Posts Tagged ‘South Downs’

The waggoners

July 24, 2014

Camp for us, when we were children meant all sorts of things. The word ‘camp’ defined, for us, a location and a way of life. It was a life of simplicity, far from the madding crowd. It was a life style, set against a backdrop of the South Downs that we all enjoyed.

And here are four of the family enjoying a rest on a waggon on our home farm.


The year is 1958 when my dad first tried colour.

My mother is on the left and on the right we have my sister, me and my brother. I’d have been 9 at the time. My brother was 11 and my sister would have been close on 14. Dad is not in the picture. He was pressing the shutter on the camera.

The waggon has clearly brought harvest to the barn and I dare say it was all pitchforked through that high door. Back then an awful lot of crop handling was done manually.

The barn is clearly flint built. Those flints must have taken some finding but they produce a beautiful building. The roof material has probably replaced thatch at some date.

The barn and yard made a wonderful playground for me and my brother. There was much to enjoy and a waggon, with imagination, was whatever we wanted it to be.

Happy memories!



Classic Camp

June 27, 2014

Classic Camp

It is 1958. We are camping at the spot we always camped at. It is not a camp site. It is merely a ledge on the South Downs, not far from a water supply and with a friendly farmer. For the first time my dad is trying out colour photography. He has borrowed a suitable 35 mm camera. The scene, as you can see, was beautiful and we have our classic camp set up.


Let’s start with the tents. The pyramid at the left hand end was our toilet tent. I suspect that by this time we had a chemical loo which, when full, was emptied down a rabbit hole! The tent had been a polar tent and originally it would have been held in place by snow piled on large horizontal flaps on the outside. Dad had equipped it with guy ropes and peg downs.

The little brown tent was used as a store. That had been a US Army bivouac tent.

The square tent coloured green was a hefty wooden frame tent. It served as living room and parents’ bedroom. By this time it sported a lean-to extension for further storage space. The square bell tent in brown, with a fetching green top was home for us children.

And of course, we had no car. We had been driven there in a lorry and there was a return date fixed, some three weeks ahead.


The backdrop of our view was the wonderful Mount Caburn – the highpoint on a little break-away section of South Downs. Being children, we saw shapes in things, so that chalk pit had green areas which were a galloping horse and a duck. Further round and on the extreme left of this photo there’s an area of woodland which appeared to be a letter P to us. These features all still exist but shapes change and the horse and duck probably aren’t recognisable as such any more.

At the left end of the photo and below Mount Caburn there’s a line of seven elm trees and these have gone. Actually, they weren’t a line for five of them were on the nearside of the A27 road and two were on the far side. Being of simple pleasures, we liked watching the Eastbourne bus threading its way between those trees.

Also between us and Caburn there was the railway line and it happened that every hour the up and down London to Eastbourne trains passed each other in that view. That was always a sight to enjoy.

Of course, this was a part of the Southern Electric railway system so even back in the late 1950s most trains were electric. But there were still steam hauled goods trains and also some cross country trains which were steam hauled. There was a daily train we called the Birkenhead Express for it was heading for that Merseyside town. Bits from various Sussex and Kent towns were joined up at Redhill and made their way up to the Wirral in Cheshire. This train caused me to think Birkenhead must be a wonderful place.

Ah! Happy memories!

Robin at Camp again

February 1, 2014

It was only a few days ago that I showed a picture of my brother Robin, reading at camp. That was taken in 1954. Today we have another picture of Robin reading at camp. This one dates from 1959.


Robin is sitting on one of my dad’s much favoured director’s chairs.Robin would have been 12 years old at this time.

Behind Robin is the elderly bell tent which was the bedroom for the children. It had no windows so was a bit dark and gloomy inside. Like children of old, we had a candle to light our way to bed.

Behind the tent we can see a bit of woodland, planted on a steep slope. My dad called this bit of wood, ‘The Spinney’. The word means ‘small wood’ so it was well named. I suspect that when this photo was taken, our cat would have been in the Spinney. Blackett the cat used to have to come camping with us and he didn’t care much for the open downs. The Spinney provided him with cover and a good hunting zone. He turned up once or twice a day for provided food, and often brought a catch back to camp at night. People thought we were mad for we all know that cats are fixed on places and not people. But Blackett never wondered off and was still with us into the 1970s.

Happy days! Happy memories too!

Tarring Neville Church

January 20, 2014

Regular readers will know that my family used to camp on the South Downs near Firle when I was a lad. Just over the downs, about a couple of miles away in a straight line, was the little settlement of Tarring Neville. However, the roads didn’t take that short route and on our regular cycle rides into Newhaven, we passed by Tarring Neville, having already cycled 5 miles. Sometimes we stopped for a break and took a look at the church.

Church visiting may seem an odd habit for as a family we were not church goers.  I would say my family had a non-conformist streak in all sorts of ways. I don’t use the term ‘non-conformist’ in a religious sense it was just the way my family are.

