Review of Meetings 2015 (contd.)

July - August

The subject of the talk for the Yapton & Ford Local History Group's monthly July meeting was the lime burning industry based around Amberley, Bury and Houghton. The illustrated talk was given by Richard Howell who started by explaining how, millions of years ago when this area was underwater, a layer of chalk was laid down, formed by the shells and bones of trillions of sea creatures. Once the land was exposed to the elements, erosion took place leaving two ridges of chalk, the North and South Downs.

He went on to say that there are two kinds of chalk, white and grey and listed the different uses for each type. White is used for lime, lime-wash and medicine while grey is used for lime mortar and building blocks. Chalk has been quarried for centuries in the area and turned into lime by burning the chalk at a temperature of 800°C. Once this has been achieved the raw material can then be processed for the different uses. The resultant product was transported by boat to as far afield as Cornwall and Scotland. An Act of Parliament was passed to build a canal to connect the River Wey to the River Arun during the 17th century to allow chalk to be barged to the Weald but due to the Civil War this failed to materialise. The canal was eventually completed in 1770. The River Arun played a major part in the distribution of the chalk based products.

Some of the pits were owned by prominent people. The pits at Houghton for instance, were owned by the Bishop of Chichester. Lord Egremont of Petworth took out a 10 year lease on these pits round about 1800. ln 1802 these pits were sold by the Bishop of Chichester to the Duke of Norfolk resulting in Lord Egremont being the Duke of Norfolk’s tenant.

The industry expanded rapidly with the arrival of the railway in 1863. Perhaps the best known company was that of Pepper & Sons which started trading about 1874 after buying out all the local competitors. lt was owned firstly by John Pepper and then by his son Thomas Cunningham Pepper whose business was based at what is now Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre. All the pits on the site contained Kilns which were served by sidings alongside Amberley Station, a canal was cut and a wharf built on the River Arun for barges to be loaded with the lime and cement then moved down river to the sea or along canals such as the Ford to Portsmouth canal via Yapton to their destinations. The company owned a small fleet of ships and barges to ship its products and employed about 100 staff in the early 1900s.

Chalk blocks from the pits were used in the construction of several notable local buildings such as the Hunting Lodge at Amberley Castle, the Roman Catholic Church at Arundel and Lancing College Crypt.

To conclude his talk Richard gave a potted history of the company and its eventual closure in 1967/68.

With no scheduled meeting in August, the Group organised a visit to the Fishbourne Roman Palace. Prior to the tour of the Palace the Group were given an informative talk by the resident Archaeologist giving the background of the site, its place in history of the Romans in Britain and what the visitors would see on their tour of the Museum.

ln AD 43, the year of the Roman invasion, a military supply depot occupied the site. lt wasn’t until AD 75 - 100 that the Palace was constructed. The part of the building that can be seen today is less than a quarter of the original area, the rest being beneath Fishbourne village and the road to the south. The building contained a great deal of marble in its construction as well as 40,000 clay roof tiles and would have cost a fortune to build.

The Romans ruled through local friendly kings, called Client Kings, with the local king being Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus. lt seems unlikely that he would have been rich enough or had enough influence to build such a grand residence. Some of the windows were glazed and the garden was the first formal garden in Britain. lt is estimated that the Palace contained approximately 100 rooms. The Palace was probably used as an Administration building rather than a home.

The Museum is housed in the North Wing and contains many mosaics. Ones containing geometric designs are 1st century while 'The Boy on a Dolphin' is mid 2nd century. The quality of some of the mosaics does not compare favourably with the others and were possibly produced by locals learning the skills. There is much evidence of alterations having been carried out during the life of the complex and in some instances new mosaics were laid on top of earlier ones.

Around AD 280 a fire destroyed the North and West Wings which brought an end to the occupation of the building and it was never used again.

Following the talk the members and their guests were free to wander around the museum at their leisure.

To coincide with the Cottage Gardeners Summer Show, the Yapton & Ford Local History Group re-created the displays which formed part of the exhibitions that the Group staged in St Marys and St Andrews churches earlier in the year. This gave people another chance to delve into the history of our churches and the influence that they had over the lives of the community. Among the displays were lists of incumbents, copies of old documents, protestation returns and copies of the Tithe Maps. A steady flow of visitors passed through during the afternoon, many discovering facts about the history of their churches of which they were unaware.

The Group were delighted to have a special guest amongst their number. Charles Gallagher who was a bomber aimer/navigator in Halifax bombers during WW2 attended the exhibition with copies of his book about his life in the war for sale. All profits going to St Marys.

Allen Misselbrook
September 2015


September - October

To start the Yapton & Ford Local History Group's 24th year, September's guest speaker was no stranger to the Group. Caroline Adams, one time Archivist of the Record Office, gave a talk entitled 'Domestic Bliss in Tudor West Sussex'.

Caroline started by showing the distribution of the landed gentry and their stately homes in West Sussex. This was followed by a description of a typical layout of one of these great houses, what facilities they had and what staff would have been required to enable the house and estate to run smoothly. The hierarchy within the household staff was explained and the duties that each member was expected to carry out.

Sometimes these great houses such as Cowdray and Parham would receive a visit from the reigning monarch and their entourage. This meant accommodation had to be provided and the kitchens had to prepare a mass of food to cater for them. Quite often tents and marquees had to be erected to accommodate the visitors.

Many of these houses and estates are now open to the public so it is possible to see how these great families, along with their staff, lived and worked, and perhaps to get a feel for what it must have been like to have lived in one these great houses 500 years ago.

