The Mottisfont Plane tree is a sight to behold – stretching far above its neighbours and with a girth of 12m. When we saw it in September it was still decked in green foliage, but by now those leaves will be turning colour and falling, which must also be a beautiful sight to see!
What a rude shock it was to be confronted by the M3 blocking our progress. Walkers reaching Horndean have to walk for nearly a mile beside this furious highway, cross a footbridge, and then walk another mile on the other side until they are opposite the point they started. It takes a while for the shock to subside but eventually you find yourself amidst dappled forest glades and the Satanic intrusion is soon forgotten.
The section of the walk between Rowlands Castle and West Dean is perhaps the most beautiful of all, combining open fields, rising downland, and ancient woodland. By the time we reached Amberley we were footsore but very pleased to have made such a wonderful journey in the last of the summer sun. We caught the train back from Amberley to Worthing and rejoined the pulse beat of urban living.
It is a walk to be recommended. There are plenty of good pubs en route and splendid views to behold. The entire route is 579 miles, making it the longest inland trail in the country. More information can be found at http://www.monarchsway.50megs.com/catalog.html
It is disheartening to see an upsurge in cases of Covid 19, but we can be pleased that the South Downs region has not (thus far) been badly affected. I am also pleased to report that despite all the challenges facing our partner schools it has still been possible to continue working with them.
Apart from the threat of the virus, all schools are having to catch up with months of missed lessons and clearly that has to be their priority. Yet we are delighted that each school has found time to fit project activities into their curriculum, including interviewing, research and creating guided walks.
Pupils can access this website to listen to our oral history recordings and read extracts from school log books. We plan to upload more interviews and log book entries by the time schools return after the autumn half term.
Getting out in the fresh air – even the fresh air of autumn and winter – is a healthy option and better than staying in a classroom all day. Both Bury and Shipley Schools have committed to working with the project team to create heritage trails in and around their parishes and Findon will be working on theirs later in the school year.
We will continue to regularly update the website and welcome all feedback from our website visitors.
We are really delighted to announce the winner of our schools’ oral history competition.
Ten-year-old Buddy Liszka from Chesswood Primary School was our winner with his highly engaging interview with his former neighbour Rosie Slough. Buddy was able, in a few, well directed questions, to elicit a host of wonderful memories from Rosie. Buddy told us, “I have known Rosie all my life and it was nice to hear about her stories of her childhood in the Downs.”
Click on this link to watch Buddy’s interview with Rosie Slough
So summer is drawing to a close and what a wonderful spring and summer we have had for weather? Let us hope the winter will be one of crisp days and cloudless skies?
With all the schools returning for what is bound to be the most challenging start to a school year that anyone can remember, we hope to work with our partner schools to deliver our exciting oral history project.
We will be going into the schools, explaining what we are doing and talking about the importance and joy to be had in collecting oral history interviews.
We are always delighted to hear from anyone who has memories of the South Downs they would like to share with us.
We then went to visit Lord Egremont at Petworth House, who described the challenges he faced when he unexpectedly inherited the estate when he was only 24. Farming, country living and country pursuits had all changed in that time and the life of a country landowner is now very different from what it would have been in the time of Lord Egremont’s forebears.
Once these interviews have been edited they will appear on this website.
This summer we are launching a competition for school pupils. We are offering prizes for the best oral history interview or best ‘Covid 19’ diary.
Please click here for more details
So much has happened since I last updated this blog. We have received several written memoirs from people recalling the South Downs in the days of their youth and these have now been uploaded to this website, with more to follow. You will find these under ‘South Downs Memoirs‘ on the drop-down menu for Oral History.
Alan Wheeler has sent me many photographs of his family going back to the nineteenth century, a selection of which you will find under ‘other research’ on the drop-down menu for ‘Resources.’ Please do send us old photographs of your South Downs ancestors.
I am very grateful to Jacqueline Penticost who forwarded me the following links from the British Film Institute which show fascinating scenes of village life in Burpham just before World War Two:
I was particularly pleased to see the Rev. Tickner Edwardes and his wife. You will notice I mention Tickner Edwardes in my article about begging on the South Downs that you will see elsewhere on the homepage, with a link to the main article.