Being pragmatic, churches were buildings which were open. They offered shelter from the weather, a pew to sit on to rest tired, youthful legs, reading matter – in fact they were very much a retreat from the world outside.

But they were historic buildings, containing the works of the craftsmen and artists who built them. My dad (who knew everything, of course) always seemed to find things of interest to point out. No doubt he thought churches were good for our education.

Anyway, I was pleased, a few years back, to make up a shortfall in the photo collection by purchasing an old postcard of what gets called on it, Tarring Church, near Lewes. It sounds a much duller place without Neville added on, but it is indeed Tarring Neville church.



This is quite an elderly postcard for it requests a halfpenny stamp.


But now we’ll come to what makes this church, nestled under the downs and close by the tidal River Ouse so special in my memory. It had a barrel organ. My dad – I said he knew everything – knew how to work it. How wonderful to wind the handle of a real, genuine barrel organ. As I remember it, there were a range of playable hymn tunes. A lever moved the barrel a little bit and a different tune played. It was wonderful so maybe even aged five I had those slightly nerdy tendencies.

In my memory there was also a kind of harmonium which was, presumably, actually used for services.


November 28, 2013


OK, I know that correctly the piece of agricultural kit that both cut corn and tied it up into bundles was called a reaper-binder. In my experience, though, the fact that they reaped or cut the crop was taken as read. They were always called binders.

I associate them, very much, with ‘camp’.

Back in the early and mid-50s the sight of a binder working the fields with men following and stoking up the sheaves was commonplace. To me, as a child, it was timeless. As a child you imagine that things are as they always have been so to me a tractor hauling a binder with a crew of two must always have been what happened. I did know that historically, horses had provided the motive power but that was before my time and I probably guessed that it might have been alongside the Stone Age, rather than having been the norm for my dad.

However, the future was with us, and I remember my brother and me dashing up to the top of the downs to see a new-fangled combine harvester at work. My dad, sensible as ever, recorded the binder scene and here we have one of his charming photos.


So, a classic scene from 1955. Driving the tractor was a young man called Julian Freeman.


The farm we camped on was managed by his uncle Dick and he normally managed the controls of the binder, but on this occasion, I don’t think it is him.


In fact I really don’t know who that is. Julian’s father, George would have been helping at the harvest and his other uncle, Harry would have been around as well. But this isn’t either of them.

As the fifties drew to a close, the binders began to get swept into oblivion. My dad, realising this had another go at recording the scene at ‘camp’ using a colour slide film.


This was actually in 1964. Julian is still on the tractor but this time it definitely is Dick Freeman on the binder.

But the binder never quite died. In Wiltshire, where I have lived all my adult life, a few farmers grow long straw wheat and cut it with a binder. This keeps the straw in good order, and after the grain has been threshed out, the straw can be sold for thatching

So here we have a 21st century binder resting after harvesting a local field.



November 27, 2013

Every summer for fifteen years during my childhood and youth, some time was spent at camp. Camp indicated not just living under canvas, but also a location. Camp was on a ledge on the South Downs between Beddingham, Firle and Glynde. So much time was spent there, that it felt like a real home but also like a place to raise the spirits and spread happiness and joy.

The life style was simple. These days people might call it mere existence. For my mum, coping with restricted cooking facilities must have been a bit of a problem. For all of us, there were daily tasks like fetching water. Obviously we had no luxury like a fridge so food needed purchasing regularly – items like bread and milk. We had no car so we either cycled or walked to Glynde or Firle for these items. On a regular basis we cycled down to Newhaven to enjoy the delights of the seaside. It was about seven miles each way and at other times we played games, using our imaginations a great deal.

But we also helped on the farm. Dick, the farmer/shepherd worked to a time honoured system. Each day, the sheep were out at large in the huge field in which we camped. Every evening, he went off to find the sheep and bring them down to a pen. This was on a potential arable field and something would tempt the sheep to want to be there – no doubt a bit of lush summer growth. The sheep already had full bellies from a day grazing on the downs and during the night they emptied the contents of their gut onto this section of arable land, fertilising it and ensuring a good crop the next year. Once the sheep were out on the downs again, Dick would move the pen, ready for the next night. These days, the pen would be electric fencing – light and manageable. Back then it was sheep hurdles – heavy and cumbersome by comparison.

Two young lads reckoned they could help out a bit, by finding and fetching the sheep. These lads were, of course, my brother and I. Now I reckon the perimeter of our field measured some three and a half miles and it went from more or less sea level up to a height of close on 650 feet. Dick, to our eyes, was ancient. We took it on ourselves to get the sheep in and save him the bother of it.

And here we are.


I’m on the left and my brother is on the right. We both have sticks. Dick always carried one, so it seemed right. Some of the sheep seem to be looking at us as though they don’t quite believe that two little lads will take them to better things. I have to say we look a right pair of scruffy little urchins.

I have no idea who took this photo. It is not one of my dad’s but I thank whoever it was.

