Review of Meetings 2016 (contd.)

July - August

Chris Hare made a welcome return after many years to give an illustrated talk to the members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group at their July meeting. His subject was Highdown Hill in Worthing including the Stern family and the garden that Frederick Stern created.

Chris started his story way back in the mists of time when the 266 feet high chalk hill, which stands apart from the South Downs, was inhabited by Bronze Age people approximately 4000 years ago, and who were responsible for creating the banked enclosure. A second ditch was added about 1500 years later.

The Romans were very much in evidence on the hill following their invasion of Britain in AD43. Archaeological discoveries included a villa and a bath house. The lifestyle and structure that the Romans had introduced to these islands started to unravel once the Roman Administration left these shores. Their place being taken by the Anglo-Saxons, who used part of Highdown Hill as a burial ground in the 5th century AD.

Perhaps the next most noticeable occurrence on the hill according to Chris, was the building of a wooden Post Mill which was blown down in 1826. Legend has it that the miller, John Oliver, was in league with the local smugglers. When the sails were set in a particular position it was a signal to the ships carrying contraband that the coast was clear; that there were no Excise men around. John Oliver built his own tomb on top of the hill although the tomb that can be visited today is a replacement of the original that was vandalised.

Possibly Highdown is best known for its chalk quarry garden which was created by Sir Frederick Stern in 1910. He and his wife set out to prove to the doubters, who said nothing will grow in the chalky soil, that a garden could be achieved by planting the correct plants. This they did over the next 50 years and, following the death of Lady Stern, the garden and house was left to Worthing Borough Council. The house is now a hotel and the gardens are open to the public.

Although there was no monthly meeting in August it was a very busy month for the Group. On Saturday August 6th the Battle of the Somme was commemorated in the Yapton & Ford Village Hall (see separate article). This was followed by three half hour slide shows given by our village historian, David Ruffle on the following Saturday, which coincided with the Cottage Gardeners' Summer Show. David based his show on three of the Heritage Trail booklets published by the History Group which included a mixture of old and new photographs.

Sandwiched between these two events, on Monday evening, was a guided walk around the village of Amberley where our guides were Grahame Joseph, Chairman of the Amberley Society, and Richard Howell. They led a group of members and their guests around the back roads explaining various features including parts of the village not usually seen by the casual passer-by. The tour ended with a welcome cup of tea kindly supplied by Grahame and a chance to look around his beautiful garden.

Allen Misselbrook
September 2016


September - October

Following on from the Yapton & Ford Local History Group’s exhibition commemorating the The Battle of the Somme in August, their guest speaker for the September meeting was Yvonne Fenter. The subject of her illustrated talk was World War I Life Stories. Yvonne, as she explained, was a member of an organisation which is researching the lives of anyone involved with the Great War.

This is being achieved by volunteers accessing all the resources that are available from the Imperial War Museum’s substantial collection of war records to company records, from Census Returns to family memorabilia. Many letters still exist from men and women serving overseas as well as newspaper reports about the conflict. Many of the histories start with a service number and name and from this their war record can be accessed, if still in existence, as well as their home address at the time. It is not all about serving men and women but also of those involved in war work at home such as munitions workers and Land Army girls. All the information uncovered has to be evidence based and not hearsay.

Yvonne illustrated her talk with the stories of people like Billy Tickle, who was killed at the young age of 17, whose letters home are held by the IWM. Henry Norman Grant’s life story has been uncovered. He worked for a bank who kept records and photos of their employees; this information was added to by school records and family memorabilia.

This research can be undertaken by anyone with an interest in preserving the memory of the war and of those who played a part in it whether at home or abroad. All the life stories recorded will be kept for all time as a record of the Great War and can be updated at any time as further information is uncovered.