Many members and guests braved the inclement October weather to attend the Group’s 23rd AGM and listen to guest speaker and Group member Rupert Head. The Chairman outlined the Group’s activities for the past year in his Annual Report, thanking the secretary, Anne Hollis, for her excellent work in putting together such a varied and interesting programme of talks.

Following the AGM, guest speaker Rupert Head took centre stage. With the aid of slides he recounted the fateful day in 1982 when he was 1st Lieutenant on the SS Atlantic Conveyor which was sunk in the South Atlantic by the Argentineans during the Falklands conflict. The 15,000 ton merchant ship was converted from a car transporter to a ship that could carry Sea Harriers, RAF Harriers and helicopters in a matter of 8 days which was truly remarkable. Another great achievement was to land the Harriers in the storage area on deck in two days, a feat which would have taken months to perfect and achieve in peacetime.

The Atlantic Conveyor

Rupert explained that they arrived in the Falklands via Ascension lsland and were about 2 miles from the Carrier Fleet when a French built Argentinean Super Entendard aircraft fired two Exocet missiles at the fleet. Exocet missiles, also French built, carried on-board radar; to help protect themselves the fleet fired off clouds of silver foil 'chaff' to distract the missiles, a facility that the Atlantic Conveyer didn’t have. One of the missiles locked on to the transporter and hit the ship portside aft.

Rupert described the efforts made by the crew during the next four hours to save the ship but it was all to no avail. When the onboard fires were approaching the ammunition store elements of the fleet were ordered away from the stricken ship in case they were damaged by any subsequent explosion. The order to abandon ship was given and the crew took to the liferafts or jumped into the water. Captain lan North, a veteran of the Russian convoys during WW2, refused to leave the bridge and had to be manhandled off the ship. He was last seen swimming towards a second life raft after leaving one which was already full. The survivors were eventually picked up and taken to the SS British Tay.

Allen Misselbrook
November 2015


November - December

For the members and guests attending the Yapton & Ford History Group’s November meeting the Christmas festivities started early. They were treated to illustrated talk on the history of Pantomime enthusiastically presented by professional pantomime artist, Ian Gledhill.

Ian opened the talk with an account of his personal history in the world of 'panto' having worked with such stars as Julian Clary and John Inman in many of the classic shows. He followed this by taking us back to the roots of pantomime in 17th century Italy where it developed as a travelling show performed on a makeshift stage. The cast consisted of four main characters - an old man, Harlequin, Clown and a pretty girl going by the name of Columbine. The story being that Harlequin woos Columbine away from the old man. The art form slowly spread through France and finally to England where it ran into a problem. Not many people understood Italian. This was overcome by eliminating the dialogue and becoming a mime show, hence 'Panto - mime'.

Going out for an evening at the Theatre during the 17th century was an all evening affair where the entertainment consisted of several short plays which always ended with the light-hearted 'panto'. This routine was started by John Rich, owner of the Lincoln Inn Fields Theatre, in 1717. The very first full length pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, was staged in 1781. By 1850 it had become what we recognise today as a traditional Christmas production.

With the help of humorous anecdotes lan continued his talk by revealing the source of many of the traditional pantomimes. These were based on fairy tales written by the Grimm Brothers in 1812 and by Frenchman Charles Perrault in the 1690s. Although the most popular pantomime, Cinderella, originated in China 1000 years ago, while the second most popular, Aladdin, came from The Arabian Nights written 700 years ago. Third place goes to an English fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, which first appeared as a pantomime in 1819. We all know Snow White’s dwarfs of course, Bashful, Grumpy etc. but they owe their names not to tradition but to Walt Disney. Should anyone wish to stage a production they cannot use these names unless they pay the Walt Disney Corporation a hefty sum in fees.

Finally, the tradition of Principal boys being played by women and the Dames being played by men has its origins in history. During Elizabeth Ist's reign it was illegal for women to act on the stage so all parts were played by men. Charles II changed that in 1662 but some women’s characters were still played by men. During the 18th century when boy characters had to sing there was a problem due to their voices breaking. This problem was solved by giving the parts to girls. Latterly the role of Principal Boy has been taken back by men (usually by some pop or television star), while it is still customary to give all comic women’s parts to men.

The Group’s Christmas meeting continued the entertainment theme when the members and guests welcomed Trevor Jennings, the longest serving Punch and Judy man in the country. He delighted the audience with anecdotes from his 67 years in the business. He brought with him his collection of puppets, which had been made for him, and he had used for many years.

Two of Trevor Jennings' puppets

His father was a magician and introduced 8 year old Trevor to the entertainment business over Christmas in 1940. His parents presented him with a set of celluloid puppets and built him a reduced sized booth to perform in. He went on to say how, with the support of his father, he became a professional Punch & Judy man giving his first professional show as the support act in his father’s Magic Show in Bognor in January 1943. He had a set of ten traditional puppets made which lasted for 17 years. His popularity increased with a total of 24 shows the following year.

Trevor decided to retire from showing publically 5 years ago but on the suggestion of a friend he started giving talks about his life in the business.

Trevor finished by parading all his puppets one at a time and how he would always be on the look-out in shops, car-boot sales and the like for items which would enhance his characters for little or no cost.

His talk ended with a question and answer session followed by a selection of Christmas nibbles and a glass of wine provided generously by members of the Group.

Allen Misselbrook
January 2016