Robert Self

‘Something along those lines’

At 18 in the spring of 1962 I decided that I should like to become a teacher and made various applications to a number of training colleges. Little did I realise then that my final successful choice would set the pattern for much of the rest of my life. Having lived in the suburbs of London I was looking for a college not too far from home but which would provide access to countryside and coast, environments which were alien to me and needed exploring. My first choice was Bishop Otter College at Chichester and luckily my interview was successful..

The Principal at the college was one Elizabeth Murray and I still treasure memories of the first time in 1962 the students en masse followed Miss Murray (as we knew her) to the summit of The Trundle while completing a nine mile circular ramble. On that sunny September Sunday morning we gathered in the chapel square seeking out our new found friends before setting off up College Lane on what today might be called a ‘bonding exercise’ for the new student intake. Miss Murray had instigated the tradition of The Trundle Walk many years before, whereby the College community gathered together, to climb the hill. At the start of the walk word went round that men were advised that the Principal would get to the top first. Believing that this meant that all male students should adopt a courteous approach to the walk allowing Miss Murray to be the first to the top, we were rather taken aback to find we could not keep pace with her as she strode onwards and upwards. There was little chance of any of us reaching the top before her.

In light hearted mood we continued through Summersdale and across Ford Water to East Lavant following the River Lavant north before ascending the ridge of Haye’s Down to the foot of the Trundle. After a short scramble those of us that had thought to bring refreshments were able to enjoy a brief picnic at the top while admiring the splendid view across Chichester and the coastal plain to the coastline. The return route was a little shorter via Chalkpit Lane to East Lavant and this version of the route is the one that a couple of us revived in 2005 for the 40th anniversary of our leaving Bishop Otter and have continued to do so annually since. .

Know to us a Miss Murray, K.M. Elizabeth (Betty) Murray became principal
of Bishop Otter College in 1948, a women’s teacher training institution. Under her leadership, which lasted 22 years, the college doubled in size and became co-educational; she was much lauded and is fondly remembered there for her efficient administration and the support of her students.

Her interest in studying the past and in particular the archaeology of the Chichester area coupled with her love of the South Downs surely explains her choice of a walk to the Trundle as a suitable induction activity for her new recruits. She never pressed her enthusiasms on her students but was always willing to discuss and inform when questions were asked. The Trundle was the ideal spot for those curious about Neolithic causewayed enclosures and Iron Age forts.

Miss Murray was also concerned about the state of neglected areas of unimproved chalk downland where the richness of species of flora and fauna might be lost. With the agreement of the landowners reserves were established at Heyshott Down and the Devil’s Jumps. Miss Murray chaired the advisory committee set up, under the auspices of the Society of Sussex Downsmen, (now The Friends of the South Downs) to manage the reserves. The Society agreed to provide a sum of money to allow the formation of an independent group and The Murray Downland Trust was set up in 1994. For many of us this was inspirational and one of several stepping stones which culminated in the formation of the South Downs National Park. It was a pity that Miss Murray did not live long enough to see its formation in 2010 providing oases of beauty and calm for the well-being of mind, body and spirit in our increasingly hectic lives.
Needless to say after qualifying as a teacher I remained in the area and raised a family here. The voluntary student ‘scrub bashing’ and footpath clearing work parties directed by Miss Murray were responsible for my enthusiasm for the South Downs and interest in the maintenance of their rights of way network.

Robert Self
11th May 2020