Wild Was the Wind in West Sussex: The Great Storm of 1987

‘Earlier today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t’

Many will remember the immortal words of weatherman Michael Fish, whose casual dismissal of the approaching storm left the UK public completely unprepared for the weather front that was heading straight for the south coast. The worst storm in nearly 300 years saw record winds of 115mph recorded in Shoreham, 18 deaths Acc 18899-4 Chichesteracross the country, left thousands without power, unprecedented calls to emergency services, and insurance companies facing a billion-pound bill for the clean-up. Bearing the brunt of the storm, the south coast saw severe damage to yachts and boats; in Folkestone, a cross-channel Sea Link ferry was blown aground, in Hastings, a fisherman was killed when he was hit by a beach hut, two men in Dover died when their ship sank, and Shanklin Pier on the Isle of Wight was entirely washed away.

In the course of the night, an estimated 15 million trees had come down across the country, with Sevenoaks in Kent famously losing 6 of its 7 oaks. In Sussex, ancient woodlands were entirely felled, and the landscape changed forever. At Nymans, near Haywards Heath, 80% of trees were lost, amongst them some of the rarest species and many of the earliest known imported plants in the UK. The losses were also great at Wakehurst Place, where almost half of its California Redwoods were lost, and Chanctonbury lost the majority of its beech trees that were originally planted in the 1760s to form Chanctonbury Ring atop the famous prehistoric ring fort of Chanctonbury Hill.

Bognor Regis Football Club faced a £20,000 bill after the storm wrought havoc to their Nyewood Lane ground. The roof of the covered terrace in the main stand, the referee’s changing rooms, and the groundsman’s hut were all hit by falling trees. Unsurprisingly their fixture against Windsor and Eton the following day was called off!

West Sussex County Council responded by opening a dedicated emergency 24hour hotline for any residents requiring assistance due to the effects of the storm. If you were lucky enough to still have a working  phone line! In the following days, the council urged members of the public to tie old rags and ribbons around trees with potentially dangerous damaged branches (they had run out of official cones) to help identify problem trees so they could be made safe as quickly as possible. While WSCC recruited refuse collectors, whose regular routes had been disturbed, to help assist with the debris clear-up before normal service resumed during the following week, a team of 50 Gurkhas were also drafted in to Sussex from their Aldershot base to clear debris and fallen trees. Staying at the Eardley Hotel in Worthing, they assisted Seeboard with reconnecting electricity lines across the county.

The Chairman of WSCC Highways Committee, Mr Frank Keen, took to the local newspapers to thank the public for pulling together and helping the emergency services PH 28892-9 Aldwickto clear roads. The Blitz spirit reappeared in full force, with locals in the north of the county clubbing together to set out with chainsaws, cutting their way along the A264, and clearing the main East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells road.

Many of the staff here at the Record Office recall the night of the Great Storm, and the lasting devastation it wrought on the county. Searchroom Assistant Ian, who has lived in Chichester his whole life, kept a diary recording the aftermath of the storm. Although his house only lost roof tiles and fence panels, he noted the many trees and lampposts down around Chichester, including a tree that toppled a wall at the Bishop’s Palace.

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An uprooted tree that took the wall of the Bishop’s Palace gardens with it at Chichester Cathedral

Working at Britax Wingard on Kingsham Avenue at the time, when he arrived at work on the morning of Friday 16th, he recalls that the office block roof was completely gone, and the bike shed had ended up on the railway line!

Di Ladlow was living in Dorset at the time, but remembers driving back through Sussex to visit her mother in Horsham shortly afterwards. Driving along the A272 coming up through Midhurst and Easebourne, she was shocked at the swathes of woodland which had simply disappeared along the sides of the road and across the fields, leaving great gaping gaps. ‘I also remember looking up at what used to be Chanctonbury Ring and how shocking it was to see the ring of trees that had been an iconic presence throughout my childhood, just gone.’

