the chalk pit cottages of Holywell

There once stood a tiny cluster of cottages overlooking the English Channel at Holywell.

The large Boniface family lived here since at least 1778, in the cottages near the chalk pit which they quarried, on the slopes of the Downs at Holywell, Meads, Eastbourne. It is believed originally they were farmers, and then by the 1700's began a business of lime burning and chalk digging at Holywell, taking the output to the port of London in sailing ships on long and dangerous journeys and developing their fishing skills on the return voyage, eventually becoming the renowned fishing family of Eastbourne.


An excellent photograph of Holywell, taken in the 1800's


The Boniface family lived on the large tract of downland, which they believed was their own. One day (so the story goes - handed down from father to son) when the men were away at work, a document was brought to the women at the cottages by a bailiff who asked them to put a cross or thumbprint on this paper; (very few of the "common" people could read or write in those days) and in their ignorance they complied. Later it was discovered they signed away all their precious rights and claim to their land. Many years later, in 1896, water pumps were installed at Holywell in order to provide more fresh water for the town. From the moment that the Eastbourne Waterworks pumping station was moved into Holywell the destiny of the place was settled. No longer was there public access, no more quarrying or lime burning was possible and in the interests of the purity of the water, no human habitation could be allowed. This at last spelt the doom of the little community of Holywell, and the Bonifaces we forced off the land they formerly owned and into the town of Eastbourne. The cottages were demolished, but their foundations still stand today, near the edge of the white cliff.


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