Welcome to Newmarket Hill – a South Down Blog!

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Two hundred metres above the nearby English Channel, Newmarket Hill crowns that part of the South Downs which lies between the towns of Brighton to the west and Lewes to the east, and between the villages of Rottingdean to the south and Falmer to the north. It’s top is in the parish of Kingston near Lewes, the village of which is about a mile and half away. However, it is now only about a mile to the north of the relatively modern village of Woodingdean and a mile and a half to the north-west of the deserted medieval hamlet of Balsdean. Its south-eastern slopes form a part of Castle Hill National Nature Reserve which is a site of European importance. This blog is about the history and ecology of its surrounding downland.

Newmarket Farm by Douglas Holland

Newmarket Farm by Douglas Holland.

In April 2013 I managed – as a volunteer for Natural England – a community based excavation of the site of a 19th century farm labourer’s cottage and farmyard called Newmarket Farm, just inside Castle Hill NNR, near the summit of Newmarket Hill. It was built in 1830 and was the birth place of my mother in 1942, shortly before it was requisitioned for military training by the Canadian and other troops stationed in nearby Balsdean and the surrounding area.

Newmarket Farm location

Newmarket Farm location. Overlay of old and new O.S. maps and Google satellite images.

Some Recommended Blog Entries

Some post-dig updates

Talks, related projects & research

David Cuthbertson: scienceinthegreen@gmail.com

Some dates for your diary (best viewed by clicking on ‘Agenda’ tab):

Progress Review

The front cover of a draft copy of my (and my mum's) book

The front cover of a draft copy of my (and my mum’s) book

The most popular question I am asked about my research is “am I writing a book” (and “when will it be published”)? An early draft of the book is already available to read on this website (though without images, for I have yet to request copyright approvals for them all). However a publication date is quite a while away.

After working on how to retell my recent WW2 Balsdean talk for this blog, I have a long awaited archaeological dig report to produce. The dig was three years ago and so is long overdue. Fortunately the delay has enabled me to obtain a much clearer idea of what may be involved, including how to best to record the large number of finds which occupy a large part of parent’s garage. Being new to archaeology I have no idea how long it will all take. All I can say at present is that I hope to have finished well before Christmas!

Once the report has been published there is the possibility of returning back to the Newmarket Farm site for further digging. We did an excellent job uncovering the site of the cottage and it’s front yard. It would be nice to formally confirm the locations of all the other structures on site. My aspiration is to construct a 3d digital model of the site. I hope to discover how to create an accurate model based on the only photograph discovered (as yet) and a ground plan, partly or wholly based on archaeological excavation.

I also wish to survey and record as much of the 19th century to WW2 archaeology as I can in the Kingston, Balsdean, Woodingdean area. To this end I have started teaching myself how record and share geographic and other information using the Open Source program Qgis. Learning to record archaeological features in the field using more traditional methods would also be extremely useful.

Meanwhile, there is my unfinished book. This has now (at least in my mind) become four books, for I feel that I have material enough (with more research) for four different audiences. The first to be written is an introductory overview to a subsequent trilogy covering different aspects of the Newmarket Farm’s history.

The first has already been drafted. It is an overview of the lives, places and events which have been associated with the remote South Downs labourers’ cottage and barns known as Newmarket Farm, from shortly before its construction in 1830 to shortly after its destruction in 1942. I hope to find a commercial publisher for it – though there may be issues associated with finding the money to pay for copyright permissions of images, etc. Fortunately these are issues I don’t have to worry about for a year or two.

The first (historically) of the subsequent trilogy is planned to detail the origins of the Newmarket Farm. It was constructed as an outfarm, as part of the many changes which would have been associated with the enclosure of Kingston Near Lewes in 1830. The book would aim to relate the particularities of the agricultural parish of Kingston to the wider issues associated with the agricultural ‘improvements’ of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its emphasis would be social, environmental and agricultural. A second and equally important part of its research would be an attempt to understand the social aspects (in its widest sense) of an agricultural labourer’s life in such a geographically isolated location. Whilst I am aware of many books written about the ‘agricultural revolution’, I have yet to find a book which explores the social consequences of living and working on a remote outfarm.

