Gilbert White and the Artists at the 2022 Steyning Festival

Author and Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin

As I meet with author and Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin, preparations are well underway for the 2022 Steyning Festival which opens on May 27th. Simon is amongst the headline speakers and will be talking about his recently published book Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists.

Since its publication in 1789, Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has inspired generations of artists, writers and naturalists.

Simon Martin says “Gilbert White’s quiet observations, which individually can be quite poetic, taken together have a resonance which have inspired other writers and artists.”

The importance of White’s observations is echoed in Sir David Attenborough’s introduction to this processional book where he writes ‘It would be difficult to find a less eventful life, in a worldly sense. But his days, for him, were packed with incident. Nothing was too small or humble to escape his investigations.’

Drawn to Nature, Gilbert White and the Artists

Gilbert White would live at Selbourne for most of his life and his work is a reminder that we can journey far by remaining in the same place.

Simon continues “As a man of the cloth one of the things that comes across is White’s reverence for nature and the natural world.”

In the poem an invitation to Selbourne, Gilbert White wrote:
‘See, Selbourne spreads her boldest beauties round
The varied valley, and the mountain ground,
Wildly majestic!’

Simon explains that he went to Selbourne some three years ago “Gilbert White’s house has such a wonderful atmosphere, particularly with the garden and the walk up to the hanger. But my route into Gilbert White was through the Modern British artists, people like Eric Ravilious, Clare Leighton and others. I’d seen prints and illustrations by these artists whilst working on them for individual exhibitions and projects. I realised so many artists have been influenced by, and illustrated White’s work. Sitting quietly behind some of our greatest cultural achievements is the observation of nature.” This lavishly illustrated book presents a series of essays, images and commentaries inspired by White’s writing including the contemporary cover illustration and end papers designed by Mark Hearld.

Simon describes how in of White’s writings his observations “occupy a place in the narrative structure … [with] a rare combination of scientific precision, poetic narrative and conversational anecdote.”

These words might also describe Simon Martin’s own approach to this beautiful, insightful and delightful book which is available from Pallant House Gallery and the Steyning Bookshop.

To find out more about what’s on at the 2022 Steyning Festival and to book tickets visit

History brought to Life through the Goring Family at Wiston

The authors: Jane Goring, Joyce Sleight, Janet Pennington, Jill Turner and Janine Harvey

A window into the life of a Sussex family and an English Country House is eloquently told through the lives of members of the Goring family in ‘Lives, Loves and Letters – The Goring Family of Wiston, Sussex 1743-1905’.

As I approach Wiston House my eye is met by a pastoral scene which seems timeless. The house sits confidently in its parkland landscape against the backdrop of the Sussex Downs beneath Chanctonbury Ring.

I am meeting the talented team responsible for this beautifully written and illustrated book. It follows in the spirited tradition in Sussex of the Private Press – books published by independent and lively minds.

As we gather in the panelled library at Wiston House Jane Goring describes how her brother, Harry arrived at her home in 2004 and placed an old, wooden Wiston Estate box on her kitchen table. It was filled with letters, diaries and loose paper which had lain forgotten. Jane gathered about her a talented team, Jill Turner, Secretary to the Wiston Estate for many years, and the qualified historians, Joyce Sleight and Janet Pennington, both of whom have skills in palaeography. The painstaking work of transcribing, archiving and cross-checking began.

It became apparent to them that these primary source documents provided very personal insights into important sweeps of British history. The group met regularly to discuss, precis and check one another’s work. There is a quality of real academic rigour in the writing. A fifth member, Janine Harvey, joined the group later in 2012. With her expert IT skills a draft of what would be the finished book began to take shape. This labour of love would take thirteen years.

Joyce Sleight is a bit of a home-grown hero for me. She was an inspirational teacher at Steyning Grammar School and inspired a passion for history which continues to inform my life. In this book she and the team express an excitement and rigour in their subject which captures the reader’s imagination.

