Welcome to Piddinghoe…
How a perfect village became the site for a (not so perfect) murder
I was walking down an idyllic country lane. And thinking of murder.
I was in Piddinghoe, a tiny place in East Sussex, England. A typical English village. With an old church, thatched cottages, twisting lanes and – for most of the time – no cars.
I needed a real village to play host to several scenes in my new crime mystery Stop Press Murder. I wanted a real village because most of my books take place in a real city – Brighton. When it came to locations, I thought it would be confusing for readers to mix real places with fictional ones.
Piddinghoe fitted the bill for a number of reasons. It was near enough to Brighton, where my hero Colin Crampton works on the Evening Chronicle newspaper, so that he could drive to and from the place in his MGB sports car. It was small enough to form the kind of tight-knit community which works so well in murder mysteries. The current population is 255, but back in 1963, when the book is set, it would be have been perhaps half that.
And it had to be sufficiently remote for the crimes I had in mind to be committed – and undetected – for a long time. Yes, Piddinghoe, was perfect for all of this. So I hope today’s residents of the village will forgive me for taking a few fictional liberties with the place.
I’ve given the village a grand estate with a large house. It’s inhabited by a marquis and marchioness. And there are a number of other fictional villagers who play very important roles in the plot. (Any resemblance to real villagers is purely coincidental!)
Normally, when you find a perfect little village like this, it turns out to have been mentioned in the Doomsday Book, the massive tomes of land ownership compiled by William the Conqueror’s clerks and scribes in 1086. But Piddinghoe, I learnt as I researched the background, wasn’t mentioned in Doomsday. It didn’t trouble the chroniclers until 1220 when there was a manor near what is now the village. The name of Piddinghoe in different forms wasn’t used until the thirteenth century.
As I walked down one of Piddinghoe’s leafy lanes, I wondered whether there had been any real murders in the village’s 800 years of history. It didn’t look like the kind of place to harbour dark deeds.
But, then, in murder mysteries, they never do.