The Finest Mosaics at the Foot of the Sussex Downs

The mosaic portrait of Venus at Bignor Roman Villa

It is always such a delight to revisit Bignor Roman Villa. It has a unique charm and is one my favourite places anywhere in the country. The finest Roman mosaics are to be found at Bignor at the foot of the Sussex Downs.

The Villa was discovered on the morning of Thursday 18th July 1811 when George Tupper hit what appeared to be a large stone whilst ploughing in Bury Field near the village of Bignor at the foot of the Sussex Downs. He cleared a small area and found the tessellated face of a young man. Further excavation revealed a scene depicting Jupiter (Zeus in the Greek) in the guise of an eagle abducting the shepherd boy, Ganymede.

George Tupper’s landlord, John Hawkins, invited the antiquarian Samuel Lysons to supervise and record the excavation.

Encouraged by Hawkins and Tupper, Lysons would prepare a guide book over subsequent years. The image of the Ganymede mosaic you see here is from his 1820 guide.

Ganymede and Jupiter in the guise of an eagle at Bignor illustrated by Samuel Lysons in his 1820 guide to the Roman Villa

The depiction of Ganymede is strikingly executed. The shading gives form to Ganymede’s cape and muscular body highlighting the exceptional skill of the mosaicist.

This remarkable find was reburied until the June of 1812 and guarded by one of Tupper’s sons. The thatched cover buildings were designed to protect the mosaics and are a distinctive feature at Bignor. Built in 1812 they are amongst the earliest examples of their type in the British Isles. Arguably the most important discovery of 1812 was the Venus mask. This beautifully conceived female head is surrounded by a nimbus in a circle flanked by what are thought to be peacocks, or long-tailed pheasants and leaf sprays.

Venus is popularly known as the Roman goddess of love. However, she is also associated with spring, gardens and fertility. These qualities made her popular with farmers, horticulturalists and landowners throughout the Roman Empire. It seems appropriate that Venus should feature so prominently at Bignor in this timeless rural setting.

The extensive hypocaust underfloor heating system in the Venus Room is partly visible today and illustrates how this room would have been warm and comfortable in the winter months.
Samuel Lysons hinted at the possibility of the Ganymede Room being a banqueting room and today academics still regard it as an unheated summer dining room.

Visitors flocked to the site from 1813 including the great patron of the arts, the Prince Regent, later George IV, who was still creating the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. Today Bignor Roman Villa continues to welcome visitors.
When you arrive you cannot fail to be captured by the picturesque setting and charm of the place, and share in the sense of excitement which George Tupper must have felt on the day he discovered the Villa’s remarkable mosaic floors for the first time.

Bignor Roman Villa is open every day until 31st October 2021 and families can also enjoy the Sunflower Maze. To find out more visit

100 Years of the Royal British Legion

The Revd. Canon Kathryn Windslow, Rector of Storrington, leading a Service of Remembrance accompanied by the Royal British Legion, Storrington Branch, and Royal Navy Association standard bearers, Des Knight and Richard Shenton

This week I am in the company of the Royal British Legion Storrington Branch secretary Stuart Duncan who is honoured that our branch will be taking part in the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion.

Stuart explains how a Torch of Remembrance will be crossing East and West Sussex to mark 100 years of the Royal British Legion in Sussex. On Friday 27th August at 11:00am the torch will come to Storrington where a service of celebration and thanksgiving will be held in the grounds of St Mary’s Parish Church.

During the ceremony the Torch will pass from a Veteran to a member of our youth community signifying the passing of responsibility for remembering the fallen in war from one generation to the next.

The British Legion was formed on 15 May 1921, bringing together four national organisations of ex-Servicemen that had established themselves after the First World War

Every year the Royal British Legion leads the nation in commemorating and honouring service and sacrifice.

They remember those who lost their lives on active service in all conflicts; from the beginning of the Great War right up to the present day, as well as all those who have served and their families.

Every year in November, the Royal British Legion distributes paper poppies to raise vital funds to help today’s Armed Forces community.

In Storrington in 1919 at the Market Rooms by the White Horse Hotel a meeting of World War I veterans under the chairmanship of Capt George Graham formed the Comrades of the Great War. In 1920 Lt Col Ravenscroft donated some land and with support from the residents of Storrington and the Peace Celebrations committee a hut was built for the comrades on the site of the present social club. It was opened on Armistice Day by Mrs King of Fryern House. The club grew rapidly and in October 1921 it became the Storrington Branch of the British Legion.

Today the Storrington Branch has some 65 members who meet for lunch on St George’s Day and Armistice Day. They are a close community who care not only for members of their own branch but for the men and women of our armed services. Each year through the Poppy appeal they raise more than £10,000.
As Chaplain to the Royal British Legion Storrington Branch I am looking forward to leading the service and celebration with The Revd. Canon Kathryn Windslow, Rector of Storrington. Everyone is welcome at the ceremony and at the Old School afterwards.

