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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When West Grinstead Went To War

Over a year ago I wrote of what I knew of Bert Mitchell’s involvement in the WW1.

He was my great uncle, born on 1 Aug 1892 in West Grinstead, and I remember him as I was 7 when he died.  It was an interesting challenge to research him as his is one of many service records that has not survived.

His ‘On War Service 1915’ badge was probably issued for his Red Cross volunteer work during the early part of the war  and finding Bert’s regiment and service number on his medals enabled me to find the matching Medal Index Card. Bert enlisted as a Private in the Machine Gun Corps on 2 December 1915.  Although I do not know exactly where he served, I do know that he was overseas when he sustained a head injury and was evacuated back to England to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, for treatment and recovery.

Following his discharge in 1918 Bert worked as a Red Cross orderly at the Royal Victoria Hospital, making and fitting artificial limbs. Photos in my Granny’s photo album are a tantalising glimpse of his work there.  Later he worked for Pedestros Limbs Department in Southampton and subsequently at Roehampton.  I was intrigued to watch a recent episode of Call the Midwife showing families of children affected by Thalidomide receiving help with artificial limbs at Roehampton.

Having discovered that the West Grinstead Local History Group were putting together a publication on the role of people from that parish in WW1, I submitted to them what I had researched of Bert Mitchell’s life.  This weekend I had the joy of attending the group’s exhibition to mark the launch of the book ‘When West Grinstead Went To War 1914 – 1918’.

An excellent display with photos and commentary was complemented by various WW1 artefacts.  All those mentioned in the book were plotted on a large map of the parish.  I enjoyed chatting with several members of the research group, showing them my tree and my Mitchell write-up.  I also discovered a link with a lady who had travelled all the way from Cumbria to be there.

When West Grinstead Went To War
Displays at the Exhibition ‘When West Grinstead Went To War’

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as service outlines of the men from the parish who served, there are articles in the book on Aviation in West Sussex during the war period, on the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and on Food and Agriculture.

Many congratulations to Dorothy, Norman, James, Colin, Mike and all those who brought the book to fruition – an amazing achievement!

Copies of the book can be ordered by contacting westgrinsteadlhg@gmail.com

 

 

Christmas toys and games

It’s lovely the way people play games at Christmas in a way that they don’t at other times of year.  Granted we often take a couple of board games away with us in the caravan on regular holidays, but at Christmas in our family there are other sorts of games to look forward to.

Mum’s ring board makes its annual outing!  I’m not actually sure how old this is (1940s?), but it has given hours of amusement over the years as people attempt the deceptively hard art of throwing rubber rings at the hooks on the board, the first team reaching a score of 101 being the winner.  We took it to family parties at Aunty Betty’s in the 1970s and played it at home when Granny came to visit.  Despite only having sight in one eye, she was remarkably good at the game.  No doubt when the furniture is finally moved in Mum’s house we will find the missing rings down the back of the bureau!  This year the ring board had a very successful outing to Hertfordshire, when we visited my husband’s family.

My Granny (Emily George, nee Mitchell) was also a great one for a game of cribbage.  She had learnt as a girl in Sussex, looking over the shoulders of the menfolk in her family who played.  Her mental arithmetic, even in her 90s, was as sharp as anything.  The cibbage board came out this Christmas when my Mum and my daughter had a game.

Despite the somewhat eventful year that she has had, my Mum still somehow managed to put together the annual newspaper headlines competition, and the ‘feely sock’ kept people amused in between the washing up on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day was also an opportunity to talk about the tradition of Christmas stockings.  We always had stockings as children, as did my Mum as a child and I did (oh, sorry, Father Christmas filled) stockings for my daughters once more this Christmas although they are somewhat beyond childhood.  Mum said that as a child she always liked mechanical toys and one year she had a clockwork steam roller in her stocking.  She remembers winding it up and running it on her bed until the fluff from the blanket made it grind to a halt.  Her father had to remove the fluff from the cogs before she could run it again on the lino of the landing floor.

Well I hope Father Christmas visited you this Christmas and that you enjoyed the festive period, whether you had games and toys or not!

My Granny playing rings in 1982
My Granny playing rings in 1982
The same ringboard in use Christmas 2016
The same ringboard in use Christmas 2016

 

 

Cribbage
Granny playing cribbage in 1981
At home with the cribbage board, probably a different Christmas
At home with the cribbage board, probably a different Christmas

Advent

My Granny, Emily Eliza Mitchell, was baptised at Shipley, in Sussex, on Advent Sunday in 1888, 128 years ago.

