The Rising Sun & Old Strike-a-Light
The house-wreckers were very busy in Pool Valley in 1869. When Brill's Baths were erected at that date a famous old inn in the valley was removed. It was known as the 'Rising Sun', and was famous for hundreds of years as being the haunt of 'Old Strike-a-Light', a Sussex bogy man.
When Brill's Bath Company proposed to demolish the 'Rising Sun', the old sea-dogs and land-wolves of Brighton growled, shook their heads, and sucked their pipes gloomily. 'What!' said one ancient, using a wondrous series of negatives, 'who wants baths','Hasn't nobody got never a word as can't stop none of these new-fangled schemes?'
The 'Rising Sun' was supposed to be permanent, and from days out of memory a large pair of scales had stood outside the house to which the Brighton fishermen had carried their fish to be weighed. In the 'Rising Sun' time stood still, antiquity slumbered undisturbed, and the ghosts of five centuries of occupants stalked in its still-occupied rooms.
Outside, the inn reared its 300-year-old face stubbornly against the wind and sea, and generations of fishermen had rubbed their backs against its hoary walls, and worn the corners of the building to obtuseness. But the crowbars and picks had their way, and the ancient building, rich in reminiscence, was swept away.
The fishermen of the 'Rising Sun' were a tough lot and were celebrated for their 'fore-rightness' and impatience of anything approaching to high-handed treatment.
But I must return to the tale of 'Old Strike-a-Light' who haunted the 'Rising Sun'. John Ackerson Erridge in the History of Brighthelmston (1862) gives the following legend:
'A tremendous gale had ceased, but still the mountainous swellings of the sea burst violently on the shore, when the boat of Swan Jervoise came into the Brighton roadstead, having weathered the storm. The night was pitchy dark; scarcely could the outline of the horizon be perceived, and not a light illumed the blank. The surprise of Jervoise and his crew was therefore great when they beheld a stream of meteor-like splendour burst from every window of the "Rising Sun" Inn, and as suddenly all was again involved in utter darkness'.
This terrific appearance was repeated many times. Swan Jervoise was one of those men who never conjecture, but proceeded at once to ascertain a cause. He therefore, with two of his men, went ashore; but proceeded alone to the "Rising Sun" expecting to find the people up. After knocking and bawling loud enough to rouse all the dead in the Bartholomew's Chapel, without wakening the landlord, he was about to force the door, when the light again burst from the windows, and he distinctly heard a ticking as of a person striking a light with a flint and steel, each stroke producing this supernatural blaze of light.
In a moment afterwards the door opened, and a being seven feet high, wrapped in a large black cloak, with a high conical white hat, issued forth. He noticed not the poor drenched fisherman, but he strode on until he disappeared in the darkness. Jervoise's hair stood stiff on his head; his limbs trembled with fear; and he shrieked aloud with terror. The landlord heard his cry, and came down with his torch. Seeing his neighbour in such a plight, he bade him come in, roused up a fire, made him take a seat in the capacious chimney, and - having comforted him with good words - placed a rushlight on the table, and then retired to procure a jug of ale.
Jervoise, scarcely recovered from his fright, was thus again left alone. As he sat musing by the crackling fire, the dim rush throwing a fitful light around the room, he chanced to turn his head; when, from over the back of the settle, he beheld the death-like features - pallid as a cere cloth - of the tall man in the conical hat. His countenance was most ghastly, and he fixed his grey-glazed eyes full on Jervoise, and pointed to the hearth.
This was more than he could bear, he uttered one loud scream, and fell senseless to the ground. He was thus found by the landlord, who conveyed him to bed; and the next day Jervoise related the particulars to Father Anselm, of St. Bartholomew, and then expired.
But the blessed Virgin and Saint Nicholas oft times bring good out of evil; for on examining the hearth to which "Old Strike-a-Light" (as the apparition has since been called) pointed, a vast treasure was found, which is still safely deposited with the principal of this order in Normandy; nor has the "Rising Sun" since been haunted by the unholy spirit of "Old Strike-a-Light".
'The faithful may therefore know there is no truth in the story that "Old Strike-a-Light" has lately been seen seated astride a barrel of beer in the cellar 'chinking a piece of money on a pewter dish.' Somewhere about 1700 'Old Strike-a-Light's' home was called 'The Naked Boy', and on the swinging board above the door was painted a naked child having a roll of cloth under his left arm and a pair of shears in his right hand.
Beneath the boy were the following lines:
'So fickle is our English Nation, I would be clothed if I knew the fashion.'