I hope to write up the notes from the Findon school log books next week.
Please keep sending in all your fascinating memories and old photographs.
Our last mystery photograph was of a dewpond near Cissbury. Dewponds, despite their name, collected rain water more than dew. They were created by ‘puddling’ clay and straw into a depression cut into the chalk. In the days when the South Downs were covered by great flocks of sheep, water was essential, but no ponds naturally occur on these porous chalk hills, so these man-made ponds were the only answer. No one is quite sure when the first dewponds were created, but the earliest references appear to be from the 17th century.
During hot summers, the water in the dewponds could evaporate and then the clay lining would crack and any subsequent rain water would seep through the cracks into the chalk. In recent decades several dewponds on the South Downs have been restored, but instead of clay and straw, plastic linings are used as these do not have the susceptibility to heat and sun of the clay-lined originals.
It is truly exhilarating to see how much interest this project is generating.
We have been sent several memoirs of life growing up in the South Downs and so we have decided to create a South Downs Memoirs heading on the website. At a time when it is not possible to conduct face-to-face interviews, these personal recollections are more than an adequate substitute. I do hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.
Also uploaded this week is an article about the legend of South Downs highwayman, Jack Upperton. Perhaps you or your family know about Jack or have heard stories about him? He lived in Burpham and was gibbeted near the Blackhurst crossroads. If you are unsure what gibbetting was, you will have to read the article!
Our mystery photo showed a saw pit in Angmering Park Woods. In the era before chainsaws, men with great, two-handled saws, would cut through great tree trunks, with one man in the pit, and the other on the rim, pulling and pushing the saw between them. There are many dozens, probably, hundreds of such pits to be found in the woodlands on the South Down
New Mystery Photo
Clearly this is a pond, but what type of pond? What was their purpose?
The last week has seen a flurry of activity concerning the project. Several people have contacted us saying how much they are enjoying the website. Richard Howell wrote, telling of his family’s connection with the manhunt on the downs in 1934.
Members of the Friends of the South Downs have come forward, suggesting people we could interview, or offering themselves as interviewees. Richard Reed, born in 1930, and a long standing trustee of FSD and a veteran campaigner for National Park status for the South Downs, has sent us his boyhood memories of the South Downs, which we will be publishing shortly on this website.
I was quite astonished to receive from residents of Burpham, links to cine films of Burpham village life, shot by the then vicar, in the 1930’s. We will be uploading these to the website shortly, so we can all enjoy this unique glimpse of life in a South Downs village over 80 years ago.
How you can help
Before the onset of the coronavirus crisis, we had hoped to train up volunteers to undertake research at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester and The Keep at Falmer. Clearly, in the current circumstances, this is not possible, so what else can visitors to this website do to help?
Firstly, you can put us in contact with anyone you know who might (at the appropriate time) be happy to talk to us about their memories of growing up and working in the South Downs.
Secondly, we would ask you to take a trip to your local churchyard. Have a look at the gravestones and memorials. Make a note (and even better, photograph) any unusual, historical, or eccentric inscription or motifs you come across. This photograph is of the gravestone of Alice Woolldridge, who died at Poling in 1740. The inscription reads:-
The World is a round thing
All full of crooked streets
Death is a market place
Where all Men meet
If Life was a thing
That money could buy
The Rich would live
And the Poor would dye
This week Jen Harvey, headteacher at Shipley School, dropped off her school archive, which contains many fascinating documents including the school log books. This will keep me busy for many weeks to come and in due course I will be uploading extracts onto this website.
I have now finished going through my notes on the Ashington School log books for the years 1872 – 1918, and I will be putting a selection of extracts onto the website next week.
Walking in the downland close to Worthing has been a joy at this time, with glorious sunshine, clear skies free from pollution, and only the sounds of nature – birdsong, wind in the trees – as company. Who would have imagined that the mood music of our times – the noise from traffic and planes would so quickly be abated. Is there any greater balm for the anxious, even frightening times we are living in, than this great gift of the natural world we can now enjoy?