The next book (historically) is intended to be centred around the murder which occurred at the Newmarket Farm in 1868. The murderer, Martin Brown, was from the slums of Brighton. The murdered agricultural labouring tenant of Newmarket Farm, David Baldy, was born and bred in rural Falmer. This tragic event provides an insight into the life and lives of nineteenth century poverty, both rural and urban. Surprisingly, though their lives were very different, the quality of life of the Brighton slum children was not necessarily worse than those of their country cousins. Average life expectancy in rural Kingston Near Lewes in the mid-nineteenth century was just 25, more or less exactly the same as the worst industrial cities in Britain. Also, because it was a murder, the newspapers wrote lengthy columns about who was doing what, where, and when. This kind of information is not normally available for the rural poor. A wonderful (though tragic) opportunity to look into everyday lives in extraordinary circumstances. And the murder story and subsequent police chase makes for a ripping yarn! Who wouldn’t want to read such a book.

The final book in the trilogy (though not necessarily the last to be written) starts with the events leading to the sale of the Newmarket Farm to the new owner of the neighbouring Balsdean Farm, just after WW1. The socio-economic factors which led to the ‘Great War’ also played a hugely significant role in changes of land use and ownership from the late Edwardian period. These also continued on during the inter-war years and played a huge role in the arguments for and against the creation of a series of South Down military training areas, resulting in the destruction of the Newmarket Farm – birthplace of my mother. This volume is essentially a description of the life and events, in war and peace, on a block of the South Downs between Brighton and Lewes. It would therefore also include the huge military reviews or mock battles which took place across these iconic downs, starting from the reign of the Prince Regent and ending in Edwardian times.

So, four books centred around a remote farm labourers’ cottage situated just below the summit of the highest hill on the South Downs between Lewes and Brighton (an introductory overview, a late Georgian – early Victorian agricultural history, a Victorian murder combined with a ‘town mouse, country mouse’ social history, and a rural war and peace), archaeological excavations and related activities, these should keep me busy for a while! I also hope to give more talks and guided walks, and of course I intend to continue keeping the readers of this blog informed of my discoveries.

Custom Slideshow – Google Earth Animations

Tanks move into Balsdean. Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

Tanks move into Balsdean. Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

The WW2 Balsdean presentation I gave to the Sussex Military History Society last month was very warmly received. I plan to rework it into a suitable form to include in this blog, though it is likely to be a while before that happens. One reason is that I used several animated transitions comparing current views from Google Earth with old photos, as well as short videos of Google Earth fly-throughs to help my audience discover the location of the various places of interest given in the talk, as well as to better visualise the landscape as a whole. These were particularly tailored to the presentation media used and will probably need to be rerecorded so as to be more suitable for this website.

Open Source Tools

Meanwhile, I have been asked to share how I achieved the animated transitions that were used in my talk. Firstly I should say that I mostly use free, Open Source tools wherever possible. This is partly for ethical reasons, partly because they are free (as in speech, not lunch), and partly because they (almost always) enable me to get my stuff done. However, if necessary I do use closed source and non-free software, such as Google Earth, if there are no suitable alternatives.

The first and most important of my Open Source tools is the Ubuntu Linux operating system. I have used Linux for many years now and only very rarely have I needed to switch to Windows. Of the many varieties of Linux I chose Ubuntu because of its large user base and excellent online support.

For my presentation I used LibreOffice (a version of OpenOffice) Impress. It is almost completely compatible with Microsoft PowerPoint, has similar capabilities and can be run on Linux, Windows and Apple Mac computers. Other presentation apps are available!

For editing photos and other images I mainly use Gimp, an open source alternative to Photoshop which can also be run on Linux, Windows and Apple Mac computers. Other image editors are also available! I used to it to improve the images (contrast, brightness, colour, etc), reduce their resolution to that of my projector, and to crop them, as and when required. I also used it’s layer capabilities to line up my screenshots taken of GoogleEarth views, so to as closely as possible match the views shown in my old photographs of Balsdean, etc.

