A walk in the park

Stanmer Park, on the edge of Brighton. Folk flock there in early May for the bluebells under a more or less uniform age beech wood. But I was a bit late in May for them at their best – so no bluebells here.

Instead I bring you death. Ash dieback, seen above as a leaning trunk, and some other sections lying neatly along the path. In the canopy some leafless twiggery of dead ash trees. All this is small secondary regrowth – probably got into open spaces following the big storm night in 1987 – so no older than 30 and a bit years.

I was on a guided walk with Friends of Stanmer Park, and the group consisted of volunteers who spend time maintaining/improving habitat in other green spaces in and around Brighton – so there was lots of wildlife knowledge. Thus I got to hear of a recent research paper which casts doubt on the established forestry aim of maximising tree cover, or canopy. The work showed that woodland flora has been in more or less continuous decline since this approach was adopted – not so surprising as green plants need light even on the floor of a woodland. Our speaker likened ash dieback to coppicing (but with extra death presumably) – it opens the ground and allows smaller plants to flourish. With suitable management we might achieve, he said, more open woodland with a wider variety of tree and understorey species.

Some decades ago I had lunch with a South American botanist/anthropologist. He said that the tropical forest areas he had worked in showed clear signs of very long term management by the local people. They helped useful species thrive, planted other values species in clearing they created, and spent their time doing the rounds of harvesting and maintaining their very large “gardens”. Perhaps that is how we should treat our forests, dumping the silly idea that we are separate from nature, foolish post-industrial revolution concept that causes more trouble than its worth.

I did hear a chiff-chaff, my first this spring, but discovered that the goldcrests apparently all around us were sadly silent to me, their call being too high for my old ears.

On the upside I had by attention drawn to two trees near the tropical plant glasshouse (between Stanmer House and the One Garden). Their flowers give them their common names – foxglove tree and handkerchief tree. I picked these flowers up off the ground. The handkerchief is an adapted leaf (called a bract – I know, its the company I keep!). But this bit is my own idea – the pollinators are short sighted so the trees which had bigger, brighter white hankies to wave beside the small flowers gained an evolutionary advantage.

Foxglove tree flowers before its leaves open

After the joys of trees I sought directions for the rainwater catcher. This is a Grade II listed structure – badly broken sloping concrete slab is a fairer description – which drains into a brick chamber. From there the water flowed through pipes and some filter beds to a holding tank a bit nearer Stanmer House. I had heard that there used to be a roof structure over the concrete, but I found no evidence of this. Apparently there is a model of it as was in the Stanmer Preservation Society bookshop, open at weekends.

A Grade II listed structure! Looking up-slope. Behind me is a brick ‘trough’ the width of this concrete pad, to capture rainwater.

If you desire to visit this historic gem – and why wouldn’t you – the easiest way is to follow the path below, from the road immediately north and parallel to One Garden.

The catcher is at the far end, close to but hidden from the Upper Lodges to village road. This entrance gives a small idea of how prettily these gardens must once have been. Now gradually returning to the earth – apparently. On Thursdays and Saturdays you can buy wild flower plants and seeds from the folk at a polytunnel halfway down the track on the right. They are The Wildflower Conservation Society, check plants and opening times before going.

On the way towards the Lewes Road and buses home I walked through this delightful display of cowslips, down in the SE corner of the park, near the playing fields. Not bluebells, but thought they might do instead.

I will close with the phrase John Ebdon used to close every edition of his long running BBC Archive programme: “If you have been, thanks for listening”.

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The Lacquer Lady by F Tennyson Jesse

This is a thoroughly delightful story with its roots in reality and bristling with metaphor and delicious language. Written by a woman who was really well known in her own time, as novelist, playwright and more. Today there is one story of hers which is still remembered, largely because of a successful TV version of it from the 70s, and that is ‘A pin to see the peepshow’. I confess I only remember the title, nothing of the content. And of course I remember it because I am old enough to have seen it (which may also explain why I recall so little of it).

I would not have found the novel without a magazine called ‘Slightly Foxed’. It’s quarterly and costs over £12 a copy, but I am lucky to have a friend who has been sending copies when he has finished with them. Every article is written by an enthusiast for an author or just one book, and they explain their enthusiasm. Over the last year I have bought six books, mainly out of print, but available through (on-line) secondhand bookstores.

But what of the Lacquer Lady? The term is applied (twice) in the novel to a 15 year old girl who joins her parents in Mandalay in the 1880’s from a small boarding school in the middle of Brighton. The Brighton link added to my pleasure and helped to draw me into the plot, but the real story is in Mandalay, particularly the royal city and the outer city where the foreigners (kala -with emphasis on the second ‘a’) live.

