Saxon Steyning

Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition
Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition

Sussex, her towns, ports and villages, were at the heart of the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex.

In my imagination I can picture wooden Saxon houses flanking the old Roman streets of Chichester, the earlier pavements covered by grass. By the late 6th and early 7th centuries Steyning, Lewes, Hastings and Pevensey had developed from their farming origins into towns of craftsmen and traders. By the 10th century all these towns had mints producing coinage which is evidence of an established urban economy. A mint was recorded at Steyning at the end of King Canute’s (1016-1035) reign, and was perhaps the successor to the mints of Burpham and Cissbury.

A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)
A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

The penny illustrated dates from the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) and is an example of Saxon coins from the Steyning mint. Coins are remarkable in their ability to provide a tangible connection with our past. Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was amongst the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and was the last king of the House of Wessex.

Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550
Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550

Many antiquarians argue that where buildings of a varied type, arranged in close proximity to one another along the main street of a town or village are found they are often following a tradition dating back to Saxon times. This would certainly appear to be the case at Steyning. Saxon Cottage in Church Street actually dates from c.1550 but its name perhaps hints at an earlier structure on the site now lost. The town was located on the River Adur and is generally believed by historians to have been one of the most important ports in Saxon times.

The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning
The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning

The current parish church of St Andrew and St Cuthman has Saxon origins and replaced a timber structure built by St Cuthman. Inside, in the south aisle, alongside the fine Norman arcading, is an arch exquisitely carved with fabulous beasts. Contemporary historians are increasingly of the view that this arch dates from the late Saxon renaissance which took place during the reign of King Canute. The Saxon St Cuthman and Aethelwulf (839-858 are both said to have been buried there). Aethelwulf was father of King Alfred.

Today Steyning with her fine church, architecture and Museum connects us with our past. The Sussex Produce Company and the wonderful Steyning Bookshop along with a rich array of other independent retailers, restaurants and tea rooms maintain the vibrant tradition of this ancient and important town. The perfect place to visit as spring returns to Sussex!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Little Thakeham, The Finest of Sussex Homes

Ashleigh Wigley seated in the oriel window at Little Thakeham

This week I am with Ashleigh Wigley the current owner and custodian of Little Thakeham which was designed Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1902. The house and gardens come to the market this week providing a once in a generation opportunity to buy one of the most architecturally important homes in Sussex.

Sir Edwin Lutyens designed a number of buildings and memorials of great importance to our nation. These included the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi.

Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

In addition to these public commissions Lutyens designed private houses for a cohort of wealthy, progressive clients at the turn of the 19th century. Amongst these houses was Little Thakeham. Lutyens described it as the ‘best of the bunch’. It combines the architectural vocabulary and attention to detail which makes his work so important and distinctive.

I have known and been involved in Little Thakeham’s story for more than twenty-five years. The front entrance never fails to excite me. The house clearly fits into the procession of English vernacular architecture. For Lutyens tradition was a vital and living thing. And yet his dramatic, architectural, spatial sequences were admired by the modernist architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. These qualities are apparent as you process from the gate into the garden court and through the arch into the house itself.

Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Like those in the Arts and Crafts movement Lutyens was as concerned about the aesthetics of the interiors of his buildings as he was with their exteriors. His remarkable attention to detail is apparent everywhere you look.

Ashleigh Wigley is Little Thakeham’s current custodian. Her delight and care for the building and its place is immediately apparent. As we sit drinking tea and chatting in the Great Hall she remarks “It has been beyond my wildest dreams to live somewhere so beautiful – it’s a place never to take for granted.” Ashleigh acknowledges the keen eye and unwavering support of her partner, Nigel Roberts, and says “English Heritage are delighted with what we’ve done at Little Thakeham.”

There is a restrained grandeur to the house and yet it is a place designed to be a home. Ashleigh talks of the fun her two children have had growing up at Little Thakeham. A smile crosses her face as she exclaims “It’s the best place ever for hide and seek!”

The Great Hall ©Anthony Bianco 2016
The Great Hall, Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Ashleigh admits how moved she was when the stone oriel window in the Great Hall was revealed after its restoration. The south-facing oriel window fills the hall with a warm light. Light was very important to Lutyens’ architectural compositions and this is apparent throughout this generous home.

An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016
An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016

An intimate inner hall has the type of plain oak doors and beautiful latches that you find in most of the rooms. They were designed to provide a simple daily pleasure. From here an arched doorway leads into the south-facing gardens. As you look back at the house you see a fine example of the asymmetrical designs for which Lutyens is famed. The vocabulary of different facades used to form complimentary compositions delights the eye and works in concert with the lie of the land. The tiles and sandstone are typical of this part of Sussex and again speak into the vernacular tradition.

