Open main menu
Chanctonbury Ring.png

Chanctonbury Ring.



Chanctonbury Ring—The planter of the beeches—The Gorings—Thomas Fuller on the Three Shirleys—Ashington's chief—Warminghurst and the phantasm—Washington—An expensive mug of beer—Findon—A champion pluralist—Cissbury—John Selden's wit and wisdom—Thomas à Becket's figs—Worthing's precious climate—Sompting church.

For nothing within its confines is Steyning so famous as for the hill which rises to the south-west of it—Chanctonbury Ring. Other of the South Downs are higher, other are more commanding: Wolstonbury, for example, standing forward from the line, makes a bolder show, and Firle Beacon daunts the sky with a braver point; but when one thinks of the South Downs as a whole it is Chanctonbury that leaps first to the inward eye. Chanctonbury, when all is said, is the monarch of the range.

The words of the Sussex enthusiast, refusing an invitation to spend a summer abroad, express the feeling of many of his countrymen:—

For howsoever fair the land,
  The time would surely be
That brought our Wealden blackbird's note
  Across the waves to me.

And howsoever strong the door,
  'Twould never keep at bay
The thought of Fulking's violets,
  The scent of Holmbush hay.

And ever when the day was done,
  And all the sky was still,
How I should miss the climbing moon
  O'er Chanctonbury's hill!

It is Chanctonbury's crown of beeches that lifts it above the other hills. Uncrowned it would be no more noticeable than Fulking Beacon or a score of others; but its dark grove can be seen for many miles. In Wiston House, under the hill, the seat of the Goring family, to whom belong the hill and a large part of the country that it dominates, is an old painting of Chanctonbury before the woods were made, bare as the barest, without either beech or juniper, and the eye does not notice it until all else in the picture has been examined. The planter of Chanctonbury's Ring, in 1760, was Mr. Charles Goring of Wiston, who wrote in extreme old age in 1828 the following lines:—

How oft around thy Ring, sweet Hill,
  A Boy, I used to play,
And form my plans to plant thy top
  On some auspicious day.
How oft among thy broken turf
  With what delight I trod,

With what delight I placed those twigs
  Beneath thy maiden sod.
And then an almost hopeless wish
  Would creep within my breast,
Oh! could I live to see thy top
  In all its beauty dress'd.
That time's arrived; I've had my wish,
  And lived to eighty-five;
I'll thank my God who gave such grace
  As long as e'er I live.
Still when the morning Sun in Spring,
  Whilst I enjoy my sight,
Shall gild thy new-clothed Beech and sides,
  I'll view thee with delight.

Most of the trees on the side of Chanctonbury and its neighbours were self-sown, children of the clumps which Mr. Goring planted. I might add that Mr. Charles Goring was born in 1743, and his son, the present Rev. John Goring, in 1823, when his father was eighty; so that the two lives cover a period of one hundred and sixty years—true Sussex longevity.

Wiston House (pronounced Wisson) is a grey Tudor building in the midst of a wide park, immediately under the hill. The lofty hall, dating from Elizabeth's reign, is as it was; much of the remainder of the house was restored in the last century. The park has deer and a lake. The Goring family acquired Wiston by marriage with the Faggs, and a superb portrait of Sir John Fagg, in the manner of Vandyck with a fine flavour of Velasquez, is one of the treasures of the house.

Before the Faggs came the Shirleys, a family chiefly famous for the three wonderful brothers, Anthony, Robert, and Thomas.

Fuller, in the Worthies, gives them full space indeed considering that none was interested in the Church. I cannot do better than quote him:—"SIR ANTHONY SHIRLEY, second Son to Sir Thomas, set forth from Plimouth, May the 21st, 1596, in a Ship called the Bevis of Southampton, attended with six lesser vessels. His design for Saint Thome was violently diverted by the contagion they found on the South Coast of Africa, where the rain did stink as it fell down from the heavens, and within six hours did turn into magots. This made him turn his course to America, where he took and kept the city of St. Jago two days and nights, with two hundred and eighty men (whereof eighty were wounded in the service), against three thousand Portugalls.

"Hence he made for the Isle of Fuego, in the midst whereof a Mountaine, Ætna-like, always burning; and the wind did drive such a shower of ashes upon them, that one might have wrote his name with his finger on the upper deck. However, in this fiery Island, they furnished themselves with good water, which they much wanted.

"Hence he sailed to the Island of Margarita, which to him did not answer its name, not finding here the Perl Dredgers which he expected. Nor was his gaine considerable in taking the Town of Saint Martha, the Isle and chief town of Jamaica, whence he sailed more than thirty leagues up the river Rio-dolci, where he met with great extremity.