Borrowed from Mandalay airport site, the moated and walled Gem City of Mandalay with the Golden Palace at its heart

The leading (Lacquer) lady is Fanny, and is one quarter Burmese. She speaks some Burmese and has a Burmese appearance which is vital to her access to the Palace, and much else in the tale. The lifestyles, values and beliefs of both the different Europeans and the Royal and common Burmese people are brilliantly fleshed out, and give the story enormous literary and historical power. F Tennyson Jesse wrote the novel (and a History of Burma) following a lengthy tour there in the early 1920’s.

Originally published in 1929 it was brought back as a Virago Modern Classic in 1979 (reprinted ’84 and ’90). I give the usual apology that it was written in a different time, and the language relates to that time but will probably feel uncomfortable to readers today. (a common preface to programmes on Talking Pictures TV).

I urge you to read it – and consider a subscription to ‘Slightly Foxed’, itself a good read, and a way into so much more.

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To Polesden Lacey

We went to this not so historic house just north of the North Downs earlier this week, nestling in its own 1000 acre setting. Curious place because the house is so new (though the estate has been around many centuries) and greatly remodelled by money earnt by brewing and selling McEwan’s beers.

Given that McEwan’s beers are still available – though under a several times changed ownership – it seems a missed opportunity not to have some of the most interesting bottled ones, like Champion and Scotch Ale, in the inevitable Gift Shop.

We found three sundials in the formal gardens near the house but the most accessible, in the centre of the rose garden, seemed to have its orientation just a little wrong. Looking at the base of the stand it might have been moved, perhaps when bigger machinery had been taken through the garden, and replaced slightly incorrectly.

In case you are wondering, I am modelling the cupid/puttee thing at the back – the one you can’t see.

But I am saving the best for last. We toured the house – lots of art and furniture collected by McEwan’s daughter after the house had been remodelled by about 1905. But my favourite thing was a pair of mannequins in a dimly lit room we could only peer into from the door.

I’m guessing they represent father and daughter – Mr William McEwan and Mrs Margaret Greville – but its the spooky blank faces I really like.

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Some ponderings on Dark Star Brewery and the Evening Star pub.

A bit of background: Dark Star Brewery started in the cellar of the Evening Star in Surrey Street Brighton by brewer Rob Jones in 1994. He quickly developed new pale beers featuring the more aromatic, citrussy American hops led by Hophead (the quaffing ale) and American Pale Ale (a sturdier, hoppier and stronger variant).

Since then the business expanded and the brewery moved out of town to bigger premises. Then Fullers bought the brewery and started trying to emulate Hophead, initially failing badly with too malty a beer lacking in citrus qualities. Then Fullers sold all their brewing concerns to the Japanese mega-corp – Asahi Breweries, and Hophead brewing moved to Meantime in London, whilst the Dark Star brewery closed down, and the Evening Star lost its connection with Dark Star brewery.

So, I’m in the Evening Star having a beer – a pint of Aurora from Burning Sky brewery. This beer is brewed by Mark Tranter, who learnt his trade with Rob Jones at Dark Star. Aurora is not entirely unlike American Pale Ale used to be. I heard a discussion behind the bar about the problems they were having getting Hophead delivered. I also saw they had an Evening Star/Downland brewery coproduction called Revival APA – a beer Rob Jones created.

Whilst the loss of Dark Star is a shame, it is pleasing to see both brewers still creating great beers, and pursuing high quality over high volume. And its equally pleasing to see that the Evening Star is still offering the best of brews from independent breweries, local and around the country.

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Martha Gunn – famous operator of bathing machines on Brighton beach, and a pub opposite my home.

Martha Gunn, a portrait given to Brighton Museum by her descendants relatively recently.

Martha Gunn was a famous ‘dipper’, an operator of a bathing machine on Brighton beach. A bathing machine was a small room on wheels in which a bather could change clothes. The machine could be pushed into shallow water so hat the bather could enter the water with minimum exposure to onlookers.

Clearly this was a time ago, Martha lived and died in Brighton – 1726 – 1815 – and became famous because the Prince Regent (the future George IV) took to using her machine.

To Brighton came he,
Came George III’s son,
To be bathed in the sea,
By famed Martha Gunn.

Her grave is in St Nicholas’s churchyard, near the SE corner of the church, and there is a pub named after her on the Upper Lewes Road, Brighton. The pub recently commissioned a mural for a wall on the street, featuring Martha with a row of gulls, the nearest of which she is patting.

Its a great shame they couldn’t get a better painter of faces! Though it seems the artist went to see the painting in the museum, and added a Brighton flourish with the Gay Pride scarf on her hat.

