Review of Meetings 2012 (contd.)

July - August

"Magnus Volk and his Amazing Railways" was the subject of the Yapton & Ford Local History Groups’ July meeting. lt was an illustrated talk given by lan Gledhill, Chairman of the Victorian Electric Railway Association.

Magnus Volk, son of a German clockmaker was born in Brighton in 1851. Although he started his working life as an apprentice scientific instrument maker his interest was in electricity and what it could do. He heard about the Bell telephone so he bought one and installed it in his house but he was the only person in Sussex to have one so he had to also install one in a friend’s house. Another invention that he wanted to utilise was the electric light bulb but as there was no public electricity supply at that time he generated his own by using a gas engine and generator. He became the first person in the South of England to have electric light. ln 1887 he built himself an electric car which was in the form of a 3-wheeled tricycle.

His mind then turned to bigger and better things. The members and guests heard how he applied to Brighton Council to be allowed to build and run an electric train along Madeira Drive. The Council refused permission but said that they would allow him to build it on the beach. The result was that on 4th August 1883, just 6 weeks after his first letter to the Council, the Railway opened, carrying 10 people at a time. lt carried 20,000 passengers in the first week. Because there was no obvious source of driving power the Vicar of Brighton denounced it as the work of Satan.

It ran for 300 yards from Brighton Aquarium to Chain Pier. Volk wanted to extend it to West Pier but was refused permission, but was allowed to extend eastward. A steep cutting was built under the Chain Pier to allow the line to be extended by half a mile to Paston Place (Banjo Groin). lt was also widened to take bigger carriages.

The cliffs prevented any further extension eastwards so Volk’s solution was to run a railway through the water. So on 28th November 1896 the Brighton & Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was born. The 50 foot long by 22 feet wide carriage sitting on 23 feet high legs, affectionately known as 'Daddy Long Legs', carrying up to 150 people through 16 feet of water. After only 6 days a heavy storm knocked it on its side causing a great deal of damage. It was rebuilt and opened again in the following spring. With a maximum speed of 8mph it was only practical for pleasure trips and when the council told Volk that they wanted to extend the breakwaters the track was dug up and in 1910 the carriage was broken up for scrap.

Volk's 'Daddy Long Legs'

There have been several modifications and repositioning over the years but the world’s oldest railway is still running today carrying 100,000 passengers a year.

Magnus Volk died in May 1937.

16 members of the Yapton and Ford Local History Group attended the August meeting which was a guided walk around Bognor Town led by Sylvia Endacott, a local historian from Bognor. Prior to the walk Sylvia explained the relationship between the town and Sir Richard Hotham, the name living on with the Park. The walk commenced from the former Bognor Urban District Council Town Hall in Clarence Road - now known as Bognor Regis Town Hall. A foundation stone in the wall noted that the building was the work of Charles Cowles-Voysey and constructed by the Bognor builders H W Seymour in 1929. The design was to influence other local authority town halls built in the early 1930s. The building was listed as grade 2 in 2003.

From here we walked via the back streets towards the Butlins Holiday complex. One of the streets crossed was Albert Road which has a fine example of block Victorian properties to rent built in 1882. Sylvia informed the group that the Bowes-Lyon family had land and property in Bognor. Walking closer to Butlins we passed Campbell Road where it was explained that in 1931 Gandhi stayed with a friend, and had a meeting with Bishop George Bell in Chichester However there is no record of the house number. The next stop was Gloucester Road where much time was expended discussing the virtues or not of Butlins to Bognor, with one of the group recalling catching fish in the rife (now partly piped) under the complex. The site now has three '5 star' hotels on it, a far cry from the chalets built in 1959 when many people believe Butlins first came to Bognor. However they have in fact been in Bognor since the 1930s.

Moving to the corner of Gloucester Road and the High Street the group was shown the site of a former cobblers shop where it's though that Queen Victoria bought her first pair of leather boots. The walk continued along the high street towards the town where buildings of note were pointed out including the large Catholic Church which was only completed in 1954 but started in the 1880s. Some time was spent looking at the Post Office, a fine Red Brick building. Pictures of the former 1899 Fire Station, now a lock centre, were shown which highlighted the changes made to the building over the succeeding years.

Concluding the walk we passed the Regis Centre. Sylvia explained that Royal statues were granted in 1929 when King George visited Bognor but was not sure if the immortal words “B*gg*r Bognor” were muttered by him at the time. The guided walk was up to Sylvia’s usual high standards and lasted for about an hour and a half.