The Group’s 24th AGM took place at the October meeting. The AGM was followed by talk given by member Andrew Foster designed to engage the members and visitors in a discussion on the UK’s 'Brexit' decision. The theme of the talk was that the current move to leave the EU was not the first time it had happened. Andrew outlined the sequence of events that occurred in the 16th century under the leadership of Henry VIII. This came about because the Pope would not grant Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

There followed the Referendum, sorry Reformation whereby King Henry between 1532-1534 denounced the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church and created the Church of England with himself as its head. To raise much needed funds for the Crown, Henry instigated the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' in 1536, destroying many of them and taking their land which amounted to about a quarter of the country. This he sold to the gentry and nobility. Social welfare collapsed because it was the Monasteries and Convents that cared for the sick, looked after the poor and schooled the population. England’s defence at that time consisted of a Navy which only had 30 ships.

Under the reign of Mary, the country was brought back under the influence of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. This state of affairs changed again under the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I who came to the throne in 1558. This resulted in many scholars leaving England for Europe. Further pressure was put on the Queen’s reign when the Pope announced, in 1670, that anyone obeying her would be ex-communicated from the Roman Catholic Church. The population of England and Wales at the time was less than 3 million while France had I6 million and Spain had 11 million (for comparison, today we have 65 million, France 63 million and Spain 46 million). Deflation occurred in the form of coins being clipped.

Over the next 50 or so years England overcame their problems. The Navy and explorers covered the globe on the way to becoming one of the strongest powers in the world. At home the population became better educated with the number of schools trebling, universities expanded and libraries came into existence. Following the break from the RC Church the country eventually became one of the strongest in the world.

Andrew equated this to today’s situation and a lively discussion followed arguing the pros and cons of the decision to leave the EU.

Allen Misselbrook
November 2016


November - December

The Yapton & Ford Local History Group welcomed Gillian Edom as their guest speaker to the Group’s November meeting. Gillian was a volunteer based at the West Sussex Records Office helping to interview staff and patients from Graylingwell Hospital to create a library of oral recordings of their experiences. To enhance these interviews, records held at the WSRO were consulted as well as researching local newspapers for articles referring to life at the hospital. Gillian gave the Group an insight as to what their researches uncovered.

From the end of the 1800s the hospital housed patients with mental problems. Many were suffering from conditions such as post-natal depression or learning difficulties who should never have been referred there. The interviewees described what it was like to live and work there. The buildings consisted of long corridors and locked doors with men and women being kept in separate areas. Smoking rooms were available as it seems everyone smoked, a far cry from today. The grounds contained gardens, a carpenters shop, farm, greenhouses and a vegetable garden as well as a clubhouse.

A therapy programme existed whereby patients could take up basket making, knitting or sewing among other activities. For entertainment there was a theatre and a cinema and, on occasion, dances and parties were organised. One of the practices which were changed after protest was the supplying of tea to the patients. Initially there was no choice. the tea was made in an urn complete with milk and sugar. Everyone was served with the same brew whether they wanted it with milk and sugar or not.

Eventually the hospital was closed as it was too expensive to run.

Over 70 interviews were recorded which formed the basis of a book which was produced by the group of volunteers and can be purchased from the WSRO.

There was a last minute change to the advertised programme for December when the scheduled guest speaker for the Group’s Christmas meeting was involved in a motor accident and was unable to attend the meeting. Group member and local historian David Ruffle saved the day and stepped in at two hours notice and presented a slide show from his extensive collection of old village photographs.

Amongst the slides shown were views of many of the old buildings of Yapton & Ford including the village public houses, Beverly Tea Rooms, Sparks Engineering foundry (which became the village hall, now the Co-Op), along with photos of traction engines and the auctioning off of the Sparks company’s assets. Transport was covered including the canal, railway and the local bus services, one view showed the 69 double decker Southdown bus being dug out of the heavy snowdrifts of 1963. One of the villagers wielding a shovel was Philip Greenfield who was sitting in the room watching the show.

There were several slides of the damage caused by the 1987 hurricane and various floods over the years. People and events were covered with photos of an episode of the television sitcom 'Ever Decreasing Circles' starring Richard Briers and Peter Egan which was filmed on the playing field. The homecoming of Yapton’s Olympic gold medal winning swimmer, Duncan Goodhew was covered as was the Parish Council of 1994, the year that the Parish Councils celebrated their centenary.

The last meeting of 2016 ended with the members and guests enjoying a few Christmas nibbles and a glass of wine.

Allen Misselbrook
January 2017