As we stand in the spring sun light I comment that my experience of Little Thakeham is that it quietly works its way into your very personhood and reveals its qualities with increasing richness over time. Ashleigh responds “I agree. It gets under your skin. It’s a generous place, a house for celebrations. It allows people to grow.” She pauses to reflect and continues “Being here has been a great privilege.”

Little Thakeham has a stillness out of time. This is a once in a generation opportunity to own one of the finest and most architecturally important homes in Sussex. Little Thakeham is being marketed by Strutt & Parker London with a guide price of £5.95 million. For more information telephone 0207 629 7282, email london@struttandparker.com, or visit www.littlethakeham.com and www.struttandparker.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Remarkable Collection of Postcards to be Sold at Auction

Lot 3120 R & E Cross Newsagents and Confectioners, Littlehampton, circa 1904
Lot 3120 R & E Cross Newsagents and Confectioners, Littlehampton, circa 1904

A remarkable collection of postcards from the estate of the Sussex collector, Maurice Stevens (1932-2015) is to be offered for sale at Toovey’s Washington salerooms in West Sussex on Tuesday 22nd March 2016.

Maurice Stevens was a Sussex man. Born in 1932 at Hurstpierpoint, his childhood was spent at Albourne. Once married he moved to Burgess Hill where he lived happily for fifty-six years. A horticulturist and keen angler, he was rooted in our beautiful county and delighted in its towns, countryside and social history. Throughout his life he formed and dispersed numerous collections, one of his main interests was photographic topographical postcards of Sussex. He had a gift for identifying unattributed views and scenes and many of the postcards have his pencil annotations on the back. These collector’s notes and comments are fascinating and reveal Maurice’s deep understanding of postcards and the history of our county.

Auctioneer and head of department, Nicholas Toovey, is the specialist in charge of the sale. He shared a long and valued friendship with Maurice, as well as a passion for postcard collecting. I ask Nick what delights him about this particular field of collecting. He responds enthusiastically “Postcards give a glimpse into a bygone age. They provide one of the earliest photographic images of life one hundred years ago and how things were. I’m amazed by the number of small and remote places that were documented. Often these images will have been the first visual record of that place other than, perhaps, an artist’s interpretation.”

The Maurice Stevens Collection includes postcards depicting topography and social history. These include early aviation, motoring, railways, traction engines, military events, fairs and shops. As we leaf through the catalogue image after image captures the eye.

Nick draws my attention to a postcard of the Littlehampton Newsagents and Confectioners, R & E Cross and describes the scene “The staff are outside this Surrey Street shop. You can see the Sussex postcards being displayed alongside Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate. It shows the lives of everyday people.” He continues “The publisher, Frank Spry, moved to Littlehampton in 1904 with his wife. His offices were in the same street as this shop.” It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £80-120.

Lot 3019 a photographic postcard of a steam roller at Blackstone in West Sussex
Lot 3019 a photographic postcard of a steam roller at Blackstone in West Sussex

I love traction engines and my eye is taken by a photographic postcard of a steamroller and workmen in a road. Maurice’s pencil note on the reverse of the card reveals his extensive Sussex knowledge. It reads ‘on the Woodmancote Road south of the village, W.S.C.C. Team, S.E. Sayers working’. These rare insights give life to the collection. The card is expected to realise £50-80.

A postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’
A postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’

Social history and topography are once again combined in the postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’. It was published by White. This hopeful scene, with soldiers on parade in Arundel as flags blow in a summer breeze, stands in contrast to the growing troubles in Europe at that time and the approach of the Second World War. Offered with a postcard of similar interest, the two are estimated at £25-35.

A photographic postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’, circa 1924
A photographic postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’, circa 1924

With so much talk of flooding again this year in the news it is interesting to note supplies being delivered by boat in the postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’. Nick remarks dryly “Some things never change.” He tells me “The card was published in about 1924 by Albert Edward Halls in Steyning. The demand for postcards was so strong that publishers grew up everywhere. Steyning had at least five postcard publishers in the first half of the 20th century.”

I have observed over the years the sense of community amongst collectors who are passionate about a particular subject, Nick confirms that this is true of postcard collectors too. I ask him where postcard collectors gather in Sussex in between his specialist postcard auctions at Toovey’s. He replies that he often attends the Haywards Heath International Postcard Fair which is held on the first Saturday of the month at Clair Hall, Perrymount Road, Haywards Heath, RH16 3DN. Nicholas Toovey will be at the fair this coming Saturday 5th March 2016, between 10.30am and 4pm with catalogues for the Maurice Stevens Collection for sale.

