Chris’s Blog


Interviews and a Competition

What glorious weather we have had this week – perfect for doing outside interviews. This week we travelled to Stedham, outside of Midhurst, to interview John and Bernie Hills, whose memories go back to the Second World War. They described with both love and humour the village of their birth and the changes they had seen over the decades.

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.

Pictured from left to right: Chris Evans (sound recordist/cameraman), Lord Egremont, Chris Hare (project manager)[/caption]

School’s competition

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


Photographs and Films

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:

BurphamÂ đŸŽ„

Burpham Movies Again đŸŽ„

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.

Mystery photograph

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.


South Downs Memoirs

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!

Mystery Photo

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



School log books

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?


After Easter…

It has been really exciting to see our website develop and all thanks to Roland for the time and effort he has put in to make it a success.
This last week I have been in contact with all our partner schools discussing the way we can engage all South Downs generations when most children are off schools and most of those we would like to interview are in isolation.
We are hopeful that children will be able to interview their grandparents, other relatives and neighbours digitally and we look forward to uploading such interviews onto this website in the near future.
In the meantime I have been reading through the school log books for Ashington, and we hope to upload the findings of this research very soon.
If you go to the oral history section of this website, you will see that we have uploaded an extract from an interview I recorded with Margaret Scourfield Davies in 1999 about a manhunt on the Downs in May 1934.

False Start

No sooner had we held the first steering group meeting of this wonderful project than we were all overwhelmed by the coronavirus, and now with the lockdown. For a project that was supposed to be putting the meeting of the generations at its core, this was hardly ideal. No longer could we take groups of primary school children to interview the older residents of their villages and districts. Then the schools actually closed, or if they did remain open it would be only for the children of key workers.
I am delighted to say that our school partners have come up with novel ways of how the project can continue, with children talking to their older relatives digitally. We hope to put the result of these conversations on our website in the coming weeks.
We will also be researching school log books, some of which date back to the 1860’s. Bury and Shipley schools still have these historic documents on their premises and this allows us the opportunity to continue with this line of research. Most of the other log books are in the safe keeping of West Sussex Record Office at Chichester, which, alas, is now closed for the duration of the crisis.
However – and by lucky chance – about ten years ago I made extensive notes from the log books of Ashington, Findon, Fittleworth, Harting, Pulborough, and three Worthing schools.
Over the coming weeks we will be uploading themed extracts from this research onto the school log books page of the website.
Chris Hare, South Downs Schools Living History Project Manager.