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New Heritage Website

Within weeks of our ‘South Downs Schools Living History Project’ starting in January 2020, we were hit by Covid and the first lockdown. Given that the focus of this project was for primary age children to interview the older people in their communities, this could have been a fatal blow, but through ingenuity and modern technology, we managed to overcome this huge and unexpected obstacle. We offered oral history training online and interviews were conducted online. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it allowed us to continue when other projects around the country were being suspended. Now, after two years, the South Downs Generations project launches the new heritage website.

Please follow this link to the evaluation form on the website that we hope people will complete and return. Your feedback will allow us to make improvements to the website and learn how to make future projects even better.

In between the lockdowns, project manager, Chris Hare, was able to visit our partner schools, including Shipley, Bury, Findon, and Chesswood (in Worthing). He gave talks to the children about South Downs history, from the earliest times to the coming of the railways. In the summer months, Chris took parties of school children on field trips to search out the archaeology of the South Downs landscape, with visits to Cissbury Ring and Highdown. There were also heritage walks around the villages where our partner schools are based, as Chris joined local teachers and their pupils in exploring the rich heritage to be found in our downland parishes.

Chris and cameraman, Chris Evans, went out to interview some of our older South Downs residents about their lives and the changes they have seen during their lifetimes. They interviewed all types of people from many different backgrounds, from Lord Egremont at Petworth to a lady living in a remote West Sussex farmhouse, still possessing only the minimum of modern amenities.

“It has been a fascinating experience,” Chris explains. “I have run many oral history projects over the last 20 years, but none so rewarding as this one. Together, these interviews provide the very ‘living history’ we were hoping to record with this project. To watch and listen to the interviews is to be taken back and led through time by knowledgeable and wise guides, from the 1930s to the present day.”

There are videos of all the interviews and all the school trips and talks on the new heritage website, We really hope that as many people as possible can watch the videos and then give us their feedback. The Friends of the South Downs wants the website to become a resource for all schools, and the public at large, throughout the South Downs and beyond.

Topics you can learn about from the new heritage website include –

  • Sussex Folklore, including articles about highwaymen and ‘rough music’
  • The changing face of the South Downs – farming and recreation
  • Archaeology on the Downs
  • Stories of gypsies and itinerants
  • Memories of country life, including folk singing
  • Memories from the Second World War, including plane crashes on the Downs
  • ‘Then and now’ slideshows, contrasting the images of 100 years ago with those of today
  • Mystery photographs – can you tell what they are?
  • The prophetic writings of many Sussex writers, such as Richard Jefferies, and Hilaire Belloc

There are also articles that draw on information to be found in school logbooks, some of which date back to the mid-Victorian period. You can read about the harsh discipline, the illnesses and diseases that were still killing children and making others gravely ill, in an era only just outside of living memory.

From our research, it would appear that winters really were colder in the past. The school log books often reveal how schools struggled to stay open following heavy falls of snow, and no winter was more harsh than the ‘dread snow tempest’ of January 1881. Several of our interviewees recall the bitterly cold winters of 1947 and 1963.

There really is so much to watch, listen, and read about on the website. Please go and have a look now, you will be pleased you did and please don’t forget to give us your feedback!

Chris Hare

South Downs Generations Project Manager