Happy New Year 2016 – Ends and Beginnings

Tanks move into Balsdean
Tanks move into Balsdean, 1942. Photo: Holland-Mercer collection.

Another year of my Newmarket Farm project has ended – lots of achievements, and even more planned to be done! A big thank you to all who have helped make it possible. You know who you are!! The picture above marks both the end of Newmarket Farm, birth place of my mother, and of the Balsdean Farm for which her family worked in 1942. Three years later not a building was left standing. This coming year I plan to find out more about the allied training exercises whose ordnance remains we excavated from the demolition rubble of Newmarket Farm back in 2013.

Project beginnings and achievements

Watercolour of Newmarket Farm, painted from memory by Desmond (Bob) Phipps
Watercolour of Newmarket Farm, painted from memory by Desmond (Bob) Phipps

The project started five years ago in 2010 when my mother met the Phipps family at a local history event in Woodingdean. Bob Phipps had painted this picture of Newmarket Farm from his memories of having lived there as a child and was asking if anyone recognised it. My mother got excited when she saw it for she had been born there. So it was that I was asked to research its history. Little did I know…

Examining Newmarket Farm. Photo John Funnel BHAS
Examining Newmarket Farm. Photo John Funnel BHAS.

Very quickly my researches grew and I soon found myself writing the draft of a book about its history, the text of which is given above. Then a meeting with Natural England’s Castle Hill National Nature Reserve management in 2012 led to an invitation for an archaeological excavation, which which has been chronicled in this blog.

Digging W side of Cottage
Day 1. Digging W side of Cottage.

To follow the story a good place to start might be with Distant Memories…. It is a long story which still has far to go, especially since I had no previous excavation experience, but with lots of good support and advice from Greg Chuter (County Archaeologist), John Funnel (Brighton and Hove Archaeology Society), and a wonderful team of volunteer diggers we did a pretty good job of excavating the foundations of the cottage in 2013, though we didn’t finish till February 2014! I gave 2 well attended guided tours in November 2013. For a review of progress at the end of the dig you might like to read the 2014 post, Update on Past, Present and Future for Newmarket Farm Dig.

Talks and Events

View SE over site from half-way up aerial
View SE over site from half-way up aerial.

In 2014 I gave three well received local talks about the dig and the local history of the area I had researched. However, I also discovered that the post-excavation processing of my finds and the writing of an excavation report was a far bigger job than anticipated. I had struggled to manage formal context recording on site, and to retrospectively analyse each aspect of the dig proved challenging. I therefore signed myself up to a number of archaeological training courses run by the Sussex School of Archaeology. I also became involved in an oral history project about nearby Stanmer Park, which helped in my research of Newmarket Farm, for the Pelham family had a considerable influence on the area.

Newmarket Farm Dig Stall, Michelham Priory WW2
Newmarket Farm Dig Stall, Michelham Priory, WW2 Event

In 2015 I had stalls at four historical and archaeological events, gave one well received talk, and it saw the all important start of the processing of my finds. Four volunteer pot washing sessions were organised. Hilary Orange of both Archaeology South-East, the Whitehawk Camp Community Archaeology Project, and the Post Medieval Archaeology Society, acted as mentor, along with much appreciated practical assistance from Lisa Jayne Fisher of Archaeology Services Lewes, Archaeology South-East’s finds processing unit, Brighton Museum, the Sussex Archaeology Society at Michelham Priory, and the Brighton and Hove Archaeology Society.

Woodingdean WW1 Edwardian Origins Talk. Photo, Holland-Mercer Collection.
Woodingdean WW1 Edwardian Origins Talk, July 2014. Photo, Holland-Mercer Collection.
WW2 & Woodingdean Downs
WW2 & Woodingdean Downs Talk, May 2015. Painting by Douglas Holland.

The two most recent talks were for the Woodingdean commemorations of the start of WW1 in July 2014, and V.E. day in May 2015. These were my most ambitious talks yet, for they included proper history, as well as video and sound clips edited by myself.

