Review of Meetings 2017

January - February

For their first monthly meeting of 2017 the members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group welcomed guest speaker Jennifer Goldsmith who gave an illustrated talk on the history of some local houses of note and their fascinating occupiers.

Cowdray House at Midhurst was the first property Jennifer focused on. lt was built circa 1720, for Sir David Gwen, Uncle to Henry VII. Because of his services to the Tudors, which spanned Henry VII and Henry VIII’s reign he was rewarded with the great estate at Midhurst which covered the strategic gap between London and the South.

In 1529, the house was sold to Sir William Fitzwilliam, Lord High Admiral and Earl of Southampton, by Sir David 0wen’s son. Following the death of Sir William in 1542, the house was inherited by his half brother, Anthony Browne, who played host to many members of the Royal Household at Cowdray House. It was while Anthony’s son, Sir Anthony Browne, was master of the estate that he was made 1st Viscount Montague.

Eventually the house and estate passed down to the 1st Viscount's 20 year old grandson the 2nd Viscount. During his ownership he was arrested and spent 40 days in prison because of his involvement with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. Another Viscount, the 5th, Henry Browne was known for his violent temper. When a priest chastised him for being late Henry did no more than draw his sword and killed the unfortunate man. To escape justice the Viscount went into hiding.

The family’s income was reduced following the Reformation because the family were Roman Catholic and so couldn’t hold office. lt wasn’t until the 18th century that the 7th Viscount changed creeds and converted to the Church of England. Tragedy befell the family shortly after when the 23 year old 8th Viscount, who was engaged to be married, went on a trip to Germany and was drowned in the Rhine. During the same week Cowdray House was seriously damaged by a fire, following which the Dowager and her two daughters left never to return. As there was no heir, the property reverted to the Crown and the title was bestowed on a descendant of the 2nd Viscount. Unfortunately he died 6 months later so the line became extinct. The house was sold in 1790.

To end her talk Jennifer touched on two other large estates and their owners, Uppark and Parham.

In 2013, following a successful Heritage Lottery bid, the West Sussex Records Office with full support from the Chichester Festival Theatre, set in motion a project to catalogue and record the history of the theatre. This project went under the name 'Pass lt On'.

ln their February meeting, Katherine Slay, using the results of the project, gave the members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group an illustrated talk about the history of the CFT from its inception in the late 1950s and how the team went about recording the history for posterity. The project took three years to complete with a group of volunteers under the guidance of a part time staff member for the first 18 months, after which a full time archivist joined the team. 350 boxes of material were sifted through with duplicated items removed, and recording the rest on a spreadsheet. There followed a period of referencing and cataloguing in chronological order.

The audience heard that the Theatre was the brainchild of Lesley Evershed-Martin, an optician, twice Mayor of Chichester and a theatre impresario. The idea germinated in his mind following a visit to a theatre in Canada and on his return home he led fundraising efforts to build a theatre in Chichester. Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya designed the building and the foundation stone was laid by Princess Alexandra in May 1961. lt opened the following year with Sir Laurence Olivier as the inaugural Artistic Director.

The doors were opened for nine weeks in that first season with the staging of three plays. The first one being 'The Chances' by John Fletcher followed by 'The Broken Heart'. Unfortunately they did not receive very good reviews but the season was saved by the third production which was Anton Chekov’s 'Uncle Vanya'. That first season saw the likes of Sybil Thorndike, Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright and Laurence Olivier treading the boards. Their dressing room during those early days was positioned under the stage with only a plastic sheet segregating the female actors from the males.

The Chances

As time passed the theatre management wanted to provide an alternative to the main theatre so to this end, in 1983, a marquee was erected close by in Oaklands Park which could stage alternative productions. This was eventually replaced in 1989 with the building of the Minerva Theatre, with one of the early Directors being Sam Mendies of 'James Bond' fame.

The time came in 2014 when the CFT needed a major refurbishment. To enable 'the show to go on' a marquee was again erected in Oaklands Park. This time it was large enough, being constructed without the need of internal poles, to stage major productions such as 'Barnum'.

