Upcoming Events

Here I am making public the dates of my forthcoming volunteer dig days! The next three days are:

Location When Summary Description
Meet at the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve Car Park, Woodingdean, off Falmer Rd (B2123), just north of the junction with Bexhill Rd. Grid reference TQ356063. Buses 2, 22, 52 December 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm Balsdean Progression Healthwalk, 2nd Saturday of the month A lovely linear walk from Newmarket Hill (Castle Hill), via Bullock Hill and Balsdean, finishing near Kipling Gardens, Rottingdean. 4.5 miles, moderate to challenging. Ends at a cafe.
Meet at the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve Car Park, Woodingdean, off Falmer Rd (B2123), just north of the junction with Bexhill Rd. Grid reference TQ356063. Buses 2, 22, 52 December 15, 2019 at 10:00 am – 12:30 pm Castle Hill and Balsdean Histories #1 The first of three different history walks with leader David Cuthbertson, uncovering the stories of our eastern downs. Discover the fascinating history of the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, from prehistory to WW2, and visit the site of Newmarket Farm – birthplace of David’s mum and location of a Victorian murder! 2-3 miles, moderate to…
Meet at the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve Car Park, Woodingdean, off Falmer Rd (B2123), just north of the junction with Bexhill Rd. Grid reference TQ356063. Buses 2, 22, 52 December 17, 2019 at 10:30 am – 11:45 am Castle Hill Healthwalk Explore this stunning chalk grassland National Nature Reserve. (When conditions are muddy, and on the last Tuesday of the month, the walk follows an alternative route around Bullock Hill, opposite the reserve.) 2-3 miles, moderate to challenging.

We work on site every Friday and Sunday, 10am-4pm, from April to December 2013. Volunteers and other visitors are most welcome. We meet at the Falmer Road Car Park, Woodingdean (just N of the junction with Bexhill Rd) but please contact me beforehand in case we have to cancel for any reason.

David Cuthbertson: scienceinthegreen@yahoo.co.uk

Lots of Good News!

Another hurdle has been cleared! Smiths Gore, who manage Brighton & Hove City Council’s farmland portfolio (including Castle Hill Nature Reserve), have obtained formal permission for me to go ahead with my excavation project.

There is now only one more permission to be obtained – namely that of being able to dig on a nature reserve of European significance. Luckily the reserve manager, Malcolm Emery, is dealing with this on my behalf. Because the site used to be a residence and farmyard, it is an area of high fertility (lots of poo and pee!), and therefore has become colonised by nettles and brambles. In the early 1950’s the area was bulldozed to make the site safe. This has very much reduced the biodiversity and ecological significance of this small corner of the reserve. Therefore further digging should not threaten the nature reserve’s conservation status in any way.

I have also started receiving offers of help from volunteers interested in being involved in an archaeological dig. This is excellent news! I need to decide on a fixed day once a month for volunteer days to be able to happen – sometime in March.

I was on site yesterday and it was good to see it again – without its earlier blanket of snow! I didn’t take any photos, but I did clean up a few fragments of wall that are visible – so it is now easier to show visitors the approximate ground plan.

The next clearance day may possibly be next Thursday – though this hasn’t been confirmed yet – it depends on the forecast, and whether Malcolm Emery has any higher priority jobs that need doing.

Yesterday was a very good day!

New Team Member Helps Confirm Site Plan

Sunday 13th January, 2013

My (nearly) 13 year old niece and my mother, braved the cold to help me find out whether a plan of Newmarket Farm which we had was an accurate representation of the archaeology on the ground. The plan was a copy of the one that was found in documents held in East Sussex Record Office, and was probably drawn in 1921 when Oscar Selbach bought Newmarket Farm.

1921 Selbach plan of Newmarket Farm. From ESRO

1921 Selbach plan of Newmarket Farm. From ESRO

The overall aim of the day’s work was to perform (some of) the tasks required to be done before being able to mark the area of the archaeological dig site, approximately 3m beyond the boundaries of the Newmarket Farm site. The extra 3m is to provide public access as well room to place the spoil from the trenches.

The area of the site needs to be marked out before the next date which has been planned for the clearance of the rest of the site.

Based on the dimensions given for the water tank, the scale of the plan has been estimated, and has therefore enabled the lengths of the wall lines to be meassured. My measurements were independently confirmed by my niece.

The next objective was to identify two fixed points of archaeology on the ground to check the accuracy of Selbach’s plan. Previous to the site clearance work of the 9th January, only the SE corner (bottom right on the plan) was visible and some isolated portions of the south and east boundary walls. During site clearance a small portion of the wall which divided the garden from the farm-yard was revealed. Therefore our next task was to uncover enough of this wall to be able to estimate where it met the southern boundary wall, somewhere near a small elder bush.

Looking E at my niece & myself finding the wall-line between garden and farm-yard; 13th January 2013.

Looking E at my niece & myself finding the wall-line between garden and farm-yard; 13th January 2013.

Did I say that it was cold! Also, almost all of the existing line of the wall was buried under a thick mat of bramble and stinging nettle roots. No wonder Time Team makes it look so easy – they have a mechanical digger to do this part!

Looking SE at my niece & myself finding the wall-line between garden and farm-yard; 13th January 2013.

Looking SE at my niece & myself finding the wall-line between garden and farm-yard; 13th January 2013.

But with hard work and perseverance we managed to expose enough of the wall to estimate that it met the southern boundary wall immediately to the east (left) of the elder bush.

