"Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 9"

Gateway, Amberley Castle.png

Gateway, Amberley Castle.



Sussex fish—A straw-blown village—A painter of Sussex light—A castle only in name—Parham's treasures—The Parham heronry—Storrington and the sagacious Jack Pudding—A Sussex audience.

Five miles to the north of Arundel by road (over the Arun at Houghton's ancient bridge, restored by the bishops of Chichester in the fifteenth century), and a few minutes by rail, is Amberley, the fishing metropolis of Sussex, where, every Sunday in the season, London anglers meet to drop their lines in friendly rivalry. "Amerley trout" (as Walton calls them) and Arundel mullet are the best of the Arun's treasures; and this reminds me of Fuller's tribute to Sussex fish, which may well be quoted in this watery neighbourhood: "Now, as this County is eminent for both Sea and River-fish, fish namely, an Arundel Mullet, a Chichester Lobster, a Shelsey Cockle, and an Amerly Trout; so Sussex aboundeth with more Carpes than any other of this Nation. And though not so great as Jovius reporteth to be found in the Lurian Lake in Italy, weighing more than fifty pounds, yet those generally of great and goodly proportion. I need not adde, that Physicians account the galls of Carpes, as also a stone in their heads, to be Medicinable; only I will observe that, because Jews will not eat Caviare made of Sturgeon (because coming from a fish wanting Scales, and therefore forbidden in the Levitical Law); therefore the Italians make greater profit of the Spaun of Carps, whereof they make a Red Caviare, well pleasing the Jews both in Palate and Conscience. All I will adde of Carps is this, that Ramus himself doth not so much redound in Dichotomies as they do; seeing no one bone is to be found in their body, which is not forked or divided into two parts at the end thereof."

Amberley proper, as distinguished from Amberley of the anglers, is a mile from the station and is built on a ridge. The castle is the extreme western end of this ridge, the north side of which descends precipitously to the marshy plain that extends as far as Pulborough. Standing on the castle one sees Pulborough church due north—height calling unto height. The castle is now a farm; indeed, all Amberley is a huge stockyard, smelling of straw and cattle. It is sheer Sussex—chalky soil, whitewashed cottages, huge waggons; and one of the best of Sussex painters, and, in his exquisite modest way, of all painters living, dwells in the heart of it—Edward Stott, who year after year shows London connoisseurs how the clear skin of the Sussex boy takes the evening light; and how the Southdown sheep drink at hill ponds beneath a violet sky; and that there is nothing more beautiful under the stars than a whitewashed cottage just when the lamp is lit.

Amberley has no right to lay claim to a castle, for the old ruins are not truly, as they seem, the remains of a castellated stronghold, but of a crenellated mansion. John Langton, Bishop of Chichester in the fourteenth century, was the first builder. Previously the Church lands here had been held very jealously, and in 1200 we find Bishop Gilbert de Leofard twice excommunicating, and as often absolving, the Earl of Arundel for poaching (as he termed it) in Houghton Forest. The Church lost Amberley in the sixteenth century. William Rede, who succeeded Langton to both house and see, wishing to feel secure in his home, craved permission to dig a moat around it and to render it both hostile and defensive. Hence its lion-like mien; but it has known no warfare, and the castle's mouldering walls now give what assistance they can in harbouring live stock. Twentieth-century sheds lean against fourteenth-century masonry; faggots are stored in the moat; lawn tennis is played in the courtyard; and black pigeons peep from the slits cut for arquebusiers.

Amberley Castle only once intrudes itself in history: Charles II., during his flight in 1651, spent a night there under the protection of Sir John Briscoe, as we saw in Chapter III.

In winter, if you ask an Amberley man where he dwells, he says, "Amberley, God help us." In summer he says, "Amberley—where would you live?"

From Amberley to Parham one keeps upon the narrow ridge for a mile or so, branching off then to the left. Parham's advance guard is seen all the way—a clump of fir trees, indicating that the soil there changes to sand.

For two possessions is Parham noted: a heronry in the park, and in the house a copy of Montaigne with Shakespeare's autograph in it. The house, a spreading Tudor mansion, is the seat of Lord Zouche, a descendant of the traveller, Robert Curzon, who wrote The Monasteries of the Levant, that long, leisurely, and fascinating narrative of travel. In addition to Montaigne, it enshrines a priceless collection of armour, of incunabula and Eastern MSS. Among the pictures are full lengths of Sir Philip Sidney and Lady Sidney, and that Penelope D'Arcy—one of Mr. Hardy's "Noble Dames"—who promised to marry three suitors in turn and did so. We see her again at Firle Place.

Amberley Castle.png

Amberley Castle.

A hiding hole for priests and other refugees is in the long gallery, access to it being gained through a window seat. There was hidden Charles Paget after the Babington conspiracy.