To end her talk Katherine gave some examples of how the CFT reaches out into the community. In 1985 the Youth Theatre was founded and now has a membership of over 700 young people of all abilities attending one of the nine workshops located across West Sussex, to gain experience of acting and other skills that are required by theatres. Today the CFT is involved in many innovative initiatives such as Dementia Friendly performances.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2017


March - April

Stansted Park and House will be familiar with many of you but perhaps only a few are familiar with its history. The guest speaker at the Yapton & Ford Local History Group’s March meeting was Michael Olding who gave us an insight into the history of the Estate.

He introduced his talk by telling the assembled members and guests about Stansted of today which is open to the public. The Estate, which is undergoing a major programme of repairs and restoration at present, is run by the Trustees of Stansted Park Foundation and Michael urged the Group to visit Stansted for themselves so they could relate his talk to the house and grounds.

The place first existed as a hunting lodge for Roger, the first Earl of Arundel, in Arundel’s ancient forest nearly 800 years ago. Records show that the first building was built by Henry II on the site of the present day Chapel and subsequently restored by Arundel’s 12th Earl in 1480. Most of this building was ravaged during the Civil War in 1644.

The first house to be built on the site of the present day one was probably designed by William Talman for Richard, Lord Lumley in 1688. The Estate eventually passed down to Lord Halifax who improved the grounds. The Park received a major facelift by no lesser personage than Capability Brown who was summoned by Richard Barwell, an lndian Nabob, who purchased the Estate in 1781. He had made his fortune in the East lndia Company which also allowed him to employ James Wyatt to make improvements to the house.

Michael went on to say that during the 19th century a succession of owners held the Estate, a century which witnessed the destruction of the house by fire in 1900. Following this disastrous fire the building was demolished and the house re-built and modernised in 1901-3 using the exact footprint of the house that existed in 1688.

One of the 19th century owners was Lewis Way, a cleric, whose legacy to the Estate is the Chapel. He was left a fortune, £25 million in today’s money, by his friend John Way (no relation) to use to ‘the glory of God’. To this end he built the chapel which was inspired by A La Ronde, an 18th century house located in Lympstone, Exmouth. Lewis believed that God had told him to reunite the Jewish and Christian faiths. He commissioned a window in the chapel which embodied his aspirations and it is believed that is the only window in a Christian church with Jewish symbolism.

The 9th Earl of Bessborough, Vere Ponsonby, purchased Stansted Park in 1924 following the destruction of his family home in County Kilkenny, by fire during the ‘troubles’. He was succeeded by Eric, the 10th Earl in 1956. It was Eric that set up the Foundation, to which the Estate was gifted, in 1983 with the remit for its preservation for the benefit of the Nation. He died in 1993 followed by his American wife Mary, in 2013. They are both buried in the Chapel.

Michael concluded by saying that the current Earl, the 12th, lives on the Estate and is the chairman of the Trustees.

The Group's April meeting saw the return of local historian Philip Robinson. His talk was based on the Poor Laws and the Workhouses of Yapton and Westhampnett.

Yapton’s Workhouse building still exists and is now known as nos. 1 to 4 Laburnum Cottages. Whereas all that remains of Westhampnett's is 4/5 layers of bricks situated in the council yard in Stane Street, next door to the community tip.

Philip explained that the need for relief for the poor stems back to the time of Henry VIII. lt was the monasteries which looked after the poor and needy but, following the Reformation, these monasteries were destroyed leaving nobody to take on the responsibility. ln an attempt to remedy this situation the Poor Law was passed in 1601 by Parliament, whereby Church Wardens were elected to look after the poor. A Poor Rate was levied on Landowners which was collected by Overseers and this money was used to support the poor who could not support themselves. The 'Impotent Poor', those who couldn’t work for whatever reason, were cared for in poorhouses located within the parish. The able-bodied poor were set to work in workhouses where materials were supplied. ln Yapton this was unpicking old rope for re-use. This was located in a building later called Rope Cottages which occupied the old Black Dog (Olive Branch) car park. The 'Idle Poor' were sent to Houses of Correction or even Prison.

