Sunday, 18 April 2010

Pevensey Castle, Normans Bay, smuggling and family remembrances ... Part 1

Jenny came to town .. memories flooded back ... questions arose – time to tell the tale and answer some of those questions. We had a lovely day, 950 years later following William the Conqueror along the marshy Pevensey Levels, sticking to the coast until we found the Galley skiing hill in the town that saw the birth of motor racing.
We lunched on the way at a smugglers inn, The Star, formerly a Sluice House close by the ditch called Wallers Haven, part of the salt marshes with their watery inlets able to hide the smugglers and their boats, the marshes being notoriously difficult to cross without local knowledge.

View westwards across Normans Bay from Hastings towards Bexhill, Pevensey and then Eastbourne

We had fresh fish and chips and a crab salad, while to finish off a chocolate chip and nut ice cream sundae with mountains of cream on the top – sadly not Cornish cream. We sat outside and nattered about family musings – I’m in my inquisitive mode .. I can find out things from Jenny and then at a later stage regale with my mother with the tales, that will keep her amused and interested.

Jenny, my mother’s cousin, lives on Vancouver Island and as I’ve been away in South Africa it is only recently that we’ve seen a little more of each other. The family came from St Ives in Cornwall and I wanted to find out some more. My grandfather died when my mother was two in an accident in the 1920s, and again there was a dislocation and for various reasons I’ve never found out more.

Star Inn, Normans Bay © Copyright Kevin Gordon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I knew the family had been in shipping, my grandfather apparently wanted to be a farmer, but his father decided he would be an engineer – as happened in those days; but for the sons World War I intervened in their early days before they could set out on their careers.

My great grandfather was the financial officer for The Hain Shipping Line in St Ives, which was in existence for 100 years until it was taken over by P & O during WWI. His elder son, one of my great uncles, took over his position with the steamship line and then became a director, when the firm moved to the larger deeper port of Cardiff, in Wales, on the takeover by P & O.

St Ives Bay, showing the harbour

Their early trade was the local Cornish fishing industry using sailing luggers; soon they moved on and bought schooners enabling their trade to expand to the Mediterranean ports, exporting cured fish returning with Greek and Turkish dried fruit; then with the development of larger schooners and the conversion to steam they were trading with the Caribbean for West Indian sugar, and with Brazil for coffee; ultimately trading with India, Ceylon and Australia.

The firm was very philanthropic giving preference to local boys wishing to make a career at sea, and this policy resulted in a large number of Master Mariners who were respected in all the major ports of the world. Considering that most of these mariners received only a very basic education, there is all the more reason to applaud their achievements in the much harder school of Master Mariners.

Jenny’s mother was the boys’ younger sister and on her marriage they moved to London, which was when they would come down to Bexhill-on-Sea along the coast from Pevensey Bay to visit other relations. We went into Bexhill to Galley Hill, where Jenny said her father had skied down, with Jenny standing on his skis! She said ‘ it’s not much of a hill is it?, which it isn’t .. but her young memory was of an exciting time .. all the way back to the early 1930s!

The four boys in the early 1900s, without their young sister in the picture

In 1808 a Martello Tower was built on Galley Hill as one of the line of defensive forts built in several countries of the British Empire during the 19th century, from the time of the Napoleonic Wars onwards. Unfortunately this one was destroyed through coastal erosion by about 1868.
Galley Hill however was the high lookout point for Normans Bay between Eastbourne and Hastings where the Customs and Excise officers or ‘Preventivemen’ tried to stop smuggling; this situation worsened after the Battle of Waterloo 1815, due to the return of thousands of soldiers and sailors who could find no legitimate employment and so turned to smuggling.

The Coast Blockade was formed in 1818 to meet the new threat and was eventually replaced by the Coastguard in 1831 – our British Coastguard is a civilian organisation whose only role is search and rescue.

A pitched battle ensued in 1828 after the blockade men on Galley Hill spotted smuggling going on down at the Sluice Gate in Normans Bay and engaged the Little Common Gang in a bloody rout.

Martello Tower at Galley Hill (discover Bexhill)
courtesy Bexhill Museum

Within 74 years the first British motor race took place using the Bicycle Boulevard, part of the seafront at Bexhill; away in the distance up Galley Hill puffs of smoke could be seen, a speck of a toy car emerging, a few seconds later two monsters throbbing, puffing and snorting raced past, causing the earth to tremble.