Next, Selbach’s plan indicated that the distance from this point to the SE corner of the garden boundary wall was about 52.5 feet. When we meassured this on the ground it was found to be about 52 feet. Therefore we felt able to (provisionally) conclude that Selbach’s plan could be used as a guide to estimating the lengths of the other walls.

Just before we left I quickly measured the distance between the elder and the SW corner of the house, and marked it with a peg. There was no sign of any change in ground level in the vicinity of this point. Selbach’s plan will therefore be very importantant for any future attempts to locate archaeological targets on the ground.

Good news!

Yesterday I was really pleased to receive a positive reply to my proposal to excavate the site of Newmarket Farm from Natural England’s, Senior Reserves Manager, Malcolm Emery.

I wrote my proposal to conduct an archaeological dig shortly before Christmas, and sent a copy to Malcolm Emery, who is responsible for Castle Hill National Nature Reserve where the proposed dig site is located.

Possible dates have now been set for volunteers to clear the site of its rank vegetation over the next month or two (weather permitting!); the clearance of the brambles and nettles on that part of the nature reserve is already part of the management plan.

The nature reserve is both an SSSI (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) and an SAC (a Special Area of Conservation), and as such is an area which has been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. It is understandable that metal detectors are forbidden without formal permission. Many of the rare plants found on the nature reserve only grow on undistured soils. Because of this, I have made sure that the dig site has been very carefully delineated to ensure that none of the protected species and habitats are disturbed. The use of a metal detector is standard policy for an archaeological excavation;

  • to scan the spoil from trenches for metal objects
  • as an aid to identifying possible trench locations (‘geophysics’)
  • they may also help identify the locations of potential unexploded WWII ordnance (the farm was used for artillery practice during the war)
  • they should not be used merely to prospect for ‘treasure’ as part of a planned excavation.

I was therefore pleased that Malcolm Emery intends to forward copies of my proposal to his colleagues who share responsibility for various aspects of the Castle Hill SSSI / SAC.  They are Susan Simpson (Adviser with responsibility for the SSSI/SAC) and Kristoffer Hewitt (Team Leader for the Land Management Team covering the area). Between them, and using the information I sent him in my “meticulous project report” (as you may have gathered – I have a tendency to go on a bit!), the Appropriate Assessment will be completed and he will forward it to me. This is required to secure permission for the excavation under the SSSI / SAC legislative requirements, to ensure that the excavations and associated works will not have an adverse affect upon the notified natural features of the SAC.

He also plans to talk to the neighbouring farmer in the hopes of negotiating terms for easier access. The most direct route to the site is across the field from the radio mast on top of Newmarket Hill. If this agreement is secured, he could get a ‘poor man’s gate installed in the fence line to avoid any need for climbing over it.

Whilst I have been involved in a wide variety of projects in the past, several of which involved liason with a number of different agencies, this is certainly the most exciting. So a big thank-you to Malcolm Emery for helping to make it happen.

Distant memories…

It all started with my mother pointing out that a pile of demolition rubble over the Downs beyond Woodingdean, hidden by nettles and brambles, was her birth place. So I asked her uncle, Dougie Holland – an artist who had distant memories of the farm – to paint a picture of what it might have looked like. His memory was not clear, and nor is that of everyone else we have spoken to with their distant memories of when they lived or visited, over 60 years ago.

Was the well on the south or the north side of the house, and how big was it? Was the outside toilet by the front garden gate or next to the house by the front door? And indoors, what was the fireplace like – how big was it, and was it in the centre of the house against the wall which divided the downstairs into two? And where was the pantry? Was there a backdoor?

Amongst the brambles and nettles I discovered a patch of spearmint, to the south of the house site, which coincides with the approximate location of a water tank shown on a plan of the farm drawn in about 1920. However, no-one who lived there seems to be able to recall such a tank. Perhaps it was really a well? Such plans have often been found to be incorrect – the plan may have shown a proposed tank which was never constructed. But then again, memories are also known to be fallable.

These are some of the reasons why I started to consider the possibility of an archaeological excavation. Those who used to live there have memeories of the place. An archaeological dig would provide material substance to their precious memories. In turn, their distant memories would help give meaning to the objects which may be found.

Welcome to Newmarket Hill – a South Down Blog!


Two hundred metres above the nearby English Channel, Newmarket Hill crowns that part of the South Downs which lies between the towns of Brighton to the west and Lewes to the east, and between the villages of Rottingdean to the south and Falmer to the north. It’s top is in the parish of Kingston near Lewes, the village of which is about a mile and half away. However, it is now only about a mile to the north-east of the relatively modern village of Woodingdean and a mile and a half to the north-west of the deserted medieval hamlet of Balsdean. Its south-eastern slopes form a part of Castle Hill National Nature Reserve which is a site of European importance. This blog is about the history and ecology of its surrounding downland.

Newmarket Farm by Douglas Holland

Newmarket Farm by Douglas Holland.

In April 2013 I managed – as a volunteer for Natural England – a community based excavation of the site of a 19th century farm labourer’s cottage, farmyard and barns called Newmarket Farm, just inside Castle Hill NNR, near the summit of Newmarket Hill. It was built in 1830 and was the birth place of my mother in 1942, shortly before it was requisitioned for military training by British and Canadian troops stationed both locally and further afield in SE England.

Newmarket Farm location

Newmarket Farm location. Overlay of old and new O.S. maps and Google satellite images.

Some Recommended Blog Entries

Some post-dig updates

Talks, related projects & research

Reports & book

David Cuthbertson: scienceinthegreen@gmail.com

Some dates for your diary (best viewed by clicking on ‘Agenda’ tab):