One thing I didn’t mention yesterday when I wrote about my short walk to Betley Bridge was that the area has an important role in my family history.
Just south of the River Adur are two properties, to the west of the old railway line is Great Betley and to the east is Little Betley. The river itself marks the parish boundary between Henfield and West Grinstead in West Sussex so both these properties are just inside the parish of Henfield.
The family connection begins in the 1861 census, when my 3x great-grandfather John Fairs is to be found at Betley (presumably Great Betley) employed as a cowman. Prior to this he had been living “across the river” in West Grinstead, but I can’t pin down when he did start work at Betley.
The railway from Horsham to Shoreham was opened in 1861 and cut through the farmland on which John must have worked. A far more important event however was John’s marriage in 1862 to Mary Ann Weller.
By 1871 the couple had five daughters and were living at Little Betley, probably sharing the small cottage with Henry and Emma Nye and their three young children.
A decade later in 1881 the couple were still at Little Betley, with two of their daughters and sharing the cottage with William and Elizabeth Pierce and their daughter. Just across the fields however at Betley is the 15 year old Ebenezer Trower, my 2x great-grandfather, working as an agricultural labourer.
Although John’s daughter Annie wasn’t living with them in 1881, she obviously wasn’t away that long because in 1889 the she and Ebenezer were married in Henfield Church.
In 1891 the widowed John is still at Little Betley working as an agricultural labourer, and sharing the house with Annie and Ebenezer (also an agricultural labourer) and their two children. One of these was the newly born Henry John Trower my great-grandfather.
By 1901 the families had split up, Ebenezer and Annie with their children to Sayers Common and John had moved closer to the village of Henfield itself.
It is easy for me to forget just how lucky I am to live so close to the house were my great-grandfather (Henry John Trower) and my 2x great-grandmother (Annie Fairs) were probably born and where my 3x great-grandfather (John Fairs) lived for at least 20 years and not forgetting of course my 2x great-grandfather (Ebenezer Trower) and 3x great-grandmother (Mary Ann Weller). And they are just my direct ancestors.
I probably ought to devote some more time to studying this house and the farm on which they lived and worked, it only seems right that I knew more about this particular area, especially considering it is practically on my door step.
For the second time in two days I have seized the opportunity and gone for a walk. Yesterday morning I took advantage of the fact that my wife had to work and got a lift to work with her and walked home, about four and a half miles.
This evening as I made my way home on the bus I could see the South Downs as clear as they had been for weeks, and instantly I knew I had to go and get a closer look.
So when I got home I swapped my work shoes for walking boots and headed out the door. I didn’t have time this evening to go far, so no need for a map or rucksack, only a mobile phone and digital camera.
My destination was Betley Bridge, which once took the railway over the River Adur between Partridge Green and Henfield, West Sussex. From just north of the bridge the southern horizon is dominated by the South Downs, from east to west.
I mentally named the hills one by one as I scanned the skyline from left to right and straining to see them disappearing to the west. I recalled the many hours spent walking along the ridge in the last two years and looked forward to the chance to walk them once again this year.
It felt so good, such freedom. I could quite easily have carried on walking, within a couple of hours I could have been up on the hills, but it would have been getting dark by then and I have to get up early tomorrow so I retraced my steps home.
It was probably only about three miles in all, so no great physical challenge, but standing in the warmth of the evening sunshine and admiring the Downs did a great deal for my sense of wellbeing.