Such was the occasion that thousands flocked to Bexhill to witness this unique spectacle. Nothing could be seen of the drivers except a crouching figure with streaming hair, whose hands had a death-like grip on the steering wheel. Not only were straight sprint races run from east to west against the clock, but cars raced side by side, very much resembling the start of the Grand Prix races today.

Monsieur Leon Serpollet, the Frenchman, in his steam driven "Easter Egg" with the fastest speed of 54mph and the first French victory on British soil c/o Discover Bexhill

More than 200 entries competed in that inaugural meeting in 1902 and the local hotels and boarding houses were packed with the curious who had come to witness, for the first time on British soil, the spectacle of motor cars racing at speeds in excess of 50 mph, when the speed limit of the day was a mere 12 mph!

We went inland a little searching for Jenny’s cousin’s house .. but to no avail, and drove up through the housing estate, that used to be my paternal grandmother’s home, when she moved to Bexhill, also from London, before it was razed for housing in the early 1960s. The marketing achieved by the motor racing appeared to be successful – as Bexhill became a fashionable retirement resort.

We returned along the coast road towards Pevensey Castle, where we could see the imposing facade of the fortress walls .. more in my next post. Jenny had to get back to London as she was meant to be going to France by train fortunately – but I suspect that she will have been involved in a terrible scrum, arising from the volcanic ash fall out .. and I hope she is alright .. travelling is not easy when you get to your 80s ..

So dear Mr Postman – you can see it was an interesting day for me. On Wednesday my mother had been her old self and we had a really good chat – but now she’s not very well again .. and it is challenging for her, as well as me.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - What a lovely time! It is so wonderful to reconnect with the rellies, isn't it? I loved how you wove your family history into the greater context of the narrative. Smugglers, sluices, routs and races! This is an area that I didn't know much about, but now I feel as though I do. Tracing the route of William the Conqueror - what a fun idea it would be to do that! This was a treat, thanks!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy - many thanks .. it is lovely being able to spend time with family - I just never seem to do much of it .. but one day I'll catch up. There just seemed so much going on & it was fun to put it all together .. except part 2 will deal with Pevensey Castle and ....!

Yes - tracing these great Conquerors' routes would be so interesting .. another story, another day! They would put us to shame I'm afraid .. they seemed to be everywhere and at such speed ..

Just so glad you enjoyed the tales ... Hilary

Davina said...

Travelling in your 80s! I find travelling a challenge at my age. Wow, good for her. I'm smiling as I imagine skiing down a hill with someone on my skies. And fish and chips AND a chocolate chip and nut ice cream sundae...mouth is watering now. Thanks! Time to make some dinner, I think.

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary, you can teach me history any time. This all makes it so alive and smugglers somehow always give me a romantic notion which of course it doesn't deserve.
I am so glad you had a lovely day outside and away, you deserve it.
I can understand that the daily changes of your Mum's health must be hard. Much love to you both, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. I know and she’s doing it on her own ... very independent!! Yes – her ski memories were rather good. I had the crab salad!! But it all looked good .. it was rather nice being out having a little tour around – made such a change .. and we had a reasonable day ... real spring marsh weather .. a little mist rising from the reeds. Hope you had a good dinner? Have a good week - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma – thank you! There were three hundred smugglers waiting for that haul in 1828 .. coming over from France. There was also a carriage with a mysterious lady .. they melted away into the mists.

It was a very nice change .. and I enjoyed the little drive along, learning from Jenny – as she is very interesting – she’s been doing lots of research on another extraordinary relative of her father’s .. more anon.

Poor Mum .. I really thought we were into a good time for a while .. but it may just be a reaction to the weather .. still cold and easterly wind – as so many of us have had some sniffly niggle. Thanks very much for your thoughts and love .. I appreciate them - Hilary

Paul C said...

How kind of you to host your mother's cousin, Jenny, and catch up on memories and experiences. I see she is from Vancouver Island. You may have to return the visit some day. It's a remarkable island.

Also it's so interesting to read about the smuggling days. Of course, I have to think about the novel Moonfleet and the smuggling of contraband along the southern coastline.

Mark said...

