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 1906. He 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 .
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”.
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.
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.