Tag Archives: chichester

Wandering: West Dean – The Trundle – Singleton

15 Oct

My original plan for today was to visit the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, West Sussex but once it became obvious earlier in the week that the weather for today was going to be relatively warm and bright I decided a change of plan was called for. As I had already promised my wife a trip to Chichester I decided to fulfil on of my long-held (well a few years held anyway) ambitions to visit The Trundle.

The Trundle is the name given to the iron-age hill-fort on top of St Roche’s Hill a few miles north of Chichester and just south of the ancestral village of Singleton, the hill-fort itself surrounds a much older neolithic causewayed enclosure and all manner of other ancient and not so ancient sites. As hill-forts go it is quite impressive, with the ditch and bank still being well defined.

There are many approaches to The Trundle, in fact about a quarter of a mile west of the summit of the hill is a spot called Seven Points, where the finger-post below indicates the possible directions (Binderton, Lavant, Goodwood, Trundle, Charlton, Singleton and West Dean). As you can see despite the slightly misty conditions the views were pretty spectacular, and I can’t believe I have never come across any reference to Seven Points before.

My approach to St Roche’s Hill and The Trundle was from West Dean, having got off the bus from Chichester at the Selsey Arms pub in West Dean, I headed south-east across the dried up River Lavant and began the climb up the hill, with the flint boundary wall of West Dean Park on my left as my guide. The path here is actually part of the Monarch’s Way and passes through a couple of stretches of woodland before heading in a more easterly direction to Seven Points. The views on this part of the route were pretty impressive themselves, looking across to the other side of the river valley.

From Seven Points the path heads up the hill to the east, with the radio mast on The Trundle dominating the skyline. I seem to be becoming more tolerant of these artificial intrusions in the landscape, especially when they act as beacons and navigational aids to the walker. There is plenty to see on The Trundle itself, many lumps and bumps, quite apart from the main ditch and bank, however the views from the hilltop were quite breathtaking.

A full 360° panorama and even with the mist it was still possible to see for miles, the spire of Chichester Cathedral was clearly visible and Chichester Harbour, further west I could just about make out Portsmouth and to the south-west the bulky outline of the Isle of Wight. I found myself wishing for a clearer day, but knew that I would be returning again one day, hopefully in better conditions to take in more of this spectacular landscape, which unfortunately my digital camera did not do justice to.

Much closer to the hill, in fact butting up against the hill to east is Goodwood Race Course, another man-made structure which didn’t seem to intrude quite as much as I had expected, although that may not be the case on an actual race day.

To the north the views were not quite as far ranging due to the presence of the South Downs, but still pretty spectacular, especially being able to look down (see below) on the ancestral village of Singleton from such a fantastic vantage point. Singleton was the end point of the walk today and it was pretty much all downhill from The Trundle, heading in a northerly direction, first along the road to Charlton and then branching off to the left on a footpath down the spur of Knight’s Hill. The path leading me down, quite steeply near the end, to the parish church at Singleton with so many family connections.

The walk didn’t take long, around two hours and was probably somewhere between 3½ and 4 miles in length and thus not particularly challenging, but I would have to say that it was probably my favourite walk of the year. I have walked in some of the most beautiful parts of Sussex this year whilst doing the South Downs Way but I don’t think anything came close to today. Perhaps it was the fact that it was new to me, perhaps the beautiful weather for this time of year, perhaps the ancestral connections or maybe just that I needed to get out and let my mind wander as well as my legs. I think I made the correct decision not to go to the record office after all.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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Picture Postcard Parade: West Dean House, West Dean, Sussex

12 Mar

It has been a while since I showed you a postcard from West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex. The postcard below is of West Dean House, the centre of the West Dean Estate (maybe not physically, but metaphorically).

The postcard shows the front (the southern side) of West Dean House bathed in sunshine, you can tell because most of the windows are shaded by striped blinds. Unfortunately the sunshine also obscures much of the detail, so that you can’t see that the front of the building is faced with thousands of flints.

To the left of the entrance and above the top of the building you can see the top of the tower of St. Andrew’s Church peeking out above the roof, with its four distinctive mini-spires (I’m sure they have a proper name).

The card itself is unused, but the name in the bottom right-hand corner seems to give away the name of the photographer. However “Russell Chichester” suggests that George Henry Allen of Chichester, Sussex was the publisher and rather confusingly the photographer may have been either Thomas Russell or George Henry Allen. Without any further dating evidence it is going to hard for me to say which.

