High up in the South Downs National Park, almost covered by shrubbery, is a small, solitary, and unexpected monument. It is known as Harvey’s Cross, because it is dedicated to a horseman called John Harvey.
John Harvey was born in Bedfordshire to his father, also called John Harvey. Rather confusingly, it seems like John Harvey’s father’s father was also called John Harvey, as was his father before him. The Harvey family were very wealthy, and owned an estate called Ickwell, also known as Ickwell Bury.
Harvey’s Cross started life after John Harvey suddenly died on this very spot in 1819. It is unknown exactly how he died, although it is thought to either be a hunting or horse riding accident, or a heart attack. Rather ironically, it is thought he was staying at the Green in Rottingdean because he was on a trip to the area to improve his health.
At first, the monument was a small stone with an inscription, a bit like a milestone, but in the early 19th century a cross was added. However, the monument was badly damaged, along with other buildings in the area when the Canadian army used it as a training ground. The small hamlet of Balsdean was completely evacuated, and then left abandoned as the buildings were too badly damaged to be restored. Where the silos are there was once a cottage, and the building that remains standing was once a barn. A restoration project was started by local historian Douglas d’Enno along with some of Harvey’s descendants, and the new monument was unveiled in 1999 by the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex.
Curiously enough, Harvey’s brewery backed the project, and even made a beer featuring John Harvey’s image, although it is unknown if they share anything other than a name.
Harvey’s Cross has also been the focus of local ghost stories, with at least two people writing into the local newspaper with reports of hearing the galloping of horse hooves upon the South Downs, and another person reporting the sight of a headless horseman. Noted local historian and folk singer Bob Copper is also said to have written about being spooked by noises around the hills in his book Early To Rise.
Know Before You Go
The monument reads “ John Harvey esq. of Ickwell Bury in the county of Bedford, died suddenly on this spot on the 20th day of June 1819”.
There is a plaque in front of the cross that says “This plaque commemorates the restoration of Harvey's cross on 20th June 1999. Made possible through funding by the Harvey family to perpetuate John Harvey's memory and preserve the heritage of the downland”.
The monument is open 24/7. It is quite remote but there are buses you can get to nearby Saltdean & Rottingdean.