Allen Misselbrook
September 2012


September - October

The Yapton & Ford Local History Group held their 20th AGM on 3rd September 2012 in the Yapton and Ford Village Hall. The Chairman reported that the Group had experienced their most successful year yet with a varied and interesting programme of speakers and visits, with each meeting being attended consistently by over 30 members and guests. He thanked the efforts of all those that made this possible. The Treasurer reported that the club funds were in a healthy position and in the light of this the meeting agreed not to increase the annual subscriptions for the coming year although a proviso was made that they may be increased later in the year should rising costs become a problem.

Following the AGM, member Adge Roberts took the meeting on a virtual walk along the Arundel to Portsmouth Canal from where it joins the Arun at Ford to the point where it meets the Chichester Canal at Hunston. With the aid of slides and his wealth of knowledge about the now defunct waterway, Adge gave the members  and guests a brief history of the canal and the reasons for it being built. One of its main uses was to transport bullion between London and Portsmouth safely without the risk of it being lost to the French from being transported by sea.

By the time the canal opened in 1823, this risk had virtually disappeared so the need for the canal was reduced. Add to this the advancement in rail travel, the days of the canal were numbered before it had begun and it never made a profit. Its commercial life span barely lasted 50 years. The slides accompanying Adge’s narrative depicted what it was it was like then and now; much of it alas is only a memory.

The Group’s guest speaker for its October meeting was Jane Barnes from neighbouring Bognor Regis Local History Society. Jane gave an illustrated talk on "William Blake’s Felpham".

William Blake, poet and engraver moved to Felpham in 1800 with his wife Catherine from Lambeth in London where he was struggling to earn a living. The Group heard how Blake was introduced to William Hayley, a 'literary gentleman' living in Eartham, by his sculptor friend John Flaxman. Hayley needed the services of an engraver and commissioned Blake to produce the engravings.

lt was an advantage for Blake to move to the south coast to be near Hayley. They leased Rose Cottage (now known as Blake’s Cottage), a thatched cottage on the south side of, at that time, the little village of Felpham. Jane described their social life in the village as well as their work and friends. They enjoyed the life they found there but it was not to last. Everything came to a head when war broke out again with Napoleon’s France and the countryside became full of troops expecting Napoleon to invade at anytime. Blake, who was well known to be anti-King, wars and soldiers, was confronted in his garden by a trooper. The trooper later accused Blake of damning the King among other things with the result that Blake was prosecuted. The trial was set for January 1804 by which time Blake’s lease had run out on Rose Cottage and he had returned to London. He returned for his trial and was acquitted.

lt is said that it was while living in Felpham that the seeds for Blake’s Jerusalem were sown.

Allen Misselbrook
November 2012


November - December

The History Group’s guest speaker in November was local historian David Ruffle who presented a selection of slides from his extensive collection focusing on the local villages. The members and guests were treated to glimpses of the past with views of Walberton, Barnham and Goodwood as well as other neighbouring areas. Several of the more stately buildings were featured such as Avisford and Goodwood. Local churches were also included as well as some of the more elaborate gravestones in Walberton churchyard being described including that of an unfortunate victim whose fate was illustrated for all time on his gravestone; the scene of him being crushed under a falling tree was carved onto his headstone.

The slower pace of life was made evident with the inclusion of several photos of cars from the bygone era and the roads that they travelled along which were more suited to horse and cart rather than vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine.

An old friend of the Group made a return visit to entertain a full clubroom of members and guests in December, for their last meeting of the year Paul Ulson, dressed in full period costume complete with treasure chest, gave the crowded room a talk in his own flamboyant way, on Smugglers, Pirates & Highwaymen with particular reference to Sussex.

The background of smuggling was explained as well as the difference between Pirates (sea based), Buccaneers (land based) and Privateers (licensed by governments). As the story unfolded, members of the audience were persuaded to represent historical characters to help bring the tale to life.

Due to the monarchs needing more and more money to finance their way of life, including wars, new taxes were invented or increased. The items taxed were many and varied such as tea, lace and brandy. Paul explained that it was not only imports that suffered the attention of the taxman, the local population had window taxes inflicted on them as well as being taxed for the number of fireplaces they had in the homes. The whole of the local population from the Lords of the Manor to the Clergy to the lowest member of the community was subjected to various taxes. With this in mind it was conceivable that almost every person in the countryside was involved in smuggling in one way or another, whether it was as lookouts, transporting and storing contraband or unloading the boats coming ashore at Clymping or Middleton. Villagers could possibly earn in one night more money than they could earn in weeks of toiling on the land.

Paul finished off his talk by opening his treasure chest which was full of items that pirates and smugglers would use. From bags of tea to weighing scales, from a miniature telescope to wax tally blocks. All which were collapsible to fit into the chest and packed so that they made no noise at all when in transport.

The evening finished on a festive note with wine and mince pies being served along with the usual tea and coffee.

Allen Misselbrook
January 2013