I can’t wait for some bright and warm days when I can head back to West Dean myself and walk some of the footpaths and explore the parish further.

Another day at the West Sussex Record Office

10 Feb

I had a day off work today and the weather was pretty miserable, but I had already decided that I was unlikely to be going walking anyway so I wasn’t that disappointed. Instead I headed down to Chichester, West Sussex to spend a few hours down at the West Sussex Record Office.

I had deliberated for a while about where I would go, there is a lot on my to-do list at the moment and there are probably six or seven archives that I could have easily spent the day at, but in the end I decided on the WSRO.

I went through my to-do list whilst sitting on the train on the way down to Chichester, I still didn’t have a clear plan, but there were plenty of things I could do so I wasn’t too worried about not knowing what I was going to look at when I got there.

The record office was probably busier than I had ever seen it, at least until lunchtime after which it became a bit quieter. It was good to see so many people taking advantage of the services available at record office, although I was probably the youngest user there, but that might be because anyone else my age should have been at work today.

The day was spent mostly in front of microfilm/fiche readers looking at parish registers, although there were a couple of original registers involved as well. It is always a pleasure to have to consult an original register, to turn the pages and unlock its secrets.

I was pretty much trying to knock off items from my to-do list, but got distracted along the way, checking for records that I didn’t have on my to-do list but needed to check anyway. If there was any thread running through my research today then it was George and Mary MITCHELL of Cuckfield, Sussex and surrounding parishes. I still haven’t given up hope of proving that the George MITCHELL that was killed by a train was my 4x great-grandfather.

I don’t think anything I found today has changed anything in that respect, I have a few more hard facts, but still not enough evidence to satisfy me. I need to enter all this data and see what other research avenues are open to me and what else I need to find out.

 

Picture Postcard Parade: School Lane, West Dean

23 Nov

I did say last week that I didn’t have any more postcards of West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex, well it was true at the time but I acquired three more at the weekend, so here goes with another one.

This is a wonderful view of School Lane, West Dean but I have to be honest and say I am not certain where exactly School Lane is. I think it is the road that runs down past the burial ground, which would be up the top of the road in the picture on the left-hand side. I think I have located the cottages on an old map, but it looks like they are no longer there now so I probably won’t be able to verify if I have the right place. Nevertheless I will check next time I pay a visit, just in case some element of the scene remains, perhaps the railings on the right-hand side of the road.

The card itself is a little battered around the edges, but then it is over 100 years old, being posted on the 1st August 1907 at Chichester. There are no clues as to the publisher or photographer of the card. As you can see below there is quite an intriguing message on the back.

I wonder what was in the parcel and why it was so urgent? Was the sender at the races at nearby Goodwood (there was racing that week at Goodwood) and then off to Cowes on the Isle of Wight for a spot of yachting? In the 1911 census we find Ernest Albert and Ada Harriet Smoker living at 34 Birkhall Road, Catford, London, so it looks like Ernest was writing home to his wife for something, but what? I guess we shall probably never know.

TWG Unplugged: A Tale of Two Cities

30 Oct

The two cities in question were Brighton and Chichester, both of which I visited today name of family history. I began the day with a leisurely start and took the bus down to Brighton and then took the train along the south coast to Chichester.

First stop was the Brighton History Centre so that I could spend a couple of hours looking through local newspapers. Brighton History Centre has a great selection of local newspapers on microfilm (and a few originals) and among them is my personal favourite the Sussex Daily News. It was published between 1870 and 1956 and I could quite happily have spent all day scrolling through the pages.

I had several dates in mind, events that I wanted to check and see if they were reported, and I am pleased to say that the Sussex Daily News didn’t let me down. There was another mention of the BOXALL’s diamond wedding anniversary, with a few more bits of information that weren’t included in the one that I found last weekend. Then there were another couple of articles that relate to other family lines (GASSON and DUNFORD), one of which was particularly saddening.

Another report that I was looking for described an event that was captured on one of my latest postcard purchases, this was a bit of background research for a future blog post but quite an interesting story. A surprise find was an article about the bells at Bolney Church which I think have a connection with one of my ancestors as well. All in all a very rewarding visit.

