MARK DAVIES revisits the local legend of Harrow Hill, in Sussex, where it is claimed the fairies lived well into the 20th century.
Just over a mile to the north-west of Worthing, on the West Sussex coast, you will find Harrow Hill, set deep in the rolling South Downs.
Primarily known for its Neolithic flint mines, a Bronze Age earthen enclosure and several other features of archaeological interest, it also lays claim to the lesser-known title of the ‘last home of the fairies in England’.
Very little is known about the fairies that lived on the hill, other than that they were rather annoyed by the antics of modern day people and, when the archaeologists in the early 1920’s excavated some of the flint mine shafts and allegedly questioned their very existence, they decided that enough was enough and vacated the hill. Where they went to, nor indeed where they are today, is not known.
Curiously, the impressionist composer John Ireland (1879-1962), who resided nearby in the village of Washington, once wrote to a friend that he had gone for a picnic on Harrow Hill and found himself surrounded by children who he described as wearing clothing from a bygone age. They danced all around him and yet were very quiet, almost silent.
Ireland (pictured) was a little annoyed at having his solitude disturbed, especially by children, but his annoyance quickly turned to surprise when he looked away for a moment and, when he looked back, found that the dancing children had disappeared.
To the enquiring mind the question remains as to whether these really were children, or were they actually the fairies who, legend had it, inhabited the hill? Ireland’s friend seemed to know the answer – he simply replied to his letter ‘So you’ve seen them too!’
For me, when I look at the folklore surrounding the hill, I ask myself does the story reveal a long forgotten memory of the original occupants and workers of the hill fort and flint mines, or did people really witness the last remaining English fairies before they disappeared? It’s a question I’m not sure anyone really has the answer for.