Laburnum Cottages (former Workhouse)

This was followed by the Right of Settlement Act of 1662. This Act called for a certificate to be issued to each member of the parish providing they met certain criteria such as being born in or married into the parish. Should a parishioner move away and subsequently fall on hard times, this certificate gave them the right to return to the issuing parish and receive Poor Relief. This Act was only repealed in 1947.

A further Act of parliament in 1782, commonly known as Gilbert’s Act, made it possible for groups of parishes to combine their poorhouses. Yapton came under the Westhampnett Union which was governed by a Board chaired by the 5th Duke of Richmond, and met weekly. This poorhouse only catered for the elderly, sick and orphaned. The able-bodied poor received the relief in their own homes.

The Poor Law Amendment Act was passed by Parliament in 1834. ln essence this law stopped all payments of poor relief to able-bodied people in their homes. lf they needed assistance they were offered the poorhouse. Conditions in the poorhouse were made so harsh that only the desperate would take up the offer. The Act was designed to reduce the cost of poor relief.

On the 1st June 1835, William Gale was employed as Governor of Westhampnett Poor House on a salary of £30 per annum and his wife employed as matron for £20 per annum. On the 25th March 1836 a Chaplain was retained on a salary of £75 per annum.

Eventually Yapton’s Poorhouse was closed in 1836 and at the time it was home to 120 children. Philip concluded his talk by saying that Westhampnett Poorhouse accidentally burnt down in 1899.

Allen Misselbrook
May 2017


May - June

Guided Visit to Chichester Cathedral

Due to the normal monthly meeting falling on a bank holiday, a small group of members had a guided tour behind the scenes of the Chichester Cathedral. Their guide for the visit was Alan Bradford who showed them the Cathedral Library, accessed via a steep spiral staircase, as well as taking them to see the Bishop’s Chapel and other areas not normally open to the general public. The History Group party found the tour very interesting despite the difficulty some members had in accessing some areas.

Sussex Inns and Their Architecture

The Group’s monthly meetings resumed after taking a break in May with an illustrated talk given by Janet Pennington which highlighted some of the architecture of some of our county's historic inns. The proceedings started with The Star in Alfriston which was built by a wool merchant in 1480. One of its attractions is the Red Lion situated outside the building which is reputed to be the figurehead of a Dutch warship captured in 1690.


Chequers Inn, Steyning

Star Inn, Alfriston

From Alfriston the Group was taken to Steyning and the Chequers Inn. This is an old coaching inn with an accompanying ostlers cottage at the rear, along with stables for the horses. Over the course of its history it has housed a Court Room, Jail and Trading Post. Another inn of interest was the 15th century Lamb in Eastbourne which started life as a Wealden Hall House, and which boasts a 14th century vaulted cellar.

The accommodation available for travellers in medieval times at times was very basic. Bottom of the rung were Alehouses where householders supplied home-brewed ale, and any accommodation offered it was often little more than a blanket on the kitchen floor or in a barn. Inns were normally purpose built and contained several bedrooms and stabling. Taverns by comparison generally catered for the wealthier and offered wine as the main drink. In 1553 these premises had to be licensed and there was a limit to the number of taverns allowed in each town.

Security was a problem as travellers had to share beds where available and quite often had to sleep without wearing any clothes. A guide book written in 1617 suggested that the traveller should lock the chamber door where possible and always sleep with a sword by their side.

Other Inns that were touched on was the Gun Inn (previously known in 1519 as The Musket Gun) at Findon which at one time had been in the Lassiter family for 300 years. Also mentioned were The Spread Eagle in Midhurst and the Norfolk Arms in Arundel. At the coach entrance there can be seen guard posts which prevented the archway being damaged by coaches entering and leaving the stable yard.

Norfolk Arms, Arundel
(note the guard posts)

'Pub' signs became law in 1393 when King Richard II passed an act that made it compulsory for inns to display a sign outside the building. In the Middle Ages it was customary when an establishment had ale for sale there would be a pole placed on the outside of the building and if the drink available was wine then an evergreen bush was displayed. If a pole and a bush were on show then both were available.

After her talk, Janet was pleased to answer questions posed by members and guests.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2017