The reason for my visit to Chichester was to visit the West Sussex Record Office. This time though it wasn’t for research, it was so I could buy some more of their bargain Ordnance Survey maps. It felt a bit odd not actually going into the search room but just spending an hour or so browsing through the piles of maps. I added another 10 maps to my collection, this time though they weren’t really ancestral places but other places of interest, many of them on the South Downs.

Another successful day, quite relaxing in many ways as I wasn’t trying to cram in too much, just taking it easy and enjoying myself in the sunshine. Next week, weather permitting, I will get back to some walking.

Something Sussex: West Dean Church destroyed by fire

28 Oct

The interior of St. Andrew’s Church, West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex seems modern and light, which is not what you would expect from the outside. A memorial stone set into the wall not far from the door explains why.

On the 26th November 1934 the church was almost completely destroyed by fire. According to a report in The Times newspaper the following day the Fire Brigade “were practically helpless owing to lack of water, West Dean being in an area which has suffered severely from a deficiency of water owing to the droughts of the last two summers.”

The same report records that a “very fine Elizabethan full-sized recumbant figure is badly damaged, and a life-size recumbent figure of the late Mr. Willie James [a former owner of West Dean Park]by Sir Goscombe John has been destroyed.”

In the article the Vicar (Rev. H.E. Lyne) described how the fire was first spotted, “Miss V. Smith, of West Drayton, saw smoke and flames when she was practising at the organ in the church. She immediately dashed for help, but the roof and everything was ablaze in about 20 minutes. I was out at the time, and did not get back till the roof had fallen in.”

As should be obvious from the memorial stone the church was restored, according to the Chichester Observer (Wedenesday, 15th April 1936), “The restoration of St. Andrew’s Parish Church, West Dean, which was destroyed by fire in November, 1934, was completed last week and the dedication of the new building took place on Saturday morning in time for the Easter services.”

The Bishop appears to have used the dedication to encourage the continued attendance of the parishioners every week:

It was a house of God worthy of the God they came to worship, and he urged them to come there Sunday by Sunday to worship Him. There was no reason why the Church should not be as full every Sunday as it was on this occasion. “If it is not to be a witness of our work,” he said, “it might almost as well never have been rebuilt”

For the family historian one concern would be the survival of parish registers in such a devastating fire. Fortunately in this case it appears that the registers were safely stored in a fireproof safe and they are now held at the West Sussex Record Office.

Inside West Dean Church (16 June 2010)

Ancestral Profile: George MITCHELL (1873-1951)

25 Oct

George MITCHELL is my great-grandfather, unfortunately I have no known photograph of him, although there are so many descendants that I feel sure there is one out there somewhere.

George was the son of William Henry and Harriet MITCHELL, he was born on the 13th April 1873 in East Meon, Hampshire and was one of thirteen children. His birth was registered by his mother on the 23rd April 1873 and he was baptised in Clanfield, Hampshire on the 25th May 1873.

Throughout his childhood the family appear to have moved frequently, eventually crossing from Hampshire into Sussex and settling in West Dean, Sussex. It was at St. Andrew’s Church in West Dean that he married Lilian May BOXALL on the 6th October 1894, George was aged 21 and Lilian was 17 years old and also from West Dean.

George and Lilian appear to have spent the rest of their lives living at Warren Farm (sometimes known as Warren Barn) in West Dean. Together they had a total of sixteen children, divided equally between eight boys and eight girls. It appears that all but one of them survived to adulthood.

Precise details of George’s working life are thin on the ground, census returns show him carrying out various roles associated with farming, leading him to be best described as an agricultural labourer, but the focus appears to have been on working with horses. His obituary records that he had worked “29½ years for Mr. Knight, 4 for Mr. Ruff and 18 for Mr. Heyler”, all presumably the tenant farmers at Warren Farm, although the farm itself was probably owned by the West Dean Estate.

I have written about George’s death before, he died on the 4th January 1951 at St. Richard’s Hospital in Chichester, Sussex having been kicked on the head by a horse on the 31st December 1950. His funeral took place at St. Andrew’s Church, West Dean the 10th January 1951. He is buried in the burial ground at West Dean, with his wife Lilian who died several years previously in 1939.

Grave of George and Lilian May MITCHELL

Grave of George and Lilian May MITCHELL (West Dean, Sussex)

 

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