Unfortunately there is no alternative that I know of to Google Earth for detailed exploration of 3d satellite images. Its ability to import geo-referenced images was especially useful. To do this I used QGIS, an open source geographic information system, similar to ArcGIS in capabilities. It is also available to download on most computers. Other GIS programs are available!

To share my Google Earth fly-throughs, I needed to capture my desktop display as a video. The program I chose was recordMyDesktop. It has a pretty basic functionality, but was adequate for my purposes.  It only runs under Linux, though there are many alternatives that work on different platforms.

Unfortunately the file size of the videos produced by recordMyDesktop were quite large, so I used a graphical front-end to FFmpeg called WinFF. FFmpeg is very good at video conversion, but I find its command line use too overwhelming. WinFF gives a huge range of tweakable presets, which after some experimentation, did exactly what was needed. It is only available on Windows and Linux. A huge number of video conversion tools are also available, including many that run on Apple Macs.

File Size Reduction

One of my biggest challenges was the file size of the finished presentation. I have a relatively powerful laptop but it quickly started to struggle with the accumulation of large images and videos that made up my one hour, particularly image heavy, presentation.

Memory Allocation

This was dealt with on two levels. Firstly I explored the memory allocation of my presentation program. Based on research via a number of sites found on Google I increased its memory allocation to 200 MB. For LibreOffice Impress 5.1 this can be changed via:

Tools -> Options -> LibreOffice -> Memory
Graphics Cache
   Use for LibreOffice:      200 MB
   Memory per object:        20 MB
   Remove from memory after: 10 mins
Cache for Inserted Objects
   Number of objects:        100

I have no idea whether these were the best settings for my needs, but they worked for me, especially during the editing process. They gave the program an enormous performance boost, and improved its stability as well.

Projector Resolution – Scaling &/or Cropping of Slides

My computer projector has a relatively low resolution, just 800 x 600 px. However I consider it is perfectly adequate for everyone except perhaps the front row of the audience. Therefore the relative proportions of the presentation’s slides were set in Impress to be the same as that of the projector, i.e. 4:3:

Slide -> Page/Slide Properties -> Page
Paper Format
   Format:      Screen 4:3
   Width:       [default setting]
   Height:      [default setting]
   Orientation: Landscape

However, many of my images were of a much higher file size than 800 x 600 px, and many were of differing aspect ratios. Cropping such images to the relative proportions of the projected slides not only reduced their file size, but also made it much easier to accurately orientate my imported images to completely fill the slide (which is how I like it – though only if appropriate). To do this in Gimp I used the crop tool. Selecting this brings up a Tool Options menu:

Crop
   Fixed:   Aspect ratio
      4:3

Scaling the image to the screen size (or that of its maximum height or width) enabled a significant reduction in the file size of the presentation. In Gimp this was done via:

Image -> Scale Image
Image Size
   Width:   800 px
   Height:  600 px

Video Compressing & Resizing

I also created a number of videos of Google Earth fly-throughs. These needed both reducing in size and improvements in compression – but without serious loss in quality. The fly-throughs were captured by recordMyDesktop. The good news is that it enables a box to be drawn around the area required to be captured. The bad news is that I could only do this very approximately using a tiny preview screen, and the relative proportions of the selected area could only be guestimated by eye. Fortunately I only wanted adequate, not perfect results. More good news is that it records high quality *.ogv formatted video (open source!). The bad news is that the file sizes were very big. Fortunately I was rescued by WinFF. To convert and resize the captured fly-throughs I clicked on the green Add plus sign to find and select the relevant video. After experimenting with its various settings I found the best compromise between compression, resolution and file size to be obtained via:

Output Details
   Convert to:    MPEG-4
   Preset:        MP4 Fullscreen
   Output Folder: Use Source Folder

Then, making sure that Options had been selected, I opened the FFmpeg tab to reveal the command line magic which does all the hard work. Looking for the part which has something like:

scale=w=640:h=480

I changed this (carefully) to:

scale=w=800:h=600

Then clicked on the Convert button to let it work its magic. Comparing the results with the original (almost always) gave adequate results for a huge reduction in file size of over ninety percent.