Modern Records Assistant Andy witnessed the destruction in Worthing, where he was based at the time. He remembers the wind building up around 10pm, and by 1am, seeing Worthing Heraldthe silver birch tree outside his house bent over double and touching the pavement, and watching tiles flying off neighbouring roofs & whizzing across the sky like frisbees, clattering into cars and walls as they fell. Andy recalls that ‘a work colleague had his chimney blown down right on top of his car! Complete write off and a hell of a mess. My friend’s dad, a fisherman, was on the beach most of the night with others roping boats down to secure them. Along the sea front next day there were boats in peoples gardens across the road, and Brooklands Pleasure Park had several boats marooned on its golf course. All in all it was a very loud & quite frightening night, had it hit us during the morning rush hour I shudder to think how many casualties there could have been!’

Searchroom Supervisor Susie had an extremely busy night-duty working in a local hospital, and was shocked to see the devastation outside after work. At home, the porch protecting her backdoor had totally collapsed, and 7 trees were either down or partially uprooted in her garden. There were so many apples on the ground, she couldn’t even give them all away, so stewed and froze them and seemed to eat them forever! Talking about the aftermath of the storm, Susie explains that her husband’s company produced components for road-signs, ‘so he drove us around the countryside to see which manufacturers’ signs stood up to the winds Acc 18899-2 Chichesterbest – of course, his company was best. Driving round, we saw the hurricane’s footprint first-hand – massive root-balls, taller than us, exposed as the trees had been uprooted; overturned airplanes at Goodwood airfield; myriad trees lying lamely on the ground or tilting precariously. We had a huge bonfire in our garden that November 5th!’.


Lauren Clifton, Searchroom Archivist


If you have any memories or photographs of the destruction and aftermath of the Great Storm across West Sussex, please share them in the comments, or follow us on  Facebook and Twitter.

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Family History Fun Day – A genealogical extravaganza for all the family!


Come along and join us at Horsham Library on Saturday 21 October, 10:00- 4:00pm for a West Sussex Libraries Family History Fun Day! There will be an opportunity to meet experts from Sussex Family History Group, West Sussex Record Office, Times Digital Archive, Guild of One Name Studies and others.

Information Librarians and Archivists will be available to provide free help on family history research and assist you to explore ‘Ancestry’, ‘Findmypast’ and other online sources.

There will also be 2 illustrated talks taking place during the day on Family History research- What your library can do for you? and Free Websites For Family Historians Tickets are required for both talks : £3.00 each (non-refundable) and are available from Horsham Library, 01403 224353.

There will also be a family Storytime and Family Tree Fun for children, all ages welcome! (Limited places, please reserve free ticket from the library.)


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Record of The Month

Forgery and Scandal at Chichester Old Bank

I first came across the story around this month’s record when volunteering at Chichester District Museum (now the Novium). The Social History Curator at the time said that sometime in the early 1800s a man -John Binstead, a drawing teacher, was charged with forging a bank note from the Chichester Old Bank on East Street. The proprietors at the time were William Ridge, Richard Murray and Charles Ridge.

Until about 1844, Country banks were not under government jurisdiction, and were able to produce their own Money legally for £5 notes. The war with France (c1792-1806) enabled banks to issue £1 and £2 notes, providing greater usage by a wide range of people, as well as an increased ability to forge notes. When the Bank Charter Act came in 1844 it brought greater control and scope for the country banks, including the regulation of bank notes.

Add Mss 1005

The online resource for the Proceedings of the Old Bailey (1674-1913) has a transcript of John Binstead’s trial (15 September 1815) which states that the bank note was observed as a forgery when Binstead handed a note to a shop keeper for payment.  When Binstead was apprehended at Arundel, he admitted the note was a forgery and that he had made several others using a Camel hair brush. One note seized at the Swan Inn, Gosport, was submitted as evidence also. Add Mss 1005 (above) in our collections at the Record Office was one such note admitted as evidence. Binstead was found Guilty and sentenced to Death at Newgate.

The Sussex Archaeological Collection Vol 45 claims that Binstead made the unusual request to Rev Cotton, the ordinary of Newgate, that ‘his hands might not be applied to persons who came to rubbed for the Wen’. A common superstition at the time was the belief that the removal of warts and cysts (Wens) could be remedied by passing a dead man’s hand over the cyst, trusting that it would be taken away by the deceased. Public hangings attracted sufferers who would rush on to the scaffold immediately after the death, and hangmen were even known to charge a fee for this.

