The Trundle above Chichester does views. 365 views over the city, the coastal plain and its numerous channels, Goodwood and the Lavant valley, the South Downs, Kingley Vale and even as far afield as Blackdown. I’ve been up there a couple of times on clear days to enjoy the big natural TV screen, and to cheekily take advantage of the ‘cheap seats’ for the Red Arrows’ display above Goodwood’s Festival of Speed. However, since taking a recent stroll around the Trundle with local historian, Andrew Berriman, I have a whole new take on what my eyes see from this local vantage point. They are no longer just appreciating the beautiful landscape, but the imprint of history within this scene. It is an altogether richer….and at times saucier and illicit experience…..as you will read.
Andrew is far more than a historian. He is also the retired Head of Sixth Form at Chichester High School, an avid cricket fan, conservationist, local walk leader, and published author. It is through the latter that he came to my attention, as during lockdown he wrote “In Search of 50 South Downs Villages”. This started as a project for his local history group, instead of the usual programme of speakers, but was so well-received that it is now a book which is close to the end of its second print run.
On walks I often wonder about things I come across and occasionally turn to Google for answers when I get home. However, Google is no replacement for proper historical research, which is obviously Andrew’s forte. For example, from reading his book you will discover, among other things, which former Prime Minister lived in Binderton, why there is a cat on the Chilgrove White Horse inn sign, what really happened at Racton Folly and how the Selsey Arms in West Dean came by its name, when it is clearly nowhere near Selsey. However, this is no dry local history book chock full of facts. Andrew loves photos and maps, and his style is light and eminently readable. He mixes his thoughts about what makes each village special with stories about their history, information he has on occasion gleaned from his time spent playing cricket on their village greens or drinking in their pubs after a game.
The day that we met at the Trundle was a little on the blustery side, an unfortunate downside of prominent places with great views. However, a quick chat about cold winds off the sea led us to discover a shared history with Hull, a city we both very much enjoyed. It’s a small world.
We didn’t get very far on our walk before we stopped to look at the history around us. Andrew explained that long, straight Chalkpit Lane, which stretches down the hill towards Lavant, was so named because of chalk excavation and the production of quicklime, while the terraces below us on the hillside were strip lynchets. These are a feature of ancient field systems and are often found in areas close to Iron Age or earlier earthworks. So, it was not at all surprising to find them beneath one of the largest and most complex of West Sussex’s enclosures. He also referred to the Manhood Peninsula ahead, which clearly showed me to be a ‘grockle’ (West Country slang for tourist) as I’d never heard of the term. Meaning the area south of Chichester, the name has possibly been corrupted over time from the old English for Main Wood.
As we walked around the hill, we stopped to admire Goodwood Racecourse. A bit like watching the Red Arrows, I’d suggest that armed with a good pair of binoculars you have a more commanding view of the course from the Trundle than from the stands. With Andrew describing Neolithic causeway camps, such as the one first sited on the Trundle, more as ‘leisure centres’ where people came together more for social purposes, than for defence, perhaps these ancients already had an inkling of the site’s future leisure potential!
From inside the later Iron Age ramparts on the north side of the hill, we looked down onto West Dean. Edward VII was apparently a frequent visitor to both Goodwood and West Dean, and if rumours are to be believed, pursued local skirt and sport in equal measure. He wasn’t known as ‘King Edward the Caresser’ without good reason. With the tone of our conversation already lowered, Andrew pointed out Canada Cottages on the side of Hat Hill above Singleton. There was apparently much military activity in this area during the war due to anti-aircraft guns being hidden in the surrounding forest. As such, the army took over these cottages with the doors being opened to local prostitutes on a Friday night. I wonder if the current owners are aware?
Before we turned to start our descent, our gaze fell upon Levin Down above the Lavant valley. It stands out from other local hills because of its clumpy, scrubby vegetation, which is in part Juniper. In fact, Levin Down is the best site on the South Downs for Juniper and Andrew said that in years gone by this gnarled wood, which gives good heat with no smoke, was favoured by illicit distillers keen to avoid detection by the customs men.
In total, our circuit of the Trundle was only just over a mile long, but we fair romped through history from the Neolithic period to the 20th century, covering many more subjects than I have space to write about. Andrew is a fount of fascinating local information and I thoroughly recommend his book to you if you are keen to learn more about our beautiful area. You can buy your copy from Kim’s Bookshop, Chichester.