16 August 2018

The Red Arrows

As I mentioned in my last post, on Halnaker Windmill, ‘something quite momentous and thrilling happened’ during our walk.

Jill and I were stomping along the public footpath that traces the line of the ancient Roman Road of Stane Street, battling our way through overgrown bracken and scratchy brambles, imagining ourselves walking in the footsteps of ancient peoples, enjoying the twittering of birds and buzzing of birds, when ...


And boom again!

And again!

These were the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, performing one of their world-famous acrobatic displays for the ‘Festival of Speed’ taking place that day at nearby Goodwood. We’d had absolutely no idea to expect this but, by pure chance, we just happened to be in one of the very best possible places to watch their incredible manoeuvres. It was quite simply breath-taking!

15 August 2018

Halnaker Windmill

From Boxgrove Priory (see previous post), Jill and I headed north to find the building we’d really travelled across the county to see that day, Halnaker Windmill – we have a bit of a thing about windmills and this was one we’d been planning to visit for perhaps a year!

This was a Saturday so the roads were busy, in part due to a local event called ‘The Festival of Speed’ – not something we knew anything about, but we assumed that was why the first lay-by where we were hoping to park was full and so we carried on to the second. From there, we followed a public footpath alongside fields tall with golden cereal crops and, somewhat surprisingly, the symmetrical rows of grapevines. The footpath was ancient, part of the old Roman Road of Stane Street, which once carried legions, traders and assorted travellers from London to Chichester, just a few miles further south. Truth be known, this was probably an even more ancient path as many Roman Roads follow much older trackways where people have walked for thousands of years.

We could tell no Romans had walked this way for a while as the path was quite overgrown with brambles and bracken in parts, and we emerged at the other end with a few scratches for our trouble, but it was worth it. We had already gained some height in the landscape, and the views continued to improve as we pressed on up the wider, more well defined roadway to the windmill. (Something quite momentous and thrilling happened around this point but I’ll explain more in my next blog post.)

The top of Halnaker (pronounced Hanaker – the L is silent) Hill is a scheduled ancient monument as Neolthic people once constructed a causewayed enclosure here and, in more recent times, a World War Two observation post (for radio direction-finding) was also built here. But it was the windmill we wanted to see.

The first recorded windmill on this site was built in the 16th century, for the use of the Duke of Richmond’s local Goodwood Estate, though the present structure is not that old – it dates from the mid 1700s and continued to function until 1905, when it was struck by lightning.

The entry for the mill on the Historic England website explains its structure:
Red brick, covered with a thin coating of burnt Sussex tiles. Octagonal cap of beehive shape, made of sheets of metal, with finial. Sweeps intact. Fantail missing. The mill is only a shell with no internal floors or machinery.

The windmill was in a ruinous state when it was first restored in 1934, then needed restoration again in 1954 and once more in 2004. And it’s still being restored. An article in the Chichester Observer of 28 June 2018 notes that its tiles were replaced in October 2017, its white cap and balcony have just been repaired and repainted, and there is a photograph showing the recent refitting of the sails – so we were lucky to see it in such fine condition, though the building was still fenced off and lacked a proper door.

It’s wonderful to see this historic structure being so well cared for and conserved. Not only do visitors get a close-up look at this wonderful old building but, from its site so high on the South Downs, the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside are amazing. Both the windmill and those panoramas are well worth the climb up the hill to see.

12 August 2018

Boxgrove Priory and Church

As you approach the ruins of Boxgrove Priory, standing alone in a field, there’s an English Heritage sign. The text on the sign states:
Boxgrove Priory was founded in the 12th century. It replaced a small community of canons, probably associated with Boxgrove church since before the Norman Conquest in 1066. The priory has strong links with Lessay Abbey in Normandy with Boxgrove known as a ‘daughter house’ of Lessay. The priory was never large; by the 16th century it was responsible for a school and an almshouse. Along with many religious institutions, Boxgrove was disbanded during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Reading the sign you might easily assume that the ruins you now see on this site are the remains of the whole priory but this isn’t so. And, very helpfully, someone has stuck a notice on the sign pointing out its shortcomings:
This picture shows only the Guest House.
The Priory Church is open every day.
Walk through the archway.