I learnt that piece of information 24 years ago, when, following a fairly traumatic birth, we took our first baby daughter to Church on Advent Sunday for a Thanksgiving Service.  She is partly named after her great grandmother, and my Mum remarked on how appropriate the day was.

I do like Advent.  There’s something about all those great Advent hymns in minor keys (‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, ‘Come thou long-expected Jesus’, ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ etc), the purple of altar frontals and liturgical robes and advent candles to light.  And of course Advent Calendars.  I remember as a child being thrilled when our neighbours the Madgwicks gave us an Advent calendar (no chocolate ones in those days!) and I still like to have one.  It brings out the child in me to count the days till Christmas!  When our children were small we made a large Blue Peter-inspired one which involved toilet rolls and lots of tissue paper, glue and paint.    It got re-used for a number of years.

Last Sunday being Advent Sunday it got me thinking about what my ancestors might have been doing during that period in years gone by.  Not counting the days with chocolate-filled Advent Calendars, that’s for sure.

David George, my earliest proven ancestor on my Norfolk George tree, married Elizabeth Jefferies on Sunday 7 December 1806 at East Dereham – the second Sunday in Advent, but only a year later they buried their first baby, Mary Ann, on 13 December 1807, the third Sunday in Advent.

David’s son John George married Emily White on Sunday 6 December 1840 – also the second Sunday in Advent.

His son David, my great grandfather, married Elizabeth Mayne in Croydon on a Saturday – the 29 November 1873 – the day before Advent Sunday.

On my Wakefield tree, my great grandfather William Wakefield married Annie Neighbour on 10 December 1893 in Newington, again the second Sunday in Advent.

Caleb Osborne, the cordwainer from Shipley in Sussex, married Mary Botting on the Tuesday after Advent Sunday in 1802 – the 30 November.

My Mitchell and Phipott ancestors, on the other hand, seem to have had a distinct aversion to doing anything like getting married or baptised during the back end of the year – apart from my Granny, that is.

I discovered  when Advent Sunday was in years gone by on this website: www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/first-day-advent , where you can also calculate all kinds of dates.

So Happy Advent!  I hope this season is not too frenetic for you and that you can find some space to welcome the coming light:

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” 

Advent

 

Family Bake Off

Unlike some TV shows one could mention, The Great British Bake Off seems to have enriched our community lives. Families sit down together to watch the show itself; my cousin’s wife told me how her circle of friends go to the house of one of their number each week and the home bakes come out as soon as they get to the Technical Challenge.  My daughter has organised colleagues in her office so that each person is allocated a contestant and when that person leaves the tent they have to bring in cakes (or Steak and Ale pie, as one colleague is promising!).

What does this have to do with family history?  Well, coincidentally, October’s issue of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk has a great article by Rachel Bellerby entitiled ‘A taste of the past’.  As she so rightly states “food and cooking play a big part in your memories”.  In common with many families, mine have had regular gatherings for as long as I can remember, often at Christmas, where everyone contributes food.  I can remember as a child making pink meringues to take to Aunty Mary’s now legendary Christmas parties.  In no small part due to her parties, that side of the family has remained in contact.  Once we had moved back within range of the rest of the family and had enough space, we instituted our own Christmas parties, knowing we could rely on Mum to bring the mushroom vol-au-vents.

Rachel Bellerby’s article highlights how precious a handwritten family recipe book can be.  At a recent visit with my daughters to my Mum’s house, the subject of baking came up, and out came her mother’s handwritten recipe book.  “Treat it like a form of autobiography” says Food Historian Dr Annie Gray www.anniegray.co.uk  :  clippings from magazines tell you what people read and names attached to recipes give you a clue to other relatives and friends.  Well, Granny’s recipe book has clippings from The Lady, a recipe for a Mother’s Union sponge cake (“very good”) and Mary’s recipe for something and Auntie Winnie’s recipe for something else.  The Mary in question is likely to be Granny’s friend Mary Moreley, who also lived in Croydon in the 1930s.  The recipe for Dandelion Wine reminded Mum of an occasion when she was a young child when her mother announced when she came home from school at lunchtime that it was a perfect afternoon for picking dandelions!  Off they went on the bus to Mitcham Common to pick the flowers, but Mum felt so guilty that she was being made to miss afternoon school!  It’s strange to think of my Granny encouraging truanting, but then she came from a rural community where staying off school in the 1890s to help with the harvest was the norm.

