Harold Taylor was born in 1926 in the idyllic days when it was safe to allow children to wander around in the countryside without adult supervision. Harold lived for a major part of his young days in Chichester and reminisces about one of his childhood haunts.
Even after I started work, most of my activity took place across the water meadows. There were a number of us who would go there, mainly from a group of about six. They included Tony Dowling, with whom I was at school and who lived two doors away; the two Stenning boys, Fred and Ron, from number 15 (both of whom now went to the Oliver Whitby School as boarders); and two friends of theirs from the same school, Ernest Weller and Alf Shippam. Alf lived in St. Martin's Street, and his house was bombed in 1943. Ernie lived in Lewis Road.
The meadows covered an area from Spitalfields Lane, Chichester to Westhampnett, now widely known for the 1994 flooding - but then what can you expect from water meadows.
These consisted of 6 fields, which I think probably mainly belonged to Graylingwell Hospital. One went up Melbourne Road, crossed Spitafields Lane and through a green corrugated 'kissing gate' arrangement, onto a path that went up beside the house of the Pines, (owners of the hardware shop in Eastgate Square). The path was narrow as it was fenced off from the horses' field, which belonged to a Harold Field, whose stables were in the St. Pancras.
Field used to live in Lion House, a large house in the St. Pancras next to the Red Lion Pub, which is now a fish and chip shop. Strapped to a tree at the entrance to this house used to be a large bone, about 12 feet high, which was said to be the jawbone of a whale.
A man by the name of Sadler ran the stables. I went to school with his son, who the last I heard of, was the manager of a jewellers in Worthing.
There was a house that backed onto this field which may have belonged to the farmer. I was not aware of this farm until recent years, when I met a fellow who had moved down to the area on retirement, and it appears he was evacuated to the farm during the war. This field during the war was turned over to allotments, and my father and I cultivated one here.
Earlier than this, another field had also been set aside for allotments. This field was known as Farr's Field and extended from the older houses in Spitafields Lane to the plot of land on which Mr Pine's house stood. This is in the area where Evershed Martin Road now is.
This allotment my father took on with another man who never put in an appearance. I did most of the breaking in of the ground and Dad did the planting. Dad was a lazy gardener, and had never cultivated our own garden very well, but he had quite a bit of knowledge and know-how. This must have been passed on from his father, who I understand was a successful grower and cultivator.
The second field also had horses in it, and occasionally cattle. The path led across the middle of the field and on each side was a clump of young trees. I am sure that these are the same trees that stand there today. There was a copse of trees between the field and the main road; otherwise the field was surrounded by a hedge.
There was a stile to get into the next field which was arable, but during the winter, often had sheep pastured there, feeding off the turnip or mangol tops. At lambing time the standard shepherd hut could be found on the land. The year before the war when there were some army manoeuvres, they had a searchlight sited in the corner of the field. There was a track at the east end that led from the main road into the grounds of Graylingwell.
Bradshaw Road must run approximately along the route of the old path, from what was the second field to about the fourth. Then Barnfield Road goes off at a tangent, across what I believe was the old disused pit and the one where the washer unit was installed.
The next field changed its use several times during my childhood. On the extreme left was a disused gravel pit. As you took the path across the field, there was originally meadow on both sides. Early on, a deep pit was dug near the road, then later another pit appeared to the south of the path. About two years before the war another was dug on the north of the path, but this seemed to become redundant very early. At the east end of this field was a stream, crossed by a bridge, which flowed all summer, if only a trickle.
The penultimate field was meadow to the left of the path, but to the right was a very old pit with a willow tree growing in it. On the left also was a stream that ran diagonally across the field to Westhampnett Corn Mill, owned by the Sadlers. This stream also served as a boundary for the pit in the previous field.
About half way across this field there was a light railway, which led from the washing plant in a worked part of the pit on the right or south. This railway curved round to the left or north, then west to cross the diagonal stream and joined up with the large deep pit in the previous field. Crossing this railway, one carried on to another stile and small bridge over another tributary from the mill stream sluice gate.
This led one into the last field, which we knew as the 'swan field', because the Swan Public House was situated there, and still exists today as a private house, with the Lavant passing underneath it. The Chichester Resort Hotel now largely occupies the field.
The last stream mentioned is still in position, but the earlier one, I believe, has either been removed or put into a culvert.
The last field was bounded by the Lavant stream proper, and a brick bridge took you over into the Westhampnett Road, where in early days there was just a forked junction to take you either to Goodwood or Arundel.
There were fish in the pits, either cultivated by the owners, Heaver, or nurtured by the bailiff, who I think was a man named Pasha, (perhaps that was only his nickname). Most of the fish I saw were dace, left high and dry in periods of drought. They used to stink, even when fresh out of the water. The only other fish I saw were eels, and there used to be some big ones.
The pits were breeding places for coots, moorhens and grebes. Also around the soft soil above the gravel line, sand martins would build their tunnels.
During the early sixties, the RSPB were carrying out a survey on the breeding places for this bird. I passed onto them the knowledge of this site, of which they were unaware, according to a local ornithologist I had met who lived at Tangmere. I do not know if anything was done about it, as I did not live in the area at the time. I later discovered that about the same time, the pits were being in-filled and further building taking place.
After Dunkirk and the threat of invasion, a great programme of digging anti-tank ditches took place. A series of ditches were consequently dug to connect up these pits.
In the fourth field where the stream ran along the eastern boundary, they dug the stream deeper and placed a large wooden bridge over it. To the north of this were the shallow, new, but discontinued workings. Between this and a much older disused pit, the earth barrier was probably less than four feet at one point. Here they dug out the earth until the barrier was only about two feet high and tapered down from nothing.
Overnight the water must have seeped through this frail bank, filling the new disused pit, till it got to the level where they had deepened the stream, which caused an even greater strain on the earth. For in the morning the wooden bridge had disappeared and there was a yawning chasm about twenty feet across and about the same depth, full of water, filling the main pit.
I may have been partly to blame for this, but I think only in a small way. During my evening wanderings, I had come across this excavation and out of curiosity and sense of inquiry, with a small stick I had probed the diminished bank between the two pits. The water level in the old pit was only about six inches from the top of the bank.
With this small stick I had worked through about two to three feet of bank and got a very small trickle of water to run, which had initially dried up. Perhaps in the night it had opened once more; or even more likely for the catastrophic result, the whole bank must have given way.
Could this young lad have been the cause of this disaster? We'll never know!
To add a comment you must first login or join for free, up in the top left corner.