Two new local history posts

Arthur Stanley Cooke / Edburton font
Lead fonts are extremely rare — there were just thirty left in England in 1909. The churches at Edburton and Pyecombe each have one, probably created in the Norman era by the same craftsman. Lewis André and Lawrence Weaver will tell you what is known about them.

Arthur Stanley Cooke also enthuses about the font at St. Andrew’s in the course of his erudite report of a circular walk that he took in the very early years of the twentieth century, starting at the Dyke Station and taking in Poynings, Fulking and Edburton. Fulking did not detain him long but his enthusiasm for Edburton is obvious.

Off the beaten track

Arthur Stanley Cooke Off the Beaten Track in Sussex

Off the Beaten Track in Sussex appears to have been the only book that Arthur Stanley Cooke ever wrote. There were two editions, one published in 1911 by A.S. Combridges of Hove and another in 1923 by Herbert Jenkins of London. The latter, at least, must have sold well because numerous copies can be found in stock at used book dealers to this day. A contemporary reviewer commented that “No detailed criticism is called for. The author knows and loves the county well, and knows how to put his impressions into words. .. [He] has clearly had a good opportunity of writing an interesting book, and he has not neglected it.” [The Spectator December 30, 1911, page 25]. A feature of the book is the large number (160) of illustrations, mostly pen and ink, by a variety of Sussex artists including the author himself. Cooke writes as a well-educated Edwardian gentleman whose interests are archaeology, architecture, onomastics, history and landscape. In the extract that follows, the author leaves Poynings, gives Fulking a somewhat cursory inspection, and ends with a meditation upon the merits of Edburton. Apart from this passage, there is much else in the book to interest the local resident including material on Beeding, Bramber, Botolphs, Buncton, Chanctonbury, Coombes, Lancing, Shoreham, Sompting, and Steyning, inter alia. [Thanks to Gill Milner for drawing this book to the local history editor’s attention.]

Poynings has few interesting old houses. The old Post Office is perhaps the best of them, and its interest is rather of the eighteenth century than of an earlier date; of the day when houses were built and appointed in a homely rather than an artistic or appropriate fashion. I use the word in its humble sense. Rooms were low pitched, small and not too pretty. Ornamental details were rigorously excluded, and most things done something after the style of a doll’s house, rather than for the daily use of “grown-ups.” Witness the tiny shop window and even this is altered since the sketch was made.

The Poynings Post Office in 1897

You leave Poynings by the western road, and at the entrance of Fulking there is a half-timbered house, which makes a good sketch, with the downs for background. Clappers Lane, known to but few, winds a green way north of this house for several miles, and where the stream crosses the path there is a spot which would be difficult to get a sketcher by without a rope or some equally persuasive argument!

The Shepherd & Dog, Fulking

The Shepherd and Dog Inn stands at the western end of the hamlet, by one of the sharpest turns that Sussex roads, noted for sudden crinks, can show. It is a picturesque spot, for at the bend the stream which comes from under the hill not a hundred yards away, gushes into the ditch, close by a quaint little pump-house erected to the memory of John Ruskin. Here is the sheep wash, and when that is in progress, there is subject enough for any artist.

Edburton, the parish church for Fulking, lies still farther on. It will probably be somewhat of a surprise to those who happen to know how near it is to Poynings, and have not thought it worth a visit. The latter church lies so directly under the eyes below the Dyke, that the more retiring and older building is seldom seen. Edburton Church stands embosomed in trees about a mile west of Fulking, and although it cannot be said to vie with Poynings in originality and beauty, still it is by no means to be despised therefor.

St. Andrew's Edburton

It is large and full of interest for the antiquarian. The restoration, with scarcely an exception, has been lovingly carried out. The simple seating has distinct merit, both as to design and mouldings, and anything which had age to recommend it has been retained, and wisely, too. It is a well-known fact that everything made prior to the beginning of the reign of shoddy and veneer was, in the main, well proportioned and artistic in design and ornament. That is why it is nearly always safe to copy old models.

Edburton possesses one of the only three cast-lead fonts in our county, and perhaps the oldest of them. It is late Norman, and has panels of floriated design at the base, with a similar encircling pattern above, surmounted by an arcade of tref oiled arches. There are only twenty-nine of these fonts in all England, and therefore they are of great interest. Simple in form of course they are, and usually stand on a stone or wooden base. The lead is about an inch thick, and shows signs of the pattern being a repetition of the same segment of wooden mould impressed in the sand or clay that received the molten metal. The one at Pyecombe is somewhat similar, but more ornate; and that at Parham is a unique specimen of the Decorated period, being ornamented with shields and bands of inscriptions in beautiful Lombardic capitals.