Then and Now Images using Google Earth

Tanks move into Balsdean, shortly after May 1942? Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

Similar view to that of photo of tanks moving into Balsdean, shortly after May 1942? Screenshot from Google Earth.

Till now I have only dealt with the important but boring, bread & butter of my presentation’s construction. Now for one of the exciting contents of my slideshow sandwiches; the before and after transitions.

Whilst superficially a simple transition, this proved fairly challenging – till I learnt a way of getting an adequate result. Firstly, my laptop has an aspect ratio of more than 4:3. Therefore I adjusted the width of Google Earth’s left-hand side panel till the central 3d-map view had the same approximate aspect ratio as that of my projector, namely 4:3.

Next, as can be seen in the Google Earth image shown here, it has a much wider angle of view than the original photograph. Therefore lining up the two proved to be somewhat challenging. The background hills in Google Earth appear much smaller and further away. I found that if I lined up the skyline and the main features of interest, the position of the camera was often astray. Fortunately I was only striving for adequacy. It may be possible to do more with Google Earth Pro, but sadly it does not run under Linux.

Once I had lined up the view in Google Earth, I needed to save it (for the fly-through I created later). This I did by adding a Placemark (a yellow pin), and giving it a suitable name and description. Once saved it will appear in the left-hand panel under Places. For my talk I had several of these placemarks, so created folders to help organise them all.

However, this view was (initially) only viewable in Google Earth, and had a great yellow pin right in the middle of it! Fortunately, in the left-hand pane under My Places, a tick box associated with this view (placemark) could be unticked to hide it. Alternatively, right-clicking on the placemark and selecting properties enabled the pin to be dragged to a more suitable location. Then a screenshot was taken, and the image cropped to the screen aspect ratio, as explained in the previous section.

My before and after (then and now) images were now ready for the slideshow. A simple slide transition was next needed to move between them. I found that a transition between slides, in at least my version of LibreOffice Impress, was far from smooth whereas a custom animation within a slide was beautifully smooth. To do this I needed to insert the first image to be used into the slide, then the second image was inserted in front of it. With the second image selected, I selected:

Custom Animation
Effect Fade In
   Start: On Click
   Speed: Very slow

This worked for me very nicely. So next, the really exciting stuff…

Google Earth Fly-Throughs

Looking N at location of former Balsdean Hamlet. Screenshot taken from Google Earth.

Balsdean Hamlet. (Photo: Part of the Holland, Mercer collection).

The following step was to prepare a destination for the first fly-through. In this case it was to a similar view, captured from Google Earth, of my next old photograph, that of the pre-WW2 Balsdean hamlet taken about 60 metres west of the previous photo. The reason for the fly through was to help the audience orientate themselves in the landscape captured by these two old photos.

To do this I created a new placemark in Google Earth to save this new viewpoint following the method given above. Selecting (double clicking) the first placemark I had previously created (making sure I had unticked its box to remove its named yellow flag) I then double clicked on my second placemark to enable my first fly-through.

Once satisfied with my helicopter ride from viewpoint to viewpoint I opened up recordMyDesktop to capture the fly-through on video (following these instructions). The resized and reformatted video (via WinFF, as explained above) was then inserted into a new slide. Since the first frame of this video was the same as the last image of the previous slide animation, the transition to the video in the new slide was hardly noticeable. Creating a following slide containing a slow fade from this Google Earth view to that of its equivalent photo, I had successfully completed my first fly-through transition in both time and space. I was happy! And apparently my audience were too.

They also liked my next fly-through which was to pull back and upwards to a Google Earth view looking directly down on this area of downland as a whole, encompassing Lewes (where my talk was held) to Balsdean’s north-east, to Brighton & Hove at its south-west.

