Progress Review

The front cover of a draft copy of my (and my mum's) book
The front cover of a draft copy of my (and my mum’s) book

The most popular question I am asked about my research is “am I writing a book” (and “when will it be published”)? An early draft of the book is already available to read on this website (though without images, for I have yet to request copyright approvals for them all). However a publication date is quite a while away.

After working on how to retell my recent WW2 Balsdean talk for this blog, I have a long awaited archaeological dig report to produce. The dig was three years ago and so is long overdue. Fortunately the delay has enabled me to obtain a much clearer idea of what may be involved, including how to best to record the large number of finds which occupy a large part of parent’s garage. Being new to archaeology I have no idea how long it will all take. All I can say at present is that I hope to have finished well before Christmas!

Once the report has been published there is the possibility of returning back to the Newmarket Farm site for further digging. We did an excellent job uncovering the site of the cottage and it’s front yard. It would be nice to formally confirm the locations of all the other structures on site. My aspiration is to construct a 3d digital model of the site. I hope to discover how to create an accurate model based on the only photograph discovered (as yet) and a ground plan, partly or wholly based on archaeological excavation.

I also wish to survey and record as much of the 19th century to WW2 archaeology as I can in the Kingston, Balsdean, Woodingdean area. To this end I have started teaching myself how record and share geographic and other information using the Open Source program Qgis. Learning to record archaeological features in the field using more traditional methods would also be extremely useful.

Meanwhile, there is my unfinished book. This has now (at least in my mind) become four books, for I feel that I have material enough (with more research) for four different audiences. The first to be written is an introductory overview to a subsequent trilogy covering different aspects of the Newmarket Farm’s history.

The first has already been drafted. It is an overview of the lives, places and events which have been associated with the remote South Downs labourers’ cottage and barns known as Newmarket Farm, from shortly before its construction in 1830 to shortly after its destruction in 1942. I hope to find a commercial publisher for it – though there may be issues associated with finding the money to pay for copyright permissions of images, etc. Fortunately these are issues I don’t have to worry about for a year or two.

The first (historically) of the subsequent trilogy is planned to detail the origins of the Newmarket Farm. It was constructed as an outfarm, as part of the many changes which would have been associated with the enclosure of Kingston Near Lewes in 1830. The book would aim to relate the particularities of the agricultural parish of Kingston to the wider issues associated with the agricultural ‘improvements’ of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its emphasis would be social, environmental and agricultural. A second and equally important part of its research would be an attempt to understand the social aspects (in its widest sense) of an agricultural labourer’s life in such a geographically isolated location. Whilst I am aware of many books written about the ‘agricultural revolution’, I have yet to find a book which explores the social consequences of living and working on a remote outfarm.

The next book (historically) is intended to be centred around the murder which occurred at the Newmarket Farm in 1868. The murderer, Martin Brown, was from the slums of Brighton. The murdered agricultural labouring tenant of Newmarket Farm, David Baldy, was born and bred in rural Falmer. This tragic event provides an insight into the life and lives of nineteenth century poverty, both rural and urban. Surprisingly, though their lives were very different, the quality of life of the Brighton slum children was not necessarily worse than those of their country cousins. Average life expectancy in rural Kingston Near Lewes in the mid-nineteenth century was just 25, more or less exactly the same as the worst industrial cities in Britain. Also, because it was a murder, the newspapers wrote lengthy columns about who was doing what, where, and when. This kind of information is not normally available for the rural poor. A wonderful (though tragic) opportunity to look into everyday lives in extraordinary circumstances. And the murder story and subsequent police chase makes for a ripping yarn! Who wouldn’t want to read such a book.

The final book in the trilogy (though not necessarily the last to be written) starts with the events leading to the sale of the Newmarket Farm to the new owner of the neighbouring Balsdean Farm, just after WW1. The socio-economic factors which led to the ‘Great War’ also played a hugely significant role in changes of land use and ownership from the late Edwardian period. These also continued on during the inter-war years and played a huge role in the arguments for and against the creation of a series of South Down military training areas, resulting in the destruction of the Newmarket Farm – birthplace of my mother. This volume is essentially a description of the life and events, in war and peace, on a block of the South Downs between Brighton and Lewes. It would therefore also include the huge military reviews or mock battles which took place across these iconic downs, starting from the reign of the Prince Regent and ending in Edwardian times.

So, four books centred around a remote farm labourers’ cottage situated just below the summit of the highest hill on the South Downs between Lewes and Brighton (an introductory overview, a late Georgian – early Victorian agricultural history, a Victorian murder combined with a ‘town mouse, country mouse’ social history, and a rural war and peace), archaeological excavations and related activities, these should keep me busy for a while! I also hope to give more talks and guided walks, and of course I intend to continue keeping the readers of this blog informed of my discoveries.

One reply on “Progress Review”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s