A Walk round West Grinstead

(OS Explorer Map 134)

My visit to the exhibition at Partridge Green a few weeks back made me think how lovely it would be to explore some of the footpaths in that area, and dry weather over the Easter weekend was a perfect opportunity to do so.

We drove over to West Grinstead and parked at what used to be West Grinstead station, just off the A272.  The platform  and station sign are still there, the line having now become the Downs Link walking and cycle path which eventually ends at Shoreham.

West Grinstead station
West Grinstead station

We walked north on that path for a little way, before bearing off to the left through some beautiful bluebell woods en route to Newhouse Farm.  From there we headed south, crossing the A272, and walking straight through Park Farm.  This is now the setting for a number of exclusive-looking houses, but somewhere amongst them must be the house where my great great grandparents, Thomas and Eliza Philpott, lived.  At this point I was particularly excited  – Granny’s other Grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, was a woodman on the West Grinstead estate, and as we passed lots of coppiced woods I could imagine that perhaps he had once worked in those woods – they were beautiful, with bluebells, primroses and orchids. 

We joined Green Lane and continued to cross West Grinstead Park.  The house itself is long gone, but my ancestors would have been very familiar with the terrain.  A couple of women were tending to some sheep in a pen.  On enquiry I learned that they were South Downs Sheep – a most attractive breed, with their lovely, woolly round faces.

South Downs sheep

 

Park Stews WG

 

 

 

 

The Park Stews which we crossed presumably once supplied fish for the big house.

As we headed towards the B2135 we had a lovely view of the Steyning Road Lodges, where my Granny had lived.

Steyning Lodges WG
West Grinstead church

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing the road, the path rose to a crest, from where Chanctonbury Ring was clearly visible.  I had never realised that before.  West Grinstead church then came in sight, and we entered the churchyard through a rear gate.

Within a few moments I was able to locate the grave of my great grandparents, William and Mary Mitchell, due to its strange shape.

Grave of William and Mary Mitchell
Interior West Grinstead church

 

 

 

 

 

The Church being open was an added bonus, (Easter flower arranging being in progress), so we took the opportunity to look inside.  I had forgotten that the pews had the names of the properties on them, presumably where families paid to have that particular seat.

Crossing back over the B2135 the path then cut across the corner of West Grinstead Park, past another copse with beautiful bluebells, and came out onto Park Lane. Thomas Mitchell might have walked that path on his way to Church. The footpath the other side heading due East rose to rejoin the Downs Link path, where we turned north to arrive back at the station car park.

We had planned to have lunch at the Green Man at Jolesfield (my Granny’s father’s cousin George Mitchell had been the licensee there at one time), but despite advertising ‘bar meals’ outside, the choice of food seemed to be rather ‘gastro’ and with no staff in evidence to serve us anyway, we abandoned that idea and went down to the Partridge at Partridge Green where we enjoyed a very nice bar meal.

The Green Man, Jolesfield

It was a very pleasant walk and the opportunity to walk the paths trodden by my ancestors, appreciating the landscape they knew, was very special.

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Nine teachers and a funeral

Today I went to the funeral of one of my best teachers.  She taught me History to O Level, back in the mid seventies.  I realise now that she was only in her early thirties when she was teaching us, but all teachers seemed old to us then as teenagers.  I wonder what it was that made her a good teacher?

Looking back, it was not the teachers who tried to be ‘cool’ (as we might say nowadays), nor the teachers who were unfairly harsh, but those who were firm whilst also displaying humanity and, crucially, those who possessed the ability to inspire us.

I enjoyed her History lessons particularly when we were able to draw her away from Peel’s Repeal of the Corn Laws (or whatever topic we were on) to topics of wider interest.  She seemed happy to do this from time to time, which I think revealed her interest in education in the broadest sense.  So often this seems lacking in today’s classrooms, through no fault of the teachers, when the curriculum and the time in which to teach it is so tight.

