NOSTALGIA: The bloody massacre in Pevensey

Pevensey Castle is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a drummer boy
Pevensey Castle is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a drummer boy

The people of Pevensey once tried to kill a king and paid a heavy price for their defiance.

Many years ago someone walking through the grounds of the castle on a quiet summer evening claimed they turned to suddenly see a wooden building nestled to the outer walls.

A time slip? A hallucination? A glimpse of what the castle looked like in the brief peace after the Romans left Britain?

It may have seemed an ideal place to live for the Britons. A walled enclosure with thick heavy defences, set on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by sea and marshes.

The marshes were set with small islands like Horse Eye, Rickney. Langney.

On the other side, thick forest. A place people could live in peace although maybe unbearable in hot summer with outbreaks of marsh fever and equally remote in winter.

But in around AD 477 the Saxon King Aelle and his three sons landed in Sussex. He was leader of the South Saxons and known as a warrior king, landing in a place called Cymenshore (thought to be Selsey) and fighting the local Briton opposition successfully.

He then turned his attentions to the rest of Sussex and maybe started to march along the coast where the population of the abandoned Roman fort at Anderitum were then living their last days of peace.

It is said the Britons knew their attackers were arriving, heavily armoured fighting men, no match for their unsophisticated weapons.

Possibly they mounted a defence, sending their best warriors quietly into the forests, arranging ambushes and traps and killing and injuring the Saxon soldiers as they ventured into unknown territory.

But Aelle was not fooled. He knew this was local resistance, not a large army and resolutely continued marching towards Pevensey, swearing that those attacking him would be punished.

Then in AD 491 he arrived and on that morning everything changed. He had sworn vengeance and this was the first thing on his mind as he stepped into the castle.

He and his soldiers massacred every single living person they could find - the whole lot, men, women and children.

Genocide is not a new weapon of fear and retaliation. The massacre was recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and was a bloody day in Pevensey’s history.

So when you walk through the castle, remember you may be treading over the long forgotten bones of a horrendous period of history.

No-one remembers who or what they were in life, though in death there is supposed to be one ghost. A drummer boy who is set to play out a lonely tattoo warning the approach of the South Saxons. He has been seen on the walls beating his path but normally he is just heard and never glimpsed. Ever noticed that chill in the air of a warm evening and the faint far off sound -what is it - could it be drums?

* Robert Stevens runs ghost walks in Sussex.

He said, “People have been interested in ghosts and legends since time immemorial. Many of the stories have been passed down by word of mouth and are a valuable history showing how our ancestors lived and what their religion, politics, loves and fears were.

“There are plenty of ‘modern’ ghost stories evolving right up to ghostly buses, planes and motorbikes.

“I started my walks 22 years ago having always been interested in local legends and folklore and having published several small books. I originally taught some adult education classes locally and everyone attending kept asking to go and visit some of these places hence the start of the ghost walks.”

For more information about ghost walks visit the website at

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