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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Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference

This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend.  Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey.  Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road.  However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.

Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation.  If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands!  (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk).  His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk.  Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph.  The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s  great-grandfather, their commanding officer.  The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.

We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men.  The concept is extremely clever.  There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year.  It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them.  It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.

Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.

I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents.  I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format.  This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.

Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/

SFHG; Andrew Tatham
SFHG Conference

 

 

Christmas is coming….

I have in my possession a rather battered little book called ‘Sussex in bygone days – reminiscences of Nathaniel Paine Blaker MRCS’, which was published in 1919 by my husband’s forbears, the Combridges of 56 Church Road, Hove.  It was first published privately in 1906.  Nathaniel grew up in Sussex, having been born in Selmeston in 1835, and eventually went on to work at the Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.  The book is a collection of memories of life in Sussex in former times and includes subjects such as old occupations, transport, sport, health and festivals as well as describing his medical training.

I wondered what Nathaniel might have to say about Christmas in days gone by.  In talking of agricultural labourers, he says “sheep-shearing, harvest-supper and Christmas were in those country villages the three festivals of the year, and were looked forward to and remembered for days or weeks: A Christmas gambol oft could cheer the poor man’s heart for half a year”.

In a later chapter, however, he talks of ‘Club Day’ being “the most festive day of the year”, when members of the Benefit Club marched to church with a band and subsequently proceeded to the pub where they “dined and spent the rest of the day in dancing and other games and amusements”.  He goes on to say “A little girl, when asked by a school inspector what were the chief festivals of the Church, replied ‘Christmas, Easter and Albourne Club’”.

Nathaniel’s other recollection of Christmas is of one year when he was about 11 or 12 years old (ie around 1847).  On Christmas Eve burglars got into the family house by removing the iron bars from the cellar window.  “They took nothing of value, only a gun, a few overcoats and other small articles, but they took what in those days I thought of great importance, namely, the beef and plum-pudding intended for the Christmas dinner next day.  Being six miles from any town, and all the shops being closed, no more beef or materials for plum-pudding could be got, and we were indebted to the Rector, Mr Tufnell, who kindly helped us out by sending some pork pies”.   (A quick check of the 1841 census reveals that Mr Tufnell and family and Nathaniel Blaker’s family lived in Edburton, a village on the north side of the Devil’s Dyke).  Somehow pork pies sound a poor substitute for Christmas dinner, but I’m sure the family were extremely grateful for at least something to eat.

Well, whatever you are planning to eat for your Christmas dinner, and whether or not you are planning a ‘Christmas gambol’, I hope you have a lovely time.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Comes But Once A Year - Charles Green
Christmas Comes But Once A Year – Charles Green

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.

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

Networking

Are you a fan of networking?  What networks do you belong to?

Dr Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, defined Network as “any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections”.  (johnsonsdictionaryonline.com – accessed 18 May 2016).  What a wonderful definition!  Although he would probably not have readily applied the term to the groups of friends and fellow writers that he belonged to, he would have undoubtedly recongnised the concept of spending time with other creative minds, sharing concepts and ideas and supporting others’ endeavours.

That is definitely ‘social networking’ of a kind – but what of the ever-growing importance of networking via social media?  And what part might that play in family history research?

I’m a fan of the Futurelearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course www.futurelearn.com )and have now completed several, the most recent of which was The Power of Social Media, run by the University of Southampton (of which I am a proud graduate, so I’ll just give them a plug there!).  The first week of the course was all about understanding social networks, and, although I admit it got a bit technical to follow at times, I was fascinated to learn about different network models.  I had heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, but had not realised that this was based on an experiment conducted in the 1960s in the United States by Stanley Milgram.  Since I have Norfolk ancestors and so does my husband, I wonder whether that model would have held true in nineteenth century Norfolk?  Might my ancestors and his have potentially had just six degrees of separation between them?  An interesting thought, though it probably doesn’t get us very far.

However, in looking at different network models I learnt that facebook is a collaboration network, where relationships are equally true in both directions, whereas in Twitter, for example, you can follow people who do not necessarily follow you back.  In the most recent Sussex Family History Group journal I was encouraged to read that they planned to set up a facebook group.  I’m already a member of the Norfolk Family History Society one www.facebook.com/groups/familyhistorynorfolk/ .  So the other day I searched for it, asked to join and was quickly accepted.  You can find it at www.facebook.com/groups/sussexfhg/ The big thing at the moment seems to be creating photo albums of Sussex villages, where people can add their photos.  What a great way for those of us who have been able to visit an ancestral location to share our findings with those who live much further away!  I’m waiting for West Grinstead and Shipley to appear so I can contribute to those albums!

Although I can appreciate that some people are hesitant about using social media, as long as you keep an eye on your privacy settings I think the benefits to research could be great.  People post queries and questions and someone else out there may just happen to have the knowledge to answer the query or suggest where to look for the answer.  What a great example of a network!  Sometimes family history research can feel a bit solitary, but if, like me, you do not live close enough to get along to the meetings of the family history societies to which you belong, then an online community like this has massive benefits.  Well done Sussex – let’s go for that reticulation I say!

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