The Fernhurst Society
Newsletter no 42, September 2013
Thursday 31st October – Talk by Dr Thomas Asbridge
Thursday 28th November – AGM and Talk by Marion Dell
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The Fernhurst Society was set up more than 15 years ago as a forum for the appreciation of our heritage and the environment through locally organised walks, talks, projects and exhibitions. The Fernhurst Archives affiliated to the Society and added a historical and record-keeping dimension. Many local folk, recognising the benefits, became Life Members for a modest, once only, sum; thus absolving themselves of having to remember to pay their annual sub. Clearly some members find this difficult - it couldn't possibly be that they don't wish to continue membership, could it? You can pay online by credit card, debit card or PayPal at www.fernhurstsociety.org.uk/subscriptions.html. Or contact our treasurer John Buchanan via the Society's email to pay by cheque, or set up a standing order or bank transfer. Don’t miss out!
Wild Daffodil Walk near Petworth -
Sunday 7th April
A large group of 29 people started from the small car park in Kingspit Lane, one mile east of Petworth, for an afternoon walk on an unusually sunny Sunday. The walk was led by Mike South who took us through Flexham Park - a large area of woodland owned by the Leconfield Estate consisting mostly of chestnut. Significant areas have not been coppiced for many years and in these areas large swathes of daffodils and bluebells have established.
The walk was luckily timed when the daffodils were in full flower, which created a wonderful display. The bluebells were even more widely spread and would be in flower several weeks later.
The walkers continued through the park, and detoured to see the ruins of Bedham Church. This was built in 1880 by William Mitford, MP for Midhurst, as a Mission Church and School for the local agricultural community and charcoal burners. However, as agriculture declined in the area, the school closed in 1925 but struggled on as a church until 1959.
The walk returned via the southern end of Bignor Common Quarry - recently reopened for the supply of low-grade sandstone. Adjacent to this is a grass meadow in which daffodils have been spreading for many years and now create a wonderful display when in full flower. A fitting finale to a very enjoyable walk.
Talk by Tania Pons – Thursday 25th April
‘The Lost Airfield of Cowdray’
Tania Pons' children's interest in trains led her on a completely different track when she was looking at the disused Midhurst branch line through Selham and discovered a wartime airfield that was so secret that it was not even on any wartime maps of airfields!
Tania has now researched the airfield very thoroughly over the last four years and came to Fernhurst to talk about Royal Naval Air Station Cowdray Park. She backed this up with photographs, maps, reminiscences, local memories and much more. The Fernhurst Centre was overflowing, with people even standing outside the door to listen to what proved a fascinating, well delivered and intriguing talk.
In the 1930s there were three airfields in the vicinity but in 1937 Viscount Cowdray (3rd) levelled one of his estate fields to create a private airfield, at what has now become Ambersham polo fields. Planes were refuelled by Midhurst Engineering! By 1941 records show that the Admiralty was paying rent for Cowdray aerodrome.
20' x 40' Dutch Barns were built as hangars; giving the impression of being a farm and so disguising the airfield from passing German planes. These were then used to store, service and repair planes such as the Supermarine Walrus, Fairey Swordfish and Albacore, which were flown in from RNAS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent.
Tania had found out so much about life related to the airfield; the 45 sailors who lived at Ambersham Farm and the two officers billeted in the village, the mess deck, the cookhouse, the rum ration, the village hall and the pub, dances at Fernhurst, the Rother Pub in Easebourne, fare dodging on the train into Midhurst, the football team who played Midhurst Grammar School. She found out how the damaged planes reached the airfield, the daily routine of checking and repairing every plane, as well as the aerobatics often performed after the planes were repaired. She told us about near misses from German bombers and the appearance of Pranger Richardson, aka Ralph! There was also the arrival of WRNS at Selham Hall.
There were secret training events at RNAS Cowdray, one watched by a small boy who was presumably not considered a threat. He was in the audience and had seen planes practising picking up mailbags with a hook, all without landing. The talk was one of the best and most appreciated by the Society audience, who raised many questions and comments. Several remembered the airfield from their childhood after being taken there by bike to see the planes, and also the huge bonfire at the end of the war when most of the military installations were burned before returning the airfield to the estate. The airfield's short runway rendered it obsolete for more modern planes.
