Review of Meetings 2011

January - February

The New Year saw the welcome return of Lizzie and Tony Gilkes as guest speakers for the Yapton & Ford Local History Group's January meeting.

Dressed in period costume, Lizzie and Tony described what life was like living below stairs in a stately home like Petworth House during the period from 1880 up until the outbreak of WWl in 1914. To add colour to their talk, which was liberally sprinkled with amusing anecdotes, they brought with them an array of original items for the members to see and touch. Some were surprised to learn that a house like Petworth required some 200 servants to ensure its smooth running. Even the Butler had his own servants.

One perk the staff enjoyed was the feeding of their families in the house kitchen. Sometimes this could mean catering for some 400 people. The footmen, who were under the control of the Butler, were always well dressed in the uniform of the house and they were paid according to their height.

The History Group’s members interacted with the speakers throughout the evening with Lizzie and Tony answering many questions put to them. Members also shared their own memories and anecdotes with the rest of the audience. The entertainment could have continued late into the evening but with time running out, light refreshments were served along with a promise of a return visit.

The Yapton & Ford Local History Group’s February meeting had a nautical theme when the guest speaker, Juliet Nye curator of Littlehampton Museum, gave an illustrated talk on the history of Littlehampton Harbour.

Hampton (which became Littlehampton to differentiate the town from South Hampton) was designated a port by William Rufus in 1071 but it found itself in competition with Arundel. As ships became larger Littlehampton came into its own because the size of the ships made it impossible for them to reach Arundel.

The harbour's golden period was during the 1850’s with the coming of the railways which increased the port traffic; coal and timber being the mainstays of the port’s trade. Other commercial ventures included steam ship crossings to France and pleasure cruises. WWI saw a flurry of activity when the port was used to ferry army stores and munitions to France. During WW2 the harbour was a base for fast Air Sea Rescue boats.

The west bank of the River Arun became home to many shipbuilding businesses, Hilyards and Osbournes being very prominent during the mid 1900’s. Osbournes being responsible for building many lifeboats for the RNLI. Today the majority of the shipping trade has gone, being replaced by a thriving marina and a host of small pleasure craft.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2011


March - April

The focus of Yapton & Ford Local History Group’s March meeting was the glasshouse industry of Worthing. Guest speaker, Jan Gribben, used computerised images and photographs to plot the rise of the industry from humble beginnings in the mid 19th century to a major player on the international stage. Locally grown produce such as grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes and carnations were exported to many foreign destinations. The area of land covered by glass was so vast that it was reported that German bomber pilots during WW2 thought they were lakes.

Members and guests learnt that the production of greenhouses on this scale became possible following the discovery, in 1833, of a method of producing large sheets of glass, by a firm in Birmingham. A local doctor recognised the suitability of Worthing for growing produce under glass. The land was flat, protected to the north by the Downs and enjoyed long hours of sunshine. Add to this the arrival of the railway which enabled produce picked one day to be sold all over the country on the next day, Worthing was the ideal place.

From the doctor’s small beginnings, the glasshouse industry in the area swiftly grew. ln the census of 1861 there were 120 skilled employees working in the industry. In the 195O’s this had risen to 1500 workers being employed by 250 growers. The first signs of trouble for the growers appeared in 1896 when France imposed import duties on grapes followed by the Germans adding tariffs onto cucumbers. This caused prices to tumble. Jan Gribben explained how the growers formed the Worthing & District Market Growers Association in 1912 to help protect themselves from outside forces.

The next body blow to befall the industry came with the advent of WWI, when central government ordered the growers to concentrate on growing essential foods not grapes, carnations and chrysanthemums. The growers survived this and a similar situation during WW2, but what they could not compete with was the growing popularity of Worthing as a seaside resort. Land became a highly sought after commodity for the leisure industry and land prices soared. By 1958 the trade in greenhouse grown produce was only a fraction of what it was in its heyday.

The time capsule that is the Mary Rose was the subject presented to the members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group by John Morgan at the Group’s April meeting. John described, with the aid of slides, the sequence of events that led to the discovery of the wreck of Henry VIII's flagship lying in the Solent and the subsequent raising of the only 16th century ship in existence along with the treasure trove that it held.

ln the mid 1960’s amateur divers started looking for the wreck, their only guide being the tableau produced after the event showing Henry on Southsea Castle, with his fleet stationed outside Portsmouth Harbour watching the French Fleet anchored off the Isle of Wight. The masts of the Mary Rose could be seen protruding above the waves. The cause of sinking is still a matter of debate.