Google Earth view of Ordnance Survey grid square TQ 30, showing Lewes (top right), Brighton & Hove (bottom left) and Balsdean (right of centre)

Google Earth view of Ordnance Survey grid square TQ 30, showing Lewes (top right), Brighton & Hove (bottom left) and Balsdean (right of centre)

Overlaying Georeferenced Maps & Images on Google Earth Using Qgis

Overlaid flat maps and aerial photographs onto the 3-dimensional contours of Google Earth was another important part of my presentation. However, how I managed to do this I will save for separate blog entry. Partly because I feel this blog post is long enough, but mainly because I have only just started learning Qgis and the last time I tried this I failed to get it to work!

Comments Welcome

You may have gathered by now that I am not a computer multimedia expert. There are definitely other ways of achieving what I did, and some of them may be better and/or easier. If anyone has some helpful suggestions on alternate ways of achieving similar results, or would like more help on this subject, I would very much welcome your feedback.

Woodingdean Social History Project

Horse Ploughing, Downs Hotel, Woodingdean from a painting by Douglas Holland

Horse Ploughing, Downs Hotel, Woodingdean from a painting by Douglas Holland.

I have been meaning to write about Peter Mercer and John Homewood’s Woodingdean Social History Project for some time now. With the recent passing of my father, I realise more than ever just how precious our memories are. If only he had written – perhaps with my help – more of his ninety years of experiences of his life in the village.

Animated gif of The Beehive, Crescent Drive North, Woodingdean, opposite top of Downs Valley Rd, then & now. Images, from Cuthbertson, Holland, Mercer collection, and Google Maps.

Animated gif of The Beehive (birthplace of my dad, centre left, now Treetops Close), Crescent Drive North, Woodingdean, opposite top of Downs Valley Road.. Images, from Cuthbertson, Holland, Mercer collection, and Google Maps.

Who knows what changes will occur over the next ninety years in Woodingdean. Peter Mercer, who has written 3 books on Woodingdean’s history, documented many people’s memories from it’s early days. Now it’s your turn! If you have been fortunate (or unfortunate!) enough to have grown up, lived, or worked in Woodingdean, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to write and share your memories and experiences for posterity.

Entries can be as long or short as you want. They will become part of the Holland-Mercer Collection – several large albums of more than 500 photographs of Woodingdean and Balsdean. This will eventually be donated to the East Sussex Record Office at The Keep, in Moulescoomb, Brighton, for future generations to research and enjoy.

Please send your written entries and copies of any family photographs or pictures to either;

  • John Homewood at jhhomewood@gmail.com or telephone 01273 684139
  • Peter Mercer at PRM442@hotmail.co.uk or telephone 01323 492309
  • David Cuthbertson at scienceinthegreen@gmail.com, or hand your entry in at the Woodingdean Library.
The Downs Hotel, Warren Road, Woodingdean, City of Brighton and Hove, England. 22 October 2011. By Hassocks5489 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Downs Hotel, Warren Road, Woodingdean, City of Brighton and Hove, England. 22 October 2011. By Hassocks5489 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Death of ‘Old Woodingdeaner’ Dick Cuthbertson 1926 – 2017

Painting of The Beehive, Crescent Drive North, Woodingdean by Douglas Holland from a c. 1930 photograph by Duncan Cuthbertson

Painting of The Beehive, Crescent Drive North, Woodingdean by my mum’s uncle Douglas Holland from a c. 1930 photograph by dad’s father Duncan Cuthbertson.

My dad was born in Woodingdean, 1926, shortly after his family moved into the village. The emerging village of shacks and tracks was almost nearly civilised by the time of his arrival. There was a shop or two, a cafe, and the Downs Hotel had just been opened the year before. Nevertheless, on the Downs Estate, east of the Falmer Road, it was a few years before such luxuries as tarmacked roads, electricity, or mains water arrived.

At the time of his death, as far as we are aware, whilst he was not the oldest person in Woodingdean, he was the oldest surviving indigenous Woodingdeaner.

I have touched on the early days of Woodingdean in two previous blog entries, Woodingdean and the Great War; Common Origins, and WW2 & the Woodingdean Downs Talk, as well as in the last two draft chapters of my Newmarket Farm book, Chapter 8. New Developments — 1911–1925, and Chapter 9. Brighton Corporation — 1925– Present. More can be read in the three books on Woodingdean’s early history by Peter Mercer. One day soon I hope to write of some of my dad’s experiences of early Woodingdean in more detail. But not today.