The Maurice Stevens Collection will be offered for sale by auction at Toovey’s, Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS on Tuesday 22nd March 2016. The printed catalogue is available from our offices for £5 (£7 by post in the UK) or you can view the catalogue by clicking here.

If you would like more information on the Maurice Stevens auction or the Haywards Heath International Postcard Fair you can contact Nicholas Toovey by telephoning 01903 891955 or emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Order (dis)Order!

An early 19th Century study from the Painted Chamber by John Smith
An early 19th Century study from the Painted Chamber by John Smith

In scenes reminiscent of an important debate at the House of Commons the galleries were packed with people at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery for the opening of Order (dis)Order! The exhibition was opened by the Lord High Sherriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas.

This colourful exhibition celebrates our nation’s Parliamentary history and Horsham, Steyning and Bramber’s role in it over some 720 years.

In a year which marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede it is extraordinary to reflect that it is also the 750th anniversary of the first English Parliament, called by Edward I (1272-1307) in 1275.

Left to right The Chairman of Horsham District Council, Cllr Brian O’ Connell with the Lord High Sherriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas and Exhibition Curator, Jeremy Knight
Left to right The Chairman of Horsham District Council, Cllr Brian O’ Connell with the Lord High Sherriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas and Exhibition Curator, Jeremy Knight

In 1295 Edward I summoned what was to become known as the ‘model Parliament’. The King invoked a Roman phrase when he proclaimed “What touches all, should be agreed by all”. Its representation of two knights from each county and two burgesses from each town was to provide the model for almost all future Parliaments until more modern times. Horsham Steyning and Bramber were all boroughs and could elect MPs.

Sir Peter and Lady Hordern with the Lord High Sherriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas
Sir Peter and Lady Hordern with the Lord High Sherriff of West Sussex, Jonathan Lucas

The exhibition traces Parliament’s history from these earliest times to the present day. It explores many of the distinguished and ‘colourful’ characters who have brought great and important social and economic change to our nation, as well as those who have brought less noble intent and disrepute upon Parliament. Take for example Elyot Roger the MP for 1421. A chapman by trade, he was indicted for breaking into the house of John Dawtre, stealing plate and clothes and ‘ravishing’ the unfortunate Mrs Dawtre!

But the exhibition gives colour to more than these characters. My eye is taken by some exquisite watercolours of what appear to be medieval wall paintings. Jeremy Knight, curator of the exhibition, explains. “In 1801 Irish MPs joined the House of Commons. It had been meeting in St Stephen’s chapel which now needed to be radically altered and enlarged to accommodate this influx of additional MPs. As a temporary measure whilst work was underway they moved to the Painted Chamber. When the tapestries and Sir Christopher Wren’s carvings were taken down they revealed the fantastic medieval wall paintings recorded by John Smith. His hand coloured pictures are all that remain. The original wall paintings were destroyed as part of James Wyatt’s remodelling of the Palace in the early 1800s.” The public outcry to save the paintings is recorded in the press at the time. However, it is unlikely that they would have survived the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834 or German bombing during the Second World War. John Smith’s record is of great importance.

Those gathered for the opening included Horsham’s distinguished former MP and Deputy Lieutenant for West Sussex, Sir Peter Hordern. Lady Morse a, descendant of the three generations of the Hurst family, who were MPs for Horsham between 1812 and 1875, attended with her husband Sir Jeremy and were delighted to have contributed to this fascinating exhibition.

From Medieval times to Women’s Suffrage this exhibition provides a remarkable insight into the nation’s Parliamentary history and our county’s place in it. Order (dis)Order! runs at the Horsham District Council Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham until 7th March 2015. Entrance to the Museum and exhibition is free. For more information go to www.horshammuseum.org or telephone 01403 254959.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st January 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Identifying the unidentified

For many collectors, research can be a source of great joy or, when unfruitful, great frustration. Today, in this age of the internet, a powerful resource of knowledge is literally at our fingertips. Most of us will now ‘Google’ the answer to something, rather than refer to a book. This was not the case in the late 1980s, however, when Mr Savory, a postcard collector from Northants, purchased a group of five postcards from a local fair. Filed under ‘Sussex’ in the dealer’s stock, with a hearsay attribution of being Littlehampton, the collector secured them for their military interest but obviously wanted to find out more. His quest to discover the incident pictured lead him to write a plea for help to the editor of the West Sussex Gazette. On May 21st 1987 nearly half of a page was dedicated to four of the five postcards. Readers of the newspaper wrote in, some with their snippets of facts and some with their reminiscences of these events or similar events. It was discovered that, although they all related to the Battle of Britain, they did in fact illustrate two different events.

