Review of Meetings 2015


January - February

The history of the RAF airfield of Westhampnett, now Goodwood airfield, was enthusiastically presented by Mark Hillyer to the members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group at their January meeting.

The origins of flying at the airfield lay with the Duke of Richmond & Gordon who flew his own aeroplane, in 1936/37, from the field diagonally opposite the modern airfield across the roundabout by Woodcote Farm. With the coming of WW2, the Air Ministry took over the area and developed the site as a satellite airfield for nearby Tangmere. The first Squadron to occupy the landing ground was 145 squadron soon replaced by 602, City of Glasgow, squadron which were stationed there during the Battle of Britain. Facilities were very basic with many having to make do with tents for accommodation. Woodcote Farmhouse became 602’s Officers Mess with further accommodation at The Kennels and Fishers Cottage.

Mark showed many photographs of how the airfield looked at the time, with the boundaries as we know them today being non-existent. The surrounding fields being used for maintenance and aircraft dispersals. lt was members of 602 squadron who came to the aid of Ford Airfield when it was bombed in August 1940, shooting down several of the attacking aircraft. The perimeter track, which is now the racing track, was laid down in 1941 and was used at times by the pilots as a race track.

Over the short life of the airfield as a fighter station, as many as 46 different squadrons were based there, flown by pilots of many nationalities. Numbered among these were Polish, Americans, Belgians, French and New Zealanders. Aircraft types flown from Westhampnett included Hurricanes, Spitfires, Tempests and Typhoons for which the runway had to be extended across the road towards the Rolls Royce factory to accommodate them.

Mark then went on to list many of the operations that aircraft from the base had been involved in. Apart from the Battle of Britain they took part in the Amiens raid where the Gestapo prison was bombed, the 'Channel Dash' when the unsuccessful attempt was made to prevent the German Capital ships breaking out of Brest Harbour, as well as being heavily involved in the ill-fated Dieppe Raid. Tempests were used in the dangerous pursuit of chasing V1s, 'Doodle Bugs' and of course the D-Day landings. As the tide of war moved across the continent towards Germany Westhampnett’s role in the war was reduced until it eventually closed in May 1946.

Douglas Bader and Johnnie Johnson, two of Britain’s top fighter Aces, were stationed at the airfield at various times.

Yapton & Ford Local History Group was delighted to welcome back once again, Paul Ulson, as their guest speaker at February’s meeting. His subject this visit was Sussex and the Crusades and, dressed in the costume of a Knight of St john, he proceeded to involve his audience in telling of the history of the crusades. From the time of William the Conqueror when the eldest sons of Noblemen inherited their families fortune there was nothing left for the rest of the sons. So when the Pope called for a Crusade to free the Holy Land from the Turks it gave the opportunity for these sons to gain fame and fortune. It also gave them the opportunity to bring back with them 'Holy Relics' to enhance their standing at home.

One of the most famous Crusaders was Richard I, known as The Lionheart, who couldn’t speak a word of English and only lived in England for ten months out of ten years.

Taxes had to be raised to fund the various Crusades, and Sussex had two of the busiest ports along the south coast. These being Shoreham and Pagham (Harbour) from which wool was exported all around the world, while spices and sugar were imported and in so doing raised much needed taxes.

The military orders of the Knights Templars and the Knights of St John had bases in West Sussex, the Templars being at Sompting and St. Johns being at Poling. The St. John’s Ambulance Brigade owes its existence to the Knights of St.]ohn.

Paul brought with him replicas of items that the Knights would have worn or used. Members were able to handle and try on mail, helmets and swords, and ended his talk with a question and answer session.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2015

 

March - April

See separate page on Church Exhibitions.

Allen Misselbrook
May 2015

 

May - June

In 1811 farmer and landowner George Tupper was ploughing a field on his farm in Bignor when his plough struck some buried stone work. He had just rediscovered a 3rd Century Roman building. The Group’s guest speaker for their April meeting was Lisa Tupper, wife of William Tupper who is a direct descendant of George and the current manager of the farm.

The site was excavated by John Hawkins, who lived at Bignor Park, and antiquary Samuel Lysons. They uncovered some of the finest mosaics ever discovered in Britain. Initially these mosaics along with the rest of the site was left open to the elements and suffered accordingly along with a certain amount of pilfering. The mosaics also suffered from earthworm activity, the burrowing action of the worms causing the tesserae to subside. The site was first opened to the public in 1814 and by 1815 buildings were erected to cover the remains.

Lisa went on to describe the buildings that were discovered. They included the original part of the villa which was the West Wing, built approximately 250 AD, consisting of five rooms, a bathhouse and a corridor. Over time three more wings were added and the North Wing contained what was, until just recently, the longest Roman corridor ever uncovered. lt has been estimated that by the year 300 AD there were 70 family members living there in an estate of approximately 4000 acres. The Villa, which today we would call a large farmhouse, was occupied until about 350 AD after which it was vacated and never reoccupied, being left to decay and finally returned to farmland.

By far the greatest attraction for visitors is the mosaics. The earliest being the Four Seasons which includes the image of Medusa and, being the earliest, the quality is not as good as some of the others. By far the best one is in the Venus Room where the mosaic depicts the head of Venus flanked by peacocks with a central panel of fight scenes between gladiators. Other mosaics include ‘Ganymede’ and the ‘Dolphin’.

In 1970 some of the mosaics were lifted and reset in concrete to prevent them subsiding but the museum have not been given permission to do them all.

The Museum is open 7 days a week between 10am and 5pm during summer, but opening times are restricted by daylight as there is no electricity on site.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2015