Meanwhile, here are a very few pictures of some of his contributions to our dig.

Looking SW from front to back of house; 3rd May 2013.

Looking SW from front to back of house; 3rd May 2013.

Looking N at excavation of the possible front door; 3rd May 2013.

Looking N at excavation of the possible front door; 3rd May 2013.

Newmarket Cottage, looking SE; 3rd May 2013.

Newmarket Cottage, looking SE; 3rd May 2013.

Cast iron lid of stove found on surface of rubble mound; 7th April 2013

Cast iron lid of stove found on surface of rubble mound; 7th April 2013

My parents with Mr Edwards. Michelham Priory WW2 Event, 19th August 2015.

My parents with Mr Edwards. Michelham Priory WW2 Event, 19th August 2015.

He was a quiet, intelligent man, practical man, with a sense of humour, adventure, appreciation of nature, and a belief in our responsibilities to others and the planet. He will be missed by many.

Exciting New WW2 Balsdean Talk!

Tanks move into Balsdean. Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

Tanks move into Balsdean. Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

Weds 18th January 2017 I will be giving my next illustrated talk for the Sussex Military History Society at 7.30 for 8.00pm, in the Royal Oak Public House, Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex.

Mustard Gas Training Exercise

I have been researching Balsdean’s military history in detail for over a year now, and have made some exciting new discoveries regarding the many military activities in the area. The most shocking for me was the use of Balsdean for a mustard gas training exercise in July 1941 – the gas bombs landing only a kilometre away from where my mother’s family were living at Newmarket Farm. I have identified a possible firing position and, based on the distance to the known locations of the bombs found after the exercise, I believe they may have been using an experimental livens projector capable of a much longer firing range than usual.

Anti-tank Training Railway

I have also located the former site of a figure of eight narrow gauge railway used for anti-tank target practice. I was told by friends of my dad that they (illegally) snuck into the Balsdean Training Area during the war and had a ride on it. Letting off the brake they said they had a big scare when it set off at speed downhill with them onboard!

National Archives & The Keep

My talk is of the highlights sifted out from thousands of pages of documents ranging from military war diaries, Home Guard records, civil authorities such as the Sussex Police and East Sussex War Agricultural Executive Committee (for whom my father worked), as well as newspaper reports of the day.

New Research Findings

Though it was originally to be largely based on the personal memories of those who lived and worked in the area, my talk’s main emphasis is now on my new military research findings which I hope will be of interest to the military enthusiasts who make up the SMHS membership.

Though I know the area well I am not a historian (military or otherwise) and until recently had no interest in the military activities that took place in Balsdean during WW2. I have therefore been amazed at just how much history I have uncovered  – far more than can be shared in just one short hour. I therefore plan to adapt the talk for a series of blog page articles, covering much of the material cut from the talk.

Three unexploded gas bombs found, July 1941.

Three unexploded gas bombs found near Balsdean, July 1941. Source, The Keep, East Sussex Record Office.

Hyde Manor, Kingston – a talk on Friday 21 October 2016, 7:30pm — Lewes History Group

Hyde Manor, The Street

Hyde Manor, The Street, Kingston near Lewes. Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This Lewes Archaeological Group talk should be an excellent one. Lisa Jayne Fisher (Archaeology Services Lewes) will talk about the medieval archaeological remains she excavated last year of the “Manor or purported Manor” of Hyde. Margaret Thorburn – author of ‘An Account of the Manor of Hyde: Kingston near Lewes, Sussex‘ (2001) – will talk about the intriguing history of this Manor – one of the three(!) which dominated the Parish.

In Medieval times it was located on the north side of The Street before it moved across the road in the 18th Century to its present location. By the end of the 18th Century it had become the largest landowner in Kingston, and was responsible for organising the Enclosure of Kingston (and Iford) in 1831. This resulted in the building of the Newmarket Farm whose history I am researching. Though I am currently researching its WW2 history I very much intend to return to researching its earlier origins.