Interior of Edburton Church by Joseph Diplock

One of the bells is amongst the oldest in Sussex, and bears two shields and an octagonal medallion. One of the shields has the crossed keys and a dolphin, a laver, a wheatsheaf, and a bell in the fourquarters.

The history of Edburton, Adburton, or Abberton as it is differently styled in old records is of the quiet kind, suited to its situation. Once only does the tide of spiritual war seem to have reached it, when Michael Jermyn, the Rector, would not “conform” in 1655, and was ejected after thirty years’ ministry, Nicholas Shepheard being installed in his place by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.

St. Andrew's, Edburton

Edburton is connected with the Metropolitan of England, the advowson belonging to Canterbury. There are traces of no less than three altars, one of which was founded in the north transept by William de Northo in 1319, in honour of St. Katherine.

This modest list exhausts the historical interest, and apart from an antiquarian excitement which fluttered for a brief space over some Roman remains, chiefly notable for their scantiness, Edburton may be compared with the violet in its retiring nature. Like that simple floweret, it must be sought to be found, if one may descend to a truism so evident, yet justifiable. The charms of scenery are not always realised at a glance. Where these are so instantly in evidence, there is usually little more to discover; and where only an occasional visit is made, it is enough for the time being the eye is satisfied and asks for no more just then. But if it is often dwelt upon, one gets to wonder whether it is quite so fair as it seemed at first and then the less striking locality has its day of quiet examination, and begins to improve on acquaintance. Sunrise, sunset, and the different moods of weather help to make a beautiful panorama worth seeing; but it is only one view, and tires the eye after awhile; whereas the quieter beauties of winding road or stream, of hedgerow or copse-corner, will bring the artist up with “a round turn” where least expected.

So it is with the scenery in and about Edburton. There is nothing of the startling order to attract one, but there are lots of subjects to linger over; bits of colour, groups of trees, and fine hills both near and far. A little north-east of where my first view is taken, the village makes a foreground group of roofs not to be despised in colour or in line, and beyond it the grey old church with ruddy tiles fills the right of the picture to entire satisfaction; while the cornfield fronting all ripples in wavelets of yellowing green in August, to a delightful belt of trees at the foot of the nearest hill; and far-away Chanctonbury hangs like a grey cloud to the summit of its Down.

This is the view you will see as you cross the upland field to the steep ascent. By the time you reach the top you will have had enough of climbing and be glad to rest on the grass and take in fresh breath and the wider wealden view, before catching the train at the Dyke Station.

Arthur Stanley Cooke (1923) Off the Beaten Track in Sussex, London: Herbert Jenkins, pages 57-61.

[The text is reproduced exactly as it originally appeared with the exception of the spelling of certain place names. In deference to Google, all the place names appear with their current spellings.]

The Dyke Railway Station

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St. Andrew’s: The Font

An 1882 drawing by J. Lewis Andre of the font at St. Andrew's Edburton

Despite the title, this post will, for reasons that will become apparent, report on the fonts at both Edburton and Pyecombe. Though not quite identical twins, they are certainly sisters of nearly the same age. John Allen remarks that the one at St. Andrew’s is “the earliest datable object in the church”. Indeed it may even be older than the church itself. When churches were rebuilt, the font was often retained for use in the replacement building.

Both the Edburton and Pyecombe fonts are made of lead. This is very uncommon. Of the tens of thousands of fonts that existed in England in 1909, just thirty were made of lead.

The greatest enemy of lead fonts, as of all lead objects, has been the intrinsic value of the material. The discarded stone font makes a convenient trough for watering animals, or will pleasantly decorate the parsonage garden when used as a flower-pot, but the lead font has higher uses. It can be turned into many bullets. [Weaver 1909, page 1]

At the time Weaver was writing, Sussex provided a home to four lead fonts, at Parham and Greatham House in Pulborough in addition to the two considered here. The Parham and Pulborough fonts are not siblings to those at Edburton and Pyecombe. The Parham font is fourteenth century and has a unique design that relies on lettering for decoration [ibid. page 20]. The Pulborough font is (or was) rectangular with minimal ornamentation and “nothing by way of date can be hazarded, for it is a simple unassuming thing and reveals nothing” and “has fallen to the low estate of a flower-pot” [ibid. pages 20-21].