It was certainly a strange experience to be at a funeral which was also attended by nine other teachers, among them the most inspirational teachers I have had.  I am grateful to all of them for widening my vision and experience of language, literature, music and, of course, history.  At the time I found learning about Gladstone, Disraeli and acts of Parliament immensely boring, but now, as a family historian, I can see the impact that government policies had on my ordinary ag lab ancestors of the mid nineteenth century.

By all accounts Mr William Corbett, headteacher of Jolesfield School 1899 – 1910, was forward-thinking (see last week’s blog post).  I hope he was an inspiration to my grandmother while she attended that school.

Strangely, the last time I saw my history teacher was at a local Family History Society meeting.  Thank you, Miss Easterling, for inspiring me.

Robert Peel
Robert Peel

Sliding on the ponds

Our annual trip south to get a vehicle serviced provides an ideal opportunity for a visit to West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.  After a good six months thinking about Norfolk and the George family it was time to get my head round all my Sussex ancestors once more.

It was this time last year that I started looking at some school log books, so I was eager to order these up again.  They give such a fascinating insight into the social history of the time.  I started with the log book for Dial Post school, which my Granny attended from 1896 following the family’s move from Shipley to West Grinstead.

In reading through, you realise the importance of the local gentry in village society: “14 October 1898.  A half holiday given on Thursday afternoon to allow the teachers to attend a fete at Knepp Castle to commemorate the coming of age of Mr M Burrell.”  (This was Sir Merrick Burrell, Baronet, who was born in 1877).  “28 June 1901. A half holiday on Thursday on account of the fete on Knepp Lawn”.

You also realise the impact of the weather on school attendance in the days when all children had to walk to school – often quite a distance.  “16 February 1900.  The attendance this week has been very poor owing to the very bad, wet and snowy weather”.  “28 September 1900.  From now the school will be closed at half past three to allow those who live a long way off to get home before dark”.

National events also had an impact:  “25 May 1900.  A holiday given on Monday to commemorate the relief of Mafeking”.

Sickness of the pupils is a recurrent theme and must have had a major impact on learning:  “25 September 1901. Owing to another outbreak of measles the Attendance Officer has visited today and closed the school for three weeks.”

We know that in autumn 1901 Granny moved to Jolesfield School apparently because of her mother’s concern about the recurrent outbreaks of measles at Dial Post.  Although the Jolesfield Log Book has more detailed entries and gives the impression of more going on, that school, too,  also experienced issues of sickness and bad weather affecting attendance.  “24 January 1902. The work this week has been greatly interfered with.  Many children all away ill some are sickening.  Measles, whooping cough and mumps all prevalent”.

As at Dial Post school, the local clergy and their wives were frequent visitors:  “29 January 1902.  Revd and Mrs Knatchbull Hugessen visited the school”.  “27 February 1902. Mrs Hugessen visited the school and stayed during first class recitation lesson.  She was pleased with what she heard”.  “12 March 1902. Miss V Hugessen visited during needlework lesson”.  Then on 19 June 1902 it was Miss Hugessen’s Wedding Day and the children were given a half holiday for the occasion. [Looking at the census returns subsequently, I saw that there were a number of daughters in the Rectory family.  Miss V Hugessen was not the one marrying on this occasion].

Knatchbull-Hugessen
The Bible presented to Granny by Miss Violet Knatchbull-Hugessen in 1904

The influence of the Church can also be seen in holidays for Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day and choir and Sunday School outings.

June 1902 saw the end of the Boer War:  “2 June.  Children assembled.  Rev P W Shirley briefly addressed them.  They then sang the National Anthem and were given a whole day’s holiday in honour of the Declaration of Peace”.

Health and Safety was obviously not what it is now!  Apparently there were no minimum working temperatures:  “5 December 1902. This week has been very cold.  Several children could not write very well owing to their hands being numbed”.  PE lessons were referred to as ‘drill’, and I was amused to read the entry for 16 January 1903: “during Drill time the children this week have been allowed to go on the ponds to slide just opposite the school”.  I wonder whether the teachers tested the thickness of the ice first?  By this time Granny had left the school in order to help her mother at home, but maybe she was still able to go sliding on a nearby pond!

St James Park Frozen (1)
Nineteenth century skaters in St James Park