EAST DEAN & FRISTON LOCAL HISTORY GROUP
WE HOPE that members will feel inspired to contribute some local history items that they have discovered. To get them published here, please contact us.
This was our stall and exhibition at the Village Fete in July. Although heavy rain and lightning were predicted, there were only a cloudy sky and a fresh breeze to contend with. Some pegs and guy ropes needed adjusting to keep everything steady but one WI tent was lifted skyward on a strong gust. Fortunately no-one was injured.
There were lots of visitors to our stall and booklet sales were good. Many new members were signed up and, in the end, the sun came out.
In our archives is an old map showing the land purchased by Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) to form Eastbourne Downlands, which was set up to protect this spectacularly beautiful part of the South Downs. There were very few planning restrictions in the 1920s and large areas of the Downs were being lost to speculative house building. Concerned voices were raised at the prospect of Eastbourne losing its surrounding Downland. In 1924 Councillor J W Woolnough spoke to the local Chamber of Commerce about the rampant loss of the open Downs to ill-conceived housing schemes. Many in the town realised that Eastbourne depended upon tourism for its prosperity and that the Downs were one of the main attractions.
EBC, persuaded by Mr Woolnough’s Downs Preservation Committee, concluded that the only practical way to prevent development was to buy the Downland adjacent to Eastbourne. Although the council’s plan to fund the land purchase by increasing local taxes was approved unanimously at a statuary meeting of rate payers, the council had to get Parliament's approval to buy the land. Below is a list of the 1,659 hectares or 4,100 acres, purchased for a total of £91,291. 1s. 7d.
Here is a photo of how the Birling Gap Hotel looked during the 1950s. Is that well real or just a way of prising loose change from unsuspecting visitors?
No, it turns out it is just a gate!
This lovely old photo shows a marriage party on top of Beachy Head. It appears to be after the wedding because the bride's veil is raised. Perhaps the party are making their way from East Dean Church to a reception at the Beachy Head Hotel.
One of the largest bee farms in the country used to be on the edge of where Sussex Gardens now lies. The farmhouse, called Dene Cottage (later Falmer House), was demolished when Sussex Gardens was built.
The vicar of the parish at the time Rev. A. A. Evans, himself a keen beekeeper, wrote about the apiary in the Sussex County Magazine, dated April, 1928:
“The East Dean Apiaries, which are run by Mr. Arthur Sturgess, B.Sc., with, as partner in the work, Major Soden, have now a reputation all over the English-speaking and bee-keeping world. This is due, not so much to the extensive apiaries, where queens of high pedigree are bred, and drones of special type, are sold all over the country but to the owner and director, Mr. Sturgess. For some years he has been recognised as one in the forefront of British bee-keeping.”
The grave of Arthur Sturges, ‘beemaster’, is in East Dean churchyard, and the bus stop near where Cophall meets the A259 was called ‘Bee Farm’ for many years.
I rested at Exceat, and lingered again to look at West Dean farm, nestling so snugly below me; then on again to Fox Hole, where I expected to find Mr. Dick Fowler, the shepherd. My programme was altered, however, for I found that he had moved to East Dean, and as I thought to see the ox team there I rambled that way. It was no hardship, for a green track by the roadside was full of interest. Here grew many spikes of clustered bell-flowers and delightful chicory plants in bloom, and they made the way to Friston an easy one. A wandering clouded yellow butterfly gave a pleasing touch of colour to the path as it flitted along.
By the roadside at East Dean a forge with an old ox yoke above the door offered some interest, but I found that the team of oxen at Birling Farm had gone on a journey from which there is no return. My visit to Mr. Fowler, however, was worth much to me. He owns one of the best lots of canister bells to be heard on the downs to-day and these were in his hut. Most of them are very old and some are only fitted with crown rings of wire. Some belonged to his grandfather and are treasured possessions.
Barclay Wills, Downland Treasure, 1929
Isn't it amazing what local history information still turns, many decades after it was produced? Above is the programme for an entertainment put on by 6610 Servicing Echelon* at RAF Friston, in August 1944. Obviously there was a lighter side to their time at RAF Friston.
*No.6610 Servicing Echelon's job was to maintain the Spitfires of 610 Squadron which was based at RAF Friston from July to September 1944.
It came with a photograph of an RAF sergeant but, as is often the case, there is no way to identify him. Unfortunately nothing is written on the back except the name of the photography studio. All we can say is that he was an Air Gunner, as shown by the Flying Badge or Brevet on his uniform, and he possibly served at RAF Friston.