By contrast:

The Edburton and Pyecombe fonts help to keep up the high archaeological reputation of Sussex. They lack figures altogether, and are probably the work of a Norman plumber of about 1200 or later. Both fonts have the heavy fluted rim, the upper arcading and the narrow middle band of scrollwork, but there is no slavish likeness in detail or size. The lowest band differs in the two, the Pyecombe font having an arcading of fifteen, with floral work within the arches the Edburton example shows the scrolls without the arches.
The Pyecombe bowl is 6 feet in circumference and 15 inches deep, that of Edburton is 5 feet and 13½ inches respectively. Though distinctively Norman in character, the coming of Gothic is apparent in the trefoil heads of the upper arcading. The general effect is perhaps a little suggestive of embroidery, but very successful. [Weaver 1909, pages 14-15.]

The external circumference of the Edburton font is actually 5 feet 2 inches around the body. The circumference around the rim is about 5 inches more.

Lead font at the Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecombe

The lead font at the Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecombe

Like Weaver, André dates both fonts to the late Norman period. He also has much useful information about their construction and design.

Leaden fonts were, from the flexible nature of their material, most easily and readily fashioned into a circular or tub-shaped form, and many of them are therefore of this outline, being, in fact, short cylinders .. In each example I have seen in situ, or know of by means of descriptions or drawings, the bowl alone is of metal, placed upon a stem or base of stone or brick. The majority of those of the Norman era have foliage work twining about the surface, or small figures under a continuous range of arches. .. Llancourt and Tidenham, in Gloucestershire, have fonts with patterns on them, evidently cast in the same mould, as is probably the case with portions of those at Edburton and Pyecombe.

The method employed in making these vessels was apparently first to cast them flat, afterwards bend them into the required circular form, and then solder them up, the edges which have been so joined are clearly seen on the bowls at Edburton and Pyecombe, where the patternsare ‘botched’ or mutilated by it. On some examples the figures and ornaments are fac similies, many times repeated on the same work, and it is most likely in these cases that a single one was first carved out of wood, and then impressed on sand as often as required to complete the entire design. All the Sussex specimens would appear to be thus formed, and the practice was a common one in the cast-iron works of the South of England, many Sussex fire-backs being composed of a shield or monagram, repeated at intervals over the surface. .. [T]wo of the specimens of metal fonts in Sussex are evidently in great part moulded from the same pattern, the whole of the upper portions of the bowls at Edburton and Pyecombe being precisely similar in design; the latter, I am inclined to think, the oldest of the two. It is now placed on a modern circular stem, and measures 23½ inches across the outside of the cornice 22 inches inside diameter, the depth of the outer face is 15 inches, and inside the bowl 13¾ inches; the design is divided into four horizontal bands of ornament surrounding the cylindrical basin, the lowest is composed of fifteen circular-headed arches on moulded caps and thin flat pilasters, within each compartment so formed is a pattern of peculiar character, but by no means inelegant, it has a central ring through which foliage scrollwork is interlaced, over this is a band of continuous floriated ornament, with leaves above and below an undulating scroll, all the upper foliage being alike, but the lower, formed of two alternate patterns; above this is an arcade of nineteen trefoil arches of a purely Early English motif, the whole composition being finished with a cornice formed of a series of members similar to those of a cushion capital of Norman date. The upper range of arches at Pyecombe has on the alternate bays small circular bosses which are wanting at Edburton.

St. Andrew's Edburton The font detail

The lead font at St. Andrew’s Edburton

Here the bowl is also on a new base, of a more elaborate character than the one at Pyecombe; it differs from the latter in the composition of the lowest range of the four circles of ornamentation; here instead of an arcade is a series of square panels enclosing scroll and foliage work of an almost Early English type, and on the cornice are small projections or brackets opposite each other, which may have held the staples of the flat font-cover such as was then usually employed, canopied covers originating in the Perpendicular Period of Gothic art. The size of the basin is rather less than that of the first example, being 21½ inches extreme outside diameter and 19 inches that of the inside of the bowl, the height is 13¾ inches and the inside depth 13 inches.

