Thanks to Geoff Isted and his modern marketing techniques, I decided to visit the local history exhibition at Fletching Village Hall last Friday, 26th June 2009. Luckily, the channel was of a rare and absolute calm (on both ways) and the SMV Seven Sisters offered a journey more comfortable than on the roads.
The voyage was really just a pretext to get away on my own, spend a few days with my family and get a good blast of Sussex roots, of which, living in the Parisian suburbs, I was dearly in need of.
I was amongst the first visitors to the exhibition open for three days from Friday midday to Sunday at 4 pm. For less than the price of a meagre 10 cl. coffee standing up at a counter in Paris, I was admitted to the village hall and invited to consult thousands of photos, documents and four rows of tables sporting ring-binders full of information, all with the helpful and friendly assistance of Geoff and Barry.
There was indeed so much information that it took me several days to digest and place in three hundred years of the sociological/political picture I had of my ancestors (sorry, Barry – I learnt a lot!).
For example, I understand better now, the family’s migration from Fletching to Lewes linked to economic development in the county town. Trees were felled in the Ashdown Forest and floated down the River Ouse to Lewes. As I was always told, seven years of drying time were needed before cutting the old oaks into planks in John Funnell’s sawpits. John was not importing timber as I thought, but exporting, or at least distributing. “Sleepers” were needed for the railways, pulp for paper (the last paper factory in Lewes burnt down when I was a child). Sea-going vessels were constructed on the Lewes wharfs and launched after their journey down the Ouse to Newhaven. As wheelwrights, a Sussex dray (farm cart) obeyed to specifications – I had no idea they existed – different from a Kent dray.
My grandfather enlightened me to the usage of most ancient woodworking tools and even if I forget their names today, I never realized that a carved oak iron rimmed wheel could bust and need a roadside repair. The Fletching exhibition brought this to life.
I also used the day to visit the village. I would have loved to visit the Church where our ancestors were christened, married and buried. Unfortunately, the door was locked. But the village really does merit its title of “Best kept village in Sussex”. It is of breathtaking beauty.
On the way to Splaynes Green, I had a sort of “tingling” as though I was passing an ancestors abode and I’m pretty sure the 18th century description I’d read was that of this property.
To the right, I took the lane towards Down Street. Although I was consulting a map at the wheel of my French-reg left-hand drive Astra, someone asked me directions without realizing that I was, myself, lost.
At the end of this lane, I turned right and came upon Funnell’s Wood and Funnell’s Farm before Nutley and taking, right again, the main road to Maresfield. Unfortunately, St. Bartholomew’s door was also locked to one of its long-time sons.
This decided me to visit other villages that I had not seen for over 25 years, like Barcombe, Laughton, Chiddingly, Chalvington, Ripe, Firle… where the parish churches (and pubs, all open) are the focal points. At Chiddingly, I was treated to a few scores on the organ.
The amazing thing is that from any one of these churches, although Sussex has been through extreme road development, nothing is apparent. Fields and greenery seem as continuous as they were two hundred years ago. The peacefulness of Ringmer or West Firle leaves certainly no clue that ancestors were tried for rioting and sent to the antipodes to founder new branches of our family, no more than Chiddingly where the parish sent families to America in exchange of a plea to never return.
I’ve made up a map on Google. Even if you do not find an indicator, I’m sure you will find a village that means something to you not far away.
In the genealogy section, I have started to link placenames to Google Map references, starting with Fletching. Please use the links and references and more than anything else, try the SATELLITE stuff.
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