It was the Saxons who gave the two villages their first badge of identity - their names.
With a surprising sense of poetry, they called Stedham "the watermeadow where stallions graze", from Stedda (a steed) and Hamm (a watermeadow). This provided the inspiration for the signpost at the bottom of School Lane. Before then, there had been those shadowy prehistoric figures. Boxgrove Man was just down the road, the Bronze Age and Iron Age left their traces, and the Romans had a posting station at Iping and Roman road across the common. The Saxons, in turn, gave way to the Normans and by the time of the Domesday Book Stedham was valued at £15 and Iping at £4, which would come as a surprise to today's estate agents.
By 1841, Stedham had 557 inhabitants in just over 100 houses, and was a well-established agricultural village with most of the men working on the land. It had a forge and a flour mill. Shops began to open. The house now called The Old Bakehouse was exactly that in 1862, there was Wild's Stores, and before the turn of the century, Stedham had four shops, a post office at Yew Tree Cottage, and an elementary school. At the same time, the Lintott Brothers were operating a sawmill on what is now the industrial estate.
Early in the 20th century John Scrimgeour arrived and became Lord of the Manor. He lived at Stedham Hall and altered and enlarged it as we see it today. He and his family were great benefactors to the village of Stedham.
He gave Stedham its first pumped water supply and installed a bath-house with hot baths available to villagers in the Collins Club building which was originally a barn. A reading room was also installed there. The building was given to the club and it has now been converted for housing and the money raised from its sale has helped to part pay for the fantastic new pavilion on the sports field which was also given to the village by the Scrimgeour family.
The village hall was built by him as a shooting range and later was used by the WI hall. After WW2, it was given to the village as a memorial for all those who had lost their lives in the two world wars and is known as The Memorial Hall.
The family also gave the Recreation Ground to Stedham Parish Council.
Many of the cottages which stand today, including the eyebrow cottages in School Lane which were built specifically for young married couples, and even the poplars by the river, all came from this remarkable man.
More romantically, every spring the village bursts into a blaze of colour in his memory: because aubretia was his favourite flower, it grows in almost every garden. John Scrimgeour died in 1925 and his widow Jessie in 1943. Their daughter, Mrs Chatterton, had to break-up the estate - but not before every tenant was given the chance to buy his home on favourable terms.
Iping's name has a less colourful derivation. Quite simply, it means the people of Ipa (a Saxon chief).
Iping never had a Scrimgeour (few places did), but the names Musard, Bettesworth and Hamilton were significant in its early development, as Lords of the Manor. Returning with his followers from the Crusades in 1190, Richard Musard dedicated a chapel there and provided a cemetary for the burial of his men. In the reign of Elizabeth I, Sir John Bettesworth took over the title and built Fitzhall on Iping Common.
The most distinguished Lord of the Manor was Sir Charles Hamilton Bart, an admiral, who took over in 1800, and lived in Iping House, by the bridge. "Lady Hamilton's Walk", as the river walk is known, was named after his wife and not, as people sometimes think, after Lord Nelson's mistress. Sir Charles was followed by his son and then, with no male heir, a cousin.
Less glamorously, from 1939 to 1957, Iping House was a hotel, where B&B cost, in today's money 65 pence. It was run by two sisters, Gladys and Ivy Smith.
Iping's major industry was the watermill, first recorded in the 11th century which was used in turn for grain, malt, cleaning woollen cloth, timber cutting and paper-making, the last paper-making mill in Sussex. The Pewtress family, who supplied newsprint to The Times, bought it for £300 and sold it for £975 in 1867. Later it was used for making blotting paper until it was burnt down in 1925. Unlikely as it seems, Iping was also a centre for heavy industry - Hammerwood takes its name from the water-powered hammers in iron-making, which flourished in Sussex in the 16th and 17th centuries. With all this activity, Iping provided more employment than Stedham, and consequently, in 1831, had a bigger population.
In 1959, the two eclesiastical parishes merged into Stedham with Iping, although the Civil Parish of Stedham with Iping did not come into being until 1972.
They came, they saw ... they stayed
They do say that the Aylings who you find around Stedham and Iping - those in the current telephone directory as well as the graveyard - are descendants of one of our earlier tourists, Aella, a Saxon chief who landed at Selsey Bill in 477 AD. It may sound a little fanciful, but it would certainly confirm what people always say about the place - that those who come here, like it and stay (sometimes, apparently, for 1,500 years).
You can see why. Stedham, with its little sister village Iping, sits within the South Downs National Park, 2 miles west of Midhurst. The rush-and-bustle of the A272, just about audible if the wind's in the wrong direction, is half-a-mile away, leaving the two villages mercifully tranquil. And the two hamlets of Minsted and Ingrams Green, which also fall within the parish, are similarly tucked away on the other side of the road. Stedham itself has almost a full set of qualities for the perfect English village - charming cottages, handsome hall, village green, tree-ringed sports field, an ancient arched bridge over a slowly-stirring river, beautiful gardens and miles of wonderful walks.
History? Stedham (with Iping, of course) is awash with it, but they wear it lightly. Here the past is not labelled in a glass cabinet: it is simply a part of a rich and ever-evolving contemporary life.
So, yes, it's true that the yew in the churchyard is over 2,000 years old - but did you know that the Hamilton Arms has one of the finest Thai restaurants in the country? It's also true that our little village hall was given to the residents by the Scrimgeour family as a memorial to those who lost their lives, but it was the efforts of today's residents that raised £200,000 to have it completely renovated and modernised. Similarly the old Collins Club building and sports field was given by the Scrimgeours to the club. With great efforts by residents and partly paid by the sale of the building, a new pavilion opened in March 2015.
So it is with the people who live here. There are those whose families have been here for generations and are the bedrock of village life. Add to this the dynamism that comes from the newcomers, who are often business and professional people who have made their mark in the wider world, and you have a vital and vivacious community.
This isn't merely local pride. Kim Leslie, of the West Sussex Record Office, who researched dozens of villages for his book "A Sense of Place: West Sussex Parish Maps", puts Stedham firmly on his shortlist of favourites. He admires this mix of "past and present social life, played out in a wonderful setting, which gives Stedham a personality hard to beat".
All history can be read in 'Stedham and Iping Remembered' published in 2012. This book can be obtained by contacting the Clerk and it costs £5.
'Stedham and Iping, the story of two Sussex villages' was published in 2000.