The Bedham Mission Church

The UK is filled with strange oddities. Take for example the red-brick remains of a roofless church in West Sussex tucked away in a small hamlet called Bedham. Once home to woodcutters and charcoal burners the woodland is now a nature reserve open to the public. The tiny community that lived here for generations after generations eked an existence from the land in the shadow of trees and the nearby market town, Petworth.

Religion of one faith or another has always brought people together. Long before the days of modern thinking, transportation and social media, a place of worship was the hub of the community. In the late nineteenth century the Anglican Church came to Bedham providing ministry to the rural inhabitants and education to their children.

Now, isolated and standing decaying in not much more than tumbled down bricks are the remains of the school and church. The shell of a building looks out of place. The Bald Explorer goes to investigate.

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Smallest Church in Sussex

The Bald Explorer is off in search of the smallest church in Sussex. Lullington Church, part of Cuckmere Churches, is tiny, only 16 feet square. It is a hidden gem in the East Sussex countryside on the South Downs. Used now for as the backdrop for weddings, it still has regular services for the community.

Its history is intriguing for a large church was originally on this site, but thanks to Cromwell’s puritan sensibilities his men are believed to have burnt down the nave. What we see today is really only the chancel of an earlier building.

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The Great Storm of 1703

At the beginning of the 18th century, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, had published a short work about the most terrible tempest to have hit the British Isles in history – according to him. By all accounts it does sound rather grim.

By coincidence, a much publicised storm is brewing outside my window, in Worthing, West Sussex in the early hours of October 2013. The media has gone to town to highlight the potential danger; even the Prime Minister, David Cameron has assured the country that all emergency measures are on standby in case the lights go out the rivers flood. The wind is certainly gusty as I write this, although the wheelie bins that we are forced to keep outside the frontage of our houses for easy access to the refuse collectors have yet to topple over and cascade down the streets.

Within in living memory is the so-called hurricane of 1987, which I am sad to confess I slept through soundly and only discovered the devastation the following day. For me, one of the terrible effects of that storm was the decimation of beech trees on that for two hundred years pinpointed the iron age hill fort at Chanctonbury Ring, north of Worthing on the South Downs. There were, however, deaths, fallen trees, smashed up cars and endless damage to property. The insurance companies were caught unawares and the claims plentifold.

The Great Storm of 1703 had no such warnings and lasted a week, from Wednesday 24th November to 2nd December. The first two days the weather grew dark and foreboding and the wind gusty. It wasn’t until two o’clock of the morning, says Defoe, that the full force of the tempest hit travelling in a South West direction. It continued all night for the first night until 5am and then picked up again from three in the afternoon on Saturday.

The coastal areas suffered pretty severely and London too. Defoe talks about the systematic damage done to property; titles and bricks spread across the streets, chimney stacks collapsing in large numbers, crashing down on their own houses and their neighbours houses; how many, ignoring the warnings or the howling tulmit outside, remained in their beds and were crushed to death by the chimney stacks. The merchants boats and navy ships were hastily brought into ports and habours across the land and lashed together as best they could. Those at sea were quite literally pushed along, accelerated to the nearest shelter or if they were heading out on a voyage were forced to retreat. One report says that 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, a section of the Thames just down from London Bridge. The famous bridge, Defoe says was amazingly unaffected and put forward the theory that the wind was sucked under the arches rather that smash into the sides of the buildings and houses that were at that time perched along the structure. Other houses in London didn’t get away with it quite so lightly.

The Wikipedia entry is interesting: At sea, many ships (many returning from helping the King of Spain fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession) were wrecked, including HMS Resolution at Pevensey and on the Goodwin Sands, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland, HMS Mary, and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed on 27 November 1703 (Old Style), killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley (John Rudyard was later contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site). The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000.

It would be interesting to produce a Bald Explorer programme based on the great storm and trace the route of the wind, the damage caused and the lives affected. My interest was initially aroused when researching for a novel I am writing in which I needed a fictional Spanish Galleon to become shipwrecked on the British south coast. Although I could make up a storm, I much prefer to find some real events in history and plot my story around that – besides, it gives such wonderful material, more than my simple brain could never have dreamt up.