Hills of the South

September 7, 2013

Back in the 1930s hiking was a popular activity and books were published to suggest routes to potential walkers. Come to think of it, such books still get published, these days often based around a pub where people might get a meal.

But 80 years ago walkers, no doubt, carried their food with them and spent more time enjoying the open air and the countryside. The books are, perhaps, more general in nature – less specific in details of where to walk.

I have such a book – and I love it. It is called ‘Hills of the South’ and is about walks on the chalk hills of South East England.


The front cover features a ‘Sussex Shepherd’ – one of Audrey Weber’s wonderful paintings that illustrate the book.

And why do I love it? Well for starters I remember a hymn I loved singing as a child – Hills of the North Rejoice. I had never been out of the south east of England so in my mind I always thought it should be Hills of the South Rejoice.

But more specifically, the book has a painting of Mount Caburn – the hill which formed our view from camp.


It is quite a fanciful picture – but delightful for all that. The picture accompanies one of the walks.


Good grief, two paragraphs to sum up life. We have Mount Caburn, Lewes railway station and Ringmer mentioned. Great grandparents and great aunts had lived at Ringmer so we even have genealogy here. Beddingham was the parish where camp actually was.

But the sting in the tail, for those who don’t read the railway blogs and have so far been tricked, is that this is a railway relic.

Hills of the South - title page

Hills of the South – title page

That’s the title page and notice the publishers? It’s the Southern railway, the company that operated the railway liners in this part of England between 1923 and 1948.

This book is almost a history of me in one object!

My history might be known. Sadly, it seems, the artist Audrey Weber is little known. I think she deservers a wider audience.


April 27, 2013

A child’s holiday – written by me in February 1997

I find it hard to believe that I’ve never written specifically about camp. For nearly 15 years, camp was a major factor in my life. Perhaps, it was the major factor, which has helped to mould my present way of life.

Camp was at Furlongs Farm, roughly equidistant between the villages of Firle, Glynde and the hamlet of Beddingham. It was actually in the parish of Beddingham, with the main pasture rising up and over the top of Beddingham Hill. It was about four miles from Lewes and seven from Newhaven. For three weeks each summer, a little ridge, perched up on the downs was our family home. It was ten minutes walk to the farm itself although the Freeman family who ran the farm lived in Glynde. Dick had one room at the farm. The rest of the isolated house was let to people who we called artists but more of them anon.

Perhaps the story should start in 1952 near Lancing cement works. We went camping with the scouts there. I don’t remember any scouts. Indeed, my main memories concern falling into a ditch and the yellow diesel shunter that was used at the cement works. This was the first family camp and presumably, soon after, my father acquired a motley collection of tents and camping gear. I am told he then went cycling to find a suitable pitch for us. Water was the main concern and this was found, along with friendly farmers at Furlongs. An added advantage was that Great Aunt Nellie lived at Firle, barely more than a mile away, and she could get milk for us and provide an emergency base. The site, of course, was in no way official. It was just a ledge on a hill. 200 yards away, down the hill, there was a tap on some kind of reservoir. I learned to know those 200 yards well. Carrying water was a major occupation. There were no lavatory facilities and even at the farmhouse there was no electricity.

I remember a visit to the area in 1953. It was coronation time and there was a beacon being built on Mount Caburn above Glynde. I was still young (about 4) and was unimpressed by Mount Caburn. It was too big for me to take in. The prehistoric hill fort on top of the hill had left all sorts of mounds and one of these became my hill. I proudly climbed to the top of it. It was on this visit that we visited Nellie at her old house where she had once run a sweet shop. It was the only time I remembered going there. The other rather strange thing I remember from the visit was the walk from Glynde to Firle. It was the pay gate that impressed me. I had no concept of paying to use roads. This was the first time I released that things had once been very different.

Camping must have started at Furlongs in 1954. Ownership of a car was a distant prospect. We hired a lorry and driver to take the collection of tents, chairs, beds and, vitally, bikes to the camp site. The journey was a part of the holiday. There we were, in the back of a lorry for what seemed an endless journey. Other people went to Torquay, but our journey of just over 20 miles had a real romance to it.

On arrival at the site there were two options. The lorry could park on the tarmacced track above our ledge, or it could get as close as possible in the field. In either case, it was a heavy haul to get all of the gear into place. The driver had the idea of rolling tents down from the track. They, of course, went all the way to the bottom and had to be man hauled back up. One way or another, though, the incredibly heavy, elderly collection of tents were got into place, and erected. This had to happen no matter what the weather. On one early camp the wind, it was estimated, was a steady hurricane. It was nearly impossible to move against it and perfectly easy to face away from the wind and just lean back onto it. But in these conditions, 100 square feet of roof had to be lifted onto the walls and anchored down.

