Snow cancelled clearance

Retreat from Newmarket Hill

Retreat from Newmarket Hill.

Just catching up on a post I meant to write a while back – the day after I surveyed the site in the snow.

Whilst the site itself was only covered in a shallow few inches of snow, the snow on the Juggs Road (Drove Avenue) just on the northern side of the ridge leading towards the top of Newmarket Hill had drifted considerably. Also, working on-site in slippery conditions whilst using sharp slashing tools is not sensible from a Health & Safety point of view so, after a quick look around and history lesson, we all went home!

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New WWII Archaeology on the Downs?

Really excited that after a walk to Castle Hill nature reserve, on the side of Newmarket Hill, I may have found some new archaeology!

At TQ36470682, just above the edge of the steep sided Newmarket Bottom, was a spread of small (about 1cm diameter) pebbles associated with a 5m diameter roughly levelled off platform. It was sited just at the point of maximum visibility down into the valley bottom.

Apparently during the Second World War there was a particular concern that paratroopers would drop down into remote downland valleys at night. Therefore big lights were stationed at suitable positions to spot them.

I have as yet no idea what they looked like, but I have been informed there was one on the corner of the Falmer Road looking down into Bevendean valley.

I guess the next thing to do is to pass these details on to the East Sussex Historic Environment Record Officer (HER), who is based in Lewes.

Most of the Downs beyond Brighton were requisitioned by the armed forces during the last war. There should certainly be lots of archaeology dating to this time. Only since I started to study the history of Newmarket Farm have I become aware of the importance of modern archaeology, and how easily it can be lost.

Some pictures of Castle Hill Nature Reserve

Just visited the picture website Geograph. It has lots of wonderful pictures people have taken of geographical locations all over the UK. I thought I would load all those that people have taken of Castle Hill Nature Reserve.

Taken in 2005…

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey.
Looking north towards Castle Hill. (10 September, 2005)

Newmarket Bottom by Simon Carey

Newmarket Bottom by Simon Carey.
Looking east towards Castle Hill. (10 September, 2005)

Taken in 2009…

Castle Hill by Paul Gillett

Castle Hill by Paul Gillett.
(23 June, 2009)

Castle Hill looking SW by Paul Gillett

Castle Hill looking SW by Paul Gillett.
Castle Hill is located 1 mile from Woodingdean, north east of Brighton. It comprises a series of valley-side slopes and is a good example of ancient, traditionally managed chalk downland. (23 June, 2009)

Taken in 2010…

Old well - Falmer Bottom by Robin Webster

Old well – Falmer Bottom by Robin Webster.
All very knocked about, but the part on the right looks like a wellhead, the central part like a pump, and the other part like a winch. All very perplexing. Made by F.E. Myers & Bro., Ashlan…. [?] U.S.A. The pump-like part has also cast on it “Self-oiling bulldozer”. A little further research found that the two brothers Francis and Philip set up the company in 1870 in Ashland, Ohio, and the company is still there, producing pumps and trading as Myers, although now part of the Pentair group. (27 February, 2010)

Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster

Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster.
The public bridleway through the reserve curves round the slope to the left, although the rather hypothetical legal line is somewhat to the right at first. (27 February, 2010)

Castle Hill NNR - scrub clearance by Robin Webster

Castle Hill NNR – scrub clearance by Robin Webster.
One of two bonfire sites seen on this shoulder of the hill. (27 February, 2010)

Falmer Bottom by Robin Webster

Falmer Bottom by Robin Webster.
A good view to illustrate the vagaries of the selection of CROW public access land. The criterion should be down: unimproved grassland. The foreground fields up to the fence with the single tree are public – but certainly rather improved. The near shoulder on the right is not CROW-public but is unimproved (although possibly partly ploughed in the past). The far shoulder on the right is correctly public and unimproved. Both shoulders are in the Castle Hill NNR. The slopes on the left are correctly selected as public access unimproved downland. However, the non-CROW part of the NNR is now mapped as access land under some other non-CROW arrangement. (27 February, 2010)

Vegetation investigations, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster

Vegetation investigations, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster.
Within the enclosure are many 1 m square areas marked out with green string. Castle Hill itself is the hill straight ahead – this part of the reserve is on the slopes of Newmarket Hill. (27 February, 2010)

Welcome to Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster

Welcome to Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Robin Webster.
The Natural England website still says “Access to the reserve is limited to public rights of way”. This is at variance both with this sign and with OS maps which show the reserve as public access land. In any case, the lower bridleway gate, just to the left of this sign, is away from the legal line which is well to the right and blocked by the fence. (27 February, 2010)

The information on the Natural England website is very out of date and, as far as I know, there are plans to update it sometime soon.