This post is wholly based on the works of André and Weaver cited below:

  • J. Lewis André (1882) Leaden fonts in Sussex. Sussex Archaeological Collections XXXII, pages 75-80.
  • Lawrence Weaver (1909) English Leadwork: Its Art & History. London: Batsford.

You can inspect both the Edburton and Pyecombe fonts on the same day: it is a walk of about five miles from church to church over the Downs via the Dyke and Saddlescombe.


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Tottington Manor: Sussex WWII Auxiliary Units HQ

Tottington Manor in 1949, Marjorie Baker, Henfield Museum

Tottington Manor viewed from the east in 1949

One of Britain’s best kept secrets of World War II was the Home Guard Auxiliary Units, which used the status of the Home Guard as a cover for their true activities. Tottington Manor became the regional headquarters for the Auxiliary Units in Sussex. For those not familiar with the Auxiliary Units and their objectives, some brief background is required.

The Auxiliary Units were, in effect, created to be the ‘British Resistance’ in the event of a German invasion of this country. Colonel Colin Gubbins was given the task of forming this resistance in June 1940, a time when the threat of invasion was very real. He gave them the deliberately nondescript title of ‘Auxiliary Units’ often shortened to ‘Aux Units’. They were provided with the best available weapons, including plastic high explosives, without regard to expense. The Aux Units were formed into small localised patrols all around the country. Each county was given an Intelligence Officer, holding the rank of Captain, whose initial task was to create these patrols. Although potential members of the Aux Units existed within the regular Home Guard, not all the men were recruited there. It was essential for members to have an intimate knowledge of their area, consequently farmers, game keepers, market gardeners and people of similar occupations joined their ranks, many being in reserved occupations.

Everything about their existence was kept highly secret. Each patrol required an underground hideout, known as an ‘operational base’. These bases were well hidden and purpose built to house the patrol in the event of an invasion. The operational base also contained food, water, ammunition and explosives. In the event of invasion, each patrol was to secrete themselves in their operational base and wait for the Germans to occupy their area. Emerging only at night, the patrol would then have conducted acts of sabotage. Roads, bridges and railway lines would have been targeted for destruction and lines of communication or supply would have been severed.

Coleshill House

Coleshill House, the national headquarters and training base for the Aux Units

All patrol members were initially given an intensive training weekend at Coleshill House, the Aux Unit national headquarters in Highworth near Swindon, Wiltshire. This weekend course covered how to use all the available equipment effectively, especially the plastic high explosive. Further training was delivered in their own locality by regular army personnel known as ‘Scout Patrols’.

Sussex had two scout patrols, one covering the East and the other covering the West of the county. Each scout patrol had twelve men with a Lieutenant commanding them. The eastern scout patrol was made up of men from the Queens Royal Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant William Ashby and the western scout patrol comprised men from the Royal Sussex Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Roy Fazan. Weekend training of the Sussex patrols took place at Tottington Manor. Practical work was undertaken by the scout patrols with lectures being delivered by the Intelligence Officer.

Edburton Road 1946

An aerial photograph from 1946 of a section of the Edburton Road, showing Tottington Manor and Tottington Manor Farm

During the war years Tottington Manor was owned by the Ricardo family who had operated an engineering works in Shoreham. They moved the works and themselves up to the Oxford area, leaving Tottington Manor empty.

The manor’s central position in Sussex along with its isolated location made it ideal for a regional base for the Aux Units and it was duly requisitioned. The Intelligence Officer and his personnel were based at the Manor. They included a couple of drivers, a cook, a clerk in charge of paperwork, a Lance Corporal from the Royal Corps of Signals as a radio operator and a Corporal from the Royal Engineers.

Corporal Frank Mayston, Royal Engineers

Corporal Frank Mayston of the Royal Engineers

The Manor had its own underground hideout. It was built by the resident Royal Engineer, Corporal Frank Mayston, a builder by trade who lived in Henfield. He built the hideout with a few of his men “in their spare time”, as he put it. On invasion, the men based at Tottington Manor would have become a patrol themselves, using the hideout as their base. The idea was to leave the Manor looking like it had been abandoned. In fact, there were various booby traps set — such as trap wire connected to cupboard doors and inside drawers that would detonate small explosive charges when opened. Cut down green bottles were filled with explosive and a candle placed in the bottles neck. The candle once lit would become a fuse to blow the charge. Hand grenades were disguised as coal and left in the coal bucket next to the fireplace.