The main tent was ten feet square and operated a bit like a modern frame tent. Indeed, it was a frame tent, with an enormous wooden structure that concertinered out to give the tent shape. The enormous roof was hoisted onto this and then the heavy walls were hooked onto it. It had the virtue of all being useably high with no poles within it. In this tent we had our food – already prepared in the tent on the single Primus stove and the pressure cooker. This tent, too, was the grown ups bedroom. Each morning, they carefully tied their beds up to the frame to make sufficient space inside for a family. In later years this tent grew an extension – a kind of lean-to which could be attached to the back. It was a useful store, and could even be used as a lavatory (complete with Elsan chemical toilet).

The other main tent was a square bell tent. This had a larger floor area, but the walls were only about 3 feet high and, of course, it had a centre pole. This was the sleeping area for children. Beds could be left up all of the time. It was a dark and dismal place. Not much light could penetrate the thick, heavy canvas.

Tent number three was the toilet tent. In early days this was a white ridge tent – about 6 ft long and high. At first, the toilet was a seat over a hole in the ground with a shovel so that soil could be put in the hole after use. Later, the Elsan arrived. The contents of this, when full, were tipped down a convenient rabbit hole. It must have been an unpleasant shock for the poor little bunnies. This tent, always a rather thin and flimsy affair, suffered badly at the horns of a cow. I was in it at the time when a horn appeared, ripping large holes in the canvas. It was replaced by the wigwam. This had been a polar tent. It had no guys, being held in place by its poles and mounds of snow. My father must have carried out some conversions to make it suitable for the temperate chalk downland.

The bell tent also suffered a cow attack – at least we assume it did. We came home to find the top of the tent nearly torn right off, and a bad state of collapse. I remember being distressed by this but my father got out his repair kit and sewed it up again. The next year we had our own electric fence which surrounded our encampment. We suffered no more attacks by cows.camp2

The fourth tent had no real function. It was a little US Navy Biv tent – date stamped 1942. It could store sacks and things.

Within the tents, we all had beds – heavy wooden folding types and on these we had sheets and blankets fastened with blanket pins. I never remember any real discomfort. We also had a table and a collection of chairs plus various boxes in which food and essentials were stored. I am sure most people would have felt it was primitive, but we never seemed to want for anything. Lighting was provided by a tilley lamp, candles and torches. I had a torch like a front bicycle lamp. it had a hood which could be placed over the beam – a blackout measure. It was summer, of course, so we didn’t need all that much light and no heat.

The essential bicycles were stored about 100 yards away, on the way to the water. They were covered with a tarpaulin. This tarpaulin was always called ‘The Garage’. If it still exists it will still carry the same name!

One other ‘item’ accompanied us in later years. Our cat, Blackie, became a camper, spending his days in the badger spinney by the bicycles. Soon after, we got a car and that spelt something of a change in camp. Travelling was now easy and we got further afield.

So the classic set up for me (reading from North to South) consisted of the sombre brown bell tent, facing South. About 20 feet away the main tent (was it a dismal green colour) faced North, with its lean-to on the back. Behind that, at a suitable distance, was the wigwam, loo tent. The biv tent was probably quite near to the wigwam. the whole lot was surrounded by a single strand electric fence, with a ticker unit of my father’s construction and rubber covered skewers acting as ‘gate’ hitches so that we could get through.


I never knew how he made the fence unit, but it seems the main coil came from a Model T Ford car. Between the two large tents we would sit out on director style folding chairs and just behind us we’d have a telescope mounted on a flimsy tripod. Possibly, a long wire would thread its way up the hill from my crystal radio set. All of this was set on a narrow, flat ledge about 50 feet above the valley floor. The photo, taken in 1958 shows the set up with the view across the Glynde Reach valley to Mount Caburn beyond

The bank down from the ledge was quite steep and provided us with much entertainment. If you sat at the top and pushed with your hands you soon gathered speed and arrived, exhilarated, at the bottom. You were then faced with the scramble back up. For a shorter slide, you could travel down to ‘Manchester’.

Manchester? The bank up to our ledge had four little ‘chalk pits’ about 8 feet long and a couple of feet deep. These, amazingly, are still there. What caused them I don’t know but they provided a little flat haven, about a couple of feet wide on the steep slope. These were claimed by us children as bases and given names. Robin, ever greedy and bullying, claimed two which he called London and Brighton. Paula, older than us and with a better knowledge of geography called hers Manchester. I was left with a rather scrubby affair, smaller than the others and well away from the centre. I called it Southend because, for some reason I’d been there. London and Brighton were too near the top for sliding into. Southend was too far away, so Manchester it was.

Soil creep on the bank provided narrow paths between the bases. We played trains a lot. Manchester was a bit out of the way for this game, but Paula probably felt far too old for it anyway. Robin and I ran a regular service on the rather unlikely London, Brighton and Southend route. In fact, looking back, I wonder how much Paula would have enjoyed camp. My memories are of Robin and I doing things together.

We were regular players of stage coaches. Just by where we kept the bikes, by the badger spinney there was an old, wooden, farm wagon. This provided hours of entertainment as we cajoled our imaginary horses to greater feats of speed. But better, just beyond the farm on the old Roman underhill road, there was the rotting remains of a real stage coach. It was possible to sit up there on the drivers seat, or be a guard with a wild gun firing at highwaymen. I don’t think we were too bothered about being passengers. I can regret now that we didn’t treat this piece of history well. Perhaps it should and could have been conserved.