Future Plans

Front Cover of last draft of book, 2014.
Front Cover of last draft of book, 2014. Painting by Desmond (Bob) Phipps.

My researches for these talks has led me to realise I have been assembling new material enough for not one, but three books, each of interest to different audiences.

The first book would be of the pre-Victorian origins of the Newmarket Farm as a result of the enclosure of the medieval field system of Kingston in 1830, through to the breaking up of the Kingston Estate at the end of the Edwardian period. It would be focused largely on the changes in agricultural practice and customs during this period. It would also deal with the challenges of Victorian rural life, which were hard enough for an agricultural labourer – which all those who had lived in Newmarket Farm were – but life for a family on an exposed and remote outfarm would have been about as hard as can be imagined.

A second book would be centred on the tragic murder of Newmarket Farm tenant David Baldy by his former lodger Martin Brown, who was on the run from the Brighton police in 1868. This would encompass Victorian slum life in Brighton, the rural country life of Kingston Near Lewes at this time, and the judicial system. There was a huge huge amount of interest in the murder so an unprecedented amount of detail can be written of the people who lived in the village at this time.

The last book of the trilogy would be of its twentieth century, showing the effects of industrialisation, urbanisation and two world wars on the lives of those who lived in Newmarket Farm. With its change of ownership and management from Kingston to Balsdean and the advent of the nearby Woodingdean (which had an increasing number and range of shops from the 1920’s), these all had a big influence on its outlook and influences. A significant part of this book would be on the final demise of both the Newmarket and Balsdean Farms during the Second World War. And because this last book is planned to cover its most recent history, this will be the first book to be researched, whilst there are still people alive able (and willing) to share their precious memories.

2013 Archaeological Dig Report

Looking NW at dig site & Chris from SeSurveying doing 3d-laser scan
Looking NW at dig site & Chris from SeSurveying doing 3d-laser scan.

Meanwhile, I still have a dig report to write. My most recent excuse is that I wished to include the results from the 3d laser scan of the site which was created by SeSurveying. The only computer I had access to, which was capable of processing the results, was that of my mother. Which meant I needed to create synchronisation possibilities between the files on my Ubuntu linux based laptop and Windows on my mother’s pc. My laptop had run out of space on its hard drive. My father has developed demetia which makes my time at my parents not as productive as it used to be, which doesn’t help. Fortunately, as an early Christmas present I now have a laptop powerful enough to view, edit and store the results. So I am now starting the steep learning curve of learning how to use 3d image manipulation software. The free cut-down version of the native Faro Scene software has limited capabilities. Fortunately I have discovered that Scene lt can export a point cloud table of the results of our three laser scans of the site, which should be able to be imported into and edited by the Open Source software Meshlab. Fingers crossed! I should then be able to produce an accurate grid plan in three-dimensions of the site on which I can delineate the contexts which I have previously roughly drawn on a 2-d plan using the SVG drawing application, Inkscape. I have also made a slow start cleaning and quantifying our numerous finds stored in my parents’ garage – which until recently I had to view by torchlight since the garage’s elderly electricity supply had died.

Because of all this the dig report is several months away from completion. I therefore no longer have plans to return to the Newmarket Farm site for further excavation next year. Nevertheless, to keep my myself in practice, for the past two years I have been a volunteer digger at the Bishopstone Tidemills dig run by Luke Barber of the Sussex Archaeological Society. It is of a similar period to the Newmarket Farm so I feel very much at home there. Most importantly, I can have all the fun of digging, without any responsibility for writing it up!

To summarise; I have achieved lots, still have lots to do, have received lots of generous help and support getting stuff done, and (mostly) have had great fun doing it! More importantly I am very much looking forward to making further progress – writing up my report, and researching a WW2 Balsdean talk for the Sussex Military History Society in November. Happy New Year!

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