Tottington Manor hideout plan

Plan of the Auxiliary Unit hideout beneath the grounds of Tottington Manor

Entrance to the underground hideout was gained through a sliding hatch in the Manor’s cellar floor. Short corridors and a set of steps led one into the main room and adjacent store. These rooms contained bunk beds, food stores, ammunition and explosives. A further short passage led to a cooking area and terminated in an emergency exit that took the form of a two foot diameter concrete tunnel. The tunnel is forty three feet long and runs out under the Manor’s garden with its exit disguised as a drain cover. The hideout had electric lights and a water supply, both were tapped from the Manor above. A primus cooker was built into one of the walls and there was a wash basin next to it.

Two interior photos

Two interior photos: the entrance hatch (marked as 1 on the plan) and the main room (marked as 2 on the plan) looking toward the steps and corridor leading back to the entrance hatch

Tottington Manor was not only used for weekend training of Sussex patrols, but also regularly staged inter-patrol competitions. An assault course for night-time training was constructed in the grounds. This course proved to be very popular with all the patrols.

Main room

Another view of the main room (marked as 2 on the plan) looking toward the adjacent explosive store (marked as 3 on the plan) with the corridor leading to the exit tunnel on the left

Supplies of plastic high explosive were brought down from Coleshill House each month to be stored at the Manor. These were then issued all over Sussex to each patrol as they were required. One unofficial use for the plastic explosive was pond fishing. Only a small piece about the size of a golf ball was needed. After the explosive was thrown into the water, the shock waves from the explosion would stun the fish, making them rise to the surface and allowing them to be harvested with a net.

Tunnel entrance

A close-up of the area immediately surrounding the entrance to the emergency exit tunnel showing a glazed air vent pipe, a tap, and a telephone wire that was once connected to a lookout on the Downs

Two underground lookouts were also constructed on the Downs by Corporal Mayston and his men. One of the lookouts was half a mile to the south of the Manor, and gave a good view of the Manor and its grounds. The lookout was only big enough to house one man but had a direct telephone link to the hideout under the Manor. This would have been used to inform the men in the hideout of all the German troop movements taking place around them. The other lookout was three miles to the east, and looked out onto the roads around Poynings.

Sussex was in the front line of a German invasion and as such would have played a key role during the hours and days following the initial landings. The men within the Aux Unit patrols were all volunteers, highly trained and ready to do what they had been trained to do unseen after nightfall. Thankfully, they were never needed. It was predicted that the patrols would have had a life expectancy of just two weeks after the start of their campaign.

Stewart Angell

Further reading:

  • Stewart Angell (1996) The Secret Sussex Resistance. Midhurst: Middleton Press.
  • David Lampe (1968) The Last Ditch. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • John Warwicker (2008) Churchill’s Underground Army. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.

Platoon at Tottington Manor September 1943
A formal group photo of Corporal Frank Mayston’s Auxiliary Unit Platoon outside the porch at Tottington Manor in September 1943. Frank is standing at the back on the far left. Seated, third from right, is Captain Roy Bradford, the Intelligence Officer for the unit. He spoke French and was recruited by the SAS in 1944 to fight with the French Resistance. He parachuted into France that year and died in a firefight with German forces.

Image information:

  • Tottington Manor: one of a series of photographs of the building taken in 1949 by Marjorie Baker, a professional photographer based in Henfield. Her entire archive is held by Henfield Museum.
  • Coleshill House: from an 1818 drawing by John Preston Neale, British Library, public domain. The appearance of the house remained unchanged until it burned down in the 1950s.
  • Aerial photograph of Tottington Manor and surroundings in 1946: Sussex Air Photo Catalogue, Geography Resource Centre, University of Sussex.
  • Plan of the underground hideout: author.
  • Photos of Corporal Frank Mayston: author’s collection, unknown photographer.
  • Photos of the hideout interior: author, 2010.
  • Frank Mayston’s platoon at Tottington Manor in September 1943. Almost certainly taken by Marjorie Baker, a print was donated to Henfield Museum by David Mayston following his father’s death in 2005. Thanks to Alan Barwick, Curator, Henfield Museum, for locating the initial and final photos and allowing them to be used here, and for passing on Marjorie Baker’s recollections of Roy Bradford.

Copyright © Stewart Angell, 2017

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