The farm itself was always an attraction. Chickens scurried about and it was always a pleasure to feed these greedy creatures. We could also ride the very stationary old tractors and binders that were littering the yard areas. And if any harvesting happened we would be there, helping. For these were still labour intensive days. Dick would start by opening up the field (cutting a width wide enough for tractor and binder) with a rip hook. He tied these into sheaves, using straw. Then the binder could get in and the followers were always hard pressed to gather the sheaves into stocks, stooks, shocks or shooks. Stocking up was a regular activity, as was loading sheaves onto trailers and helping to build stacks.

In fact, Dick must have been the last of his type for I never saw another person who harvested anything with a sickle. He was the only person who I ever saw hand broadcasting seed. Robin and I were far more interested at the time with the goings on at neighbouring Blackcap Farm. They were modern and we just loved the combine harvester. This, tractor hauled item was the piece of machinery that we ran to see. This was what was special to us. Even Dick used one from time to time, hired from a contractor and I really admired Dick’s skill as the sacker. For these combines did not have tanks. The grain was delivered to sacks and Dick had to fill them, use string to fasten them and then tip them onto the ground to be collected.

Sheep were also an attraction. Dick ran a flock of what I would now guess were a bit Hampshire Down. These were out in the pasture all day but were folded on turnips every night. This was labour intensive again since each day the sheep had to be fetched and then driven out again the next morning. In Wiltshire, sheep are referred to as ‘The Golden Hoof’. Dick also, obviously felt that sheep transferred fertility from the pasture to the arable lands.

Much of life at Beddingham was about survival. Trips to Glynde or Firle, where there were village shops, were fairly frequent. Lewes was within range and Robin and I sometimes went there by bus to use the swimming pool. I learned to swim there. The town we visited most often was Newhaven. We went there for the seaside. It was a seven mile cycle ride, mostly fairly level, but with awful hills as we skirted the downs in the Ouse Valley. Newhaven seemed to provide all our needs. there was the beach and with a short walk there were rock pools. Being remote, there were nudists near the rock pools. There was a harbour and a huge harbour wall. there was a Woolworth’s shop which sold 7 Up. Cross channel ferries sailed to Dieppe and they had romantic sounding names like Lisieux. We learned to love swimming in the sea as the bow waves from the ferries crashed onto the shore. In fact, no kind of rough sea ever seemed to stop us swimming.

Ferries and the docks were a major attraction. It was always a pleasure to be in Newhaven to see Lisieux, Londres or Brighton arrive or depart. Arrivals were better since it was no easy matter to bring these boats in to the dock side. Much use was made of ropes to haul them into place and fasten them. From time to time there would be a cargo boat and these sometimes went up stream of the bridge. Road traffic was stopped to allow these boats through so that the cranes could unload the cargo. A regular boat was the bucket dredger. This had the task of transferring mud from the bottom of the river and taking it out to sea and dumping it. Even as a child I felt sure that this silt would be carried back in on the next tide.

Newhaven seemed to offer all that one could wish for. The main beach was shingle but the harbour was sandy and perfectly safe for swimming. There was always a fair on the West harbour wall. It can hardly have done a roaring trade for tourists were pretty thin on the ground. Occasionally, we had a go on the swing boats. These were great fun, and by picking a quiet time we could always get a really long ride for our money. I don’t remember that we were ever told to stop by the show man. It was a message from our arm muscles that persuaded us to give up.

Near the swing bridge – a nightmare to cycle over because of the tram lines, there was always a flock of swans. These, like the Furlongs hens, were a joy to feed. This was near the railway – always of interest to me. North of the bridge, on the east side, there were sidings where interesting locomotives did strange manoeuvres with trucks. This area was by the docks so cargoes could be taken straight from ship to train. Just by the bridge on the south side was Newhaven Town station. This, normally had a service of the green southern electric trains, but there was always a chance of seeing a boat train hauled by one of the splendid electric locos.

Towards Seaford, near Bishopstone there was a favourite beach of mine at the Tide Mills. I was fascinated to think that the tides could be used to turn useful machinery. It seemed such a good idea to get that free energy. We often referred to that area as Bongville because someone had written that name on a sign board at the old, closed, Bishopstone Station.

It became the proud boast of Robin and I that we swam the equivalent of once a day. This meant we had the cycle ride to Newhaven or the bus journey to Lewes to contend with.

Walking was another favourite occupation. I’m told, that on our first morning at camp, Robin and I set off for the top of Beddingham Hill. It was there and it had to be climbed. My mother was evidently fraught with panic as her two little boys – specks in the distance – trudged straight up to the top via the motor bike route. This was another learning experience. It was the short route, but it was not quick or easy, being very steep. We learned to cross the valley floor and go up the gentle coach road from the chalk pit. We once lost all of our wellies – stolen from where we hid them in a corn field – when we were out on a walk. These were the only items we ever lost whilst camping. On that same day I found a small scale map of the area. The loss must have been retribution for my pleasure at finding this map. I’ve still got the map!

