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.

Mother to daughter

Well I was going to write a nice little piece aptly timed for Mothering Sunday last weekend, but then events took an interesting turn and I was unable to schedule a blog post for the first time in six months; so my apologies for that!

I had looked forward to a Mothering Sunday spent with my mother and with one of my daughters.  In the event I did see both of them, but we were visiting my Mum in hospital following a fall, fracture, and emergency partial hip replacement.  Not quite how I had imagined the day.

I had mentioned to the Registrar that both Mum’s parents had lived well into their nineties.  Granny was nearly 96 when she died, having lived through two world wars.

A couple of years ago I had an attempt at compiling a matrilineal tree – ie tracing back through daughter to mother.  It’s an interesting exercise, not without its challenges, but fascinating to do.

The earliest female ancestor I could find in this line was Sarah Stridwick, whose daughter Mary Cooper was born around 1688 in Warnham, Sussex, meaning that Sarah may have been born around 1668.  Mary Cooper’s daughter was Mary Knight, also born in Warnham, as was her daughter Sarah Charman, born in 1762.  Sarah’s daughter Harriet Capon was not born until 1800, this time in Capel, Surrey, just across the border.  I recently discovered, in the Haywards Heath Asylum Admission records at The Keep, that Harriet spent the last four months of her life in the Asylum, being admitted due to “senile insanity”.

Sayers, Ifield
Eliza Sayers, born 1825 Ifield, Sussex

Harriet’s  daughter Eliza Sayers was born in 1825 in Ifield, Sussex, again just back across the Surrey/Sussex border, and her daughter Mary Philpott was born in 1853 a little further south in Shipley, West Sussex.  My grandmother, Emily Mitchell, was born 35 years later, also in Shipley, in 1888.

Philpott, Shipley
Mary Philpott, born 1853 Shipley, Sussex

Of these seven women, two were over 80 at death and two more over 90 years of age.

I am happy to say that Mum is making good progress.  I hope the new hip keeps her going for at least as long as her female ancestors!

More of Picturesque Sussex

One of the reasons for buying ‘Picturesque Sussex’ (see first installment on 19 Dec) was because it mentions West Grinstead in its grand tour of the county.

West Grinstead was where my Granny grew up and was married and where several generations of Mitchells before her had lived and died.  Certainly at least three generations had been employed at West Grinstead Park:  James Mitchell was some sort of  ‘caretaker’ during the first half of the nineteenth century, Thomas Mitchell was woodman on the estate around 1860 – 1880, and my great grandfather William Mitchell was a ‘houseman’ from the 1880s onwards, one of whose duties was apparently to “raise and lower the flag”.  In fact I have an old postcard of the house which says on the back “Dad standing on tower about to take flag down”.

West Grinstead
West Grinstead Park

West Grinstead Park House was unfortunately demolished in 1964, but the Park itself still exists, and Steyning Lodge, where my Granny lived, is still there.

West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge, West Grinstead

‘Picturesque Sussex’ describes West Grinstead as “a large village surrounded by copses and meadow-land”.  Apparently the Park was famous for ‘Pope’s Oak’ – a reference to Alexander Pope, a friend of one-time owner John Caryll.  It is believed that he wrote ‘Rape of the Lock’ while staying at West Grinstead Park in 1712.  However, the entry for West Grinstead in the Victoria County History claims that “there is no evidence that the incident which gave rise to the poem occurred at West Grinstead,  nor that the poem was composed under the oak tree in West Grinstead park which was made the subject of a tree preservation order in 1951”.

The book also refers to the ruins of Knepp Castle, within the parish of Shipley, which can still be seen from the public footpath on the west side of the A24.  It goes on to say that King John stayed there several times.  ‘Picturesque Sussex’ then mentions the ‘new mansion’ (built around 1809) which suffered a ‘disastrous fire’ in 1904.  What it does not mention,  is that the house was rebuilt the following year.  I know this from one of the old postcards in my possession that have been kept within the family.  My 3 x great grandfather Francis Philoptt lived at Knepp Mill around 1861 – 1871 and would have known the ‘new mansion’ in its prime.

Knepp Castle
Rebuilding Knepp Castle Jan 18th 1905
Knepp Castle
The Lake Knepp Castle

‘Picturesque Sussex’ is giving me new glimpses into notable features of the county just over a hundred years ago.