A lump was discovered on the seabed which was subsequently proved to be the Mary Rose. A trust was formed in 1979 and the difficult task of clearing the silt laden wreck and raising it to the surface began. The largest seaborne crane was employed to lift the Mary Rose from its watery grave and due to the generosity of the crane's owners, it only cost 1 Guinea (£1.05) for the four days that it was required.

John then went on to describe the years of painstaking work by the Mary Rose Trust to preserve the remains of the ship and its contents, work which has led to the Trust being world leaders in the art of preservation, their advice being sought by groups all over the globe.

The ship held some 20,000 artefacts which are being catalogued, cleaned and preserved. A good proportion of these were found in several seamen’s chests which had lain there undisturbed for 400 years. The public will be able to see these in the new, purpose built Mary Rose Museum which is due to open in 2012.

Allen Misselbrook
May 2011


May - June

Instead of their usual monthly meeting in May, members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group were treated to a guided walk around Chichester. The theme was Chichester and the Civil War. The tour guide was a longtime favourite of the Group, Paul Ulson, whose knowledge, given in his own enthusiastic style, transported everyone back to the time when Chichester was besieged by Parliament’s men.

Standing on the walls near North Gate, Paul gave the reasons why the city was under siege. He described what the scene would have looked like with 3000 Parliamentarians, commanded by William Waller, camped along what is now Broyle Road with their cannons arrayed in Oaklands Park, firing over the city. The defenders, not locals but Scottish Royalists, were hopelessly outnumbered. The tactics Waller adopted was to move around the city causing the Scots to spread themselves thinly along the walls until it was impossible for them to resist effectively.

The tour was led by Paul to various points around Chichester where he painted a verbal picture of the views as they would have appeared nearly 400 years ago, endeavouring as he went, to explain the confusing political picture of the period.

The siege lasted for 7 days before the Scottish defenders capitulated and surrendered after Waller agreed that his troops would not sink the city. This agreement of course was only partially adhered to.

Quite recently while extensive ground works were being carried out for Mercer’s in West Street, a large cannon was unearthed. It was cleaned up, given a coat of Hammerite, mounted on wheels and is now a feature in the company’s grounds. It has subsequently been discovered that it was a siege gun probably used by Waller which had become bogged down and sunk in the marshes west of the city.

The evening tour concluded with Paul being himself bombarded but in this instance with questions which he answered enthusiastically.

Christ’s Hospital came under the spotlight at the Yapton & Ford Local History Group’s June meeting. Clifford Jones, an ex-pupil, outlined the history of the world famous school which was founded by Edward VI in 1552.

Its first home was in a converted ex-monastery next to St Paul’s Cathedral which had the distinction that some of the buildings had been designed by Wren. The name was derived from 'Christ' and 'Hospitality'. The students had to wear a very distinctive uniform. The coats were dark blue, almost black, and their socks were dyed yellow which was derived from a concoction of saffron and onions. Hardly any of the children caught the plague because the fleas did not like the onion. William Garway of Ford left his real estate in Ford, Clymping and Bilsham to the London school in 1702.

Eventually the school in London became too overcrowded as a result of which a 1200 acre site near Horsham was purchased for £50,000. Once the new premises were ready 1000 boys moved in from London while the girls moved to Hertford but eventually they too moved to Horsham.

Some of the old buildings, e.g. The Old Gate also made the journey down to the new premises. The L&BSCR felt the need to build a seven platform station to service the school not realising that it was a boarding school and the students would only make two journeys a term. The school made it possible for children of poor families to receive a good education. Many of the "Old Blues" went on to become famous; Barnes Wallis and S.T. Coleridge to name but two.

Clifford described what it was like living as a boarder with 25 pupils to a dormitory, sleeping in beds made with wooden slats and no springs. At meal times they were made to march into the dining hall accompanied by music from their own world famous band which had played at venues all over the globe. A typical breakfast in 1824 was bread and beer as water was deemed to be unsafe to drink. By 1913 the beer had been replaced by coffee.

The school was built to be self-contained. lt even had its own large infirmary although this is no longer used. Before the coming of mains supply, water was drawn from the water tower which is still the tallest building on the site. Locally many houses have the Christ’s Hospital crest on the outside of their walls indicating that they were rented from the school.

After answering many varied questions drawing from his personal experiences and research, Clifford was thanked for his enlightening talk which included links to our own area.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2011