Friday, 23 April 2010

Pevensey Castle, Normans Bay, smuggling and family remembrances ... Part 2

If Jenny and I had continued further north from Bexhill the village of Battle would be reached, where William the Conqueror changed English history by feigning retreat and then beating King Harold, the King killed by an arrow in his eye – so the story goes, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Harold had only been crowned King of England in January 1066, after the death of Edward the Confessor, but due to the succession struggle had been anticipating an invasion from France, by William, Duke of Normandy (as he was), another contender for the English throne, and had based himself on the south coast at the ready.

Death of Harold in the Battle of Hastings, as shown on the Bayeux Tapestry (above)

Harold maintained a large fleet in the Channel to deter the Norman army from crossing the water, but due to dwindling supplies he was forced to dismiss it during the summer, many ships of which were subsequently lost in a storm. William then landed unopposed at Pevensey on 28th September 1066.

Another claimant included the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, who beached in the north of England in September 1066. King Harold learning of this headed northwards at breakneck speed, covering the 185 miles (300 kilometres) from London to Yorkshire in four days taking the Vikings completely by surprise and routing them in the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September 1066.

Harold now had to hot foot it back south again to deal with the Duke. The Duke, with his fleet safe in the western haven of Normans Bay, meanwhile shored up the fortifications at Pevensey Castle and made his plans.

Senlac Ridge is about 5 miles inland from Bexhill and Hastings where Harold, when he arrived from the north, based his army – the high ground gave him a great advantage over the Normans, who made repeated charges up the hill ... but to no avail. The English were exhausted and finally succumbed after two days of fighting and were vanquished on October 14th: William’s feint of retreat caused the English to break ranks with the intention of routing them but with intended consequences.

Hastings, Battle and Pevensey are about 50 miles further south from the capital .. and if the elite marathon runners in this weekend’s London marathon were able to maintain their speed for the 225 miles or so, then it would take them 18 hours to get to Yorkshire (26 miles is covered in about 2 hours). But think of that distance wearing armour and with all the paraphernalia needed for an armed struggle ... Speedy Gonzales (as shown) came to mind somewhat incongruously!

William could not use the coastal route that Jenny and I took as we skipped along the tiny islands, that are now small high points – hence the road, called Rickney Lane, as back then and until the 1400s these islands were in the tidal bay inlet. The hamlet names along this part of East Sussex are all derived from the Old English word “eye” meaning island: Peven’s sey, Rickney, Horse Eye, North Eye.

William, as you can see, had to skirt the bay and coastal marshes, to begin his attack on Harold who had encamped on Senlac Hill, but his forces were well rested after the two weeks in port. Much has changed along this coast over the millennia.

Normans Bay, with its Pevensey Levels, is a changing coastline – ten thousand years ago at the end of that glaciation period the rising sea levels flooded the lower reaches of the numerous coastal river valleys creating a tidal estuary with a wide bay, leaving the present Levels under water.

Over hundreds of years, the tidal bay gradually became saltmarsh, then as today reedy meadows, while in 1287, two hundred years after the Battle of Hastings, a huge storm caused this silting up of the channels along this part of the Sussex coast, which precipitated that change.

This is a map of the 7 Cinque Ports in Kent and Sussex. Pevensey is located on the southern tip of the lowest bay on this map, before the change in the coastline (as depicted with a dotted line), which continues to occur. (to see a larger image click through to Wikipedia).

After that brief historical sojourn regarding the Conquering of the English King by William we returned along the old coast road towards his landing point and Pevensey Castle. The sea once lapped against the south and east sides of the Castle, and after William’s success the Normans converted the remains of the original Roman sea fort into a fortress; it was an important part of their coastal defences.

In a few hundred years the Castle fell into disrepair as the sea receded and Pevensey ceased to command the coastline. It was temporarily fortified during the brief threat of the Spanish Armada in 1587 – 88; while in World War II it was fitted out as a Home Guard command post. Rickney Lane traversing the marshes had anti-tank cylinders along its length – as shown in the picture.