Our pasture field was enormous. We were fairly near one corner of it, where there was access for vehicles. Close to the gate was the badger spinney – a steeply sloping rather sinister wood and just inside the gate was the water trough. there was also a rather strange circular crater which we attributed to a bomb. Across the valley floor there was another line of scrubby trees forming a little spinney. These, too, were on quite a steep slope and above them was arable land. However, the pasture went right up to the top of the hill where there were views of Newhaven. We were regularly at the top, hopefully to see a ferry arrive. We looked for the puff of smoke to indicate it had blown its warning hooter whilst still out at sea. We then waited and waited for the sound of the hooter to reach us. I wonder if it still would through the noise of all of the traffic on the roads. At the top of the hill there was (and is) a dewpond. It never held much water in my memory. Just above the scrubby spinney, a track came up from the farm. This had once been a coach road, presumably heading for the coast. It took an easy route up, past a chalk pit. The function of this conical hole is not clear to me. But it was of manageable size to a small boy and Robin and I spent a lot of time in it. We found fossils, but we also did more adventurous things in it. Hillary and Tensing may have conquered Everest. We conquered the East cliff of the chalk pit with every bit as much pleasure. West from the chalk pit the pasture went down into another valley – hidden entirely from our camp and farm. Then there was another ridge before a final valley and another dewpond. This was indeed a hidden spot, as remote as you could get from any trace of civilisation. In this third valley there was only nature (albeit in the form of Dick’s sheep to commune with. It is nearly 30 years since I was there, but I love that spot as, indeed I love the entire pasture which has altered very little over the years.

Robin and I became regular shepherds for Dick during our camps. With his old time methods, he had to find the sheep in this huge field each day and drive them down to their fold. This was always a pleasurable job since they didn’t need a lot of driving. The greedy beasts looked forward to their feed of turnips and often needed no actual fetching. In the morning, we could set them loose again whilst Dick set up a new pen – made of wattle hurdles – for the next night.

Sometimes we helped move the bullocks as well. The Freeman dairy farm was by the station in Glynde, just over a mile away. Bullocks spent summer months in our field and occasionally they were moved. This involved the fairly easy journey along the near deserted road from Furlongs to Glynde Cross. Here, the main A27 road had to be crossed before the cows could continue on the very minor road into Glynde. I feel sure that such a trip would be nigh impossible now, with ceaseless traffic speeding on the A road.

There were other helpers too. Barry was a Glynde lad who often helped on the farm. Paula used to fancy him. Jamie was the son of an artist who was sometimes at the farm. Angus, another artist son (Mrs Richards) did not help much. I rather feared him because he was an epileptic. I never saw him have a turn, and once, all three of us went out rowing with him on the River Ouse. This was the first time I remember my Dad driving. He drove Mrs Richard’s brown, upright Ford van to get us all there.

On the eastern side of our field, the metalled track made its way to the wireless station at the top of the hill. These masts displayed a slight purple glow at the top of the hill. This track was the edge of Furlongs farm, so the steep, shell shaped chalk pit above it was really out of our territory. None the less, we played in it from time to time. It was a much more daunting climb than THE chalk pit.

In fact, the games which Robin and I could play seemed almost limitless. By modern standards it was all low key but perhaps it developed a closeness with nature. We knew our chalkland flora and fauna, both natural and agricultural. We knew our fossils and our local geography in considerable detail. Weather predicting, based on sunsets, became my forte but no skill was needed to predict wind. There must have been a breeze most of the time so we flew kites. On one occasion, Robin’s white box kite got away. It shot up the hill towards Firle. Somewhere on the way the string tangled in a fence and we recovered it, none the worse for its adventure. I still have a fascination for kites.

But, despite the fun, I also remember days when the rain beat down and a physical gloom filled our valley. On these occasions we played cards or other games in the dark interior of the bell tent. If the rain got worse, one of us would announce that it was the ‘clearing up shower’. On these days of rain, the normal processes of living must have been moderately miserable. The wet walk to the loo tent would have seemed a long way. Rain may have poured down but we still needed water. That 100 yards, down from our ledge to the valley floor and then back up with the full cans would have been slippery and miserable. Our tents, with no groundsheets, kept the rain out but things got damp inside on such days. It was probably something of a nightmare keeping matches in a fit state to use and these were essential for lighting the Primus stove and the tilley lamp.

Such days existed and it was Paula who ended one such day, when we were all in bed, by inviting us to say the funniest thing we could. My response was ‘Mrs Selway’ (a neighbour where our house was) Robin and Paula evidently agreed with my assessment because uncontrollable, hysterical laughter broke out and went on and on. Our parents came over from the main tent to see what it was all about, but we weren’t much use to them. If one of us controlled ourself enough to start saying ‘Mrs Se’ it was enough to bring the hysterics back on. Eventually peace resumed. We were able to explain to baffled parents what the joke was and we went to sleep. I have awful feelings of guilt over this episode for the lady in question was a sweet, good natured soul and she surely didn’t deserve such rude treatment.