A detail from the mural, the real thing has more sea, beach and gulls.
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Brighton Places and Things that caught my Eye

Walking around the town I often see something I consider noteworthy, so perhaps others will as well. We live in a terraced house where the kitchen and bathroom are in an extension to the main building, projecting into the garden – all perfectly normal. But I’ve often thought it would be nice to remove the pitched roof of the extension and replace with a flat roof, accessible from the loft conversion on top the main house. Saw a nice example over towards the main Brighton hospital last week:

Such a place would extend our sunshine by an hour, but is it worth the cost and disruption? I think not.

One of the things I did, when I had to earn a living, back in the 90s, was create the first UK version of a European schools environments project called Eco-Schools.. I was pleased to see a local primary school flying the Eco-Schools flag. Well done Elm Grove Primary. I’m guessing a big part of the award was for the greening, softening and brightening of the old asphalt playground.

Elsewhere a proud householder celebrates gardening prowess with the biggest hedge in the street. Or maybe they hate seeing people passing – perhaps my photography was an upsetting experience for them, But I doubt they could see me.

Some boundary features disappear. At the end of my road there used to be a property housing a bit of the National Health Service, but it was sold and converted to offices for rent. It had a delightful flint wall, over 5 feet high, but part was hit by an out of control vehicle, and now the whole section, to the brick pier of a gateway, has been removed. I really hope it will be replaced with a new flint wall, but I’m not holding my breath. Perhaps more history and pleasing streetscape lost??

This picture was taken before the whole wall was removed. Its down to pavement level now.

In Ewart Street I saw some delightful red granite kerbstones. Not so common in our city I thought. But yesterday I saw that the forecourt of Brighton Station is created with red granite setts. Still not common on streets though!

In Brighton dark grey diorite (an igneous rock typically from the Channel Islands) is much more common, you can see some above, in the setts which form the gutter.

Just wanted to finish by blowing my own trumpet. The final image is a place I am proud of, but I have lived in it for forty years. If you have been, thanks for reading.

Decorated for the Solstice – and Christmas too.
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Planting snowdrops and more

At the end of January I went to the Bristol Estate ( in east Brighton) to help plant wildflower bulbs. The snowdrop bulbs were well sprouted (‘in the green’ is the technical term), and a small group of volunteers planted 1500 before lunch! Two weeks later I went back to plant wildflower plugs on a steep grassy bank, but took the opportunity to visit the strip of snowdrops beside the community shop:

1500 snowdrops here! I did the 500 in the middle section.

Planting wildflower plugs is a slower process and I only managed about 400 before departing for the pub. The various species (thyme, wild carrot, salad burnet and birdsfoot trefoil) should enrich what is already a nice chalk downland sward.

The grassy bank where I planted wildflower plugs, and Helen and another are still planting. Behind the street sign are gorse and dogwood plants put in the previous day by other volunteers.

Helen, the organiser/leader, allowed me to take a dozen snowdrops last time and I planted them under a small apple tree in my garden – half are now in flower, see below

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Falmer to Patcham on the Brighton and Hove Way

Back on 7th October I met Cllr Pete West and our city’s Rights of Way Officer, Chantelle at Falmer village Farm Shop to walk carefully with purpose, stopping at every gate and change of direction to consider what signage (and possible posts) was needed for people doing the walk in either direction. It was not a quick walk. At each stop Chantelle used What Three Words to identify the place, and took another photograph of the place, which will help those who follow to dig the post hole of recognise the existing post or gate.

Within minutes of starting they discussed whether or not a repeater sign was needed on an existing post, in case some walkers may be losing confidence in their location. ‘This will take a while’, I thought.

They decided that this apparent dead end needed extra signage to convince some to keep walking (there is a turn to the right – not normally something I’d support) at the end to get you across the A27 by footbridge. Over the bridge is the Swan pub (lacking its usual sign – I hope it will continue to trade in these hard times). To the left of the pub the village road heads NW to join the permissive path created by the University of Sussex which follows the eastern boundary of the campus for over half a mile before zig-zagging down the wooded slope to following the northern boundary all the way down and up to Stanmer Park.

There are few existing signs here, but the one above marks the place where you zig-zag downhill. It would be a brave soul who did this walk without a map, but Pete tells me that the GPS data is on the B&H Way website, so those with a smart phone and some tech ability could use it (in a wood though?).

Part way to the number 12 post there is a view through the autumnal trees across the new halls of residence and down the Lewes Road valley (with all the hi-rises of the Uni of Brighton) to the sea.

