It all started for the Wheatsheaf Inn in 1588 when it was first built as a staging post between Hastings and Brighton.
By 1800 a village known as Slyders Common had built up with a big triangular green which was common land and used for grazing purposes. The Wheatsheaf Inn was across from this. There was also a blacksmiths forge owned by the Crocker family and a wheelwrights shop owned by the Dick family. The village pond supplied water to both of these. The Forge with Mr Crocker standing on the left:
These pictures show the Forge, Wheatsheaf Inn, the pond and the Wheelwrights:
From the green there were cart tracks, one leading to Cooden and the sea, another to Barnhorn and a third to Bexhill that is now The Twitten where it also went through St Mark’s present church yard.
Farming was the major occupation in the 1800s, but it did not pay half as well as smuggling. Little Common had one of the best-known smuggling gangs in East Sussex, led by George Gillham and his family: respectable builders and carpenters by day, outrageous smugglers by night. Thomas Gillham had moved to Little Common about 1765 from Marden in Kent. He married Elizabeth Smith and built two cottages 1 and 2 The Twitten about 1804. Later generations of Gillhams lived at Peach Cottage in the Twitten and The Ark was their carpenters shop.
The Gillhams traded as builders from 1803-1960 and built many of the houses in Little Common. Here are members of the Gillham family outside Peach Cottage:
Well organised, the Little Common gang who often met at The Wheatsheaf to plan their forays, fought bloody battles where you now do your shopping, until 1850, when it was no longer worthwhile. On January 6th 1805 for example, more than 300 smugglers tried to collect 500 parcels of tea from a lugger off Cooden Beach. They were beaten back by the excise men. There are many other stories about them one being that once when they were caught they were locked in a Martello tower. They picked at the mortar between the stones and made a hole big enough to escape through except one who was too fat. Another is how Gillham wood got its name, it is said that Mr Gillham was so scared of the soldiers one day that he ran away and hid in the woods, hence the name Gillham Wood. The smugglers operated two vessels, concealed at a secret location near the Star Inn at Normans Bay when not in use.
The Wheatsheaf Inn had extensive alterations about 1878 but has remained the same since. Some of the original building can be found on the inside. The Wheatsheaf Inn before its alterations:
The Bexhill Harriers outside the Wheatsheaf Inn after its alterations:
The former village green became a roundabout in the early 20th Century. Here is the village green known as Crossways:
The war memorial was erected and unveiled in 1920 0n the Crossways roundabout and the Wheatsheaf Inn was still the most prominent building:
The memorial is a physically massive stone about 15 feet high, made of very hard granite and was carved by William Bridgland, a survivor of the Somme. A service to unveil the war memorial was undertaken on 21st November 1920.
Remembrance Services, organised by the Royal British Legion, have since been held annually each November. In fact, on 17th November 1919, eight ex servicemen formed themselves into a “Post of Comrades of the Great War”. They held their meetings at the Wheatsheaf Inn. By December their numbers had swelled to 58 and they had a healthy bank balance of £2.1s.3d the first “Captain” of the Post was Capt. E.F. Bond M.C. The British Legion was founded nationally in 1921 and Little Common wound down the Post and became a founding member of the British Legion. In 1922 a hut was purchased and erected on the Legion’s current site. The Gillham family featured large in the early days with three of the eight signatories for application to register as a British Legion Branch being Gillham’s. The Gillham room was built in June 1980 and was named in memory of Fred Gillham who had been particularly active in his support.
In 1927 the Wheatsheaf Inn was extended with a new bar area and rooms above. You can just see the side extension in this photograph taken much later in the 1950s:
In 1937 a further extension was added at the rear of the building and was first used as a snooker room.
More traffic and more building has taken place in the locality and, although many features of the village have disappeared, the Wheatsheaf Inn remains a familiar site – in the fifties, sixties and up to the present day. Whichever direction you approach the roundabout, you cannot miss it: