Review of Meetings 2016

January - February

The Yapton & Ford Local History Group started their New Year monthly meetings with a visit from Bill Gage of the West Sussex Records Office. He gave an illustrated talk on 'West Sussex on Film' and started with an account of the early pioneers of this new and exciting medium.

He started with the career of George Albert Smith (pictured below) who produced a total of 31 short one minute films shot around the Brighton, Hove and Shoreham areas. Some of his best known titles were 'The Miller and the Sweep', 'Brighton Race Course' and 'The Flour Bag Fight'. He often cast his wife, Laura Bayley, in the starring roles. One of Smith’s most famous films where his wife had the leading role was 'Mary Jane’s Mishap', filmed in 1903.

George Albert Smith

Other early pioneers were James Williamson who shot many sequences around Brighton, and William Dickson who filmed the launching of Worthing Lifeboat in 1898.

Shoreham was the base for another father daughter combination. Joan Morgan appeared in many of her father Sidney’s, productions in the 1920s, filmed in their studio constructed of glass on Shoreham Beach. Joan went on to be one of the early stars of the Silver Screen.

Bill had brought several examples of early films taken at various locations in Sussex for the Group members and guests to enjoy. There were clips of Bognor in the 1930s and the farewell cavalcade of George V and Queen Mary leaving Bognor in 1929 after the King’s convalescence. WW2 was represented with a film taken at the Knoll School in Hove of the pupils having an Air Raid practice, and a film of the Home Guard on manoeuvres 'somewhere in West Sussex'. Bill finished his talk with a 1955 TV advert for Shippham’s Paste.

For their February meeting, members and guests of the Group welcomed Graham Matthews, President of the Chichester branch of the Royal British Legion. He has held practically every position in the Legion, both locally and nationally since he joined in 1961.

Logo of the Royal British Legion

The British Legion came into being following a Conference held on 15th May 1921 when four ex-service organisations agreed that they had more chance of improving the lives of the countless disabled service men who had returned home from the Great War by combining their resources and efforts. Field Marshal Haig became the first President. At that time, as Graham explained, the Legion membership was only open to ex-servicemen, no women were allowed to become members, so a separate 'Women’s Auxiliary Section' of the British Legion was formed for the purpose of looking after war widows and other dependants of ex-servicemen. Countess Haig became their first President. At the Conference the following year it was agreed that the term 'Auxiliary' was replaced by 'Section' and the Women’s Section became part of the British Legion. lt was also agreed that ex-servicewomen could also become members.

Graham continued his account by telling the Group how the Poppy came to symbolise those that had died in the trenches. lt was an American woman, Moina Michael, who was so moved by John McCrae’s poem, 'ln a Flanders Field', that she started to make and sell red silk poppies to raise money to help disabled US servicemen look after themselves. lt was a French woman, Madame Guerin, who was working in America to raise money to help the disabled ex-servicemen of France, that persuaded Earl Haig to adopt the Poppy for the British Legion.

ln 1971 the British Legion was granted the right to add 'Royal' to their name, and after a further ten years the membership was extended to cover serving members of the Armed Forces. Today anyone can become a member of the RBL which is non-sectarian and non-political. It supports and runs 5 Care Homes and 5 Rest Homes and has branches all round the globe.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2016


March - April

Sussex buildings came under the spotlight in the Yapton & Ford Local History Group's March Meeting. Guest speaken Dr. Geoffrey Mead of Sussex University guided his audience through the geological map of Sussex and how historic local buildings were built using locally available materials.

The tour started in the High Weald where the oldest rock formations can be found in the form of the Purbeck beds which were formed 140 million years ago. The High Weald gives way to the Low Weald which in turn runs into the Southdowns and then down onto the Coastal Plain where the youngest rocks can be found. Each area has its own soil type and distinctive landscape and vegetation which influenced the building materials used, from Purbeck stone in the High Weald to sandstone around Ashdown Forest and Tonbridge Wells. Trees grew in abundance around Rye which resulted in timber being widely used in the construction of its houses. Where there were large deposits of clay, bricks and tiles were freely available. Another local renowned variation of material is Horsham stone which, in the form of slabs, was extensively used for roofing in and around the town.

The Southdowns provided an endless supply of chalk which was quarried and turned into cement. Gypsum was also produced from the chalk and used to produce plaster and other products. Nodules of flint are also mined from the chalk. They were formed millions of years ago during the time when the chalk, produced from the remains of trillions of sea creatures, formed under the sea and is a type of quartz almost as hard as diamonds. Many buildings and walls in villages on the Downs were built from flint, the more 'up-market' ones using knapped flint, a method of 'squaring off' one face of the flint to give a regular rather than a random visual face.

The coastal plain contains the youngest rocks and the soil is mostly brickearth, a grade I farming soil. There were many brickfields producing a ready supply of building bricks and tiles. There were at least three brickfields situated in Yapton.

Our tour came to an end at the sea shore which provided tons of large pebbles ground smooth by millions of years of wave action. These were carted from the beach and used in house construction as can be seen on several houses in Littlehampton.

April saw the welcome return of Sylvia Endacott who gave the Group an updated, illustrated talk on one she gave 10 years ago on the WW2 Advanced Landing Ground situated at North Bersted, Bognor.

Since the publication of her book and DVD, Sylvia had received much more information on the short-lived airfield. Its location of one of the runways, which straddled Chalcraft Lane, is indicated by the large gap in the hedgerow and now has a roadside plaque highlighting its existence. The runways were not permanent but consisted of steel mesh laid down on top of the grass.

ln the run up to D-Day and immediately after, many temporary airfields were built along the South Coast. Bognor Regis, being home to about 100 aircraft which were ferried in by the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary. One of these women was the legendary Lettice Curtis who learnt to fly in 1937, at Yapton Flying Club.

Lettice Curtis

Most of the pilots were from Norway and one of their visitors was the Crown Prince of Norway. Their living quarters and rations were very basic, being mostly tented, and many local people helped by offering them washing facilities and meals.

Sylvia illustrated her talk with many photographs and maps and amused the Group with anecdotes about her researches and the people she had met along the way. For more information about the airfield and Sylvia’s discoveries refer to her book 'lt Started With A Map...'.

Allen Misselbrook
May 2016


May - June

There being no meeting of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group in May, a visit to Shoreham Fort was organised which was very well supported by 20 members and guests. Our guides for the evening were Gary Baines, the founder and Chairman of the 'Friends of Shoreham Fort', and the Friends’ Secretary, Sharon Penfold.

The tour began with Gary giving a little historical background of the Fort which was the second of its kind built at the instigation of the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, in 1857. lt was part of a chain of forts constructed to defend Britain against a possible invasion by the French led by Emperor Napoleon III.This invasion, of course, never took place on the strength of intelligence gained by a French spy who advised the Emperor that it would be impossible to succeed against such strong defences. The series of Forts unjustly became known as Palmerston's Follies because they never fired a shot in anger, but in actuality they were very effective as they prevented an invasion.

Gary informed us that the first Fort to be built was in 1854 at West Beach, Littlehampton. This proved to have several design faults which were rectified in the design of Shoreham’s Fort. Gary and Sharon proceeded to lead the group around the complex pointing out various features and the thinking behind their design. The fort was armed with six 8 feet long guns with each barrel weighing 5 tons.These cannon were the first to use rifling which resulted in the range of a shell increasing from 800 yards to 4,500 yards.

The shape of the Fort is known as a Lunette (rectangular half-moon) the front and sides of which were protected by a deep ditch with a wall, approximately 12 feet high with a rounded top, positioned at the bottom. The six cannons were mounted on the top of the ramparts which were constructed of earth. Gary and Sharon then guided us to the rear of the ramparts where we could see the footprint of the defendable Barrack Block sadly demolished by the council in 1959. lt was in this block that the First Sussex Artillery Volunteers, who manned the fort, were billeted.

The tour ended in a WWI/WW2 Nissan hut (which has an interesting history of its own) where a range of photos, literature and models were on display. There was also a video showing the 'Friends'' dream which includes re-building the Barrack Block and using it for many community based functions. Another project is the construction of a concrete WWI trench to honour the many thousands of soldiers that were trained on the Downs behind Shoreham.

Further information can be obtained from their website

I am sure that we have all wondered from time to time where certain place names originated from. The Yapton & Ford History Group’s guest speaker for June, Tom Little, supplied some of the answers.

Place names of the British Isles have been influenced by many tribes and invaders in the early centuries. Many names have Celtic origins and even while the Romans were here adding their names, the locals still referred to the original names. The Saxons added their variations to the mix such as 'ham' and 'ton' and the Normans were not going to be left out so they changed the endings of some towns and villages to give them a French flavour.

According to Tom there are three main sources, Events, Personal and Location. Places where an event occurred such as Harold’s army taking on the Normans took the name of battle. Some place names originated from a person who had some link to the area such as lived or worked in the vicinity. Most names, especially around the 14th century, were derived from their location such as 'bury' which was a fortified hill and appears locally in the village name of Bury, and Cissbury the hill fort above Worthing. 'Hamp' as in Littlehampton owes its source to a bend in a river. This does not seem to fit Littlehampton but as Tom explained, the river did not always enter the sea where it does today. It swung to the east and met the sea somewhere about Rustington.

Tom concluded by advising those of us who wished to study the derivation of place names would do well to invest in a detailed contour map and relate place names to the surrounding locality, but to remember that there are other sources of name origins.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2016