Tag Archives: west dean

All Roads Lead Home and natural navigation

25 Oct

Regular readers of my blog will know that I don’t watch much television (I never even got around to watching the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are?), but there was one series recently that I made an effort to watch, albeit on BBC iPlayer rather than when it was actually broadcast.

The series was called All Roads Lead Home and was about the subject of natural navigation. There were only three episodes in this series, and the idea of the show was for three celebrities to find their way around the landscape without the use of a map, compass or GPS, and using only the clues provided by nature (and the occasional man-made clues like churches and graveyards).

The series didn’t receive particularly rave reviews, partly I think because people were expecting the celebrities to be dumped in some remote corner of Britain and then be expected to find their way home. Instead the walks they made were much shorter, between fixed points and they were given a guidebook which gave them directions such as “at the next junction take the south-west path”, they just had to use the clues to figure out which direction that was.

I found the series very enjoyable, natural navigation is something that has intrigued me for a while, the expert on the series was Tristan Gooley, and I already have his book The Natural Navigator on my shelf and have been following his blog for a while. It also helped that the celebrities received their training at West Dean House near Chichester, West Sussex, which featured in clips in the series along with the parish church at West Dean and the South Downs.

For the family historian episode two was particularly pertinent, when the group visited Ireland, ancestral home of one of the celebrities, Stephen Mangan. This episode was much more about finding his roots and exploring the landscape of his ancestors. Natural navigation requires that you pay greater attention to your surroundings and not just turning up in a car as they usually do on Who Do You Think You Are? and this is a useful lesson for anyone wanting to really get to know about where your ancestors lived.

I know I am over reliant on maps when I go walking (although I rarely use a compass), and I know that when I first walked the South Downs Way last year I enjoyed it much more when I actually put the guidebook away and began to see the landscape around me. Searching for natural clues or in my case for the waymarking provided is a great way of opening your eyes to your surroundings, rather than having one eye constantly on the map, waiting for the next change in direction. Hopefully this programme will encourage me to put the map away a bit more often when I go out wandering.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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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.

Picture Postcard Parade: The Main Road and Selsey Arms, West Dean.

8 Feb

Regular readers of my blog might recognize this view, I have featured similar views a couple of times before (here and here) and last week we were just up the road. It is of course the entrance to the ancestral village of West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex, with the school on the left and the Selsey Arms pub on the right.

The difference with this card is its age, this card is postmarked 16th August 1950, probably making it at least two or three decades later than the others, and it was published the well-known publisher Raphael Tuck and Sons, Ltd.

There are a couple of clues in the picture which hint at a more “modern” card. At the bottom of the card is the end of a white line in the middle of the road, according to Wikipedia the first white lines in the UK appeared in 1921. The other noticeable difference is the line of telegraph poles on the left hand side of the road, look at all those insulators on the nearest one.

The nearest pole also has a small sign attached to it, in fact it is probably two signs, one facing each way along the road. I believe that they have the word telephone on them (this printed postcard is not detailed enough to be able to tell for certain), indicating to passing motorists the presence of a telephone kiosk nearby. Last time I was wandering around West Dean there was a telephone box down the road on the right-hand side of the road, just before the pub.

I wish the card was more detailed because I think I can see a bus stop on the left-hand side of the road (for buses towards Midhurst, Sussex) beyond the pub. Today the bus stop is a bit closer, almost opposite the pub, and has a bus shelter for when it rains.

Picture Postcard Parade: West Dean school from the railway bridge

4 Feb

The postcard below is currently one of my favourite postcards (and one of my most recent purchases). It shows part of the village of West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex including the distinctive school building, which is the closest of the buildings on the left-hand side of the road.

I believe the wall in the bottom right-hand corner is part of the bridge where the road from Chichester to Midhurst crosses over the now disused railway which also ran from Chichester to Midhurst. I think that the bank in the bottom left-hand corner is part of the railway cutting. Google Street View clearly shows the bridge from the other side, but the view has been substantially altered by the presence of more trees.

This postcard was sent on the 8th August 1924, from West Dean to an address in Alton, Hampshire. It was produced by same person who was responsible for the postcard of West Dean Church I showed you last week. The style of the caption on that postcard is identical to this and at least one other in my collection. Unfortunately I don’t yet know who that person was.

Picture Postcard Parade: West Dean Church, Sussex

27 Jan

This is one of the postcards I bought last weekend at Shoreham and is one of the best views of West Dean Church that I have seen.

In fact I don’t think I have seen a postcard from this angle before, roughly speaking the photo was taken from the garden of the vicarage looking south towards St. Andrew’s Church, above the roof of the church can be seen the roof and chimneys of West Dean House. Beyond that I think the hill on the left is probably Singletonhill Plantation, but I am not sure.

I love the fact that the photographer has captured the detail in the garden as well, with lots of fruit trees and what looks like a rose arch pointing towards the church tower. The gateway to the church is hidden behind the tall plant(s) in the centre, but the path can clearly be seen leading down the side of the garden and along the back wall.

I still don’t know who the publisher/photographer was, despite now having several from the same publisher/photographer. This particular card was not sent through the post, but it does have a message written on the back in pencil “The Church at West Dean we attended on Sunday [Cheerie] Chums August Camp 10th – 17th 1929″. The word Cheerie is not very clear but it is the only thing can I think it says, I wonder who they were and where they came from?

Something Sussex: Mae West’s lips – the Sussex connection

25 Nov

It was something of a surprise to discover that the tiny rural village of West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex has a connection with such a famous and iconic piece of furniture.

The sofa is inspired by the lips of actress and sex symbol Mae West, and was the result of a collaboration between surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and Edward James (of West Dean Estate). I don’t know what exactly that collaboration involved or whether it took place in West Dean itself or elsewhere.

apparently there were five sofas made originally, although I suspect there have been many more copies made since the late 1930s when it was designed. The one pictured above is one of those five and is to be found on display behind glass in the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.

I have long been an admirer of Dalí’s work, and have visited exhibitions of his work in both London and Paris and it seems almost inconceivable that there could be a connection with the tiny ancestral village nestling at the foot of the South Downs. I really am going to have to find out more about his connection with West Dean. I can’t help but wonder if any of my ancestors bumped into Dalí whilst working in the gardens or West Dean House itself?

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