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The Fernhurst Society

Newsletter no 33, November 2009


Final Event in 2009

AGM followed by a talk by Huw Davies, “Implementation of the South Downs National Park”, Thursday 26th November 7.30 for 8pm, Village Hall

Huw Davies is from the South Downs National Park Authority Establishment Team in Midhurst. The team is responsible for establishing the new National Park Authority which will take the decisions on how to implement the purposes of the National Park, namely:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the Park’s special qualities by the public. Huw is in the ideal position to talk on progress towards the implementation of the National Park, and implications for local communities in West Sussex.

Review of Recent Society Events

Walk and picnic on the South Downs - Sunday June 14th

Bruce Middleton from the South Downs Joint Committee kindly agreed to lead our walk on the Downs, starting from the NT carpark at the top of Bignor Hill. Unlike most of the summer, the weather was fine and hot!

Bruce first led us to the nearby Neolithic camp, called Barkhale Camp. This is classed as a Neolithic causeway camp, composed of a single earthwork bank and ditch enclosing an oval area of 200 by 150 metres. It is not that obvious and requires a bit of imagination to visualise the camp, which would have been in a clearing carved out of woodland. Nowadays it is difficult to visualise the Downs covered in forest as they were 3000 years ago in Neolithic times.

We then headed down the south slope of the Downs along the Roman road Stane Street towards Chichester, through woods and grassland. Bruce proved an unending source of information on the natural history and geology of the area. Diverting from Stane Street, we crossed grassland teeming with 3000 sheep and lambs, mostly South Downs breed, and headed to Gumber Farm.

North of this farm Stane Street is particularly well preserved. One can see how the Romans constructed the road in 2 parts, a lower one for wagons, animals etc, and a raised part paved with flint and gravel for the troops . This allowed the legions to march considerable distances each day, unhindered by obstructions or poor conditions. After a stiff walk back up to the top of the Downs, at a much slower pace than the Roman legions, a spot with a good view looking northwards over Bignor village was selected as the place for a well earned picnic


Walk along the North Ambersham Boundary – 6th September 2009

David Coward and Iain Brown led a well attended walk around the southern end of the ancient tithing of North Ambersham, taking in a number of the old properties and ancient routes.

The route, incorporated a circular tour of Bexley Hill from Highstead Lane, which David explained had once been the main route from Chichester/Midhurst to London, hence the small settlement of The Old Cottage built in the 16th century and Nightingales (previously Bexley Hill Cottage) from at least the early 17th century. Attention was drawn to a very small, very dilapidated, early 19th century cottage which for about 20 years at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was used as a Mission Hall by the late “Reverend” Charles Willcock from Henley Hill.

Climbing the track up Bexley hill, the various houses were noted with explanations given about the dates of building, the fact they were all encroachments on common land in the Cowdray Estate domain originally for houses for the farm labourers and woodsman. Noting that the first house, closest to the road, Tanglewood, previously Landswick, had been the home of the Enticknap family for almost a century until 1900, David shocked some of the walkers with his explanation that it had been a well known brothel producing many illegitimate children from each generation of “single mums”. Being on a, then, quite busy route close to a large sport shooting estate with its many short term visitors from London, local economics had taken over!

David then set the walkers the task of seeking out boundary stones which denoted the line between Fernhurst Parish and North Ambersham. A stone wall was easily located beside the old footpath and a boundary stone was found under an old Yew tree adjoining Highstead Lane, just opposite the comparatively modern (c1845) White Cottage. It dates back to well before the 1700s and is inscribed with a straight mark.

The group then proceeded down the “coffin trail” bridleway which links Bexleyhill with Fernhurst centre and its graveyard. Sadly it has been badly damaged by careless use by quadbikes and 4 wheel drive vehicles but even before then it must have been a rough journey to bury one’s dead and, daily for the children attending the village school. Passing Baldrude, an old cottage which had once been a farm, one of the walkers told us about his time living there as a boy. David then briefed on the history of Overnoons, a large house which, sadly is now very dilapidated but along with the estate around it is gradually being brought into good order by its new owner.