Walk on Heyshott Down –
Sunday 23rd June
We were led up to the part of Heyshott Down looked after by the Murray Downland Trust by Mike Edwards and John Murray; the latter being a member of the family involved in setting up the Trust. The Trust rescues and enhances neglected areas of unimproved Chalk Downland and looks after five reserves between Petersfield and Midhurst.
The Trust manages 50 acres at Heyshott Down. This area was originally an area of chalk workings started by the Romans to produce lime for local use. There were up to six kilns operating during the period 1500 to 1800 when the area was part of the Poyntz Estate. In 1840, Leconfield Estate bought the Poyntz Estate and about 1900 Sir Weetman Pearson, Bt, who had made his money in Mexican oil production, bought the Poyntz Estate before becoming Lord Cowdray in 1910 and (1st) Viscount Cowdray of Cowdray in 1917.
The outlines of the chalk workings can still be seen along with the foundations of some of the kilns. However, Heyshott Down was neglected after the war and became covered in scrub. This was when conservation pioneers Betty and brother Kenneth Murray started clearing the scrub from the original grassland, eventually leading to setting up the Trust in 1997.
Mike and John gave us a fascinating account of the ecological challenges of re-establishing the original grassland now overgrowing with scrub since the reduction of grazing by sheep and cattle. Many Yew trees have been removed as a precursor to re-introducing cattle to help keep the scrub at bay. This has stimulated the re-emergence of some plants such as the cowslip, which is the host to the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. Heyshott Down is now one of the few sites where this butterfly can be found.
Juniper was also common on the open scree conditions of the chalk workings but overgrazing almost wiped this out. We saw the only surviving tree. Other interesting plants we saw were Adder’s Tongue Fern, Tweyblade, Bird’s Foot and Horseshoe Trefoil, Agrimony and whitebeam.
There is an amazing abundance of different orchids on the newly cleared grassland – bee, butterfly, common spotted, fly, marsh fragrant and musk orchids are all present - although not all of them were flowering during our visit.
Walk – A taste of North Ambersham -
Sunday 8th September
The Society held an enjoyable walk on Sunday 8 September led by Elaine Ireland, taking in the rolling countryside at the northern end of North Ambersham – woodland, millponds and a lovely vale. It was rainy but I think we all enjoyed ourselves - particularly because we were joined by Tina Ridgway, who grew up in the area and whose great-grandfather once owned much of the land we trod (Herbert Yatman – Fernden Hill Estate). Tina was able to point us in the right direction when we were in danger of going astray and contributed personal anecdotes and knowledge.
North Ambersham is a narrow strip of land which once sat to the east of Fernhurst and to the north of Lodsworth but has now been assimilated into those parishes. The part of North Ambersham within Fernhurst extends from Bell Vale Lane in the North to Henley Village in the South. Our walk took us past Shalford House, Fernden Heights, Lowder Mill and through the National Trust’s Valewood Park.
For almost 900 years this little slice of Sussex was an exclave of what is now Hampshire – from around November 963 A.D. to 20 October 1844, when the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 tidied up the county boundaries eliminating most, but not all, exclaves. During this time the inhabitants of North Ambersham paid their tithes to a Wessex/Hampshire Church, which meant they theoretically had to travel to Hampshire to worship, marry, christen their children and bury their dead and obtain any Parish Poor Law support. Although North Ambersham was returned to Sussex in the 19th century, the parish church for North (and South) Ambersham was based at Steep near Petersfield until 1916.
How this came about may have something to do with the fact that Sussex is said to be one of the last areas of England to adopt Christianity and Sussex’s neighbour Wessex was strongly Christian. In 855 Christian King Ethelwulf of Wessex granted the Christian Church the right to receive tithes. In 927 King Athelstan of Wessex became the first King of England. In November 963 King Edgar who called himself King of Britain (another Wessex man - great grandson of King Alfred the Great) granted land in Ambersham (‘8 hides’) to the church of St Andrew the Apostle at Meon (Simon Keynes, 1991, page 68).
Were the Sussex inhabitants of Ambersham (if there were any) considered such Heathens that they needed a guiding hand from their Wessex neighbours? Or was this a move to boost the wealth of the Wessex church of St Andrew the Apostle at Meon?