"At last, being diseased in person, distressed for victuals, and deserted by all his other ships, he made by New-found-land to England, where he arrived June 15, 1597. Now although some behold his voyage, begun with more courage then counsel, carried on with more valour then advice, and coming off with more honour than profit to himself or the nation (the Spaniard being rather frighted then harmed, rather braved then frighted therewith); yet unpartial judgments, who measure not worth by success, justly allow it a prime place amongst the probable (though not prosperous) English Adventures.

"SIR ROBERT SHIRLEY, youngest Son to Sir Thomas, was, by his Brother Anthony, entred in the Persian Court. Here he performed great Service against the Turkes, and shewed the difference betwixt Persian and English Valour; the latter having therein as much Courage, and more Mercy, giving Quarter to Captives who craved it, and performing Life to those to whom he promised it. These his Actions drew the Envie of the Persian Lords, and Love of the Ladies, amongst whom one (reputed a Kins-man to the great Sophy) after some Opposition, was married unto him. She had more of Ebony than Ivory in her Complexion; yet amiable enough, and very valiant, a quality considerable in that Sex in those Countries. With her he came over to England, and lived many years therein. He much affected to appear in forreign Vestes; and, as if his Clothes were his limbs, accounted himself never ready till he had something of the Persian Habit about him.

"At last a Contest happening betwixt him and the Persian Ambassadour (to whom some reported Sir Robert gave a Box on the Ear) the King sent them both into Persia, there mutually to impeach one another, and joyned Doctor Gough (a Senior Fellow of Trinity colledge in Cambridge) in commission with Sir Robert. In this Voyage (as I am informed) both died on the Seas, before the controverted difference was ever heard in the Court of Persia, about the beginning of the Reign of King Charles.

"Sir THOMAS SHIRLEY, I name him the last (though the eldest Son of his Father) because last appearing in the world, men's Activity not always observing the method of their Register. As the Trophies of Miltiades would not suffer Themistocles to sleep; so the Atchievements of his two younger brethren gave an Alarum unto his spirit. He was ashamed to see them worne like Flowers 'in the Breasts and Bosomes of forreign Princes, whilst he himself withered upon the stalk he grew on'. This made him leave his aged Father and fair Inheritance in this County, and to undertake Sea Voyages into forreign parts, to the great honour of his Nation, but small inriching of himself; so that he might say to his Son, as Æneas to Æscanius:—

     'Disce, puer, Virtutem ex me verumque Laborem,
     Fortunam ex aliis.'

     'Virtue and Labour learn from me thy Father,
     As for Success, Child, learn from others rather.'

"As to the generall performance of these three brethren, I know the Affidavit of a Poet carrieth but a small credit in the court of History; and the Comedy made of them is but a friendly foe to their Memory, as suspected more accomodated to please the present spectators, then inform posterity. However, as the belief of Mitio (when an Inventory of his adopted Sons misdemeanours was brought unto him) embraced a middle and moderate way, nec omnia credere nec nihil, neither to believe all things nor nothing of what was told him: so in the list of their Atchievements we may safely pitch on the same proportion, and, when abatement is made for poeticall embelishments, the remainder will speak them Worthies in their generations."—Such were the three Shirleys.

Wiston church, which shelters under the eastern wall of the house, almost leaning against it, has some interesting tombs.

Walking west from Wiston we come to the tiny hamlet of Buncton, one of the oldest settlements in Sussex, a happy hunting ground for excavators in search of Roman remains, and possessing in Buncton chapel a quaint little Norman edifice. The word Buncton is a sign of modern carelessness for beautiful words: the original Saxon form was "Biohchandoune," which is charming.

Buncton belongs to Ashington, two miles to the north-west on the Worthing road, a quiet village with a fifteenth-century church (a mere child compared with Buncton Chapel) and a famous loss. The loss is tragic, being no less than that of the parish register containing a full and complete account, by Ashington's best scribe, of a visit of Good Queen Bess to the village in 1591. A destroyed church may be built again, but who shall restore the parish register? The book, however, is perhaps still in existence, for it was deliberately stolen, early in the eighteenth century, by a thief who laid his plans as carefully as did Colonel Blood in his attack on the regalia, abstracting the volume from a cupboard in the rectory, through a hole which he made in the outside wall. No interest in the progress of Queen Elizabeth prompted him: the register was taken during the hearing of a law suit in order that its damning evidence might not be forthcoming.

While at Ashington we ought to see Warminghurst, only a mile distant, once the abode of the Shelleys, and later of William Penn, who bought the great house in 1676. One of his infant children is buried at Coolham, close by, where he attended the Quakers' meeting and where services are still held. The meeting-house was built of timber from one of Penn's ships.