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Episode 7: Crumbling Churches

The parish church is one of the oldest buildings in the British landscape. Most of them have been here for over 900 years and some date from the Saxon period. They are ubiquitous; their steeples point above the rooftops, the bell towers chime on a Sunday, pews of some age are lined up towards the altar and their churchyards are packed with ancient headstones of once prominent members of the the locality.

The importance and role of the village, or town church, is hard to over state; and yet, these very buildings, where men, women and children have been baptized, married and sent off to life beyond (if there is such a thing) are in trouble. The parish churches are crumbling away and there is not enough people supporting the faith, attending the congregation or concerned about it’s up keep.

Richard Vobes, the Bald Explorer, is on a mission to find out if we should continue to try and preserve these icons of our history or whether it is better to allow them to crumble away gracefully.

Crumbling Churches, 2nd Preview

Richard Vobes, the Bald Explorer, is setting off to investigate the fate of our parish churches. He is in the south of England finding out about the history and uses of the old religious buildings. He also wanted to find out how money is being raise to prevent them from crumbling away and what happens when the buildings are disposed of.

This is a preview of some of the scenes shot so far and some of the fascinating contributors that will be appearing in the episode, hopefully broadcasting on the Community Channel later in 2013.

Julian Humphrys is part of the Battlefields Trust that looks after and promotes the battlefields in Britain.

Farther Godfrey is the reverend at Plumpton Green in East Sussex and a professional brewer, supply his church ales to the area.

Scott Ralph is an historic buildings specialist and advises the church how to dispose of unwanted religious houses.

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The Magic of the South Downs

The South Downs above Worthing in Sussex

Having been office bound for the past few days, my nose in several books at once and fingers dancing over a hot keyboard as I look up bookmarked websites, gathering information for another Bald Explorer script, I had the chance to take to the hills today. The sun appeared unobstructed by the recent rain clouds and I was determined to make the best of it. Fortunately for me the chalky white undulating South Downs are not terribly far from my abode and within a few minutes I had navigated my car into a trusty car park on top of Salvington Hill, just above Worthing, West Sussex. Once changed into my walking boots I was off.

Naturally a few dog walkers had popped out and were exercising their animals, stooping every few minutes to pick up the nasty stuff that plops out the ugly end of the excitable creatures. I do not own one of these beasts, but I always marvel at the short distance many of these people actually travel with their pets. You would think that walking was the main purpose for investing time and care by owning such canine friends, but it would appear not as I soon found myself leaving them far behind.

Apart from the exercise and the intake of fresh air, I find walking incredible stimulating for the brain. I allow my mind to wonder, or perhaps daydream as I stroll on my merry way along the rural byways of the great rolling Sussex uplands and downlands. If I have a problem I can hand it over to the subconscious mind to ponder on as I take in the sunshine and gaze at the beautiful scenery around me. I find that worries and concerns begin to ebb away as my feet engage with earth and one leg in front of the other takes me methodically forward deeper into the countryside and away from the rat race of the town I have left.

The splendour of the Sussex countryside walk.

When the spring is in full flight, as it surely is now, it is most definitely the time to make an effort to get away and enjoy what nature has to offer. I love it. I would walk every day if I didn’t have to make a living. I’d explore new parts of this wonderful country we call England, jot down everywhere I go and take photos for my blog. I do feel lucky living in this part of the world where there is the ever changing scenery, not to mention beautiful terrain and all riddled with walkways and enticing paths to investigate, either straightaway or in the near future.

You don’t have to make an excursion onto the South Downs, or whatever your local area of natural beauty is called, a big deal and go hiking for miles and miles to feel the effect they have on the soul. A short jaunt of an hour or so is plenty to recharge the batteries. If the sun comes out I know I am chomping at the bit to be away from the desk and really there is no excuse to not pop out at lunch time or in the early evenings. If you get the chance, you should do the same. You wont regret it, I assure you.