Monday, 27 September 2010

"A very creepy Gothic-style mansion"

This is the intriguing description of a house in Steyning during the 1960s, taken from a recently published book ‘Car Trouble’ by Wensley Clarkson.  A correspondent who has read this ‘highly entertaining’ account of Wensley’s childhood memories, has written to us wondering where this house might be. The book describes the owner of the house as ‘Captain Conrad’, also known as Conrad Phillips, who apparently fought in the Spanish Civil War and later settled in Steyning, in this spooky house, where “he had a horrible fold-out wooden bed in the hall ... he was completely potty”.

We have done a search to find out who this man might be.  So far, we have come up with an ‘obscure’ crime fiction writer who published a number of novels in the 1940s and 50s and was also an eccentric freelance journalist.

It seems unlikely, but possible, that he was the actor Conrad Phillips who played William Tell; he would have been too young to fight in the Spanish Civil War himself, but his older brother did fight in the Spanish Civil War, so this may have been the link.
I did find a death registered for Conrad Arnaud Phillips in Worthing (our current registration district) in 1975. This Conrad Phillips was born in October 1898. If this is our man, he lived a long life and remained in this area until his death.

Do you know who the eccentric Steyning resident, Conrad Phillips, was?

As to the house itself, we have no idea which house it could be, or whether it is still standing but would love to know.  Can you help us with either of these mysteries?

Jacquie Buttriss

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Transported for life!

This story has come to my attention this week as part of a query about the Hoad family of Steyning.

William Hoad, a Steyning blacksmith, in Church Street, was caught poaching on the Downs. There are at least three different stories about what he was poaching for, but all versions of the story agree that William was captured ‘red-handed’ on the Wiston Estate in the early 1800s, holding either a hare, a pheasant or a chicken.

He was apparently taken immediately to be tried and sentenced in the dining room of Wiston House by the then furious owner of the estate, said to have been the Rev John Goring JP, but more likely perhaps to have been his father, Charles, also a local magistrate.

It does seem more credible that William would have been reprimanded in the dining room, but subsequently tried and convicted officially at the local assizes – either Lewes or Brighton (Brighthelmston as it often was on the criminal records of that time). 

Either way, William was sentenced to be transported to Australia for life and never seen again by his wife and young children. There is some evidence that he may have married again in Australia, making him a bigamist, with a new family. This was something that often happened in those days, when prisoners released on ‘ticket of leave’ had no way of funding their return to England.

Back in Steyning, with little idea of what had happened to her husband, where he was and whether she would ever see him again, his wife carried on the smithy, doing the whole job of a blacksmith herself, with the help of ‘a boy’, while singlehandedly bringing up her children. Unsurprisingly, this earned her much admiration locally.  As one ‘old-timer’ put it 100 years ago, “the old lady was highly respected.”

The picture shows the Old Forge in Church Street (a photograph of an oil painting by James E. Webb, dated 1888). The Old Forge has survived and is now a private house.

Jacquie Buttriss

Queen Anne’s “Royale Compassion”

A Canadian member of the Johnson family of Steyning has sent us copies of a fascinating pair of documents. The first lists one John Johnson, Master Tanner, on a March 1702 record of Treasury Warrants as petitioning:

“for relief from the fine of £415 imposed on him last Easter term (by the sole evidence of Christopher Turner) for transporting wool to France”. 

The second is a copy of the original letter, handwritten “by her Majesty’s Command” and signed Godolphin. There is what appears at the top of this letter to be the signature of “Anne R”. It is a lengthy letter which records that John Johnson had been convicted of:

loading and laying on board several packs of wool for transportation”

It goes on to state:

“Whereas the said J’no Johnson hath by his humble peticon set forth that he was convicted upon the single evidence of one C’pher Turner, a man of mean creditt and repute (as appears by a certificate of sev’ll inhabitantes of the said county to us also produced) that he hath a wife and five small children and is in very low circumstances and that the paym’t of the said penalty will be the utter ruine of himself and family and hath therefore prayed that we would be graciously pleased to extend our Our Royale Compassion to him in such manner as we should think fit. We having taken the premisses into Our Royale Consideration. Our Will and Pleasure is and Wee do hereby Direct Authorize and Comand that upon the said John Johnson giving reasonable satsfaicon to the Officer who prosecuted him for the said offence thro’ly acknowledge satisfaicon upon the record of the said judgm’t and all such other acts matters and things as you shall think necessary for the effectually discharging the said J’no Johnson his executors ... from the said judgm’t and execucon and of and from all damage or any part thereof and for so doing this shall be your Warr’t Given at Our Court at St James’s 8th July 1702 in the first year of Our Reigne.”

