Friday, 13 April 2012

The Burphams and Tansy

Downland is littered with evidence of prior habitation, from great Iron Age forts like that at Cissbury to smaller communities deserted in more modern history. There are a number of deserted medieval villages (DMVs as us historians call them), scattered across the landscape from the Manhood peninsula right across to the Kent border.

Burpham is one such site, but is unusual in that the community was apparently abandoned and moved lock stock and barrel a short distance north. In medieval times trade and profitability governed the success of a community and if a village was not profitable it was simply abandoned. This process may have been accelerated by famine, plague or in the case of a number of coastal communities they were simply washed away, or became victims of longshore drift. Sometimes the landscape was changed when landowners converted to sheep farming and simply razed the dwellings to the ground. It is erroneous to assume that all abandoned communities are as a result of the Black Death, as is often said, the circumstance is often far more complex.

Burpham's name tells us that it was one of King Alfred's Saxon burghs, and therefore must have been considered important at the time, and was fortified, probably to protect a notable crossing of the Arun, in whose crook it nestles.

The subsequent construction of a castle at Arundel, strongly fortified the area and it is generally understood that this checked further development at Burpham, which became a farming community and moved away from the fortified site at around this time. The mound and associated lumps and bumps of this former community remain to be seen just south of the current village, which is a real gem in the Downland landscape.

One of Burpham's most famous residents was the Victorian apiarist and local vicar Tickner Edwardes. who wrote several volumes on his subject, many of which fetch high prices even today. He also wrote 'Tansy', a story of a Downland romance, which was very popular in it's day and was subsequently made into a silent  film by Cecil Hepworth one of the British film industry's earliest directors. Hepworth eventually went bankrupt, and most of his film was melted down for the valuable silver nitrate to pay off his debts. A copy of 'Tansy' fortunately survived this disaster and is at the British Film Institute.

'Tansy' was filmed around Burpham, and used several local people as incidental characters. Because of the aforementioned lack of development of the area about Burpham many of the locations used are extant, and can be seen today.

In the book 'Sussex Pilgrimages', written by the great travel writer RP Hopkins, at about the same time as the film was released, a whole chapter is dedicated to a walk written by local resident Betty Ellis. Designed to take in the locations of the film and the book, it seems the walk, which is of around 12 miles is still possible today. In my next piece I intend to attempt to follow Betty's instructions, and recreate the walk.

Of special interest to me, is the fact that as long ago as the early 1920s she was complaining about 'arguments over access and rights of way at Amberley Castle, and although I have walked extensively in the area I am not familiar with the specific right of way she is referring to, but I look forward to seeing what became of it.

The reason I have chosen to wrote about Burpham is to follow from the earlier post this week To Build or Not to Build  which discusses the impact and short-termism of current environmental policies. Burpham is neither accessible, nor on any major road. In fact, it's at the end of the road. There's not a great deal of parking, and bike, boat or foot are the best and easiest ways to get there. This doesn't prevent it from being a popular place to visit, and a real gem of this part of the world. The walk, as most of the places I describe here, with one or two exceptions can be, and should be, reached by public transport.

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