Wow! Quite the interesting day indeed! Love the way you weaved in the history of family and friends.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. well it’s really down to Jenny – she came down on the train from her travels around the UK!! So it’s exceedingly kind of her to visit my Ma and take us as she finds us .. last time in October was really difficult and this time sadly my Ma wasn't too awake. It is fun as I get to know her .. and there are more stories ...

Yes, my mother and I went out to VI in 1997 .. and it was wonderful .. we flew to Calgary, drove up to Lake Louise (had a trip to Jasper in the snow on July 4th ???!!), then went on the Rocky Mountaineer over to Vancouver .. it was an amazing trip, and loved Vancouver Island, which we went to via the ferry to Nanaimo.

Glad you enjoyed the smuggling days .. I will have to read your recommendation of Moonfleet .. you’re the author around here! One day I’ll have some time for reading and catching up.

Great to see you .. and to hear your comments with your background knowledge .. many thanks - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. thanks for coming by .. and for your Wow! .. we had fun .. and it’s interesting weaving stories, history and thoughts together .. that’s what I’d been saying to my mother the day before & she agreed I’d been good at keeping her stimulated and enjoying our discussions .. I love it when she comes to life..

Thank you so much .. Hilary

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Sorry it has been so long since we last visited your blog. This is a wonderful post to have visited. What a wonderful time you had. It is always good to learn more of our families. Thank you for sharing of their lives with us.

Have a great day.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. glad to see you again and that you enjoyed the stories. We did have a wonderful time .. it's just interesting exploring ideas and gathering family knowledge.

Many thanks for calling in again .. have a great week - Hilary

BK said...

Hope Jenny was not affected by the ash incidence.

Sending positive thoughts to your mother and wishing she gets better already.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK .. I haven't heard back from her yet and haven't had a chance to find out. The volcano is certainly making its mark on our way of life ..

Thank you for your thoughts for my Ma .. she's not very well, but seems reasonably comfortable in the scheme of things.

Difficult times all round .. thanks for the visit .. have a good week - Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

Now that must have been a wild day ... 50 in a 12 :)

I wonder what the fine would be for going quadruple the limit.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. I had to read the post again to work out your conundrum .. but then I realised!! I hate to think .. we have points .. three for one mistake, goes up in threes .. and 12 is out .. (cumulative over a three year period) lose your licence etc. & a fine.... I don't know I'm staying clear if I can!!

Fine .. depends on the circumstances etc .. and any exceptional circumstances .. so can't answer ..

I'd really recommend you don't come over here and try it .. though if you're here for three years let me know .. and I'll do some work with you ...??!!

Have a good week - Hilary

Mandy Allen said...

Brilliant narration, Hilary. I have an older friend here from the USA (71) and she is stuck for the moment! Today we went to Castle Rising, a Norman Motte so I was very interested to read this with the reference to William the Conqueror.

Enjoy the journey.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mandy .. thank you. Oh dear .. well it's lucky she's with you and the weather is being kind, and Castle Rising Castle is nearby .. that's a lovely part of the world .. I know it a little. When she gets going again .. I hope she has a lovely rest of the trip.

I see it stands proud similar to Arundel Castle down here in Sussex - as the Earls of Norfolk owned both. Enjoy the extra sojourn with your American friend ..

Good to see you here .. thank you - Hilary

Evita said...

Hi Hilary

Wow, have you ever travelled the world! That is incredible, and it is nice to share in your experiences and the special people that have also come into and out of your life.

The photos again are beautiful! I too love travelling and hope to continue doing it well into my 80's if not more :)

Jannie Funster said...

Oh how much fun to connect with family -- nothing like it! And that meal you shared, the fish and chips,crab salad and the dessert -- ummmnm, I bet it was just divine.

Imagine 50 mph compared to 12!

So much rich history in your area -- and your family.

Oh, but what contraband were they smuggling?


Blue Bunny said...

oh deer hillree!!

did you menshin coffe frum brazil?? that's my jannie's favrit coffe. and onse she evin letted me have a littel at brekfist.

and i wish i cood go to the pevinsee fortriss wit yoo some day. i cood throw sno bals there!!

gotta go!!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Evita .. thanks I’ve been lucky in the little travelling I’ve done – compared to some friends who’ve been to Asia and Australia, and South America .. I feel I’ve done not a huge amount. It was lovely seeing Jenny and her family when they are able to get over .. to look at the dairy industry here.