Once out of the woods you can look up to the ridge which marks the end of Campus and beginning of Stanmer Park

On the ridge (behind the tear drop shaped tree) you pass through 3 gates in 30 yards and look down on Stanmer House across the green and the spire of Stanmer church poking above the trees just a little to the right of the House. The path goes across the pasture towards the church, and you will see the gate as you move down the hill. The village has up to three cafes operating – one in Stanmer House, one in the walled garden slightly to the right of the House, and a third in the village high street. Take the road to the right for a few minutes to find that one.

If you are here for the walk then head across the green, left of Stanmer House, aiming for a black litter bin. The walk will take you into the Great Wood – where the path will need plenty of clear marking as you climb up the slope crossing several paths until you find a nice wide route to the right going gradually up hill and NW to the Chalk Hill car park.

The view above is not typical. There are large areas of young ash trees, maybe only 4 or 5 inches diameter at 5 feet above ground. They might have got started after the Great Storm of 1987 opened up so much of the woodland. But today most of them are leaning against bigger sycamores, oaks and beech trees, as they suffer from ash dieback. Notices warn folk against walking here in or just after high winds.

Keep the car park on your left and carry on to the Upper Lodges car park, passing possibly the finest dog poo sign anywhere:

The scenery changes completely after leaving the Upper Lodges carpark. Here we enter the open Downland pastures – finding both sun and wind. Our walk takes us north to skirt the huge rectangle of arable land set in this grassland. At the arable NE corner we head west for over a mile over natural rises and falls which hide then reveal the next gate, as well as archaeological bumps and ridges offering some evidence of much earlier habitation and agriculture. No finger posts will be set here without approval from the archaeologists!

Best moment of the day came when a big hare broke cover about 50 yards in front of as and ran swiftly away to the north. The open landscape here is a delight:

Solitary hawthorn bent by the predominantly westerly wind. You might just spot the Chattri, with its white dome, in the distance – the site of cremation for Indian soldiers who died of wounds at the Royal Pavilion hospital in WW1.

After a long schlepp downhill we reach a gate which gives access down the dry valley towards Horsdean Traveller Site, but we head north on the higher of two barely visible grassy tractor routes, then east under the pairs of wooden poles carrying high voltage cables, and down to a minor road. Across the road there’s a rifle club which displays red flags all the time – whether anyone is shooting or not. Our path is uphill just to the left of the club site, heading for a distant ridge, with fingerpost that you might spot on the horizon with good eyesight or (certainly in my case) with binoculars.

Here is the ridge-top fingerpost, pointing to the right (where we came from) and marking the bridleway connecting the town to the Chattri, visible just beyond the woodland.

Our route is south, along the bridleway for about 250 metres where we find a gate and path heading west, pass through two gates about 100m apart. From the second of these gates we look south downhill. Gates appear in turn as we walk about 400m to seek a yet another gate leading through a thick hedge down to another minor road and the bridge across the A23.

We cross the equestrian bridge, complete with mounting/dismounting steps at each end, and soon reach a tarmacked road where today’s Way Walk ends with a 30 minute stroll to Old Patcham village and a bus stop and shelter.

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Ancient Earthworks

Twice in the last two months I have walked across a patch of Open Access land just north of the Brighton bypass and Patcham, and on both occasions I stopped to look at a couple of breaks of slope – sudden rises (or falls) in the land surface, up to a metre in height, that occurred over a short linear distance – maybe up to 3 metres. I thought they may be old field boundaries (most have signs of a hedgerow on them, mainly a few hawthorn shrubs) or lynchets (breaks of slope created by ploughing along the contours of a slope over many seasons).

There are lynchets in the area, and some are shown on a noticeboard I passed on the way to this place:

Lynchets are usually parallel to each other, running along the contours, but where I was some of the breaks of slope are at right angles to each other. One pair, at right angles, looked like they could form adjacent sides of a nearly level platform area – for a building perhaps?

Then, on the 14th September, Jackie and I attended a talk mainly about the remains of a Roman villa beside the London Road just north of the Railway viaduct, and south of Preston Park. But David Rudling’s talk brought in other historic sites including what he called the Romano British earthworks at Eastwick Barn, largely destroyed when the bypass was built. A quick map check at home told me this includes the breaks of slopes I had been drawn to – a tiny remnant of a once much more extensive site, which you can see beneath the colouring in of the modern road-cutting slopes and roadway in my hand coloured map addition below:

green shows the area excavated for the road cutting, more accurate on the north side where I walked several times. The bypass with two slip-roads, is shown bluey-grey.

The hatched break of slope beside the words ‘Romano British pottery found’ is shown in my photo below:

You will see that the feature disappears on the left (west), it continues beyond this picture to the east to a fence line north of which is a ploughed field that has ploughed out the feature (see map above).