Further scandal and a criminal court case for the bank arose, when in 1841 the Chichester Old Bank filed for bankruptcy. According to Peter Jenkins, employees of the Chichester Old Bank, William Styles Goodeve (Witness at Binsteds trial)

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Bank note for £5 exhibited at the Dolphin Inn, Chichester, as evidence against Goodeve and Williams

and William Williams were charged with embezzlement prior to bankruptcy. The story goes that both Williams and Goodeve were responsible for cashing up at night and placing money in the safe. It was a trusted system that was very rarely checked. However when checking the accounts one night, the proprietor William Newland, found a significant deficit; with the accounts showing one figure and the physical assets another. It later transpired that Williams had started taking money from the bank about 12-13 years previously, when his family was in distress, but hadn’t taken anything for several years. Newspaper reports at the time reported that both Williams and Goodeve were acquitted due to unsatisfactory evidence. The popularity of the verdicts of Goodeve and Williams reflected a general feeling that it was the proprietors who were responsible for the banks failure.

Proceedings for bankruptcy were held a the Dolphin Inn from 20th December 1841 and resumed following the trial of Goodeve and Williams in January 1842. Various newspapers at the time state different amounts for the total debt but it was estimated that the debts to the bank totalled £112,646 (£5,408,688.60 in 2005) and the dividend was 4s to the pound following the final examination 20th May 1842.


Imogen Russell, Searchroom Assistant

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Archive of Leonard Keir Hett of Ardingly, architect

Leonard Keir Hett was born on 9 September 1887 in Ewell, Surrey. He studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London from 1905 to 1907, becoming a member of RIBA in 1910. He was admitted ARIBA in 1911 and FRIBA in 1920.

All of the papers from Hett’s working life were deposited at West Sussex Record Office and have recently been catalogued thanks to the dedicated efforts of one of our volunteers, Keith Lawson. Keith has been working on this collection for almost two years and has shown a great deal of skill in dealing with some complex records, as well as enormous commitment to the task.

Billiard room and servants’ hall, High Coombe, Balcombe (AM 818/2/4/68)

The extensive catalogue contains hundreds of items, primarily building plans, architectural drawings and sketches. The collection also includes photographs, as well as a number of Hett’s working files and student notebooks. Dating from the early 20th century to the 1970s and largely relating to Mid Sussex, the collection is a wonderful example of an architect’s working output which will prove invaluable to house and building historians, and family historians.


Perspective sketch of the interior of Southwick church (AM 818/2/4/377)

In practice from 1911, Hett was working for the firm of Searle & Searle, London EC4 from at least the mid-1920s and was a partner in the 1930s and 1940s. Much, although not all, of his work was on properties in Sussex, particularly the area around Ardingly, where he and his family lived. He designed a number of churches in Sussex, his first being St Andrew’s, Moulsecoomb in 1932, followed by other locations through to the 1960s including Peacehaven, Camber, South Patcham, St Richard’s Haywards Heath, and St Peter’s Southwick.

From the late 1920s to the early 1950s, Hett was heavily involved in designs for buildings on the Chailey Heritage site. Originally known as ‘The Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals for Crippled Children’, this was founded in 1903. The site developed over the years and among other building work Hett was responsible for the Llangattock School of Arts and Crafts for Crippled Girls, Chailey Girls’ Heritage Chapel (St Helen’s), extension of Heritage War Work for blitzed babes, Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals, and future development plans for the site.

Chailey Heritage War Work for Blitzed Babes (AM 818/2/4/433)

Alongside these significant areas of work, Hett was also extensively involved in designs for the conversion of existing properties and the construction of new build houses. Among the more unusual of the conversions was that of dog kennels into a bungalow (for Mrs Goldspink at Stonehurst, Ardingly) and a fire station in Lindfield into a bungalow. New buildings included High Coombe in Balcombe where Hett designed a billiards room and servants’ hall for Mr J Spedan Lewis in 1920.

Conversion of dog kennels into bungalow, Stonehurst, Ardingly (AM 818/2/3/187)

Hett died at 11 College Road, Ardingly on 27 November 1978 leaving behind this impressive body of work which can now be accessed at the Record Office.

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The Selsey Tram – the Bumpity Bump

Selsey Tramway 052One hundred and twenty years ago a light railway opened during the August Bank Holiday of 1897 and it became known as the noisiest and most rickety railway in England.

