06 March 2018

East Sussex: post boxes

Here is a small offering of post boxes I spotted during a recent week’s holiday in East Sussex (always looking!).

The oldest was in the tiny hamlet of West Dean, in East Sussex not West, a charming collection of ancient houses nestled in a secluded South Downs valley behind Cuckmere Haven, a location more easily reached on foot than by car, a place that time seems to have forgotten. Amongst its many old treasures – there were also a medieval dovecote and a gorgeous terracotta bird on a rooftop – was this lovely old Victoria wall box, set in a superbly crafted flint stone wall.

To get a photograph of the George V wall box at Birling Gap (below left), I had to brave a howling gale and light, driving rain – that’s post-box dedication for you! If you don’t know Birling Gap, it’s at the eastern end of the mighty Seven Sisters chalk cliffs on England’s south coast. My photo, above, of this impressive landscape was taken in the same howling gale.

On the right, above, is another George V wall box, this one discovered in the small village of Brightling. This box is slightly unusual as it is a Ludlow wall box, one of the wooden – rather than cast iron – boxes made by James Ludlow & Son in Birmingham. The large black-and-white enamel name plate is the giveaway and this box is even more unusual as it doesn’t have the plate that lists location, post box number and mail collection times – there were holes where the plate was originally attached but, as you can see, it looks like someone’s since stuck a couple of stickers on the front instead.

Brightling was interesting for another reason too ... more on that in my next blog post.

04 March 2018

A tale of two East Sussex windmills

It didn’t take long for my friend Jill’s fascination with windmills to infect me, and these photogenic structures now captivate me with their intriguing stories and enchanting architecture. Here are two from my recent visit to East Sussex.

Stone Cross windmill
Built around 1875 and restored to full working order between 1995 and 2000, the Stone Cross windmill is, their signboard claims, ‘one of the finest tower mills ever built in England’. Its statistics are certainly impressive: a 38-foot-high (11.58 metre) five-level brick tower, which is 16 feet 6 inches (5.03 metres) in diameter at its base and 11 feet (3.35 metres) at the curb; and sweeps (the name for the mill’s revolving sails) spanning 64 feet (19.5 metres) and holding 174 shutters (the angles of which control the speed of the sweeps).

The mill still produces flour stone-ground in the traditional way, which sounds delightful and I’m sure would taste delicious but do remember that stone-ground means the flour may well contain tiny pieces of stone, which is one of the reasons why the teeth of people in the past got rapidly ground down. According to the windmill’s somewhat incomplete website, the building also contains a small museum and a cafe, though there are no details given of its opening times.

Windmill Hill windmill
We had driven past this windmill so many times on our way to places elsewhere but, as there are not a lot of spots to park, we’d never stopped ... until, one day in mid February, on the way back from Rye Harbour, Jill managed to squeeze us in to the back end of a bus stop for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the view from the roadside is marred by the power lines but we did sneak up a driveway for a slightly better view of the side of this mill.

There had been a previous windmill on this site – proving just how well this high point catches the breezes – but it was demolished prior to the construction, in around 1814, of the mill we see today. This is a post mill, one of the earliest types of windmill, which I now know means ‘the whole body of the mill that houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind’ (as opposed to the Stone Cross tower mill, where only the cap, not the whole body of the mill, is rotated).

Using one pair of French Burr stones and another of Derbyshire Peak stones, this mill also processed corn in to flour. Like the Stone Cross building, the Windmill Hill mill has undergone extensive restoration in recent years, through the work of a charitable trust and the tireless efforts of a multitude of volunteers. (You can read more on their website here.) I love that so many people are so passionate about preserving these remnants of Britain’s industrial and cultural heritage so that both the present and future generations can admire and enjoy them.

01 March 2018

Beautiful Bodiam

We had a cracking blue-sky day for our visit to Bodiam in East Sussex, and the castle, surrounded by its moat, looked picture-postcard-perfect!

The lord of the manor was soldier and knight, Sir Edward Dallingridge (or Dalyngrigge) (c.1346 – 1393), who had the castle constructed around 1385, in theory as a defence against local rebellion and possible invasion by the French but probably also a statement piece: ‘Look at how rich and powerful I am!’ As a power statement it certainly works.

And I imagine you would feel quite secure in a place like this, regardless of who was trying to attack. The original approach bridge over the moat was to the side, ensuring invaders made easy targets for the castle’s archers; the portcullis was so sturdy that parts of it still survive; and there are murder holes above the entrance porticos, meaning residents could pour hot tar and boiling oil on the uninvited.

Sir Edward gained the manor of Bodiam by marriage. Having accumulated wealth and reputation through fighting as a mercenary in France, he returned to England and wedded the heiress to Bodiam, Elizabeth Wardeux (or Wardedieu).

Dallingridge subsequently served as the equivalent of Member of Parliament for the local area, was made responsible for fortifying various areas of coastal Sussex, and became the most influential member of the local gentry.

The castle’s interior was likely dismantled during the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) but you can still get an idea of the opulence enjoyed by Sir Edward and Lady Elizabeth, though I don’t think National Trust have done a very good job with their displays and storyboards, especially compared to other castles I have visited (see the magnificent Caerphilly here and here). The exhibition in the nearby pavillion was also undergoing refurbishment so I felt a reduction in the entrance fee would have been appropriate under the circumstances For the stiff-kneed also, a warning, the spiral staircases were steep, but the views from the towers and battlements were worth the effort.

All in all, a stunning property: the type of building every child imagines when they draw their first castles, and a dream for photographers, if you go right on opening time, to avoid the crowds. I’d love to see it again shrouded in brooding winter mist and a blanket of snow, or with autumn colour in its stately trees.