To Brighton and back

Over the last three years that my daughter has been at the University of Sussex we have got to know the route to Brighton pretty well.  It is a pleasant journey, with no motorways involved, and although it can be tedious if you get stuck behind something slow, it’s been lovely seeing the Sussex countryside through the seasons.

With my daughter having finished her finals, last week I spent a day in Brighton with her and we visited Preston Manor, just north of the centre of Brighton.  In years gone by this was the home of the Stanford family.  I have never seen so many Chinese porcelain lions – apparently collected as a ‘conversation piece’!

Preston is mentioned in Clare Jerrold’s ‘Picturesque Sussex’, which I have referred to before in my blogs, and which was published around 1906He refers to “its 60 acre park and its little unique church of pure Saxon build”.  We went in the church (now no longer used for worship, but maintained by the Historic  Churches Trust) and marvelled at the wall paintings .

Preston Park
St Peter’s Church, Preston Park

The return journey from Brighton passes many places mentioned in ‘Picturesque Sussex’.  As you turn off the A27 at Shoreham to head inland you get a splendid view of Lancing College, which Jerrold refers to as a “fine landmark for those at sea”.  Shortly afterwards you pass the turn for Bramber, which Jerrold says is from the Saxon ‘Brymm burh’, meaning a fortified hill and where once, apparently, “the sea flowed as far as this, where was then the estuary of the Adur, and large ships could anchor before the castle”.  With the forthcoming EU Referendum in mind it is interesting to note that “Bramber has also the distinction of having in the bad old days been the most rotten borough in England, the voters having been eighteen in number”.  The population of Bramber may still be small, but I hope a few more than 18 turn out to vote this coming Thursday!

The A283 bypasses the pretty town of Steyning, which will have grown extensively since Jerrold’s day.  He describes it as “a quiet place, devoting itself more or less to agriculture”.  Soon after Steyning, Chanctonbury Ring is seen to the left on the Downs.  I can remember my Granny telling me that the beech trees there were planted by Charles Goring, and this is confirmed by Jerrold:  “These beeches were planted by one Charles Goring of Wiston in 1760, and at once render remarkable a height which is third only to Cissbury and Ditchling”.  There was a historic connection between Wiston and West Grinstead, where she grew up, but no doubt the origin of such a landmark was at any rate well known.

Another great house passed on this route is Parham, “one of the most noted houses in the county”, according to Jerrold, and possessing “one of the three Sussex heronries”.

Parham House
Parham House

The next sizeable place on the route is Pulborough.  Earlier in the year much of the low-lying land had flooded around here, which was great for the wading birds visible from the hides at the RSPB site down the road.  Jerrold refers to “the marshy levels of Pulborough, where the Arun and the Rother meet” and where apparently evidence of Roman occupation has been discovered.

I usually skirt around Petworth, where Jerrold recommends a visit to the Park, but sometimes glimpse the deer over the park wall.  The parkland, now maintained by the National Trust, is one of those designed by Capability Brown.

Passing to the north of Midhurst, you get a view of the ruins of Cowdray Castle away to the left, which Jerrold describes as a “beautiful ivy-covered ruin”.  It was the gift of Henry VIII to Sir Anthony Browne, the father of the first Viscount Montague.  Although it burned down in 1793, today it’s an interesting place to visit and no longer covered in ivy.

Cowdray Castle
Cowdray Castle – image from ‘Picturesque Sussex’ by Clare Jerrold

 

Cowdray Castle
Cowdray Castle today

 

 

 

 

 

And thence home.  Jerrold quotes Cobbett in his book:  “I have never seen the earth flung about in such a wild way as round about Hindhead and Blackdown”.  Well, certainly on a fine day the views are beautiful, and I feel fortunate indeed to live so close to this lovely countryside.

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Going to the Fair

Don’t you just love going to a fair?  No – not the kind with bumper cars and candy floss, but a Family History fair, with the excitement of new resources to browse and buy and Useful Conversations to have!

Back in November I’d been to the West Surrey Family History fair in Woking, but this was a much smaller affair – the Sussex Family History Group ‘Family and Local History Day’, held at the Steyning Centre in, er, Steyning.

When I got to Steyning it was obvious that something else was happening in the town that day, with road closure notices abounding.  I made it to the Steyning Centre car park just before some sort of procession started, I think, securing the last space in the car park and then only because I have a very little car!

Heading first to the Sussex Family History Group stall I was able to purchase the CD ‘Sussex Poll Books and Directories’ which I had seen advertised in the journal and thought would be a good resource to have.  They seemed to be having a good clearout of old booklets, so I had a good rummage and came away with a number in exchange for a donation.  They may be dated, but background reading on, for example, Quarter Sessions, Victorian Censuses and English Noncomformity are often invaluable to dip into I find.

Moving round the hall I was surprised but pleased to see that the Quaker Family History Society had a stall.  I stopped to have a chat with them, since the Musketts were some of the earliest Quakers in Norfolk.  The Society’s next London meeting is coming up on 9 July.

Staff from The Keep and from West Sussex Record Office seemed to be very busy on their stalls .  I had a browse of the postcard stall, but without success.  However, I did have a lovely chat with the lady on the West Sussex County Council stall and bought a copy of the book they have produced in conjunction with the Record Office:  ‘ West Sussex Remembering 1914 – 18’. W S Remembering

I had not seen this advertised anywhere, but looks a useful book, with chapters covering aspects such as Women at War, The Local Economy and Invasion Threats.  On this stall I also learned about West Sussex Past Pictures.  This was not a site I had known about previously, but on looking it up when I came home I discovered that it is “a free to access online database of the best scanned photographs and pictures, with detailed descriptions, owned by the County Library Service and seven of the County’s museums”.  It offers free downloadable images for use in private research, so looks a very useful resource.  I quickly found an image of the interior of West Grinstead Park house, which I had certainly never seen before.

Before leaving I had a look at the WW1 display set out in the adjacent room, put on by the Sussex branch of the Western Front Association.  I was particularly fascinated to see the photos from what looked to be a reenactment day, with mounted soldiers pulling equipment and supplies and horse-drawn ambulances.

My exit from Steyning was scarcely less eventful as it coincided with a wedding party leaving the church opposite, unfortunately under umbrellas, but they seemed a very happy party.

All the fun of the fair!

Sussex Family History Group
SFHG Family and Local History Fair May 2016 – photo from the group’s facebook page