Thanks about the photos .. and if you love travelling then you’ve plenty of time to visit a few places in the world .. see you here sometime perhaps?! Have a fun day ... Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. good to see you .. and yes we did have a lovely time. The meal was delicious as you say .. a little bit more sun would have been kinder, but we did sit outside .. Jenny is hardier than I am!! It made a lovely break for a few hours.

Yes – 12 mph – well we’re reducing our speed limits to 20 mph in some cities or local areas! So we’re getting back to lower speeds .. perhaps the horse will come back?! Surprisingly tubs of alcohol and packets of tobacco .. but anything that could be resold .. and anything that could be obtained from trading ships along the coast when they were pirated.

Yes – the family has a huge amount of history across its breadth of in-laws, cousins etc .. and Jenny has major connections with South Africa, which is why she was over here .. more anon.

Great to see you – on to Blue Bunny now – I see he’s also been “reeding and scratched a commint” which is very kind .. so I’ll burrow over .. have a good weekend .. with hugs – Hils xxoo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. wouldn’t that be fun – a visit to Pevinsee after our Brazilian coffe .. I am menshin coffe now .. did Jannie lead you down anuver breakfast gaarten path.

Zo wen U burrow under the pond – we vill defnitly tour Pevinsee .. it has lots of holes now – like a burrow .. 950 years old = not surprising I spose .. pls travel in summer .. sno bals too cold – but Jannie lieks ze cold ..

Me too .. zee U later .. hav a gud weekend .. hugs to all xxooxx Hils

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Hilary, It sounds like you had the best day with your relative. And what a great history you all have.

I love reading your posts. They take me to worlds I would have never known.-Teresa

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. good to see you - we did it was lovely .. just too short, and my mother wasn't very well. History is so interesting here .. and I love being around it and find out more.

Thanks - always delighted to keep people amused and learning about worlds that remain hidden - until like hidden treasures they pop up - as here.

Good to see you - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Martello Tower is also the name of a famous local landmark in Saint John (SJ), New Brunswick, Canada. It stands on a hill at the topmost point in the city which enabled a basic defense of the early immigrants.

As it happens, a schooner described in a book "To Hell or Melbourne" sailed out of SJ for that very long trip. Australian, Canadian and other international connections are part of everyone's heritage on some level.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. that makes sense as a landmark - we have one here in Eastbourne, but isn't very high - Beachy Head towers above all. They were certainly extremely well built to withstand attack and provided a protected place for the gun.

That must have been an horrific trip - exceedingly long .. good name for the book. As you say peoples travelled the world then looking for a better way of life - or perhaps as smugglers (as some of these were) transported across the world.

Our heritage is all mixed somewhere along the line .. that's for sure.

Thanks for coming by & have a good weekend .. Hilary

Blue Bunny said...

deer hillree, i wanted to pope in so yoo cood see me wit my new look -- a karrit!!

wit loves from me

blue bunny
(now wit karrit!)


Catrien Ross said...

Hilary, thank you so much for sharing this interesting and loving journey. Every time I visit you I receive such delicious food imagery, too. Fresh fish and chips - I haven't eaten that in years - and it sounds so appealing right now. I really enjoyed being with you as you revisited your memories with Jenny. Fish and chipless in the mountains of Japan - Catrien Ross.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Catrien .. delighted you enjoyed it & I love food, the camaraderie it attracts, the wonderful provisions of nature and the creations we can give it - taste, sense and smell .. let alone tummy goodness! Fresh fish and chips .. the taste buds always start melting & the mind brings back past memories .. fish and chips from newspaper!

Wonderful having you here sharing our memories .. all the way from fish & chipless mountains of Japan! Lovely .. see you soon - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Catrien .. delighted you enjoyed it & I love food, the camaraderie it attracts, the wonderful provisions of nature and the creations we can give it - taste, sense and smell .. let alone tummy goodness! Fresh fish and chips .. the taste buds always start melting & the mind brings back past memories .. fish and chips from newspaper! - being one of them.

Wonderful having you here sharing our memories .. all the way from fish & chipless mountains of Japan! Lovely .. see you soon - Hilary