A later owner than Penn, James Butler, rebuilt Warminghurst and converted a large portion of the estate into a deer park; but it was thrown back into farm land by one of the Dukes of Norfolk, while the house was destroyed, the deer exiled, and the lake drained. Perhaps it was time that the house came down, for in the interim it had been haunted; the ghost being that of the owner of the property, who one day, although far distant, was seen at Warminghurst by two persons and afterwards was found to have died at the time of his appearance. Warminghurst in those days of park and deer, lake and timber (it had a chestnut two hundred and seventy years old), might well be the first spot to which an enfranchised spirit winged its way.

From Warminghurst is a road due south, over high sandy heaths, to Washington, which, unassuming as it is, may be called the capital of a large district of West Sussex that is unprovided with a railway. Steyning, five miles to the east, Amberley, seven miles to the west, and West Worthing, eight miles to the south, on the other side of the Downs, are the nearest stations. In the midst of this thinly populated area stands Washington, at the foot of the mountain pass that leads to Findon, Worthing and the sea. It was once a Saxon settlement (Wasa inga tun, town of the sons of Wasa); it is now derelict, memorable only as a baiting place for man and beast. But there are few better spots in the country for a modest contented man to live and keep a horse. Rents are low, turfed hills are near, and there is good hunting.

The church, which was restored about fifty years ago, but retains its Tudor tower, stands above the village. In 1866 three thousand pennies of the reign of Edward the Confessor and Harold were turned up by a plough in this parish, and, says Mr. Lower, were held so cheaply by their finders that half a pint measure of them was offered at the inn by one man in exchange for a quart of beer. Possibly Mr. Hilaire Belloc would not think the price excessive, for I find him writing, in a "Sussex Drinking Song":

      They sell good beer at Haslemere
        And under Guildford Hill;
      At little Cowfold, as I've been told,
        A beggar may drink his fill.
      There is a good brew in Amberley too,
        And by the Bridge also;
      But the swipes they take in at the Washington Inn
        Is the very best beer I know.

The white road to Worthing from Washington first climbs the hills and then descends steadily to the sea. The first village is Findon, three miles distant, but one passes on the way two large houses, Highden and Muntham. Muntham, which was originally a shooting box of Viscount Montagu, lord of Cowdray, was rebuilt in the nineteenth century by an eccentric traveller in the East, named Frankland, a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, who, settling at home again, gave up his time to collecting mechanical appliances.

Findon is a pleasant little village at the bottom of the valley, the home of the principal Sussex training stable, which has its galloping course under Cissbury. Training stables may be found in many parts of the Downs, but the Sussex turf has not played the same part in the making of race horses as that of Hampshire and Berkshire.



Lady Butler painted the background of her picture of Balaclava at Findon, the neighbourhood of which curiously resembles in configuration the Russian battlefield.

The rector of Findon in 1276, Galfridus de Aspall, seems to have brought the art of pluralising to a finer point than most. In addition to being rector of Findon, he had, Mr. Lower tells us, a benefice in London, two in the diocese of Lincoln, one in Rochester, one in Hereford, one in Coventry, one in Salisbury, and seven in Norwich. He was also Canon of St. Paul's and Master of St. Leonard's Hospital at York.

Above Findon on the south-east rises Cissbury, one of the finest of the South Downs, but, by reason of its inland position, less noticeable than the hills on the line. There have been many conjectures as to its history. The Romans may have used it for military purposes, as certainly they did for the pacific cultivation of the grape, distinct terraces as of a vineyard being still visible; traces of a factory of flint arrow heads have been found (giving it the ugly name of the "Flint Sheffield"); while Cissa, lord of Chichester, may have had a bury or fort there. Mr. Lower's theory is that the earthworks on the summit, whatever their later function, were originally religious, and probably druidical.

Salvington (a little village which is gained by leaving the main road two miles beyond Cissbury and bearing to the west) is distinguished as the birthplace, in 1584, of one who was considered by Hugo Grotius to be the glory of the English nation—John Selden. Nowadays, when we choose our glories among other classes of men than jurists and wits, it is more than possible for even cultured persons who are interested in books to go through life very happily without knowledge at all of this great man, the friend of great men and the writer best endowed with common sense of any of his day. From Selden's Table Talk I take a few passages on the homelier side, to be read at Salvington:—


Old Friends are best. King James used to call for his old Shoes; they were easiest for his Feet.


Some men make it a Case of Conscience, whether a Man may have a Pigeon-house, because his Pigeons eat other Folks' Corn. But there is no such thing as Conscience in the Business; the Matter is, whether he be a Man of such Quality, that the State allows him to have a Dove-house; if so, there's an end of the business; his Pigeons have a right to eat where they please themselves.


Charity to Strangers is enjoin'd in the Text. By Strangers is there understood those that are not of our own Kin, Strangers to your Blood; not those you cannot tell whence they come; that is, be charitable to your Neighbours whom you know to be honest poor People.


Ceremony keeps up all things: 'Tis like a Penny-Glass to a rich Spirit, or some excellent Water; without it the Water were spilt, the Spirit lost.

