The Leather Bottle Inn, Angmering

(by RW Standing)

Time and the decay of old buildings has shrouded the stories of an Inn called the Leather Bottle in a mist of uncertainty, as to where and even what it truly was.

In 1914 Edwin Harris, in his booklet, refers to "The Fox Inn and the Leathern Bottle at the Dover kept by the brothers Hoad, who with a redoubtable ally, named Topper Rough, were among the last and most successful exponents of the picturesque and profitable profession [of smuggling]". He went on to say that the Duke of Norfolk later had the public house closed. Harris arrived in Angmering from Donnington in the late 1880s and would have no doubt obtained this information first hand from older inhabitants in the parish.

It is worth noting here that it is only today that bottles are generally of glass, in the past they were often of cheaper, and much more practical materials for agricultural workers, such as leather.

That a cottage of that name certainly existed back into the 18th century is quite certain. In 1791 A Mary Sares [Sayers] the daughter of Sarah, acquired the future title to a copyhold house of this name. It was a part of the manor of West Angmering owned by Cecil Bishopp at that time, with a yearly rent of six old pence.

A few years later, about 1795, Sarah was still the owner but with a Henry Meechen in occupation.

Then we find in 1826 that Sarah had remarried to Thomas Woods a labourer of East Angmering. The property was, in a formal sense, surrendered and made over to several of the Sayers family for their lives. That is Sarah herself and her nephews William aged 38 and Nathaniel aged 26.

Who the occupant was is another matter, but by 1838 it was William Linfield, at least as the ratepayer. Nothing in these documents shines the slightest light on where the cottage was. For that matter it is only the peculiarity of the name that suggests it might then have been some kind of public house. It is only when we arrive at the excellent Tithe Maps and Apportionments of 1838 that the locations of houses and cottages, and information on their owners and tenants, is arrived at.

It is known from Harris that the Leather Bottle was near the Dover, and luckily there were very few houses in the neighbourhood at the time. In Dover Lane, or what we now can also refer to as Leather Bottle Lane, only two dwellings existed, and one of these was Priorslease Farm, on the west side of the road where there are still farm buildings. Further south on the east side was a cottage owned by William Sayers, and in the occupation of William Linfield - and although not named, this must assuredly have been the "Leather Bottle".

In 1864 there is a fascinating account of a hunt that started at Roundstone and ended up in Angmering Park. It confirms that the road near the Dover was still under its old name: "The pace was still kept up across Leather Bottle Lane to the Dover and thence into Michelgrove Woods".

It is in this same period that we can refer to evidence in the census returns from 1841 onwards. Admittedly, here a great leap of faith is required in believing anyone who attempts to relate the entries to particular dwellings. In those days exact addresses were unknown. But there was usually an order to the entries that can be related to places on the ground, and for the Leather Bottle with some certainty, especially if we trust Harris in naming Edward Hoad as the tenant.

In both 1841 and 1851 Edward was the occupier and, indeed, in 1851 was referred to as a "beer shop keeper". That is a rather of more lowly status than an inn. After that nothing more is said of the beer shop, and between 1861 and 1881 the occupant was Charles Puttick, an agricultural labourer and woodman.

How much longer the cottage stood on the site is as yet uncertain. It is not there today, although the verge where it stood can be found, perhaps with some trace of the foundations under the turf.

One last note; there was indeed a family called Ruff living no vast distance from the Leather Bottle. Whether that included the infamous "Topper" Rough spoken of by Harris may never be known.

RW Standing

(Reprinted from the March 2003 edition of The Angmering Society's Newsletter)