This was the Selsey Tramway, although its official name was the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramways Company Ltd and it operated from Chichester down to the picturesque village of Selsey. Initially operated by small steam locomotives the line was essentially a light railway which local people referred to as “The Tram”.

The Selsey line was built and operated as a tramway to avoid the expense of protected level crossings which were numerous in this flat low lying area. Constructed without any formal Parliamentary order it had no compulsory powers for purchasing land and hence made some inconvenient detours by skirting the fields. The line was entirely unsignalled and the ungated level crossings were protected only by warning signs.

Selsey Tramway 008

The Selsey Tram on the opening day 27 August 1897. The locomotive ‘Chichester’ is seen ready to depart from Chichester Station, and hour behind schedule

The Tram never ran to time, even the first train was an hour late departing with its official guests. Thereafter every other train was late as it was well know that the driver carried a shotgun on the footplate and would stop the train to go shooting rabbits for his Sunday dinner. Punctuality was not improved by the service rendered to local farmers for if the railway had passed over his land then farmer had the right to travel on the Tram by standing alongside the track and raising his hand to stop the train.

Trains ran according to local circumstances and nobody could be sure when the train would arrive at the other end of the line especially when cows strayed onto the line and the tram was stopped whilst they were rounded up!

Nevertheless the railway contributed to the development of the Selsey peninsular with the promotion of agriculture in this fertile region, not to mention the importance of rail transport of coal, shell fish, building materials and the famous Pullinger mousetraps which were manufactured in Selsey and sent to all parts of the Empire of Selsey. Prior to the building of the railway, heavier goods took most of the day to be transported by horse and cart on the meandering road between Selsey and Chichester.

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En route to Selsey with Chichester Cathedral in the background (c1910)

The seven mile line which had eleven stations or halts was built for the meagre sum of £21,000 with the track, wherever possible being laid directly onto bare ground. The ride that resulted from following the undulations of the ground earned the railway with the nickname – the Bumpity-Bump. The quality of the station buildings were also reflected in the overall cost of the line: they were constructed of corrugated iron sheets and resembled small sheds.

At its peak the railway carried 102,000 passengers a year as Selsey was rapidly becoming a popular seaside destination of peace and tranquillity. However as with many other railways, passenger figures rapidly declined when bus services were introduced. As the line had been built very cheaply its route was often out of the way, whereas buses had the advantage of running to time and going where people wished to travel.  Increasing use of lorries also witnessed the decline of freight traffic.  Attempts were made to save money with the introduction of railcars but these were also noisy and uncomfortable for passengers. By 1935 the railway was in a rapid state of decline and with dwindling passenger figures the line was closed in January 1935.

Yet even today the eccentric Selsey tram is still remembered with affection. If you would like to know more about the Bumpity-Bump and its strange happenings, then come along selsey rail poster copyto Bill Gage’s illustrated talk to be given at the Record Office on 31st October at 7pm . Tickets are price at £8.00 each and  includes light refreshments. Telephone  01243 753602 to book a ticket. There will also be a display of Selsey photographs and material . This will be Bill Gage’s last  talk at the Record Office as at the end of the evening he will retire after forty-seven years of service.

Bill Gage

UPDATE- interest in the Selsey Tram is alive and well with all tickets sold in a matter of days! Book tickets now for a repeat talk on Tuesday 14th November by calling 01243 753602

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All roads lead to WSRO..

Vehicle licensing records aid Classic Car restoration

We can receive all manner of enquiries here at the Record Office, and while some may assume that our reach is bound by county borders, and primarily focussed on local history, we are always eager to highlight that the simplest of records can have far-reaching effects.

image4We recently received one such enquiry regarding a vehicle licensing register, which we hold for all registration numbers issued in West Sussex. Although the Vehicle Registration Issuing Books themselves only supply limited details for each entry – usually the make, first owner, dealer and issuing date – this information can be invaluable when tracing the history of a vehicle. The purpose of the enquiry was in aiding the restoration project on a classic E-Type Jaguar, only the 62nd ever built in 1961. Currently owned by comedian Steve Coogan, the car is the focus of a feature in Classic Car magazine, where journalist and original Top Gear host Quentin Willson is chronicling the purchase and restoration of the car.