The smaller break of slope feature running nearly north south between the words ‘Ancient’ and ‘Earthworks’ on the map is still visible, running away from the camera in the photo below:

The break of slope is marked by the straggling line of hawthorns. The land rises up to the higher surface on the east.

I don’t often go off into flights of fancy, but I admit that, when I ‘found’ this place by myself I felt it was something important, it feels a special place, not spookily but in a warm way. It felt separate, even though it’s beside a noisy road of roaring traffic.

My final image is from a draft design for a noticeboard which I found on Brighton and Hove Council’s website, it clearly shows the location of my site (unmarked here) between the bypass and the arable field. It is very close to Stanmer Park – to the east, and the larger Access Land area is well worth walking over. The location of the lynchets seen in the first picture is also shown:

Please try to ignore the bold grey line and letters across the map, when complete it says ‘DRAFT’ in the style of a rubber stamp, indicating the status of the image I borrowed.
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British Sundial Society Conference, York, April 2022

I know its August, but things got on top of me.

The conference was at the Hilton, right opposite Clifford’s Tower, in the middle of town. Lovely central location for a walking tour of dials. One 4 faced post dial had been restored since I last saw it in 2017.

2017 pillar dial
shiny and new in 2022

In the Merchant Adventurers Hall there is a lovely window dial, but I seem to have lost most of the pictures I took there, so here is a topical 18th century Eastern Orthodox icon from Kyiv in Ukraine. York was a hub of international trade when ships were smaller, and perhaps equally important trading guilds were very powerful, and the right to establish a trade body was controlled by royalty, so once granted it tended to stick, even if ships got bigger. I could not take the picture front on because of reflections, which do not help here either!

Established as a religious body in 1357 when Edward III granted permission to build a hall, they became a ‘Mystery of Mercers’ in 1430 – basically a trade body with exclusive trade rights. By the early 19th century they lost their monopoly of trade in York, and in 1835 all their trading privileges went. Today the body is a grand social club – in a very historic building.

Rather less truly historic is the Treasurers House beside the cathedral. Certainly an old building, but totally remodelled to please the whims of Frank Green who bought the property in 1897 and lived there from 1900 and 1930. He inherited money from his dad who made it by inventing and patenting an ‘economiser’ – a device which used the previously discarded steam from a steam engine to preheat the cylinder before the next cycle injected more steam. This made the machine more efficient and reduced the amount of fuel burnt, making the Economiser a valuable must have for every steam engine powered factory.

The son Frank (not the eldest who went on to run the business, and inherited the Baronet title granted to his dad) decided to create a medieval hall in what had bee several properties. He bought element from grand houses that were being demolished, and worked hard to get Royal patronage, having Princess Alexandra and Prince Albert Edward and their daughter Victoria to stay whilst in York in 1900 (Albert Edward went on to become Edward VII).

I have always liked decorative stencilling, and there is some good if dark coloured work here:

And some misleading materials in use:

The fireplace above is made of wood, then painted to resemble stone, meanwhile the panelling is plaster, decorated to resemble wood!

Of course I sought out a pub or two. The Snickleway proved to be a reliable source of Roosters Yankee, an early pale using American Cascade hops.

A fine old family run pub

In another bar, called The Blue Bell, they had delicious pies and several ales. Just 2 small bars, and a serving hatch in the corridor with a drop down stool fitted to the hall wall. On a wall there was the following sign:

“When life deals you melons you’ve probably got dyslexia”

Well, I liked it.

All of the central city seems perfect for tourists today, but perhaps the dirty sundial post at the beginning of the blog holds a clue to the past. Between the 1890s and 1976 there was a coal burning power station on the Fosse river. The Fosse follows the line of the wall on the east side of the city, so the power station was immediately extra-mural. It was built by the City Corporation and in the 1950s supplied power to 45,000 homes, about 5000 businesses (shops and offices), 250 factories and over a thousand farms, as well as lots of street lights. Coal was delivered by river, and the river provided cooling water for the single cooling tower. Right next door the Council built a ‘refuse destructor’ to burn the city’s waste. Just a few hundred yards to the north there was a big gas works where coal was burnt in a controlled atmosphere to produce coal tar, coke and town gas – a smelly and toxic process, right next to the main hospital!

All of these dirty industries were on the east side of the city so that the prevailing winds would blow the pollution away from the centre – but on still winter days . . .

Must finish with a favourite artist. Prunella Clough has a painting in the City Art Gallery. She started painting industrial scenes, but gradually shifted to more abstract images. This one (from 1945-55) is some way on that journey:

Men and Barges
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