The 17th Century building, that now runs as a hotel and training centre for adults with learning disabilities, and its surrounding country-side is said to have been used for primitive farming back as far as the Saxon era. The site where the hotel stands today was once a priory and was owned by Robert De Norton, the 1st Norman Lord of Pevensey and half brother to William the Conqueror.
In approximately 1610 a farmhouse- now the Inglenook restaurant, was built on the remains of the priory chapel. In around 1920 a new farmhouse was built 50 metres north of the original site and the old farmhouse was converted into the hotel that stands today.
George Orwell's classic satire on the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm, centred on a takeover, by the animals, of Manor Farm in the village of Willingdon. Only one such village exists in all of England and although there is not a `Manor Farm' here there is considerable evidence pointing to Chalk Farm as Orwell's model.
Eric Blair, who wrote as George Orwell, was born in 1903 and was educated from 1911 onwards at St Cyprian's School in Eastbourne, a two hour round walking trip from Chalk Farm. As a boy he explored the South Downs and went on lengthy rambles and in a letter to his mother makes mention of the neighbouring village of Jevington.
Blair never identified the site of Manor Farm but locals in Willingdon are convinced it is Chalk farm. And they have plenty of evidence from the book to back this up --
Willingdon is mentioned eight times in his novel. Manor Farm was described as having 'a good quarry of limestone' and old maps show the existence of a chalk pit and old limekilns close to the Chalk Farm house.
The farm is also described as being on a slope which 'led the way down to the five-barred gate that gave way onto the main road.' In Blair's time the main road was not, as it is known today, the A22 but the road known as Coopers Hill.
Furthermore "on Midsummer's Eve, which was a Saturday, Mr Jones went into Willingdon and got so drunk at the Red Lion that he did not come back until midday on Sunday". Indeed the Red lion is still operating in the village today.
There is a short walk round the village and farm which leads to the top of a grassy knoll, which corresponds with Orwell's description of "...the knoll where they (the animals) were lying gave them a wide prospect across the countryside. Most of Animal Farm was within their view; the hayfield, the spinney, the drinking pool, the ploughed fields, where the young wheat was thick and green and the red roofs of the farm building with the smoke curling from the chimneys'. The view remains, unchanged with the exception of some modern housing.
Chalk Farm Hotel does not own the right to these photographs.