Junkers 88A down at Pagham postcard auction ©2015 Toovey's
A series of four Battle of Britain postcards

Four of the postcards record the fate of a German bomber which took off on a sortie to attack the London Docks on 9th September 1940. It was a Junkers 88A, works no .0333, coded 4D+AD, of Stab 111/KG30. For those not familiar with such terms, it was an aircraft of the Staff Flight of the 3rd Wing of Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Group) 30. It was piloted by Gruppe Kommandeur Major Hackbarth and his crew comprised Oberfeldwebel Manger, Unteroffizier Sawallisch and Gefreiter Petermann. The first two survived but the other two died in an attack almost certainly launched from Kenley, probably by 253 Squadron Hurricanes but possibly by Spitfires of 66 Squadron. It was subsequently force-landed off Pagham at 5.50pm and soon after that is the moment the postcards start to capture the event. Two of the postcards depict British soldiers guarding the aircraft; another shows an injured member of the crew on a stretcher and the final view is of soldiers removing a spoil of war, the swastika from the tail, as a memento. One of the letters from a reader of the newspaper claimed that the removed tail panel resembled one in the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, which had been used during the war as a scoreboard by a Hampshire Territorial searchlight troop. Another reader stated that, as a curious local schoolboy in Pagham, he was inside the plane and removed the factory serial plate from the cockpit (long since lost), which gave the release date from the factory as the previous day!

Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor Auction ©2015 Toovey's
Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore

The fifth postcard was originally believed to be part of the same series but, in fact, illustrates a separate event from the Battle of Britain. It shows Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor on 26th August 1940. He had been piloting a Spitfire X4188 of 602 Squadron Westhampnett (Goodwood airfield). A contemporary account was published in an unidentified newspaper, the clipping of which was offered by someone responding to Mr Savory’s plea. It stated:

A thrilling air battle was witnessed over a South-East Coast town on Monday afternoon during an air raid alarm, when machine gun fire rattled overhead, and the thuds of bombs were heard exploding in the distance, punctuated by sharp cracks of anti-aircraft guns… As soon as our ground defences held their fire nothing could be heard except the sharp rat-tat of machine guns… One of our fighter pilots during the engagement baled out of his plane, and could be seen descending towards the sea. He pitched in the sea about half a mile off shore, where he was picked up by some fisherman. He was brought ashore with cheers ringing in his ears from several hundred persons who flocked to the sea-shore, although the all-clear had not sounded, thus incidentally, exposing themselves to extreme danger.

The pilot was rowed to shore by two fisherman from Littlehampton and the ‘L.I.’ registration code on the boat was perhaps the clue for the original dealer’s attribution. The fishermen, Messrs N. & A. Ide and a member of the Ragless family, recalled that Babbage was smiling cheerfully as he had shot a Messerschmitt prior to two others setting upon him over Selsey Bill. It was Hauptman Mayer of 1/JG 53 that finally put him out of action at 4.43pm; he was taken to Bognor hospital ‘slightly hurt’. One West Sussex Gazette reader said that he subsequently went back to his squadron and ‘had a very chequered career, being shot down, or damaged in action at least three more times, during the Battle of Britain.’

Perhaps today Mr Savory would have typed in ‘crashed German plane on the Sussex coast’ or similar into a search engine and, after visiting swathes of results, found out all the information he needed. He would not, though, have found all the fascinating reminiscences that were relayed by readers of the West Sussex Gazette, among them an anecdote of a lady who dived into a stinging nettle patch fearful of a chasing plane, only to see the R.A.F. roundels pass overhead! It was this research that brought the postcards to life for Mr Savory and why these postcards gave him so much pleasure.

Having enjoyed the postcards ever since, Mr Savory has decided to sell the postcards at Toovey’s forthcoming auction of Paper Collectables on 24th February 2015, encouraged by the fantastic results achieved for Sussex postcards in these specialist auctions. The group of four photographic postcards of the German bomber at Pagham carry a pre-sale estimate of £70-100 and the single photographic postcard of Babbage’s return at Bognor will be offered separately at £30-50. In addition to Postcards, Toovey’s sales of Paper Collectables also include Stamps, Cigarette Cards, Autographs, Photographs and Ephemera.