Parham Park has deer and a lake and an enchanted forest of sombre trees. On the highest ground in this forest is the clump of firs in which the famous herons build. The most interesting time to visit the heronry is in the breeding season, for then one sees the lank birds continually homing from the Amberley Wild Brooks with fishes in their bills and long legs streaming behind. The noise is tremendous, beyond all rookeries. Mr. Knox's Ornithological Rambles, from which I have already quoted freely, has this passage: "The herons at Parham assemble early in February, and then set about repairing their nests, but the trees are never entirely deserted during the winter months; a few birds, probably some of the more backward of the preceding season, roosting among their boughs every night. They commence laying early in March, and the greater part of the young birds are hatched during the early days of April. About the end of May they may be seen to flap out of their nests to the adjacent boughs, and bask for hours in the warm sunshine; but although now comparatively quiet during the day, they become clamorous for food as the evening approaches, and indeed for a long time appear to be more difficult to wean, and less able to shift for themselves, than most birds of a similar age. They may be observed, as late as August, still on the trees, screaming for food, and occasionally fed by their parents, who forage for them assiduously; indeed, these exertions, so far from being relaxed after the setting of the sun, appear to be redoubled during the night; for I have frequently disturbed herons when riding by moonlight among the low grounds near the river, where I have seldom seen them during the day, and several cottagers in the neighbourhood of Parham have assured me that their shrill cry may be heard at all hours of the night, during the summer season, as they fly to and fro overhead, on their passage between the heronry and the open country.
Amberley Castle, entrance to Churchyard.png

Amberley Castle, entrance to Churchyard.

"The history or genealogy of the progenitors of this colony is remarkable. They were originally brought from Coity Castle, in Wales, by Lord Leicester's steward, in James the First's time, to Penshurst, in Kent, the seat of Lord de Lisle, where their descendants continued for more than two hundred years; from thence they migrated to Michelgrove, about seventy miles from Penshurst and eight from Parham; here they remained for nearly twenty years, until the proprietor of the estate disposed of it to the late Duke of Norfolk, who, having purchased it, not as a residence, but with the view of increasing the local property in the neighbourhood of Arundel, pulled down the house, and felled one or two of the trees on which the herons had constructed their nests. The migration commenced immediately, but appears to have been gradual; for three seasons elapsed before all the members of the heronry had found their way over the Downs to their new quarters in the fir-woods of Parham. This occurred about seventeen years ago [written c. 1848]."

Sussex, says Mr. Borrer, author of The Birds of Sussex, has two other large heronries—at Windmill Hill Place, near Hailsham, and Brede, near Winchelsea—and some smaller ones, one being at Molecomb, above Goodwood.

Betsy's Oak in Parham Park is said to be so called because Queen Elizabeth sat beneath it. But another and more probable legend calls it Bates's Oak, after Bates, an archer at Agincourt in the retinue of the Earl of Arundel (and in Henry V.). Good Queen Bess, however, dined in the hall of Parham House in 1592. At Northiam, in East Sussex, we shall come (not to be utterly baulked) to a tree under which she truly did sit and dine too.

Beyond Parham, less than two miles to the east, is Storrington, a quiet Sussex village far from the rail and the noise of the world, with the Downs within hail, and fine sparsely-inhabited country between them and it to wander in. The church is largely modern. I find the following sententious paragraph in the county paper for 1792:—"This is an age of Sights and polite entertainment in the country as well as in the city.—The little town of Storrington has lately been visited by a Company of Comedians,—a Mountebank Doctor,—and a Puppet Show. One day the Doctor's Jack Pudding finding the shillings come in but slowly, exclaimed to his Master, 'Gad, Sir, it is not worth our while to stay here any longer, players have got all the gold, we all the silver, and Punch all the copper, so, like sagacious locusts, let us migrate from the place we helped to impoverish."
Amberley Church.png

Amberley Church

This reminds me that I saw recently at Petworth, whither we are now moving, a travelling circus whose programme included a comic interlude that cannot have received the slightest modification since it was first planned, perhaps hundreds of years ago. It was sheer essential elemental horse-play straight from Bartholomew Fair, and the audience received it with rapture that was vouchsafed to nothing else. The story would be too long to tell; but briefly, it was a dumb show representation of the visit of a guest (the clown) to a wife, unknown to her husband. The scenery consisted of a table, a large chest, a heap of straw and a huge barrel. The fun consisted in the clown, armed with a bladder on a string, hiding in the barrel, from which he would spring up and deliver a sounding drub upon the head of whatever other character—husband or policeman—might be passing, to their complete perplexity. They were, of course, incapable of learning anything from experience. At other times he hid himself or others in the straw, in the chest, or under the table. When, in a country district such as this, one hears the laughter that greets so venerable a piece of pantomime, one is surprised that circus owners think it worth while to secure novelties at all. The primitive taste of West Sussex, at any rate, cannot require them.

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