Reference was made to Surney Farm, a creation of ICI, and the earlier Surney Hache (Hatch) cottage and pond which were located close by the River Lod along which course the group walked east. Emerging on the road at Hoick Farm they moved on to Upperfold Farm, a 19th century build and the much older Upperfold House site which was, in earlier years a small farmhouse. From there the view across to Hurstfold, Verdley Place and Blackdown took the eyes and called for many happy snappers.

The last leg of the journey took in the back route to Lower House Farm via Stroud Lane with an explanation of the history of the farm there and David’s wife’s family who farmed there in the 1700s. The present, vastly extended, house is unrecognizable from the original cottage which was on the site of settlement and occupation probably dating back to the time of the Anglo Saxons when Wessex was at war with the South Saxons in the 7th century. Leaving North Ambersham via Ropes Lane the weary wanderers returned to the village.


Walk to Older Hill – Sunday 4th October

It was overcast, but the threatened rain held off, as nine (plus 2 dogs) of us assembled at the Crossfield car park. The objective was Older Hill, standing on the distant horizon. It turned out that we had all been there before, but nobody had actually walked it.

The route there was pretty much direct, going down Hawksfold Lane East, passing Lower Hawksfold, Lower North Park Farm, and Whites Lane Gully. The trig point was reached in just under 1.5 hours of walking, and we enjoyed the stunning views. For those that have never been there it is truly recommended, especially at sunset. Descent was via a different route, passing through West Copse, North Park Copse, crossing Whites Lanes and returning through Whittter's Copse. We even managed to find a footpath that Robin had never been along!

This was a strenuous, but worthwhile Sunday afternoon walk and was enjoyed by all.


Talk on Medieval Sussex by Dr Ian Friel – 29th October

Ian gave a fascinating account of the early history of Sussex, from the Anglo Saxons who succeeded the Romans, through the Viking attacks in the 8th century, the Norman period and up to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

Saxon carvings are still visible at Tangmere, Bosham and Cocking Churches. There were few Saxon towns e.g. Chichester, Steyning and Lewes as the area was poor. Bosham was also important, traditionally being the site where King Canute demonstrated the limits of royal power in failing to hold back the advancing tide.

Canute’s most trusted aide was Earl Godwine who ruled this region and was based at Bosham – he succeeded Canute in 1035. His son in turn briefly became King Harold, who was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The Normans effectively wiped out the Saxon rulers of Sussex and divided the region into areas centred around new castles e.g. the mote and bailey castle at Chichester. The Doomesday Book of 1086 was a record of everything present soon after the Norman invasion, but there is no specific mention of any settlement in Fernhurst.

Agriculturally this was a poor area being dominated by the Downs (sheep grazing) and woodland to the north (pig foraging). Any arable land utilised the field strip system. The ruling elite had a significant presence through over 100 deer parks in Sussex – a useful source of venison unavailable to the serfs.

The church became important to people’s lives with many new small parish churches set up in the 12th/13th centuries, including Fernhurst. Many new villages and towns were also established during this period e.g. Petworth & Midhurst. However the early 1300’s climate was poor leading to several famines. The population had declined even before the Black Death of 1348 – which killed two thirds of the population and lead to a period of social revolution.

This period was also quite violent with constant strife between powerful barons and the kings, from John (forced to sign the Magna Carta) to Henry III and the Battle of Lewes (1264) against Simon de Montford, the Hundred Years War in which Sussex suffered much due to coastal raiding, and to relative peace under Henry VIII, though not so peaceful for the Catholic church and the dissolution of the monasteries.


Fernhurst Society Noticeboard


The Society’s website at has 140 pages packed with information. The main addition over the past year is an index to names from the 1841-1901 parish censuses and tithe returns, which is very popular with family history researchers. Besides regular updates to the Society’s events page, there is also a live Twitter feed of the latest news, and an update to Sandy Polak’s popular advice page on Cost-effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Attracting over 50 visits per day, from all countries (75% from UK), the website continues to attract a steady number of enquiries mainly on family history which are forwarded to the Fernhurst Archives.


Oral History Group

The Society now uses the very latest digital stereo recording equipment that is easier to use than the older analogue cassette recorders we used before. A couple more interviews were made during the year, but with a growing list of potential interviews we would welcome more volunteers to support our existing group of dedicated interviewers. Making interviews is a very rewarding activity. Free training will be given – it just requires volunteers prepared to give a few hours for each interview. If you are interested please contact Richard Ranft via the Society's email



The Society’s membership has remained steady at around 250 individual members over the past few years. More members are always welcome, so please encourage your friends and neighbours to join in. You can point them to the website which explains the Society’s activities including our programme of talks and local walks, or give them a leaflet that explain what the Society does. Richard Ranft (contact via the Society's email) can send any member a small supply of Society leaflets.

