Local Heritage Highlights

Follies of ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller in Brightling, East Sussex

The members of the Fuller family were local landowners at Brightling, East Sussex from the late 16th Century onwards. The family fortune had been built upon iron and the manufacture of iron goods, especially cannons and similar equipment for the British Royal Navy. There was also a substantial income from sugar plantations in Jamaica.

By the time that John Fuller inherited the family home (then called Rose Hill, now Brightling Park) and fortunes in 1777, at the age of 20, the family was heavily involved in politics, both nationally and locally. John served several terms as Member of Parliament during his life, as well as fulfilling the role of squire for the area around Brightling.

Jack Fuller is said to have revelled in the name ‘Mad Jack Fuller’ – presumably to enhance the notable eccentric image – he is easily Brightling’s most famous resident;  he was responsible for building a series of peculiar follies and other structures in and around Brightling. Perhaps his most unusual creation can be found in the churchyard; it is his own mausoleum, in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid, modelled after the Tomb of Cestius in Rome.

He seems to have fostered an image of eccentricity throughout his many years (he died at the age of 77). A large man, living life to the full, he never married but enjoyed supporting good causes and assumed the role of local philanthropist – he paid for the first lifeboat at Eastbourne, and towards the building of the Belle Tout Lighthouse on the cliffs at nearby Beachy Head.

The Tomb

During his lifetime Jack arranged for the building of his own mausoleum (in the shape of a Pyramid) which stands in the churchyard at Brightling. Jack died in 1834 and it was said that he was buried inside the tomb sitting at a table, complete with bottle of wine at hand and wearing a top hat.  Broken glass was strewn across the floor to stop the Devil’s footsteps! Sadly both stories were proven to be untrue when it was necessary to enter the tomb to carry out restoration work many years later.

The Temple

This folly is not readily accessible to the visitor. It lies in the grounds of Brightling Park.

The Obelisk

This is on Brightling Down, on the edge of the village and with views all around. 65 feet high, it is thought to have been built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It is sometimes known as the Brightling Needle.

The Sugar Loaf

This lies a couple of miles from the village, on a hill ridge. There are several plausible reasons given for its existence – one being that it was as a result of a wager. Supposedly Mad Jack bet a friend, during a visit to London, that he could see the spire of the church in a nearby village (Dallington) from his home at Brightling. On returning home he discovered that the spire was not visible since it was blocked by a hill, and quickly had the Sugar Loaf – whose shape closely resembles that of the spire – built on a ridge of hills between his home and the village. The Sugar Loaf gets its name from the way in which sugar was supplied at the time – in cones called loaves.

The Tower

Jack bought Bodiam Castle, in East Sussex, to save it from demolition. It is said that he had the tower at Brightling (which is some 35 feet high) built as a reminder of the restoration work being undertaken at Bodiam. The tower is hollow and serves no useful purpose.

The Observatory

The building of the observatory on the edge of the village (and completed around 1818) was probably inspired by a German friend of ‘Mad Jack’ who was an astronomer. It was used for a while (astronomy then being a fashionable science) but has long been turned into a private residence and is not open to the visitor.

St. Thomas a Becket Church

The church of St Thomas a Becket at Brightling – stands on a shelf of high ground beside the manor of Brightling Park. The church is composed of a west tower, nave, north aisle, chancel and north chapel. The oldest sections of the building date from the 13th century (chancel, nave, and chapel), but the upper sections of the embattled tower is 14th century.

The chancel is lit by a pair of 14th century windows. The priest’s door boasts the arms of William of Wykeham, rector of Brightling in 1362. Wykeham was one of the most influential men of the medieval period, who eventually rose to become Bishop of Winchester and founder of New College, Oxford, and Winchester College.

You enter the church through the Norman south door (the porch itself is 18th century). Beside the door is a holy water stoup dating to the 13th century. The chancel and nave are barrel-vaulted, with 14th and 15th century timber rafters. At the west end of the nave is an 18th century gallery on fluted columns, supporting a barrel organ. This is thought to be the largest barrel organ in Britain still in full working order. The organ and gallery was donated by local squire John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller (1757-1834), whose memorial is set against the south wall of the nave.

The church was originally dedicated to St. Nicholas, but was rededicated to St Thomas a Becket shortly after Becket’s murder in 1170. On the south wall of the nave is a list of rectors of Brightling dating all the way back to 1070.

In the north aisle are surviving sections of intriguing wall paintings, a mixture of Biblical text and religious symbols. These span the period from the late 14th to early 18th century. One section of scrollwork leading to a likeness of a building may date to the 14th century, while a trellis design is probably 15th century work.

There are several intriguing memorial brasses within the church, including that of Thomas Pye (d. 1592), with suitably pious kneeling figure of the deceased surrounded by inscriptions in both Latin and English verse.

Address: Brightling, East Sussex, England
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On a minor road 5 miles north west of Battle. Parking along the road.
OS: TQ683210