Industrial artefacts in Falmer Bottom (1) by Dave Spicer

Industrial artefacts in Falmer Bottom (1) by Dave Spicer.
Robin Webster’s explanation TQ3706 : Old well – Falmer Bottom is feasible bearing in mind there has to be water down there somewhere. (14 May, 2010)

Taken in 2012…

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett

Newmarket Bottom (30 July, 2012) by Paul Gillett.
(30 July, 2012)

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett.
(30 July, 2012)

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett.
(30 July, 2012)

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett

Newmarket Bottom by Paul Gillett.
(30 July, 2012)

Castle Hill by Paul Gillett

Castle Hill by Paul Gillett.
(30 July, 2012)

[I think Paul was thinking of the nearby Newmarket Plantation, tried writing Castle Hill and so made his mistake – for there is no plantation on Castle Hill.]

Newmarket Bottom by Simon Carey

Newmarket Bottom by Simon Carey.
Beginning at the end of Falmer Bottom before climbing Newmarket Hill to the left. (15 September, 2012)

Bridleway, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Simon Carey

Bridleway, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Simon Carey.
Climbing up from Falmer Bottom to meet Juggs Road to the east of Newmarket Hill. (15 September, 2012)

Remains of a Pump, Balsdean by Simon Carey

Remains of a Pump, Balsdean by Simon Carey.
The only remnant of Norton Farm which originally lay out of shot to the left. The farm was apparently vacant by the early 20th century and was commandeered by the military during the Second World War used for target practice. The machinery was used to pump water from a well. Beyond is the southern slope of Castle Hill which is largely open access as evident by the gate in the fence. (15 September, 2012)

Site of Norton Farm by Simon Carey

Site of Norton Farm by Simon Carey.
Other than TQ3706 : Remains of a Pump, Balsdean the only other clues to the site of the former farm is the depression to the left where the farmhouse was once located. Originally part of the small hamlet of Balsdean which originally included Sutton Farm which later became Balsdean Farm, the farm survived into the 20th century but had become uninhabited by the First World War. The buildings remained and were commandeered by the military during the Second who used it and the neighbouring buildings in Balsdean for target practice. Any remains were cleared after the war with the farm reborn a mile to the south and TQ3706 : Ruined Barns, Balsdean erected to service it. What was once a populous valley is now thoroughly deserted. Beyond is Falmer Bottom. (15 September, 2012)

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey.
Running northwards from TQ3706 : Site of Norton Farm to Newmarket Hill. (15 September, 2012)

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey

Falmer Bottom by Simon Carey.
The continuation of TQ3706 : Falmer Bottom as it rounds the corner to head towards Newmarket Bottom. (15 September, 2012)

Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Simon Carey

Castle Hill National Nature Reserve by Simon Carey.
A small nature reserve above Falmer Bottom that has been managed as chalk grassland. It was set up in 1975. (15 September, 2012)

A big thank-you to Simon Carey, Paul Gillett, Dave Spicer, and Robin Webster.

Distant memories…

It all started with my mother pointing out that a pile of demolition rubble over the Downs beyond Woodingdean, hidden by nettles and brambles, was her birth place. So I asked her uncle, Dougie Holland – an artist who had distant memories of the farm – to paint a picture of what it might have looked like. His memory was not clear, and nor is that of everyone else we have spoken to with their distant memories of when they lived or visited, over 60 years ago.

Was the well on the south or the north side of the house, and how big was it? Was the outside toilet by the front garden gate or next to the house by the front door? And indoors, what was the fireplace like – how big was it, and was it in the centre of the house against the wall which divided the downstairs into two? And where was the pantry? Was there a backdoor?

Amongst the brambles and nettles I discovered a patch of spearmint, to the south of the house site, which coincides with the approximate location of a water tank shown on a plan of the farm drawn in about 1920. However, no-one who lived there seems to be able to recall such a tank. Perhaps it was really a well? Such plans have often been found to be incorrect – the plan may have shown a proposed tank which was never constructed. But then again, memories are also known to be fallable.

These are some of the reasons why I started to consider the possibility of an archaeological excavation. Those who used to live there have memeories of the place. An archaeological dig would provide material substance to their precious memories. In turn, their distant memories would help give meaning to the objects which may be found.

Feelin’ epic!!!

My 12 year old niece just told me her favourite word was ‘epic’ – which is what I am feeling right now!

Managed to split the latest draft version of our book into manageable chunks and post them as a series of pages on this blog. I even included a couple of images.

It is still very much incomplete. Some parts need updating, some rewriting, more research and background reading is planned, and images need editing and permission obtained to before making them public.

Have fun reading – and please send your comments!

Book on the Blog!

Feeling frustrated that transferring our book to the blog is taking more time than I thought! But it is a big book – and growing. And I definitely think it is worth the effort.

As soon as licencing (copyright) issues have been sorted out, figures will also be added. This includes maps and other illustrations.

Both Peggy and I hope that by making the book accessible before it is finished, we will be able to gain valuable feedback.

Draft copy of book

Off to the printers with a draft copy of our book! A History of Newmarket Farm. The book has a fair way to go before it is finished. There is still more research that we want to do, as well as some of our research which has not yet been included. Nevertheless, it has progressed well during the past two years, and at about 180 pages can no longer be called ‘A Short History of Newmarket Farm’.

A number of people have shown an interest in the book – so watch this space – I plan to post draft versions of chapters from the book and other items of interest in the hopes of gaining useful feedback.