Of all people Ladies have no reason to cry down Ceremony, for they take themselves slighted without it. And were they not used with Ceremony, with Compliments and Addresses, with Legs and Kissing of Hands, they were the pitifullest Creatures in the World. But yet methinks to kiss their Hands after their Lips, as some do, is like little Boys, that after they eat the apple, fall to the Paring, out of a Love they have to the Apple.


Religion is like the Fashion: one Man wears his Doublet slashed, another laced, another plain; but every Man has a Doublet. So every man has his Religion. We differ about Trimming.

Alteration of Religion is dangerous, because we know not where it will stay: 'tis like a Millstone that lies upon the top of a pairof Stairs; 'tis hard to remove it, but if once it be thrust off the first Stair, it never stays till it comes to the bottom.

We look after Religion as the Butcher did after his Knife, when he had it in his Mouth.


Nature must be the ground-work of Wit and Art; otherwise whatever is done will prove but Jack-pudding's work.


You shall see a Monkey sometime, that has been playing up and down the Garden, at length leap up to the top of the Wall, but his Clog hangs a great way below on this side: the Bishop's Wife is like that Monkey's Clog; himself is got up very high, takes place of the Temporal Barons, but his Wife comes a great way behind.

Selden's father was a small farmer who played the fiddle well. The boy is said at the age of ten to have carved over the door a Latin distich, which, being translated, runs:—

Walk in and welcome, honest friend; repose.
Thief, get thee gone! to thee I'll not unclose.

Between Salvington and Worthing lies Tarring, noted for its fig gardens. It is a fond belief that Thomas à Becket planted the original trees from which the present Tarring figs are descended; and there is one tree still in existence which tradition asserts was set in the earth by his own hand. Whether this is possible I am not sufficiently an arboriculturist to say; but Becket certainly sojourned often in the Archbishop of Canterbury's palace in the village. The larger part of the present fig garden dates from 1745. I have seen it stated that during the season a little band of becca ficos fly over from Italy to taste the fruit, disappearing when it is gathered; but a Sussex ornithologist tells me that this is only a pretty story.

The fig gardens are perhaps sufficient indication that the climate of this part of the country is very gentle. It is indeed unique in mildness. There is a little strip of land between the sea and the hills whose climatic conditions approximate to those of the Riviera: hence, in addition to the success of the Tarring fig gardens, Worthing's fame for tomatoes and other fruit. I cannot say when the tomato first came to the English

Lancing. table, but the first that I ever saw was at Worthing, and Worthing is now the centre of the tomato-growing industry. Miles of glass houses stretch on either side of the town.

Worthing (like Brighton and Bognor) owed its beginning as a health resort to the house of Guelph, the visit of the Princess Amelia in 1799 having added a cachet, previously lacking, to its invigorating character. But, unlike Brighton, neither Worthing nor Bognor has succeeded in becoming quite indispensable. Brighton has the advantage not only of being nearer London but also nearer the hills. One must walk for some distance from Worthing before the lonely highland district between Cissbury and Lancing Clump is gained, whereas Brighton is partly built upon the Downs and has her little Dyke Railway to boot. But the visitor to Worthing who, surfeited of sea and parade, makes for the hill country, knows a solitude as profound as anything that Brighton's heights can give him.

Worthing has at least two literary associations. It was there that that most agreeable comedy The Importance of Being Earnest was written: the town even gave its name to the principal character—John Worthing; and it was there that Mr. Henley lived while the lyrics in Hawthorn and Lavender were coming to him. The beautiful dedication to the book is dated "Worthing, July 31, 1901."

Ask me not how they came,
These songs of love and death,
These dreams of a futile stage,
These thumb-nails seen in the street:
Ask me not how nor why,
But take them for your own,
Dear Wife of twenty years,
Knowing—O, who so well?—
You it was made the man
That made these songs of love,
Death, and the trivial rest:
So that, your love elsewhere,
These songs, or bad or good—
How should they ever have been?

Of the villages to the west we have caught glimpses in an earlier chapter—Goring, Angmering, Ferring, and so forth; to the north and east are Broadwater, Sompting and Lancing. Broadwater is perhaps a shade too near Worthing to be interesting, but Sompting, lying under the Downs, is unspoiled, with its fascinating church among the elms and rocks. The church (of which Mr. Griggs has made an exquisite drawing) was built nearly eight hundred years ago. Within are some curious fragments of sculpture, and a tomb which Mr. Lower considered to belong to Richard Bury, Bishop of Chichester in the reign of Henry VIII. East of Sompting lie the two Lancings, North Lancing on the hill, South Lancing on the coast. East of North Lancing, the true village, stands Lancing College, high above the river, with its imposing chapel, a landmark in the valley of the Adur and far out to sea.