The strength of the book’s narrative immerses you in the rich procession of history across three centuries told through the very personal accounts of members of the Goring family. Its scholarly but accessible style provides a textural and rich interpretation of the primary source material.

J.S.C. Schaak’s depiction of Charles Goring of Wiston, circa 1765

One of my favourite characters brought to life in the book is Charles Goring (1744-1829), a scholar and agriculturalist he wrote poetry and was responsible for planting one of our county’s most famous landmarks, Chanctonbury Ring.

The group are keen to express their gratitude to Harry Goring, the owner of the Wiston Estate, for allowing them to research this material and for generously consenting to them using rarely seen illustrations and images from the family collection.

‘Lives, Loves and Letters – The Goring Family of Wiston, Sussex 1743-1905’

This extraordinary book ‘Lives, Loves and Letters – The Goring Family of Wiston, Sussex 1743-1905’ is available from the Steyning Museum, the Steyning Bookshop and from the book’s dedicated website. To find out more go to

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.

How to be English!

Author, David Boyle, with Gudrun and Sara of the Steyning Bookshop
Author, David Boyle, with Gudrun and Sara of the Steyning Bookshop

‘How to be English’ by David Boyle is published this week. The book provides a fond, irreverent celebration of the ambiguities, eccentricities, and shared stories that define the English.

‘How to be English’ by David Boyle
‘How to be English’ by David Boyle

The writer David Boyle has recently moved to Sussex with his family and I have arranged to meet him at one of my favourite shops in all England – the Steyning Bookshop. The shop is at the heart of the Steyning community and is passionately run by Sara Bowers and her daughter, Gudrun. The shelves, filled with books, always fill me with a sense of anticipation and excitement. As I walk towards the shop past the familiar iron railings I am greeted by David, Gudrun and Sara, framed by the arch of the door and the colourful hanging baskets. Preparations are underway for an evening and book launch with David Boyle at the Steyning Bookshop on Thursday 23rd July 2015.

I ask David where the inspiration for the book came from, he replies “I became concerned that many of the stories which define the English, that I had grown up with, were in danger of being lost.”

David’s account of the English leaves you with a real sense of place in the procession of human history. I mention to David the delight that his articulation of the English has given me and the empathy I have with so many of his subjects. As I have read ‘How to be English’ I have become increasingly aware of how my understanding of what it is to be English has been informed by my love of Sir John Betjeman’s work. David agrees explaining that he too read Betjeman avidly in his late teens.

So are the English defined by Wellington’s stiff upper-lip? David responds “That’s one side of the story but Nelson provides a more old fashioned personality – emotional, overindulgent, sentimental, and lachrymose, overwhelmingly English, with a blind eye to authority.”

The divergent subjects of this eclectic book include: warm beer, Alfred the Great, the seaside, Capability Brown, The English Hymnal, heroic failure, daffodils, bell-ringing, the King James Bible, and The Last Night of the Proms.

So how would David summarise the English? He smiles and says “The English are always polite, apologising for themselves wherever they go. The importance of practicality over intellect is a very English idea, but also the importance of trying again.” David pauses for a moment and concludes “They like pluck, fair play and cricket…”

Author, David Boyle, preparing for Steyning Bookshop launch
Author, David Boyle, preparing for Steyning Bookshop launch

Don’t let David’s gentle humour deceive you. There is a quality and depth of thinking which belies the light-hearted tone of this joyous book.

Books feed not only our imaginations and thinking but there is the physical pleasure of the touch and smell of the paper. And the best place to savour and acquire these pleasures is an independent bookseller of the quality of the Steyning Bookshop.

‘How to be English – an Evening with David Boyle’ will be held at The Steyning Bookshop, 106 High Street, Steyning, West Sussex, BN44 3RD on Thursday 23rd July 2015 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost just £4, redeemable against the purchase of a book, which might just have to be ‘How to be English’! For more information go to and to book your place telephone 01903 812062.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.