud crash in an upper room, as if a piece of heavy furniture had fallen over. Of course nothing was found wrong, and the Kings dismissed the incident as strange but not alarming. Events of the following Sunday made them change their minds.

 

As Mrs King was walking along an upstairs corridor – which like most of the house is even today much as it was in the eighteenth century – she was suddenly faced with a phantom figure whose appearance was so vague that it was impossible even to decide its sex. For all that, however, it was terrifying, and Mrs King’s screams brought her husband running from a bedroom, waving a stick he had grabbed on the way. He too saw the apparition, and hit out at it, but the blow passed through the airy nothingness, and gouged a groove in the plaster of the wall as the shadowy form faded from sight. As the figure vanished, four thunderous crashes reverberated through the house. For the next four or five days these were repeated with uncanny and frightening regularity, usually at twenty to, or twenty past the hour, at five-hourly intervals, as if some psychic battery was charging up slowly and then discharging itself in one terrible burst. The sounds seemed to come from somewhere near the centre of the building but could be heard all over the house and even outside in the garden and lane. As the time for the next manifestation approached, tension grew unbearable, especially for Mrs King.

 

After three days of unremitting pressure, the rector, Rev E Pinnix was called in and though after hearing the noises he said prayers, the spirit which had brought Mrs King almost to the point of collapse, and the family on the point of leaving, was not going to be deterred by an unofficial exorcism, so that the quadruple bombardment went on unabated. That night, however, the family went to sleep at a house a quarter of a mile away leaving the manor under the watchful eye of a policeman and a crowd of local people. The vigil was not unrewarded: at 10:20pm came the vengeful knocks, and when the constable and several members of the crowd went inside nothing was found, although one of the searchers claimed to have heard, or sensed, someone rushing past him in the darkness.

 

The following day the Kings began packing, and a reporter from the Brighton Evening Argus standing amidst the crates and confusion reported: ‘I heard the noise myself. I was standing in one of the rooms talking to the rector when suddenly, from the direction of the scullery, there came the sound of four distinct knockings, followed by a shriek from Mrs King…’ The reporter also commented on the cellar door which, bolted a few moments earlier, was now wide open although no one had been near it.

 

The King family left the house for good on Thursday: for the next few nights crowds estimated by some local people at hundreds arrived on foot, by car and even by coach to wait in the darkened lane in the hope of some manifestation. There seems to have been no performance on the first two evenings but those who braved the cold dampness of a late November Saturday night  - were suddenly chilled by four sudden and loud bangs from inside the empty house. Many waited until well after midnight, but nothing but their own footsteps and whisperings broke the stillness: they had heard the last performance. The old manor house today, said the rector’s wife, despite its rambling inconvenience and lofty coldness, radiates only exceptional peace and happiness.

 

Local tradition, which always dislikes untidy ends and unresolved problems, tried to find a logical cause for the Denton haunting, and decided that the apparition was that of a Miss Catt of Bishopstone, a former owner of the house, who resented that fact that Mr King had felled two trees in the garden which she had planted. But this solution seems too facile, and it may be that the haunting was a poltergeist manifestation, centred on the Kings’ daughter.

 

During research into HMS Forward (otherwise known as The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton) I learned of a World War II military connection with Denton Manor. The connection was that Denton Manor was the Headquarters of the 521 Coastal Regiment Royal Artillery that controlled all of the army artillery gun sites and observation posts on the cliff tops along this part of the Sussex shoreline. Evidence contained in the National Archives, records that a mandatory requirement in selecting accommodation for this headquarters was that it must be in Denton, close to the Royal Naval Headquarters (in this case, the Guinness Trust Holiday Home, a.k.a. Denton House), and accommodate at least 4 officers and 21 ‘other ranks’.

 

The Coastal Artillery Regiment needed to share the intelligence that was being collected and filtered by the Royal Naval Headquarters HMS Forward. (Filtering involved identifying friendly craft from foe – the Royal Navy maintained an accurate running record of all friendly vessels afloat in the English Channel; everything else was assumed to be hostile and subjected to ‘special investigation or action’).

 

Intelligence, gathered from coastal radar stations between RAF Fairlight in the east and RAF Poling in the west, was reported to, and then filtered by the WRNS plotters who worked cheek-by-jowl with ATS personnel who maintained separate plots in the same plotting room in the tunnel. (See http://www.secret-tunnels.co.uk/ ).

 

Official archived evidence of the wartime use of Denton Manor is hard to find, but just inside the front door of the manor there is a commemorative plaque dedicated to the Canadian Corps Coastal Artillery in World War II with the Corps Badge and three maple leaves. Also a contemporary picture shows seven Canadian officers posing in front of the fishpond (allegedly built by the Canadians) at the rear of the manor, overlooked by St. Leonard’s Church, Denton. Unfortunately none of the officers has yet been identified, but each uniform displays a Canadian shoulder flash. So where did the Canadians fit in?

 

Peter Mason contacted the headquarters of The Royal Regimental of Canadian Artillery at Shilo, Manitoba in this regard. They too claimed to have no record or knowledge of any such establishment in this area. So how come, and what is the significance of the plaque?

 

During the war, prior to D-Day, many RA Coastal Regiments had their officers replaced with Canadian Officers under a scheme called ‘CanLoan’ to release the more-experienced British Officers to Field Artillery Units for D-Day. This took place in 1943/4 with training of the Canadians at Great Orme, Llandudno.

 

Whilst no material evidence has yet been discovered to support this belief, that might well be because of the secrecy surrounding such matters at that time. Be that as it may, certainly one (presumably Canadian) temporary occupant of the manor wished to record the Canadian Corps Coastal Artillery HQ presence at Denton Manor for posterity. The greater pity is that he failed to endorse the reverse of the plaque with any identifiable information that might later reveal the answer to this conundrum.

 

Collated from diverse anonymous sources found in the museum, the Internet and National Archives.

 

Geoffrey Ellis.

This page was added by Geoffrey Ellis on 05/03/2010.
Comments about this page

My grandmother Peggy, was the Kings' 12 year old daughter mentioned above. It's interesting to read this story again!

By Charlotte Funnell
On 05/04/2012

Whilst metal detecting on the hills above Denton I found a small button with Coast... Artillery on it--picture available if needed Geoff

By Dave Twaits
On 11/01/2016

I lived in the manor house from 1974 aged 7 for about 5 years when my dad was the local rector. I never felt threatened by the house but some of my friends found it spooky. I remember the plaque but when I  visited a few years ago it was no longer there.

By Lucy Lempriere
On 23/04/2018

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