Quentin and Steve’s research had already established that before the current OSL 662 plate, the E-Type had several previous registrations. The DVLA were able to confirm that it was first registered as 171 DBP in August 1961 by West Sussex County Council, having been sold by Rossleigh Edinburgh Jaguar dealers to another dealer or private buyer in Sussex. Which is where we came in! Looking to trace as much information as possible about the vehicle, Quentin enquired after our records, image2and we were able to confirm the registration number issuing slip listed the owner as ‘Cutley’, Hurstpierpoint, and that it was sold by a ‘Wadhams’. Although we have used local records to trace the original owner, to little success, we have found some wonderful advertisements for Wadhams of Chichester in the 1961 Chichester Observer.

Thankfully this volume of the vehicle registration issuing books was in fine condition, but a large portion of these records present us with a peculiar conservation problem given that there is a thick layer of a gummed, water-activated glue on the reverse of very low-quality paper. The pages often stick together, and have to be treated by our Senior Conservator, who uses a narrow stream of moisture from an ultrasonic humidifier to wet the paper just Conservation workenough to soften the join between paper and glue, and slowly warms the moisture until the glued pages are ‘relatively’ easy to separate. The pages have to be separated firmly but carefully, and the text layer often parts from the body of the sheet and needs to be drawn from the glue layer to retain the information. Separating each sheet can take up many hours of controlled and concentrated effort!

Although the number issuing books can cause extensive conservation work, and the information they provide can on first appearances seem to be minimal, they provide invaluable for vehicle owners and dealers.  Providing the evidence of this original registration has resulted in the re-issuing of the original number plate by the DVLA, a move both Quentin and Steve were extremely pleased about, and I’m sure will please car restoration purists and historians alike . Ultimately, one of our least glamorous collections has enabled a fabulous and historic classic car to be reunited with its original number plate, and make the front page of Classic Car magazine. However, the following day we were back to usual, searching through the very same registers for a local farmer’s much-used tractor!


Lauren Clifton

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Record of the Month


image1As a former midwife now working as Searchroom Assistant, I am always interested in records relating to childbirth. So I was intrigued when I came across an illuminated manuscript version of an Order of Service for the ‘Churching’ of women (our reference: Par 56/7/9) in the Compton parish records.

The term ‘illuminated’ refers to the use of brilliant colours and gold to embellish initial letters, borders and small illustrations. This document, which measures 8ins X 6ins (20.5cms x 16cms), comprises a vellum case with red and gold decoration, and parchment leaves, some of which are illuminated with gold and vibrant red, green, brown and blue inks. Digital images of the manuscript are available to view on the Public Access Computers in the Searchroom using the Archangel package. Although the manuscript has no recorded date, it is estimated to be from early 20th Century.

The ‘Churching of Women’ is a ceremony for blessing newly delivered mothers. Although the practice is a Christian tradition, it is not confined to Christian religions alone. It seems that there are two main interpretations of the ceremony.

Some people regard it as a ritual thanksgiving for image3the woman’s survival of childbirth, an event which carried considerable risk to a woman’s life and health in times before the relative safety of modern medicine, when maternal mortality was high.

The days and weeks following childbirth, previously known as the lying-in period, was a time for newly delivered mothers to rest and recover from the ordeal of childbirth. It usually lasted 4 to 6 weeks and the Churching service was often the first occasion for a newly delivered woman to be seen out before she resumed her normal social life and activities.

However, an alternative interpretation is that it is related to the rite of purification following childbirth, possibly stemming from the Jewish practice described in the Bible, Leviticus 12:2-8 – women were pronounced unclean for a week after giving birth to a son or two weeks after giving birth to a daughter, and they would be purified after a month, or two. This period of time seems to match the traditional ‘lying-in’ period.

Although Churching has mostly disappeared from the modern Christian Church, one of our visitors to the Searchroom who saw the illuminated manuscript, recounted being ‘churched’ after the birth of her own daughter in 1961. She recalled how reluctant she had felt and how the Priest had been reluctant to perform the ceremony, too. However, it was her mother’s wish and the strong opinion voiced by her mother had made the newly delivered woman feel rather dirty following the childbirth.

I wonder how many other people remember ‘Churching’?

Joint photos

Susie Duffin

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