Rosemary Sutcliff and the South Downs

Award winning children’s novelist Rosemary Sutcliff lived most of her life in Sussex. Some of her stories are set in the county and mention the South Downs, a large protected area of Sussex countryside. I discovered that she is in the ‘featured writers’ section of www.southdownsonline.org, along with H.G Wells, Rudyard Kipling and Virginia Woolf.

For much of her adult life she lived in Walberton. The remains of Iron Age forts, Roman villas and Norman castles in the county inspired her to set many of her stories in Sussex.

Warrior Scarlet is set in the Iron Age. Some of the action takes place near Cissbury Ring. At one point, the hero, Drem, fails his test to become a warrior and is sent off to be a shepherd. Sheep on the Downs were looked after in a very similar way until about 100 years or so ago. The South Downs Society paid for the restoration of a traditional wheeled shepherd’s hut in 1980 and for a shepherd’s room in 1989, both at the Weald and Downland Museum.

In The Witch’s Brat the hero is thrown out of his tribe and walks along the South Downs to Winchester. Here he finds shelter in the New Minster, better known as Winchester Cathedral. He ends up in London where he helps with the setting up of St. Bartholomew’s hospital.

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