Anti-Tank Cylinders, Rickney Lane: There are two here the second is partially obscured by the reeds opposite the farm track. A hole at the top of the first one is also just visible and from this barbed wire would have been attached to stretch across the road to form a roadblock. The farm track on the left also carries a footpath across the marshes which rejoins Rickney Lane near Pevensey Haven. © Copyright Simon Carey

The Roman fort of the Saxon Shore stood guard on a harbour which is now silted up. It is not a rectangular castle like most of its contemporaries, but oval in plan and is well provided with substantial external bastions. Both the Romans and Normans recognised the castle as of strategic military value and for over a thousand years kept it strengthened during their custodianship.

Pevensey Castle - main gate

A keep, a strong central tower, was built in the south east corner, and a small inner bailey (one of the two outer walls of the castle) was fortified within the Roman walls. These were used as defences for the outer bailey, which still stand for much of their length today. Pevensey Castle with its history stretching back to Roman times chronicles very graphically the story of Britain’s south coast defences. For an aerial view – visit the 1066 Online website:

As a byline .. an earlier word for a keep, still used for some medieval monuments, especially in France, is donjon; a derivative word is dungeon.

Pevensey Castle walls

The following, part of a Rudyard Kipling poem, refers to the Pevensey Levels - I thought a perfect description - what do you think?

Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn,
Old Wars, old Peace, old arts that cease,
And so was England born.

Dear Mr Postman, I still haven’t heard from Jenny – but no doubt we’ll catch up and I shall let you know how she got on. My poor mother isn’t very well and we’re in for a difficult time – but let’s hope she can settle down and be comfortable – quite honestly that’s what I really wish for .. she has been in no discomfort until this year .. and I really don’t want her to suffer at all.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - I just finished "Monuments Men" about the Allied soldiers who were charged with protecting art treasures in WWII from battle and recovering those that had been stolen and hidden from their owners by the Nazis. One of the most prominent being the Bayeux Tapestry. It is a marvel, isn't it?

And then to read on about a King Harald from long ago and realize I had just told my cousin about meeting his descendant in Oslo in 1970, King Olaf who was laying a wreath at the grave of his father, King Harald who sought asylum in England during the same war.

Even though your post is about times long ago, it's amazing that the same names pop up in our lifetime, and some of the same issues.

I hope your mother is feeling better!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. it sure looks it .. and one day I must get to France to actually see it! This picture here .. you can see the fact it's a cloth .. it is an amazing work of art. The book sounds interesting .. I watched a programme about the Natural History museum last night - where the specimens were all taken to a secret storage area underground, I guess some way out of London, and they had to construct shelves .. these were the A specimens - the original and first ones found .. to keep the bottles on!

Harald Hardrada was certainly interesting .. and yet we know so much about Harold Godwinson, King of England & he was only king for 9 months.

How interesting that must have been meeting King Olaf .... it opens doors to our thoughts and our knowledge .. what were you doing there?

Yes - same names, similar issues etc .. they just don't march in full armour the length of England any more!

Poor Mum .. I too hope she feels better soon ..and can throw her flu or bad chesty cold off ... - thanks for your thoughts - Hilary

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Hello, Hilary, I pray that your mother grows stronger and healthier with each breath. Odd how though the years tumble one after another, human nature in all its selfishness and short-sightedness remains the same.

Drop by my blog, WRITING IN THE CROSSHAIRS, if you're of a mind. Roland

Vered said...

I hope your mom is comfortable too. Hugs.

J.D. Meier said...

I'm glad Speedy Gonzales made a guest appearance.

> The sea once lapped against the south and east sides of the Castle
That is some great imagery ... I'm a big fan of castles.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Roland – thanks for being here and following me – good to meet you and I look forward to reading your blog .. and learning a little of some North American terms and names, let alone the relative aspects .. interesting twists and turns & story lines.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my mother .. we appreciate them all and I certainly do when I’m at her bedside.