Garden Bird Survey

Iain Brown has been in touch with Mike Toms, Head of Garden Ecology of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). We can clearly not follow the intensive lines taken by Arnold Madgwick but Mike Toms has proposed a compromise. If individual Fernhurst Society members would like to join BTO they would receive all the forms enabling them to report either by printed form or electronically direct to BTO. In addition they would get valuable information on bird identification and a seasonal magazine for garden watch members. The cost of membership is £15 per annum.

Mike Toms is prepared to organise a computer analysis of the returns for GU27 3 ( the Fernhurst Postal Area) on the assumption sufficient people sign up, and we would publish this in the Fernhurst Society Newsletter. Mike Toms has family in this area and is prepared to come down from Thetford to talk to us and get us started.

For a start, would interested parties please get in touch with Iain via the Society's email and he will provide you with application forms.


Snippets from the Past

Arthur Mellersh (1812-1894)

In this 200th anniversary year of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his Theory of Evolution, it is fascinating to find a former Fernhurst resident had direct links to the second voyage of HMS Beagle, in which Darwin collected much of the data that led to him formulate his Theory of Evolution.

Arthur Mellersh, who lived at Cylinder House, Fernhurst, in 1871, was a midshipman and mate on the Beagle during its second voyage under Captain FitzRoy, from 1831 to 1836. There are also records of several letters Mellersh wrote to Darwin as he progressed in his naval career, with offers to collect more specimens.

Mellersh entered the Navy in 1825 , was promoted to lieutenant in 1837 and to commander in 1849. He was appointed to the HMS Rattler in 1851 and served in her during the Burmese War, 1852. He pursued and destroyed a large force of pirate junks off Ping-hoey on the Fukien Coast, for which he received his promotion to Captain. His last service was on the South American Station from 1862 to 1864. Mellersh eventually became an Admiral on the retired list.


Book Review: City Streets to Sussex Lanes by David Johnston

When David Johnston’s father died, his mother Nellie and David and his brother Tony were evicted from their lodgings in Chichester. After a short time in London they return to the south coast to sleep rough on the seafront. A kindly policeman gives them half a crown and points them in the direction of East Preston Workhouse. After a few months David’s enterprising mother spots an advert for a live-in housekeeper and so begins the author’s true story of growing up in rural Sussex in the 1950s.

David spends just 6 pages setting the scene and the rest of the book is devoted to humourous, wry, sometimes kindly and sometimes brutal tales of rural life and characters on farms around Sussex from Northchapel to Lewes including Freehold Farm (Shillinglee), Lowfold (Wisborough Green) and Swallows Farm (Dial Post).

An enjoyable read. David has kindly donated a copy to the Fernhurst Society which we shall be handing over to the Fernhurst Archive. £8.50 Pomegranate Press. Copies available from local bookshops and Tel: 01798 345296


Junior Fernhurst Society

The September meeting took place on Iping Common, the theme for the day was Geo Caching ( Below is a write-up by Wills Kellett, one of the young participants:

“We went Geo-caching on Iping Common which is near Midhurst. Geo stands for Earth and cache means treasure. We used a GPS to navigate the way to the treasure. The GPS tells you how many metres you are away from the treasure spot and the direction to walk. For the last 10 metres you have to look and use the clues given to you which is in gobeldegook and has to be de-coded. That tells you where to find the treasure box.

Inside the treasure boxes we found small toys which you can take, but you need to swap them with some you have brought with you. You can also write your name on the paper inside the box to say that you have been there and when you get home you can post it on the internet.

I really enjoyed the Geo-caching because it’s fun using the GPS and running around with my friends to find the treasure before our mums did!

Iping Common was lovely with lots of climbing trees and lots of nature to look at including lizards.”

The final event for 2009 is on 19th December for a walk leaving the Recreation Ground Pavilion and finishing at the Fernhurst Centre for mulled wine (for the adults?) and mince pies.For more information please contact Sue Gibbon via the Society's email