A Stunning Prairie Garden in the Heart of Sussex

The Sussex Prairie Garden
The Sussex Prairie Garden

There is a joy in catching up with those we have missed as things continue to open up. I am delighted to find Pauline McBride in good spirits as she welcomes us to the beautiful, expansive gardens which she and her husband Paul have designed and created at Morlands Farm, Henfield It is a stunning prairie garden in the heart of Sussex.

I never cease to be delighted by the way that the garden invites you into itself. Wherever you are your eye is met by stunningly conceived views with layered perspective created by the big spiral design. Pathways lead you from the mown grass promenades through the borders. The Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ grasses with their gossamer like flower plumes have matured into a warm golden colour which contrast with the Echinaecea and the strong vertical of the Verbena Bonariensis. As you brush against the plants, the fragrance, touch and colours are a sensory experience. You have a real sense of inhabiting. As the garden enfolds you it takes on a life of its own.

Your eye is captured not only by the scale but also by the beautifully conceived vignettes – compositions formed of plants – which reveal themselves as you process around the garden.

The naturalistic planting belies the underpinning of the generous discipline of their design. Pauline and Paul’s lifetimes work as international designers is distilled into the poetry and rhythm of the planting.

Indian hand-crafted clothes and objects for sale in the Indian market bazaar at Sussex Prairie Garden.

As I walk through the gardens I come across a series of marquees being filled with exotic clothes in cottons and vintage sari silk, semi-precious designer jewellery, scarves, home furnishings and gifts – all ethically traded from India and for sale. This bazaar is at the heart of a month long festival supported by dance, food and talks. It runs until Saturday 4th September
Paul and Pauline first opened the Sussex Prairie Garden to the public back in 2009 and ever since they have worked to provide a platform to bridge garden enthusiasts to leading specialists

Preparations are underway for the Unusual Plant and Garden Fair. Pauline explains “We invite a great selection of specialist nurseries with their wonderful plants – it’s rare to find so many specialist plants men and women in one place, it’s a real day out!” This plant fair will be held on Sunday 5th September 2021, 10am to 5pm.

The Sussex Prairie Garden is the perfect place to meet and catch up with friends. This beautiful garden is open most days and you can take your dog. To find out more about Sussex Prairie Garden, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT, opening times, these and other events visit

A Postcard from Brighton

Banqueting Room mantel clock by Vuillamy, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

This week I am on staycation here in Sussex and I am once again returning to The Royal Pavilion, Brighton to experience ‘A Prince’s Treasure’, this year’s must see exhibition. I cannot impress upon you quite how marvellous this exhibition is.

I meet David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion.

I comment on how hard it must have been for David and his team to have had to close and reopen this magnificent exhibition on a number of occasions due to the challenges of Covid-19. He replies by saying how blessed they have been that most of the loans were received before the pandemic broke.

The exhibition showcases a spectacular loan of some 120 decorative works of art from Her Majesty The Queen; pieces that were originally commissioned by the Prince Regent for the Royal Pavilion. It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to see these objects of unparalleled magnificence in their original setting. The Pavilion’s exotic, regal interiors come alive in the company of the pieces commissioned for them and further our understanding of the future George IV’s influence and tastes.

David is excited to show me the array of loans some of which have recently arrived.

The Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, with English additions, at the Royal Pavilion Brighton © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019.
The Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, with English additions, at the Royal Pavilion Brighton © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019.

The Music Room’s magnificent decoration works in concert with the objects which have fleetingly returned to their original setting.
Your senses are overwhelmed by the spectacle of the line of enormous porcelain pagodas which make sense of and give voice to the scale of this room.
These imposing porcelain objects were acquired in 1803/1804 from China and the dealer Robert Fogg. Fogg supplied the English Spode porcelain bases as well as the gilded bronze bells, dolphins and dogs, and the dragon finials which were subcontracted to B.L. Vulliamy.

I ask David which object most sums up the Royal Pavilion and the exhibition and he takes me to the Banqueting Room. We stand in front of a magnificent mantel clock. He says “The clock’s supercharged chinoiserie reflects the Pavilion style at its confident best. It is as though the painted panels [in the room] have taken three dimensional form.” He describes how the clock was designed by Robert Jones and made by Vuillamy. The Chinese figures echo those painted on the walls. The gilt-bronze foliage was gilded by Fricker and Henderson and seems to allude to an eagle in flight.

David Beevers explains that George IV was the greatest British Royal collector and builder. For some 40 years David’s career at the Royal Pavilion has marked a number of remarkable achievements including the restoration of The Saloon so I am humbled when he concludes “Having these loans here is a highlight of my career.”

Whether you are visiting or on staycation in Sussex like me ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ must be on your list of holiday treats. To find out more and to book your tickets visit