From Gastronomic Sussex by Admiral Chambers CB in The Sussex County Magazine 1936:
"He would like to add a Sussex drink to the list. But as regards drinks Sussex does not appear to have excelled. Beer in the main was valued rather for its strength than its flavour. Mr Beckett tells us in his latest book, Adventures of a Quiet Man.
So ate the hardy sons of Sussex, and of the aforesaid potables they drank. In the harvest field it vvas "swanky'' (small beer); in the winter time it was mulled beer and spices called "hot." "Husser-and-squencher" seems to have been a favourite drink; it was nothing more than a pot of beer with a dram of gin in it. Eggs beaten up in beer and brandy composed the beverage called "Huckle-my-buff," though old Malpass declares that he has "never heerd tell of it." He himself would rather have either a pint of ale, or "dog's nose" which latter, I understand, was the accepted name of a mixture of beer and ardent spirits.
This does not suggest that the popular drinks of the countryside have any particular and local value.
Tunbridge Wells, which though on the border may yet be accounted a Sussex town, attained its great repute from the quality of its waters, but however excellent these may have been from a medical standpoint, they can hardly be accounted delicious.
In a letter, 25 July, 1714, quoted by Colbran, 1839, the writer, alluding to the fare at the Wells, tells us:
The most noble of their provisions is a pack saddle of mutton and a wheatear pie which is accounted here a feast for an Heliogabalus and indeed so costly a banquet that a man may go over to Amsterdam, treat half a dozen friends to a fish dinner and bring them back again to their own country, almost as cheap as you can give yourself and your mistress a trite Tunbridge entertainment. The liquors chiefly produced by this part of the country are Beer made of wood-dried malt, and wine drawn out of the Birch tree; the first is infected with such a smoky tang that you would think it was brewed in a chimney, and every pint you drink, instead of quenching your drought begets a thirst after a gallon. At Dick Pottingers the "Sussex" you have better usage.
Here you have evidence as regards Sussex beer: it is hardly favourable evidence. The wine from the birch tree was presumably better. It was made from the sap drawn off from the tree in early spring before the leaves appear, much in the same way as is the sap of the Canadian sugar maple. The Encyclopædia Britannica tells us that birch beer was made from the sugary sap drawn off in spring and boiled down to an agreeable spirit, or fermented with birch wine of considerable alcoholic strength. A similar beverage was the national drink of the Highlands of Scotland before the introduction of malt whisky. It is said still to he brewed in the neighbourhood of Balmoral.
Bardown Roman Remains
In the absence of any Q&A material for this issue, members might be interested in the following, which arose from a discussion with Robin Hodgkinson of the IHRG:
The Independent Historical Research Group (Sussex) is a Weald based historical research group with special interest in the Roman administration of the iron production industry in the High Weald. Findings are achieved by research, OS map scrutiny, landscape survey and investigation. Information and material finds are channelled to the Sussex Archaeological Society.
The most comprehensive examination of the Romano-British industrial site at Bardown Oast was conducted by Dr Henry Cleere in the 1960's, following his involvement in a similar investigation at Beauport Park near Hastings. His investigations at Bardown revealed Roman pottery, coins, iron ore pits, furnaces and slag metalled tracks and concluded with publications on the nature of the Roman iron production in the area. In discussions with him IHRG is of the opinion that there is much more to be discovered in this area and has replicated his finds thanks to the kind permission of the landowners. Previous coin evidence suggested that Bardown was operational from the late first century to the mid-third century AD. It is believed that the site was administered as part of an Imperial Estate and managed by the Fleet (Classis Britannica) who reported to the Procurator in London. What has not been established is a more accurate determination of the extent of this part of the Estate, its entire internal transport network and the size of the workforce and their lodgings.
Research commenced with the enthusiastic help of Nigel and Susan Bowie at Bardown Oast and since that time many other landowners in the area have become involved, at Holbeam Wood, Storrers Farm, Coopers Farm. We are naturally hoping that other landowners in the area will assist the project as it expands and over the several years it will take to complete.
In the 10 months of investigation the project has already made tentative identification of a 4th Century Roman site, two previously unrecorded bloomeries and a possible flint knapping area on the land so far examined. Artefacts recovered include a 2nd Century medallion of Antoninus Plus opening up more questions as to how such a rare and important object came to be in an area not renowned for Villas or fine buildings.
Whilst the object of the project is to enhance the historical knowledge of the area, local residents suggested the need for a small Interpretation Centre in the Weald to tell the story of this amazing area. This idea is currently being explored in depth as it may prove possible to apply for funding. Two buildings have already been offered, one of which will be entirely suitable. Whilst the idea of an Interpretation Centre is little out of its infancy, the concept is entirely possible.
The WHS has been asked for a promise of support as the project develops - I hope members agree that this should be given.