Life does seem to repeat itself and we don’t learn .. we react too quickly and don’t think of the consequences. Have a good weekend .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. many thanks for calling in – I hope so too .. have a lovely weekend with the family - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny - I know you commented .. but blogger has kidnapped it and must be guarding it carefully in his burrow - can't think why ..

I had a look at your new profile with your karrit & you look really regal with a sceptred karrit.

Let's see what happens & perhaps it'll reappear - I'm sure it came up here on the comments page .. but now????? Fortunately you weren't kidnapped .. just your kommint!

Happy lettuce weekend with Jannie & pals .. hugs to you all xxooxxoo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. Speedy Gonzales .. just suddenly came to mind! & glad you appreciated the viewing .. somewhat out of time.

Thanks – yes the lapping water does doesn’t it ... especially as I can visualise the castle as I drive past quite often .. so interesting to see how much the land has changed over the centuries .. and the thought of a fleet bobbing in the water at the western end of this bay with all the activity on the land conjures up all kinds of aspects.

Castles coming up .. I think I’d better do a post on those sometime soon .. Good to see you – enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

Evelyn Lim said...

Oooh....I love castles and will most certainly be looking forward to the post on it!! Hope your mother feels better!

Have an awesome weekend,

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Evelyn .. yes - thanks for your added plus to the castle post .. I'd better get on with it or them .. as I suspect there'll be one or two!

Thank you re my Ma .. me too .. and you have a good weekend .. all the best - Hilary

Joanne said...

Fascinating ancient history, and beautiful ancient architecture, which we don't really see here in the States, being a relatively young nation by comparison. The castle is just amazing with detail, and story.

Enjoy your weekend, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne .. yes we're lucky to have our countryside dotted with such magnificent buildings, let alone the landscape alterations we can see over time, or the coastal lines that have changed ..

So glad you enjoyed the story and information .. I learn too! I'd better go and walk round again sometime soon!

You too - have a good weekend .. Hilary

Paul C said...

I have a soft spot for history and you provide a wonderful and rich chronicle of a strategic area, complete with map and ancient sites. Interesting that the Romans took such an early interest, the Norwegians, and the infamous Battle of Hastings. England was not without its pivotal historical moments.

Davina said...

Hi Hilary. I too, am a lover of castles. One day if I ever visit Europe I'd love to tour a castle or two. Loved the Rudyard Kipling poem here. I'm thinking of you and your mom.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. great to hear that you’re enjoying the saga of each little piece of history .. thank you! Yes – England was quite strategic I think because they could access lots of minerals, which at that time weren’t found elsewhere that Rome had jurisdiction over .. and the easiest way to travel was by water (sea and rivers). As you rightly say we seem to have had rather lot of major incidents (not sure that’s quite the right word .. but can’t think of another) for a little country & created a few waves around the world?!

Have a good weekend & lovely seeing you here – all the best Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. ok .. another dig for a castle post or two .. & if you’re here then please come and we’ll visit some castles together – it’d do me good too!

Thanks about the Kipling poem .. I thought it was rather appropriate too .. and so was glad you enjoyed it ... and thanks for the thoughts re my Ma ... – have a great weekend .. Hilary

Catrien Ross said...

Hilary, thank you for this continuing journey. It's funny how 1066 is a date that has stuck in my mind all these years, along with Harold's sorry story.

I very much appreciated your sharing of your historic travels - you gave me another lovely journey this morning.

Thank you so much, and thank you, too, for your warm comment on my blog in Japan - Catrien Ross.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Catrien .. 1066 - just seems to be start of a new era in English history - the dark days before that, with the Romans in the distant past. I suppose Harold's sad demise also titillates the fancy of youngsters & thus memories.

Delighted to hear you enjoyed the journey across and round the Pevensey Levels.