Both speakers have been very supportive of this project. Margaret Thorburn, shortly after the start of our research, generously introduced my mother and I to a number of local Kingston people and publications and gave us a fascinating tour of The Street. Lisa Fisher very kindly helped me last year with the post-excavation processing of our Newmarket Farm dig finds.

A Lewes Archaeological Group Event Lisa Jayne Fisher and Margaret Thorburn: Hyde Manor, Kingston. Lisa who is the Proprietor of Archaeology Services Lewes will talk about the excavations that were carried out at 3 Hollowdown Cottages, Kingston, which was the site of Hyde Manor. Margaret Thorburn a long time former resident of Kingston and historian […]

via Hyde Manor, Kingston – a talk on Friday 21 October 2016, 7:30pm — Lewes History Group

Rottingdean Village Fair

Philip Burne-Jones [Public domain], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Village_Church%2C_Rottingdean_by_Sir_Philip_Burne-Jones.jpeg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Philip Burne-Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh no! Rottingdean Village Fair is less than two weeks away!! It will be on Rottingdean Village Green & in Kipling Gardens, Saturday 6th August, 10am – 4pm – just follow the crowds. And all being well I’ll be there with a display of old and new finds and information from this amazing project.

I just hope I’ll be ready! When not helping care for my dad with his worsening dementia, and other commitments with family, friends, etc., I have been distracted by exciting new discoveries researching WW2 and the Balsdean Downs, the results of which will now be presented to the Sussex Military Society in January next year.

My most recent discovery was that Rottingdean featured as the westernmost of the south coast landing sites proposed by Hitler in his final plans for Operation Sealion. Apparently the Germans were correct that there were no concrete defences guarding this potential landing site, but it was well defended nevertheless. In G. van Geleuken’s review on Amazon of Martin Marix Evans and Angus Mcgeoch’s book, Invasion!: Operation Sea Lion, 1940;

The coastal area around Brighton was held by “Brocforce”, later to become the 26th Armoured Brigade in the 6th Armoured Division. The Rottingdean sector was held by the 5th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a machine gun battalion, well supported by mortars and artillery. Right behind that, there were three cavalry regiments (16/5 Lancers, 17/21 Lancers, 2 Lothian & Border Horse) as a mobile reserve, at that time still mostly equipped with Beaverettes and carriers, but also with about a dozen brand new Valentine tanks. In other words, a single German infantry regiment (with a few self-propelled guns) trying to push through that narrow gap in the cliffs would have had no chance at all.

16th and 5th Queen's Royal Lancers 'Shoulder Title' excavated from demolition rubble, Newmarket Farm.

16th/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers ‘Shoulder Title’ excavated from demolition rubble, Newmarket Farm.

Interestingly, a ‘shoulder title’ belonging to an officer in the 16th/5th Lancers was found in the demolition rubble of Newmarket Farm during our 2013 excavation. From their War Diaries I know they were based in West Sussex during the summer of 1940, but have yet to discover whether they crossed the Adur for an exercise on the Balsdean Downs. They were part of the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade known as “Brocforce”.

James William "Jimmy" Thompson, Rottingdean professional footballer & talent scout.

James William “Jimmy” Thompson, professional footballer & talent scout.

The 131st Infantry Brigade – which consisted of three 1st Line Territorial Army battalions of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) – held a Falmer Summer Camp in August 1939, immediately before the start of the war. One incident generated the headline, BLOKE’S BONCE BARBAROUSLY BASHED BY BLUDGEON – BLUNDER! At the same camp ex-Rottingdean professional footballer James William Thompson led a one week training session.

Three unexploded gas bombs found, July 1941.

Three unexploded gas bombs found, July 1941.

Two UX gas bombs (British) found, August 1946.

Two UX gas bombs (British) found, August 1946.

There are also the – for me shocking – stories of the Auerbach Jewish German refugee family in Balsdean at the start of the war, and Exercise Exodus, which trained Canadian soldiers to fire mustard gas bombs in August 1941 just a kilometre away from the Newmarket Farm where my mother’s family were living.

And lots, lots more…

Hopefully I’ll see you there.