John and Bernie Hills are two true sons of Sussex. Not only have they lived in the village of Stedham (near Midhurst) all their lives, you can still hear their Sussex accents. So rare is the old accent now, that some people have asked the brothers what part of the country they are from – not realising theirs is the original local accent.
This interview is full of fascinating detail about country life, the village school, memories from the Second World War, and the people and events who have shaped the lives of these two indomitable village worthies. You can view the full interview here
On 14th February 2017, Chris and Ann lost their wonderful son, Oliver, to suicide. A charity, Olly’s Future – www.ollysfuture.org.uk – has been set up in his memory. You can see Olly in happier times singing shanties from a boat on the River Ouse at Lewes in July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnyYWiBLBI Olly takes the lead in singing ‘A Rovin” at 5:35 This event took place to promote the Secret Shore project, which lead directly to the formation of the Secret Shore Singers and the Duck Pond Sailors shanty group.
It was a hot summer’s day last July last year when we interviewed Lord Egremont in his garden at Petworth House. A link to the full interview can be found under the Oral History section of this website. The following very short video contains some highlights from the interview – we hope it will entice you to listen to the longer version? Having inherited his title at the early age of 24, Lord Egremont has a unique perspective on the changing face of country life.
Over the next couple of weeks we will be uploading other interviews we recorded in the summer – between lockdowns – we really hope you will be able to watch them and learn as much from them as we did from these ‘sons of the soil,’ who have lived their lives in the South Downs.
Do you have a ghost story or a legend you could tell us about? Many of our interviewees had stories of their own, from the ghost of a pub landlord to a cat that turned into a First World War soldier! This website seeks to record the inexplicable as well as the explicable. If it happened in the South Downs, we are interested to hear about it!
School days past
We are very keen to continue to work with our partner schools, both pupils and teachers, so we will also be uploading audio recordings from the archives about school life, including memories going right back to the early years of the last century.
Jasper Harrison from Chesswood School in Worthing has sent us an interview he recorded with his nan, Elizabeth Greenfield, over Christmas. Jasper is an excellent interviewer and is both insightful and reflective in his questions. We learn a great deal about Worthing in the 1960s and 70s, and also Jasper’s thoughts about the changes that have taken place locally in the last 50/ 60 years. Nan has some particularly vivid memories about the changes to Homefield Park in her lifetime and the horses that used to be kept in the stables that stood on the site where Chesswood School now stands.
We know that Bury School has also been able to record some interviews and we look forward to uploading them too in the coming months.
New research has been completed on some of the families that are mentioned in the Findon School log books and we hope to upload them to the website in the near future. We will also be uploading extracts from the oral history interviews we recorded during the summer and early autumn.
Please do email me if you have any South Downs memories of your own or if you know those that do and would like to share them with us.
If you are interested in seeing more old photographs of Homefield Park please have a look at ‘slideshow’ on www.worthingvillagevoices.org.uk , another Lottery-funded community heritage project.
We were all so lucky during the first lockdown to have beautiful sun-soaked days and gloriously warm spring weather. It seemed way too much to expect that lockdown 2 could be anything other than dull, dark and wet. Yet yesterday (Thursday 5th November) was a brilliant, crisp and wonderful day. Early mist over the South Downs soon gave way to a perfect autumn afternoon.
I visited the site at Upwaltham where a Lancaster bomber crashed with the loss of all its crew in February 1944. A year later a Dakota transport plane crashed only a couple of miles away, again with the loss of all crew and passengers. Two lovely memorials have been erected by the Upwaltham Parochial Church Council, under the guidance of Sue Kearsey. Details of these tragedies and the memorials will be uploaded to this website shortly.
As the day was ending I visited Slindon, the National Trust owned village, that was once home to Sussex writer and poet, Hilaire Belloc. St. Mary’s parish church contains a wooden effigy of a late medieval knight and is very unusual. When Belloc was a boy of only nine he wrote a poem about this enigmatic warrior of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Do look out for more information soon on this website about the knight and the poem.
Lastly, with the shadows lengthening, and the last rays of sunlight illuminating the old village streets, I photographed a very peculiar and singular building. That photograph is our latest mystery photograph. Can anyone explain what it is, where it came from and why it is there? We would love to hear from you.
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.