The English Heritage website provides a little more information:
At the northern edge of the site the ruin of the 14th century lodging house stands alone. It is roofless, but the north and south gable ends still stand to their full height. The building originally had two storeys, with an undercroft, or vaulted cellar, used for storage. The support for the vault of the undercroft can be seen clearly at the north end of the building.

After we’d had a good look at the Guest House, where beautiful remnants of sculptural details still remain, we followed the advice of the notice-sticker and walked across the field to the Priory Church.

As we walked through the thigh-high wildflowers, I was particularly impressed by the additional bird – a Kestrel – that flew in to adorn the church’s weathervane.

Inside the beautiful old church not only was there more information about the priory, including a scale model (there’s a plan of the full site here), but the church itself was a beautiful sight to behold. Dedicated to St Mary and St Blaise and dating, in part, to the early 12th century, the building is ‘a fine example of Norman (Romanesque) and Early English (Gothic) architecture’.

The painted ceiling is a delightful mix of the flowers and foliage of various types of plants, interspersed with the heraldry of the family of Thomas West and his wife – as the website explains, West was ‘9th Lord de la Warr, Lord of the Manor of Halnaker and patron of the priory, in the 16th century’.

Outside the church, you can still see other remains of the extended church and priory’s chapter house. English Heritage again:
The north wall of the nave forms part of the wall of the churchyard, and the footings of the south wall and one bay of the south arcade from the interior of the church can also be seen in the churchyard. One wall of the chapter house, where the monks would have gathered daily to have a chapter of the rule of St Benedict read to them and to discuss business, is attached to the north transept of the church. It has a central doorway with a window to either side. The remaining monastery buildings lay to the north of the church, surrounding the cloister, but do not survive above ground.

This was a beautiful place to explore so, if you’re in the area, do stop for a wander ... and don’t forget to follow the notice-sticker’s advice.

06 August 2018

The mystery of Burlow Castle

Three weeks ago, when I was in East Sussex, my friend Jill led me on a lovely long meander through the fields in the Cuckmere Valley. One of our motivations – though, truly, no motivation is needed to meander in this beautiful valley – was to take a look at the intriguing site labelled on the map as Burlow Castle. But was it ever really a castle? Experts and amateurs alike seem divided on the matter. Here’s what I found from a little digging – not literally, as the site is on private land so we couldn’t get too close.

First off, the spelling varies – I’ve found Burlow, Burlough and Burghlow, which certainly adds to your research time when you’re having to do three separate searches. Secondly, there are no actual physical remains of a castle on the site. Now I know that doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t once a structure there but even the blurb on the Historic England website acknowledges that a geophysical survey carried out in 1996 ‘indicated possible buried remains but provided no conclusive evidence’.   

Yet the Historic England website’s statement remains positive and very optimistic:
Despite some disturbance in the past, the motte and bailey castle known as Burlough Castle survives well. The earthworks of the castle form a prominent feature in the landscape. The site will contain [my emphasis] archaeological evidence and environmental information relating to the construction, use and history of the castle and the landscape in which it was constructed.

Hmmmm ... doesn’t sound like a terribly scientific analysis. The site itself was scheduled as an ancient monument way back in 1946 and that scheduling appears to have been based partly on its physical appearance – there is no denying the steep escarpment, commanding a fine view of the upper Cuckmere River, would be the perfect place to put a castle or similar defensive structure – and partly on archaeological evidence – ‘Fieldwalking in the area has recovered pieces of 12th and 13th century pottery. Other finds have included Prehistoric flints, axes and a pick as well as Iron Age or Romano-British potsherds’. Nice finds, though that doesn’t sound like a lot if this was the site of a castle. But the scheduling was also based on documentary sources. So what were they?

One of the oft-cited sources is Thomas Walker Horsfield, who published a series of volumes on the history and antiquities of this part of East Sussex. In his The History and Antiquities of Lewes and Its Vicinity (J. Baxter, Lewes, 1824, vol. 2, p. 8) he writes
Burlow Castle is said to have stood on an eminence east of the village. There are certainly now some foundations of walls to be discovered; and fifty years ago there were more, as appears from a drawing by Grimm, preserved in the British Museum. It is impossible, however, to discover either its extent or form, so completely has the hand of Time prevailed; nor has any document been found which can throw any light upon the subject.