Incidentally, I haven’t been able to track down St Andrew the Apostle at Meon but then I haven’t spoken to our North Ambersham expert David Coward who may know the answer.
For further information about North Ambersham: -
History of North Ambersham on DVD
Fernhurst Society member David Coward has carried out extensive research on the old Hampshire Tithing of North Ambersham (now incorporated in the parishes of Fernhurst and Lodsworth) and is currently pulling together an extensive and detailed paper account which will, in due course, be available on a DVD that can be accessed as a pdf document on a computer (not TV). David’s work covers histories of the buildings, the families and the land use with timelined events for each of the properties from Lowder Mill in the north to the top of Bexley Hill in the south. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy of David’s DVD when it’s ready, please send a message via the Society's email
The Archive’s display for the Fernhurst Society stand at the Revels on 19 May attracted a non-stop stream of visitors all afternoon. Several new members were enrolled and quite a lot of merchandise sold.
Brenda and Christine spent a fascinating afternoon with churchwarden Keith Tyler finding out about church history and he kindly let us have copies of some photos of the church and a past vicar to add to our collection.
Iain and Brenda visited Peter Goatly at Jackett’s Hollow where they were able to record architectural details. He also loaned the deeds to the property to us. These are being studied and then passed on to WSRO, who in turn will provide us with copies.
A visitor from London spent the entire day at the Archive poring over the diaries of Charles Willcock. His particular interest was old and disused chapels, so was keen to hear about the Henley and Bexleyhill Mission Rooms, also Overnoons, which had also been used as a Meeting Room.
Another visitor came in to talk about being evacuated to the village during the war and how her mother had been sent to a mother and baby home in Camelsdale to give birth. Our local metal detectorist Darren Wells also popped in to show his recent finds – a 12th century silver penny and medieval jug handle.
Homeley, aka Homeleys Water proved, and is still proving, a puzzler. The property was last mentioned in the 1930s but since then seems to have vanished, or maybe renamed. We’re still working on that one. We are also working on enquiries re the West family. Belinda and Brenda have advised two visitors on what there is to see in the Lurgashall/Fernhurst area connected to the Yaldwyn/Yalden family of Blackdown.
Several postcards from around 1910 have been donated depicting slightly different scenes of Fernhurst and Kingsley Green from those we already have in the collection. Other donations were three (unframed) paintings of Fernhurst by Kathleen Navroznik and 26 framed photos of old Fernhurst from the new owners of the King’s Arms out of the collection originally hung in the pub by Marco Pierre White.
Members of the Lodsworth Heritage Society came in to discuss storage and retrieval ideas and to update us on their progress. Liphook also paid a similar visit.
Christine Maynard – Fernhurst Archive
James Gordon Cole was sometimes referred to as ‘Old King Cole’, a term which, despite its apparent familiarity, implied respect and an appreciative recognition of his innumerable good works. Fernhurst would not have some of the shops, facilities and housing that it has today without his energy and drive.
Born at Ampfield in 1885, he left school at ten to go out to work. At 14 he came to Fernhurst and worked for Sir Frederick and Lady Phillipson Stow of Blackdown House until the early 1930s in charge of the garage and electrical plant. However, in 1924 he opened the first newsagent’s shop in the village in partnership with E J Lambert in premises now occupied by Blackdown Press. He later acquired the bakery and grocery business of Messrs E J Woodman on the opposite corner and subsequently the Post Office.
He was a man of immense energy and community spirit. In 1922 he became Secretary of Fernhurst Working Men’s Club and turned it round into profitability. He also acquired the use of the field which became the recreation ground and masterminded the plan to buy it and raised the money to build a pavilion as well. The village hall also benefited from his financial acumen and he held several posts on the Parochial Church Council, the Parish Council and North Ambersham Burial Committee and served for many years.
Well ahead of his time, James Cole thought that as many people as possible should own their own home, and was one of the leaders in setting up the Fernhurst Building Society. He was largely self-educated and had great knowledge on many subjects, particularly finance.
He died in 1958. In his tribute the vicar said ‘He was a faithful and loyal friend … a great strength and support of all the village and church affairs and always completely straightforward and did what he knew was right without fear or favour’.
Christine Maynard – Fernhurst Archive