Posted 28 August 2013 by Andrew Gardner
While you're out exploring from your Sussex holiday cottage you might notice that the village of Ringmer, near Lewes in East Sussex, features a tortoise on its sign. Clearly not a native breed, so what's the story?
It seems that the tortoise, named Timothy moved to Ringmer in 1740 from somewhere in the Mediterranean, when she - as was subsequently discovered - was sold for half a crown by a sailor at Chichester to a lady called Rebecca Snooke, who lived at Delves House. Mrs Snooke happened to be the aunt of the famous naturalist Gilbert White, who loved to study Timothy whenever he visited Ringmer. When Mrs Snooke died in 1780 White adopted Timothy and his observations about 'the old Sussex tortoise' appeared in his book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, published in 1789 and still seen as a landmark as he was one of the first people to write and publish first-hand accounts of natural history in the English language. Timothy died in 1794 and her shell is still owned by the Natural History Museum in London.
Timothy was not the only exotic pet to find some fame in that part of East Sussex, Leonard Woolf, one of the Bloomsbury Group associated with Charleston, owned a black-and-white marmoset called Mitz that travelled everywhere with him and sat at meals where she would eat scraps from the table. Some people adored her, others didn't: apparently Vanessa Bell called her 'that horrid little monkey' while Quentin Bell declared that Mitz had a vicious temper and was less than complimentary about her looks.
We have a choice of superb East Sussex holiday cottages and larger accommodation you can view here that is within easy reach of both Ringmer and Charleston, nestling amid the South Downs and close to the Sussex coast too. I can't promise that you'll meet a tortoise or a marmoset (although I once met a mongoose being walked across London Bridge!) but you might meet a Sussex spaniel and I'm sure you'll love whatever you happen to find.