Excellent - it's good to be a part of your blogging life as far afield as Japan - have a good week - Hilary

Wilma Ham said...

Oh Hilary, all that fighting blows my mind away. What on earth for? What a waste for everybody and it actually still is. When will all that nonsensical fighting stop.
Hmm, sorry to hear your mother is not doing well now the spring is coming. I hope you can get a chance to enjoy some of it. Hugs to you both, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. I know - but if they hadn't warred we wouldn't be here as is now. But absolutely today - now we know what happens, and how terrible death is .. we should definitely not kill for any reason at all.

Poor Mum .. can't seem to shrug off 'the cold' .. it is getting a little easier I think - but still not nice for her. Thanks for the hugs and I hope to get out and walk down from the Home more often and so see nature as it changes and the full summer blooms come out - wonderful.

Have a good week and thanks for coming over - Hilary xxoo

BK said...

Sending positive thoughts to your mother and hoping that she will be more comfortable. Hope both of you have a great week ahead.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK .. many thanks and much appreciated .. this cold weather which seems to be carrying on doesn't help -but nor does her condition on throwing off 'colds and chest infections' .. I hope she'll be able to get through it.

Thanks for your thoughts - you too have a good week ahead .. Hilary

Robin Easton said...

Dearest Hillary, I cannot get over not only your knowledge of history, but you way of sharing it. This is an amazing read. I don't know my history at all like you do. It's interesting to read this because it's so different from our history here in New Mexico. Much of the history here is centered around that Native Americans and Spanish.

I also just cannot get over the constant struggles that humans create for themselves. Although I LOVE living history (going to ruins and seeing the old buildings and reading about it), I am forever stumped as to the greed, the need to conquer, have more land, slaves, gold, whatever. It's as if humans have never taken time out to stop and think, time out to really ask themselves, "Why? What for?"

The way you laid this out is remarkable. Although I've read bits and pieces of this over the years in different books and stories, reading it like this is just astounding. The whole area is rich with history. I love to visit all the Native American ruins here in New Mexico. Some of the stories and pure magic and others are horrifyingly bloody.

I love history, even though I was terrible at in school (but then it was never taught like you teach it). But as an adult it fascinates me how other people lived, what motivated them, and so on. We humans are complex beings. I just hope that one day we are less violent.

I've missed commenting here more often, but have here several times to read. It's all fascinating. I also have just cherished your wise and SO loving comments on my blog. I read them and am just stunned by your insight, thoughtfulness and love. I often think of both you and your Mom and how truly brave you BOTH are. You give so much my dear friend, and every time I think of this I am moved to tears. You are a deeply precious soul. Much respect, love and HUGE hugs to you. Robin

PS: I loved your nature photos in your post about the garden bird watch. Just stunning.

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

5 awards,
enjoy some!
Best wishes!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Robin .. gosh what an amazing comment – THANK YOU SO MUCH. If you knew my school background .. then you’d really wonder .. couldn’t write and history was a nightmare .. amazing how things turn around & go upside down?! By the way I am absolutely sure that you know as much as I do .. and more about your American area .. and probably Australia ..

I think when you’re living amongst so much history we take it in – well I do anyway – that culture and tradition from days gone by. It was the thing I found difficult living in South Africa .. that - that 5,000+ years of history wasn’t apparent and I couldn’t draw on it .. and see it as we do all the time here in England.

Your history in New Mexico goes way back when .. but not so much is known I suspect as there were long periods when the land wasn’t occupied .. while ours here - we ‘built’ upon each tiny part as the epoch’s passed. I know there were the empires of the Aztecs and Incas .. and, and .... I’m sure they would have come north .. perhaps the climate wasn’t good – or perhaps they had a sufficiency and a happiness to exist without warring north .. – the Europeans certainly scuppered those civilisations .. and nearly the Native Americans ..

