JOHN DODD North of up there... Who done it? A village murder mystery opens a can of history

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There has been a murder in the village. The remains were discovered in a shallow grave on top of the downs a mile or so from me on a road I never knew was there.

The trouble is our village detective, Miss Maypole, doesn’t do cold cases 368 years old.

I reckon the perpetrator scarpered, leaving the body to be buried by Royalists, and went off to other skirmishes that followed the re-taking of Arundel castle by the Parliamentarians.

It’s just it’s a bit of a shock to realise things that happened then are still with us, if only in the form of the bones they leave behind. This chap had a whacking great parting right through the middle of his cranium. It wasn’t much of a way to spend the Christmas of 1643.

But this was a completely different kind of Sussex to the one we know today. This wasn’t the Sussex of valley roads and fordable streams, but the one where the simplest way to travel was by using the tracks that crossed the tops of the downs. The main road to Winchester would have been one way with Arundel lying the other.

And on the top, too, were the grand houses, one of which was inhabited by our local squires, the Carrolls (or Caryll, or Carrill), a ‘Popish recusant’. So was the other major toff of the time, Sir Edward Ford.

A ‘recusant’ –I rather like the word — was a Roman Catholic who did not attend the services of the Church of England, as was then required by law.

The Carrolls lived in a mansion-cum-castle called Lady Holt, which boasted a 240ft well, a park of red deer and a thirst for beer that kept a brewery. As a family, they seem to have completely vanished from history.

So has their house, which was taken stone by stone to build other down-top mansions like the present Uppark for those Johnny-cum-lately upstarts, the Featherstonhaughs.

I have thus developed an affection for the Carrolls. Anyone who can become so dispossessed just by being on the wrong side of the fortunes of history deserves a bit of a prayer and sigh.

Sir John Carroll was rounded up and marched off to London. He had to pay his captor £600 for his release and give the dreaded Cromwellians another £600 to finance their repression of the Catholic Irish.

He got out, but it was the beginnings of family bad luck. Even though cousins of his descendants lent Charles 11 vast amounts to retake the throne, once he became king he never bothered repaying them.

By the 1770s everything was gone, with the last Carroll’s mother-in-law, a Molyneaux, hiding out from soldiers sent to arrest her in Lancashire for her son-in-law’s debts in Sussex.

The skeleton was found very near where Lady Holt stood, in grounds now owned by the agent for half the cast of the Harry Potter films. Next film: Harry Potter and the Skeletons of Time?