with illustrations by David Theiwell
In writing about the sussex village of Amberly one is faced with an embarrassment of riches. It has been called a ‘show village’, ‘the pearl of Sussex’, ‘the loveliest village in Sussex’ and ‘the artist’s village’. The buildings provide an anthology of architecture, with not only an interesting church but a castle next door. Writers have written about it, painters painted it, artists sketched it. In spite of all this, some rustic rhymester was unimpressed except by the quality of its most humble vegetable:
‘Amberley — God knows,
All among the rooks and crows,
Where the good potatoes grows.’
___In spite of the beauty of the village, one
disadvantage of living there all year round was the strong possibility of floods
in the winter, which were said to result in the women being born with webbed
feet. (Presumably the men were not expected to brave the water.) Amberley woman
were called ‘yellow bellies’ by people from other villages, due to their rumored
habit of lifting their skirts to warm themselves over smoky fires. It seems
that if you live in a lovely place, then you have to put up with envious neighbors!
___Many artists visit Amberley today, just as they have done through the years. The most famous in the past was Edward Stott, born in Rochdale in 1859, who settled in Amberley in 1885, and stayed there until his death in 1918. He was a great walker through the Sussex lanes, often covering eight miles in a day. He seems to have been a typically temperamental artist, with a liking for old clothes until they became nearly ragged, and at one time becoming somewhat of a health food fanatic. But he was a great lover of nature; he guarded the beauties of Amberley most jealously, and he left his wonderful work as a fitting Memorial.
___ No doubt they wassailed their apple trees in Amberley, as in other Sussex villages, but a rhyme collected there in the 1900s proves that the bees were also wassailed. It begins:
‘Bees, Oh Bees of paradise,
Does the work of Jesus Christ,
Does the work which no man can.’
It ends with an injunction to blow the horn, which evidently refers to the
practice of blowing cows-horns in wassailing ceremonies.
___The church of St. Michael is just outside the castle walls, with its tower overlooking the castle courtyard. The excellent Story of Old John Pennicott, bandmaster at the church, has been printed several times, but is worth repeating. On one occasion Pennicott and his bandsmen fell out with the vicar, and although they attended church, they refused to play. From the pulpit the vicar demanded ‘Are you going to play or not?’ Pennicott answered ‘No,’ to which the vicar rejoined ‘Well then, I'm not going to preach’ and came down from the pulpit.
___The dispute seems to have gone rather deeply, as after the service was over, the vicar walked down the village street and the bandsmen followed with their instruments and gave him ‘rough music.’ On another occasion the band went on strike completely and refused to attend or play in church. The vicar called on all publicans and persuaded them to refuse to serve any of the bandsmen. They in turn retaliated by white-washing the vicar’s windows all over during the night. I have a copy of a picture of John Pennicott playing his clarionet, and he has the look of a man determined enough to have acted in the way these stories suggest.
Amberley - Belgian Kilns & Dobbin cart
Amberley Chalk Puts
___Amberley with its old buildings must have several
ghost stories, but one concerns the vicarage which was said to be haunted by
the ghost of a young girl. During the First World War, bones of a young girl
and an old man were discovered under the floor boards. Legend says that in the
18th century the bishop ordered the vicar of the time to end a liaison with
a young woman.
___The castle is an impressive building, although less ‘fairy-tale like’ than Arundel. It was a palace of the Bishops of Chichester throughout the Middle Ages, before Bishop Rede decided to ‘crenellate’ or fortify it in 1377. Whether he feared attacks from pirates sailing up the Arun, or just fancied a castle-like dwelling we do not know, but he made a good job of it, and it is now scheduled as an ancient monument.
___Visitors to the village today have yet one more attraction. This is the Chalk Pits Museum of the Southern Industrial History Center Trust, which is close to the railway station on the main road, on the site of the old lime-burning quarries. The museum aims to include representative working exhibits of all types of historical industry in Sussex, and every year since its inception more and more fascinating things have been added. A history of lime burning and the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum was published by the West Sussex County Council in 1979.
___The Arun is close at hand, and fishing and boating have attracted visitors for a long time. One of Fuller’s ‘seven good things of Sussex’ was an Amberley trout. The village has been well documented. In 1923 by the Rev. H. Rickard in Amberley: its castle, church and history, and in 1968 by the Rev. E. Noel Staines in his delightfully named Dear Amberley, and about the same period by Wilfred E. Cheal in Amberley Heritage.
here for a Map of Amberley (100k file)
Amberley is located approximately 50 miles southwest of London. It is on the north slopes of the South Downs, a high ridge that runs along the south coast of England. This area is the county of West Sussex near the towns of Arundal and Chichester. Amberley is often called one of the most beautiful villages in England with is 30 or so remaining thatched and slate roofed cottages, carefully kept gardens, and ivy covered walls. It is a "picture book" village. Since the waning British Empire it has been the home of retired government officials, businessmen and other persons of means. The "old families" have sold their holdings to the more affluent, and live in "new" apartment buildings on the outskirts of the village.
The Church, St Michael's, was started around 1100 A.D. and was added to over the centuries. The land was given by a Saxon king and the design is Norman and Old English. It is a beautiful old church were the Braby families worshipped for over 300 years, and many are buried in the churchyard near a large yew tree at the front door of the church.
The castle, next to the church, was the summer home of the Bishop of Chichester.
In 1538 Thomas Cromwell on behalf of Kind Henry VIII decreed all births, marriages and burials would be recorded and the records be kept at the parish churches. The Amberley church records have a wealth of information on many generations of people that lived there. These records also include wills and help establish family relationships that cannot be fully understood from the church records.
This information was passed on to J. Taylor Hollist by a distant cousin, Richard Braby (rbraby @ earthlink.net) , in May of 2003 at a Mormon History Association meeting in Kirkland, Ohio. The webmaster then obtained a copy of it, and put much of the information on this site, but omitted a lot of the information that is not relevant to this site.