I am ashamed to say that my own recipe book mostly consists of scraps of paper which I have never got round to writing up properly.  But, in a similary manner, you can tell which magazines I’ve read and who recipes have come from.  I still use Vicky’s mince pie recipe (she was a university friend) and Aunty Elsie’s biscuits are a firm family favourite.  Now you need to understand that I’ve never had an Aunty Elsie – she was an aunt of my Mum’s cousins’s husband!  Well I guess that indicates that one of these days I should write up these recipes properly and identify the provenance – as far as I can – before the likes of Aunty Elsie are totally unidentifiable.

On your marks, get set – bake!

Recipes in my collection
Recipes in my collection
Granny's recipe for dandelion wine
Granny’s recipe for dandelion wine
Winnie's cake
Winnie’s cake

The Chestnut Tree

Driving to my parent’s house the other day I suddenly noticed that the big chestnut tree down the road had been cut down!  It was quite a shock to see the space where it used to be and it almost felt like a sudden bereavement.  As children we often used to play round the tree and of course collect conkers in the autumn.  Apparently the poor tree had been dead for a while and so had to come down.

It led me to think about how trees can be so important in our lives.  In many cases they can outlive us significantly.  On bank holiday Monday, for example, we visited Leith Hill Place, and I was absolutely blown away by the shere magnificence of a tulip tree on the path from the house to the car park.  It is thought to have been planted around 250 years ago, about the time that Leith Hill Tower was built.  There are many other specimen trees, plus the rhododendrons planted by Caroline Wedgwood in the mid nineteenth century.  I had not previously appreciated the family connections between the Darwin, Wedgwood and Vaughan Williams families:  Josiah Wedgwood III married Caroline Darwin, the sister of Charles Darwin.  Their daughter Margaret married Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, whose family lived locally, and hence in due course Leith Hill Place became the home of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.  What a stunning location in which to spend your childhood, and he too would have been familiar with the specimen trees that we can admire now.

On a slightly less grand scale, the apple trees which were once in the garden of my granny’s childhood home, can still be seen by the side of the road at the Buck Barn crossroads on the A24 near Shipley, though the house has long since gone.  I remember my Granny once telling me that she and her brother made up stories about imaginary little people living in those trees.

I’ve always enjoyed growing plants.  At primary school we were once given conkers to take home and plant, and I won a pencil because mine grew the tallest.  It must have been around that time that I planted some apple pips.  One of those seedlings went on to grow into a fine specimen and now, well over forty years later, it still produces an abundance of apples.  It turned out to be a James Grieve. Whether or not that tree outlives me will depend very much on the future occupants of that house, but I hope both it and I will thrive for a few years yet!

The remains of the chestnut tree
The remains of the chestnut tree

Dem bones, dem bones….

There were many awe-inspiring moments on our recent tour of the Spanish cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada – the Alcazar in Seville, the mosaics in the Roman city of Italica and the courtyards of the Alhambra to name but three.  But one of the most profound moments was viewing the actual coffins of the ‘Reyes Católicos’, Ferdinand and Isabella, in the Capilla Real in Granada.  That was quite unexpected.  Their marble momuments are splendid, but underneath lie their simple lead coffins.  So much history focussed in two simple coffins!  Click on this link to see a picture of the coffins.  http://www.capillarealgranada.com/index.en.html

In the case of Ferdinand and Isabella there is little doubt that Granada is their final resting place.  But the tomb of Columbus in Seville Cathedral is a different matter.  Although he died in Spain, his body was taken to the Caribbean thirty years later as it was his wish to be buried there, but he was brought back to Seville in 1898.  There is ongoing controversy as to whether the bones under that huge tomb are really his.

The tomb of Columbus, Seville Cathedral
The tomb of Columbus, Seville Cathedral

Why does it matter to us so much to be certain of the identity of bones?  I recently watched a TV programme where Shakespeare’s tomb was scanned and where a mystery skull buried elsewhere was tested to see if it could be his (it wasn’t!).  With amazing forethought Shakespeare had a curse placed on his tomb to avoid it being disturbed in the future.

Shakespeare's grave in Stratford
Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford

Somehow a sense of place is important to us as we research our ancestors.  To be able to visit (or at least see pictures of) the places where our ancestors lived helps us to appreciate more of their lives, but in many cases to be able to stand by their gravestones is also a special experience as we connect with the families who went before.

The grave of my great grandparents William and Mary Mitchell in West Grinstead
The grave of my great grandparents William and Mary Mitchell in West Grinstead

Increasingly this will be an unusual experience with the vast majority of people in this country now being cremated rather than buried and with there being no lasting memorial to visit.   Perhaps that’s as it should be.  We can still connect with the past through the places we visit and the objects we inherit without, as Ellis Peter’s first novel of the Cadfael Chronicles suggests, a “morbid taste for bones”.