I think in the old days .. especially in Europe .. “we” were searching for supremacy, and each little kingdom, or Dukedom wanted to better themselves and so on from pre Egyptian times, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, various European sovereignties ..

Now we can communicate more easily and receive wisdom .. perhaps, and I hope, that we, as humans, can take time out to think and work a way forward living harmoniously together .. and as you say – why? And what for? Are we fighting as we lose loved ones along the way .. but I guess you want to protect your loved ones and your lands .. and if a tyrant is let loose .. well .. it’s not good – that’s for sure.

Thanks Robin .. we do have so much .. and just putting the thing into some sort of context, rather than the straight ways I learnt (or not!) history and couldn’t not get to grips with it .. seems to resonate with you and other readers .. and for that – I’m so pleased.

So right .. like you – I now am so interested in history .. and love the learning .. so as I post – I learn! I just put ideas in my head together and post?! My uncle was hugely encouraging – a very erudite man – so to get his approval of my rather eclectic way of presenting my posts was a real feather in my cap. I wish he was here now .. sad and his brother-in-law died on yesterday .. the last of my real uncles, my father’s brother .. he would have been 96 today.

My Mum can still recognise words .. if I use the iphone magnifier .. and I used it with the picture of Harold and the Bayeux Tapestry .. and she said Tapestry to me ..!! She can’t hear again now (because of the ‘cold’) .. but .. if I can use the iphone to give her an interest .. it all helps.

I can’t say how much your post today has given me .. times are tough down here .. for a variety of reasons .. Mum and I cope together .. and I try and learn from the interaction I get from you and other wise people .. I need lots of input from you and others .... so if the little I contribute is of benefit – then I am mighty grateful.

Thank you – it’s my Mum .. I just stand by her and am there to be with her .. an essential to her continuing challenging life .. am so grateful to hear that I contribute to your blog – that’s a real honour to read those words ... and at this difficult time . ... I am truly grateful to have your support and love .. and your amazing words .. much love to you too .. and all the best with your book etc .. and I’ll be over to your blog again .. with major hugs and love .. and thank yous .. Hilary

Also delighted to hear you loved the photos of the garden bird watch .. they were fun .. and I love posting appropriate pictures .. brings the post to life .. see you soon .. H

Liara Covert said...

The Bayeux Tapestry is indeed exquisite. That geographic area is written about extensively in the context of perceived history. You also remind people that as they can choose to stop and smell the roses, that is, take in the timeless beauty of nature wherever they are.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jingle -thanks for jingling by .. good to see you - all the best Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. the Tapestry is lovely isn't it? Thanks .. so much has happened and as you say if we stop .. we can visualise and see the changes over the centuries .. but the wonderful natural changes occurring naturally over time.

I love the phrase 'smell the roses' .. scent is such an important sense .. as well as sight - and again as you say .. stopping and taking in the timeless beauty .. just being with nature and life.

Thanks Liara .. good to see you - Hilary

Robin Easton said...

Dear Hilary, Your response here moved me to tears. You are SUCH a deeply good human being. It is what moves me about you. I am repeatedly humbled in your presence and so honored by your beautiful and thoughtful words. I too know about tough times, so know that you are not alone. You are in my thoughts, prayers and heart. You are giving so much right now and I also want you to know that someone out here sees that and is moved by it. You are truly a great and special soul. Much love to you and thank you for making my day brighter, warmer and more real. Much love and many hugs, Robin

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Robin .. it is I who is amazed by your resources and for you to bring me into your fold - is truly brilliant.

I am mighty grateful through knowing everyone here - who is so kind and thoughtful to me ..

Thank you for your care .. I really cannot express how much these comments mean to me .. so generous .. and if I make your day brighter, warmer and more real .. I actually cannot think of the right words .. I am at a loss ..

Fortunately life moves on in a positive manner .. and that's what I take out of life .. can't deal with negative - it's too draining. So you too - much love and hugs galore from here across the pond. With lots of thoughts of happy days and happy times .. Hilary