We didn’t use them much but the trains were important to us. We could see a long sweep of railway from the edge of Lewes to nearly Glynde. We knew the times of trains and could regulate our lives by them. My favourites were the London to Hastings expresses. These were green electric trains, but the second or third coach from the London end was a Pullman car in cream and brown livery. This service ran hourly and the trains in opposite directions were due to pass at Beddingham Crossing, where the railway crossed the A27 road. This meant that we could see the two trains at once as they dashed along the level ground with Mount Caburn as the backdrop. A wonderful sight. There were steam trains too. Any freight, and there were several trains each day, was steam hauled by elderly wheezing, clanking locos. Each day there was a very special train which my father called ‘The Birkenhead Express’. This little train was steam hauled, but I knew that it joined up with similar trains from Kent, when it reached Redhill, to become a large and truly important train (in my mind). Birkenhead, as a distant destination, was another place which I thought must be a wonderfully romantic and major town.

As a teenage lad, I would go to Lewes to train spot. The line through Uckfield to Tunbridge Wells was still open and provided a regular steam service. The Bluebell line trains had gone by then but I remember a chance occasion in 1955 when my father pointed over the bridge in Lewes to the last train to run on that line. He was right at the time, but politics and then preservation proved him wrong.

Journeys by bike were frequent. Without a car, they had to be. Often these were to the shops at Glynde or Firle. Often, too, they were to Newhaven. Sometimes, we went to other places. We always visited churches – strange for a family who had little Christian background – and we always signed visitors books. Two of my favourite churches were on opposite sides of the Ouse. Tarring Neville was memorable for having a barrel organ. Piddinghoe had the most absurd name, a delightful site right on the river and a round tower. After a trip to Newhaven, we sometimes bought fish and chips. We all still say that Newhaven Fisheries sell the best F & C in the world. By tradition, we ate these at Southease Bridge. It seems shameful to admit it now, but the greasy newspapers were disposed of in a game of Pooh sticks from the bridge. The river was tidal here, so the direction of play depended on the state of the tide.

Another ride we made from time to time was to Isfield. My father announced he had a cousin called Nellie here (not to be confused with Aunt Nellie at Firle). She was married to Reuben who was an avid gardener. Isfield is renowned in family folk law for its cheese. Probably like Newhaven fish its succulence was based on our tiredness after the ride. This ride was also notable for the strange sheep near Isfield. I now know that these were Jacobs.

It might be seen as strange, but visitors always played a part at camp. Aunt Nellie came for a meal occasionally, perhaps with her son, Frank or one of her grandchildren. The youngest of these, Dougie, must have come over quite often since I felt I knew him quite well. Friends from Crawley stayed for some or all of the time. I remember Paula’s friend, Di Lamble staying and Robin’s friend Colin Wadley. He spilt some sugary lemonade by the main tent entrance. The wasps loved it. The rest of us hated it. I gather my father used some kind of bleach to discourage the wasps.


We had day visitors too. It was possible for my grandparents to get a train from Bexhill straight to Glynde. It must have been quite a long walk for my granddad, with his gammy leg, but a visit by them was part of camp. I have a feeling that my other grandparents, from Tonbridge might have visited us at least once. Certainly there was a train service from Tonbridge to Lewes. Dick Wood, my parents’ friend from Leigh, next to Tonbridge certainly visited. He was the person who suffered a bottom injury whilst sliding down the bank. He carried on doing it, but used a piece of tin to protect him after that. There were colleagues of my father as well, although I have little memory of these.

People from Crawley – WEA contacts with cars came down. The Davises, with their Walnut lined Riley car must have been well out of place, but they seemed to recognise the happiness of the gentle life style. The Pitts were much more intellectual – a match for my father in the pun stakes. They came, with or without children and we enjoyed their company.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these visitors was Oscar Thompsett, known as Fred. He was not a driver so he came by train. On one occasion – it must have been when we had a car – he came down and joined an evening trip to Newhaven. We walked him out on the harbour wall, despite the pounding from the sea. The heavy spray from the waves was unavoidable. It was a soaking experience. Then we inducted him into the delights of Newhaven Fisheries, the dash to Southease Bridge, the grease spilling food and the game of Pooh Sticks. We then dropped him in Lewes for a train home. He enjoyed the rest of his journey but he was not sure his companions did. The train was a Glyndebourne Special and the toffs, in opera gowns etc. had to share a compartment with Fred – wet and salt stained, grease spattered, dirty and smelly. We certainly heard about the journey when we next saw him. On another occasion, Fred was with us when a young cow gave birth to a calf in our field. It was the first time I’d seen a birth. My father recognised the symptoms and had arranged our chairs so that we could all watch from a safe distance. I think Fred was utterly embarrassed by this earthy display of life in the real, even bovine life. He covered his unease by keeping up a running commentary on the situation. Of course, I can’t remember what he said now, but it was very funny. I can report that mother and calf did very well. There was an ulterior motive in getting Fred to visit, apart from the fact that I enjoyed the company and wit of this rather unconventional man. Fred was an artist – a painter of views – and he was commissioned to paint the scene from our camp and across the Glynde Reach valley to Mount Caburn. The picture is not perfect but it gives me pleasure when I visit My father. It brings back very happy memories.