The drawing by Grimm that Horsfield refers to is, officially, the ‘1787 – Ruins of Burlow Castle near Alfriston’ by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, watercolour (174 x 253 mm), © British Library Board – shelfmark: additional MS 5671, item number: f. 60 (no. 107). The painting is in the collections of the British Library but there is an image of it on the Sussex Record Society’s website. Have a look – it’s the third image on the right and, if you click on it, you can see a larger version. Do you see any ruins? I see trees and hedgerows but I don’t see the more substantial walls Horsfield appears to refer to.

Horsfield returns to the topic of Burlow Castle in a later publication, his The History, Antiquities, and Topography of the County of Sussex (Sussex Press, Lewes, 1835, vol. 1, p. 320). In this work he admits that ‘Of its rise and fall, its form or use, tradition is silent and history is dumb’. Yet he goes on to propose, rather fancifully in my opinion, that Burlow was ‘one of the fortresses built by Henry VIII’, though he then undermines his own speculation by admitting that ‘Within the last three years the foundations have been excavated, and two large barns built of the materials. No discovery, except that of a few bones and broken pottery, was made.’ Once again, the lack of any significant discovery makes me doubt the presence of a substantial structure.

So, was there ever a castle on this impressive hilltop? Until such time as a very thorough archaeological excavation is undertaken, I don’t think anyone can say for certain. But, personally, I rather like the sense of intrigue and mystery that has developed around this place. I think Horsfield had succumbed a little to its romantic appeal and, if so, he certainly wasn’t the only one for, not only is Burlow the site of a putative castle, it also has its very own fairy story. This is from The Spectator newspaper, 25 April 1908, p. 27:

There is an old, old Sussex man who can point you out a favourite fairy haunt. You must call the little people “pharisees” when speaking of them, for that is the Sussex reduplicated plural of the word “fairy,” and all the old people speak of them as “pharisees.” The old Sussex man says that a familiar haunt of the pharisees was at Burlow Castle, which is “not much of a castle nowadays,” but which was “a famous place when there was a King in Sussex. A plough-man there was what was once ploughing there, and resting for his 'levener [eleven o'clock lunch] he suddenly heard a curious sound under the ground. He gave a start, and then he heard a liddle voice say, ‘Help! help!’ ‘What's up?’ says the plough-man, when the liddle voice says: ‘I've been baking and have broke my peel [a wooden shovel used by bakers for placing loaves in the oven], and I don’t know what to do, sure-lye.’ ‘Putt it up and I'll mend it,’ says the plough-man; and through a chink in the ground a liddle peel was putt up no bigger than a bren-cheese knife. So the plough-man he sets to work and mends the liddle peel, and then be putts it down again. And the next day a cup of delicious drink was putt up to the plough-man for his 'levener as a reward for mending the peel. But as this here plough-man was a-drinking from the cup he dropped it and broke it to shivers, and within a year he took and died."

Perhaps it’s a very good thing that the castle site is on private land, for who knows what might happen if we could walk there?

01 August 2018

Church of St Pancras, Arlington

As I mention in today’s earthstar wildlife blog, my friend Jill and I veered off our walk around Arlington Reservoir in East Sussex to investigate an interesting-looking old church, and this is it, the Church of St Pancras in Arlington. (As I was out and about photographing wildlife, I only had my long lens with me so you’ll have to forgive the lack of landscape shots – I focused on the details instead.)

Though the Lychgate is recent – beautifully crafted in 2000 to a design by church architect Ralph Wood ...

and the guttering was put up as recently as 1869, presumably during a period of restoration and refurbishment ...

parts of the church itself date back to Saxon times. (You can read about its history here.) The interior walls have mostly been white-washed but some traces of early decoration remain. 

There are painted flowers and crosses that date from the 14th century, and fragments of text, which have been labelled Elizabethan but apparently date from the 18th century – perhaps the style is Elizabethan. 

It’s hard to imagine what the interior must have looked like when the paintings were complete but it must certainly have been very lovely. 

There were many other fine relics and objects to admire – a finely carved screen, a Saxon window, lovely old tiles and beautiful stained-glass windows – but I think my three years’ living in Wales is having an effect on me as I was particularly enchanted by the two dragons on the pulpit. 

Though the pulpit itself is rather plain and has been dated to the 18th century, the dragons are a more recent embellishment. 

And not a sign of St George coming to slay them!