The original settlement was at Salehurst which is described in the Domesday Book of 1085 as having "7 villagers and 8 cottagers, with 6 ploughs, a church and 16 acres" - it appears to be not much bigger now! The present church dates, in part, from the 12th century and contains some rare 14th century glass with drawings of birds and a 12th century font carved with salamanders said to have been given by King Richard 1st as thanks for the Abbott of Robertsbridge helping to raise his ransom when he was captured on his way home from the Crusades. In the graveyard there are table tombs with terracotta plaques by Jonathon Harmer.
Robertsbridge is not mentioned in Domesday but is now the main business and residential centre of the parish. The reason for this is the river Rother, or rather the bridge over it.
Sometime in the 12th century a Cistercian Abbey was founded within the parish of Salehurst on a site believed to be somewhere close to the present George Inn. At that time the usual method of crossing the river was by ford or ferry somewhere close to the church. Around the latter part of the 12th century the founder of the abbey, Robert de St. Martin, built a bridge over the Rother about a half mile west of the church; this was roughly where the present bridge known as The Clappers is located. At various times in the past suggestions have been made, notably by Hillaire Belloc, a frequent visitor to the village, that the name Robertsbridge is a corruption of Rother Bridge but two pieces of evidence seem to show conclusively that this is not correct. Firstly, the first mention of the name is in an abbey document from the 13th century which refers to Pons Roberti, the Latin for Robert's Bridge and secondly, at the time of the bridge's construction the river was known as the Limm!
With most of the traffic by-passing the old village in order to use the new bridge, the centres of growth occurred around the northern and southern ends of the bridge and subsequently became the settlements of Northbridge Street and Robertsbridge. By the 16th century the basic layout of the village had evolved and this can be clearly seen in the many timber-framed buildings lining both sides of the High Street, which date from this period.
With the growth of the village, the abbey moved to site about 1 mile east of Robertsbridge and south of the river opposite the church at Salehurst. The remains of the abbey are on private land and the Abbott's House dating from the 15th century is now incorporated into a private residence.
The parish is the most ancient type of local government unit in Europe, and in England it has been used for some civil purposes since the eighth century. The present parish and community system, redefined and modernised in 1974, is the latest version of a local system that has been developing since the sixteenth century. Under Elizabeth 1 the parish was the area for poor law administration and thereafter miscellaneous powers were given to a number of different authorities operating within the ancient boundaries.
In 1834 the poor law authorities began to group parishes into Unions, and as the original ecclesiastical units remained for church purposes, a distinction was soon recognised between civil and ecclesiastical parishes, as well as between their respective functions in the parish. However, the civil functions had grown up haphazardly to meet particular needs, and were committed to the management of the body which at the time of their creation seemed the most appropriate. By 1894 it was common for six differently constituted parish authorities to exercise different functions in the same place. These authorities included the incumbent, the church-wardens, the overseers, various combinations of these, rural sanitary boards, highway boards and the vestry. In addition, many parishes had special Acts of Parliament and ancient local customs.
The Local Government Act of 1894 created institutions having civil origin, status and affiliations - the parish meeting and the parish council and transferred the civil functions of the older authorities to the new institutions leaving ecclesiastical functions to the Church authorities. In this way Church and State at parish level were separated. The new civil authorities divided between them the powers appropriate to a local authority, while the authorities of the ecclesiastical parish were confined to church affairs and ecclesiastical charities. In 1920 these latter authorities were modernised and most of their administrative functions were given to parochial church councils.
The considerations affecting the drawing of civil and ecclesiastical boundaries naturally differ, and the power to redraw them is vested in different authorities. Hence the areas of parishes respectively for church and local government have mostly ceased to coincide.
The Local Government Act of 1972 made further changes and in pursuit of the principle that the differences between town and country should be diminished, arrangements were made to enable former boroughs and urban districts to become parishes. In England parishes can exist everywhere except in Greater London, but in practice most parishes are in the countryside, in small towns, or on the edge of conurbations but not all parishes have councils.
The Act also modernised functions and procedures by abolishing all but two of the limitations on expenditure, as well as controls previously exercised by parish meetings over powers, borrowing and dealings in land. It also conferred many new powers, and rights. Of the latter the most important is probably the right to be notified of all planning applications although, the parish only has power to comment on applications, approval or rejection is for the appropriate Planning Authority - Rother District Council or East Sussex County Council.
Additionally provision was made for later changes so that parish and community boundaries could be adjusted and new parishes created. As part of this regular review of parishes, some small changes to the boundaries of our parish were made in 1999 and at the suggestion of the Parish Council, the name was changed from the Parish of Salehurst to the Parish of Salehurst & Robertsbridge to reflect the area covered.
The parish council is part of the three tiers of Local Government which comprises Parish Council; District (Rother)and County Council (East Sussex). There are 9 councillors elected every 4 years. Councillors are unpaid but have the services of two part-time, paid members of staff: the Clerk to the Council (20 hours) and Assistant Clerk (15 hours).
The Council meets in public on the 3rd Monday in the months of January, March, May, July, October and November and additionally when required. A period for public questions or suggestions is allowed at the start of each meeting. Additionally, Planning Committee meetings are held on the 1st Thursday of every month. Notice of meetings is displayed on the parish notice boards one week before the meeting and minutes of the meetings are published on the parish notice board and additionally on the internet.
There is also a Parish Assembly in April which is not a Council meeting, but a meeting for the electors of the parish. It is chaired by the Chairman of the Parish Council, who gives a summary of the year's activities. District and County Councillors usually attend these meetings and report on the activities of their respective Councils, and local groups and organisations are invited to have tables/displays. It is an opportunity to 'showcase' what Robertsbridge has to offer, and to meet the elected representatives and ask questions.
The Council has the powers to raise income by means of a precept levied on households in the parish and this is collected together with Council Tax by Rother District Council. The Council precept and expenditure is, of course, monitored annually by independent auditors.
The precept has to cover all the expenses of the parish; this includes the staff salaries, public lighting, maintenance of the parish cemetery (this is quite separate from the churchyard) and maintenance of public open spaces such as the Clappers Recreation Ground. The Council also owns and maintains 3 other areas of public open space - Bishops Meadow, Pipers Field and Jubilee Garden and the 'Pocket Park' which adjoins the recreation ground.
In addition, the council supplements the grass cutting within the village centre to improve the standard adopted by County and District Councils and also employs contractors on an ad hoc basis to deal more quickly with some of the smaller jobs which arise around the village.
The Council is able to borrow money (with the approval of the Secretary of State) to pay for larger items of expenditure than are possible in one year's precept. This has enabled us in the past to improve the children's play equipment and build the football pavilion and provide public toilets at the recreation ground. The money required to repay a loan is included in the precept (there are currently no loans outstanding).
The Council also supports on an ad hoc basis other things which it considers of benefit to the parish: for example, it has supported the children's summer play scheme, the skate ramp and basket ball court for young people, made a contribution to the Millennium Wood and to the Millennium celebrations and gives small donations to other bodies such as Battle Area Community Transport, Rural Rother Trust, Air Ambulance etc. which it considers are of benefit to the village and also gives grants to village organisations such as Scouts and Brownies for specific projects. In addition, it pays the cost of road closures for the annual bonfire celebrations and Xmas Capers.