We had surprise visitors too. Sticks and Norbert turned up one day on their teeny little motorbikes.


They were Austrian, and having docked at Newhaven, they searched for a campsite. What they saw was our tents and they stayed. They got the bargain of a family holiday, company, my mother’s cooking (as ever on the single stove) and a lot of fun. Paula got another boy to drool over (Norbert). Robin found Sticks a much more adventurous friend than me. In fact, these two teenage lads were very adventurous. We took them down to Newhaven one evening for a swim. It was wild and rough. The waves were smashing into the main harbour wall and spraying over the top. These two lads set off to swim around the half mile long wall into the harbour. Nothing we could say or do could dissuade them from this venture. None of our family thought it was anything but folly. We felt sure that these lads from landlocked Austria had no concept of the dangers of the sea. Suffice to say they did it and remain the only people I know who have swum the mile right round the wall in any weather.

They stayed on our site for a while and then went off on their little motorbikes to explore more of England. But we saw them again when they stayed, for a few days at our home before returning to Austria. They must have been surprised at the hospitality that they received from at least one English family.

I suppose our cat, Blackett, should really be regarded as one of the family but I’ll include him here as a visitor. He didn’t come to early camps, but must have joined us in about 1958. Everyone thought we were mad to be taking our cat on holiday but my parents obviously decided that this was the best option. So Blackie was shut into an old wicker picnic hamper and loaded onto the lorry. He didn’t enjoy the journey, hissing and yowling the entire time. He, like me, must have thought the journey was very long. He coped at camp, spending most of his time in the badger spinney but visiting the tents each night for food and a little affection. If he wanted a bolt hole at camp, he used a box beyond my father’s bed. Getting into this involved jumping over Dad’s head. This caused an upset when, one night, Blackie went to his box whilst carrying a very dead, and bloody rabbit which he had caught. Father was not amused.

Blackie was always a bit of a problem for return journeys. Inevitably when we needed to leave he was somewhere in the impenetrable badger spinney. Usually he would come to calls of ‘Puss, Puss, Puss’, but on one occasion, the lorry driver had his dog. Blackett obviously did not approve and went to ground. Father braved the spinney and eventually coaxed him out. He was shut in his picnic hamper for the journey, hissing and yowling, home.

My father always seemed to be blessed with the gift of the gab. On one bike journey to Newhaven, we were making our weary way past the cement works. The next thing we knew was that we were inside. Our family was having its very own conducted tour of the works. I remember this as a very thorough tour and utterly enthralling. The huge furnace burned day and night – only let out for the annual shutdown – was the star of the show. But it sticks in my memory that virtually no-one worked in that factory.

On another occasion, well into the car era, we came across Cross in Hand mill. It was working and we were in. The miller seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would be interested in his old windmill. I can only be glad that my father was able to talk us in to it. Windmills do still work, for tourists, in this country. I have been involved with them but they do not have the drive of a mill working for profit. This must have been a very last chance to witness such a process.

The coming of the car changed camp. Obviously, the lorry journey went. Not that all of our gear and all of us could be fitted into our original Austin 10 or the smaller Flying Standard 8. With small distances gear could be taken down by two people on one day, and then the car could return to pick up the people. Robin and I sometimes rode our bikes, at any rate for part of the journey.

With a car, it became possible to travel further and more easily. We could also take people – Aunt Nellie for example – out as well. Thus it was, that Nellie came to Seaford – about 6 miles from where she lived. Apart from one foray to Switzerland in 1903 as a maid on the estate and an annual trip to see her son in Broadmoor mental hospital during the 1950s, she had virtually not left the Firle area. Our car gave her a chance to travel a bit.

But the car spelt the beginning of the end. By 1961 we had a new car – a Bedford Dormobile – and we took other holidays. We travelled west for a week in Devon. We reached Scotland (just) and in 1962 we did Europe. We still went to camp each year. It would have been unthinkable not to, but the length of stay shortened and the size of the enclave reduced. By 1967 Robin and Paula were married and my mother had died. But camp at Beddingham lingered on for a while. My dad had a new girlfriend (now his wife). I, too had a girlfriend (now my wife). We took them to camp for my final time in 1968. My father and Jenny probably went a few more times. As the older generation of Freemans died, the end came in the early 70s but more recent day visits to the area fill me with yearning for the chalkland life and for the tranquillity of our uncomplicated lifestyle.