The enormous fine imposed and the manner of Queen Anne’s apparently personal response to his petition for leniency makes this a highly unusual situation and one that we are very glad to record within our archives.

Jacquie Buttriss

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Another Coincidence!

Another coincidence this week! This time relating to the family history display about the Worsfold family. On the same morning, just an hour apart, two visitors, one from Worthing and one from Leicestershire, came into the museum and began to talk about their links with the Worsfold family. Both left contact details and, being the museum’s family historian, I later made contact with them.

The first link was Mrs Nell Worsfold, the wife of Alice and Eliza May’s nephew. Indeed, a long conversation ensued about her memories of them as she and her late husband had lived in Alice’s house with her and her sister for many years and knew most of the family. She thinks she has some photos of Alice, Eliza May and other relations and is going to look them out for me. I will then go over to Worthing and get copies of them for our archives. Better still, she will tell me what they were like and her memories of them, including Alice’s own recount of her husband’s tragic death in WW1. The greatest coincidence of all, regarding this lady, is that she was the seller of the needleworks bought by the museum a few months ago and was thrilled that they had been bought by us and put on display!

The second visitor, from Leicestershire, is also a Worsfold relation, from her grandmother’s second marriage to Thomas Worsfold, brother of Alice and Eliza May. She was able to add a name to the one of the photos. She has also helped us fill in quite a bit of Thomas’s story.

There is more to come from both of these sources, so it was a very productive morning at Steyning Museum on that day!

By the way, my first post about the Worsfolds is here.

Jacquie Buttriss

Friday, 3 September 2010

New Index: Church Charities Book

A new index is now available at Steyning Museum. It is the Church Charities Book for 1828-1856. This book names all those individuals and heads of families in receipt of charitable ‘annuities’ distributed by the Church throughout this period in the White Horse and Church Mead areas of Steyning.

It is a fascinating document in terms of the way ‘paupers’ were classified. Indeed, in 1828 they were divided into 6 classes and allotted sums (in shillings and pence) as follows:

Class 1st – Persons having from 1 to 2 children (36 names) 2/6
Class 2nd – Those having from 2 to 4 children (22 names) 3/-
Class 3rd – From 4 children and upwards (32 names) 4/-
Class 4th – Widows (21 names) 3/6
Class 5th – Old and infirm (11 names) 3/-
Class 6th – The Poor in the Workhouse (10 names) 1/-

Interestingly, most widows were merely named as “Widow Smith” or “Widow Jones Senior”, their first names rarely being given. To our 21st century sensibilities, this suggests that widows were seen almost to have no identity of their own; only the identity of their husbands.

Most people were listed simply by the names of heads of families, with no commentary. There are only two exceptions. In one case, a widow’s surname is followed by the single word “dissatisfied”. It is not clear with what she is dissatisfied, but the assumption is that she would have preferred more money than she was given. In the only other case, the name of “Widow Greenfield” is followed by a note in brackets which shines a more kindly light than usual. The note simply explains that she was “considered as a widow, having received no assistance from her husband for many months past.” It seems that some things never change!

Many people were only considered to be paupers in need of charity in one or two years – perhaps they had fallen temporarily on hard times. Others were clearly dependent on the distribution of ‘annuities’ in most or all of the years recorded. From 132 pauper individuals or families in 1828, numbers fluctuated, but rose steadily over the period so that by the mid 1850s there were 194 poor parishioners/families benefitting from this support.

Distributions were managed and accounted for by successive Churchwardens, starting with John Kidd and Hugh Penfold in 1828. They were sometimes in cash and on other occasions in the form of basic items. For example, in 1831, there was no money given out, but every pauper family was given “one blanket and a rug to the value of 5/7” (five shillings and seven pence). In 1835, there was a distribution of “useful clothing”. In July 1847 all those in need received designated quantities of flour, from 2 to 4 gallons, with the exception that, “Those marked with an X, being paupers, were allowed by the Committee to receive cash instead of flour.” This amounted to 11 individuals, mostly widows. There were other years when the distribution was of bed-sheets, flour or bread.

In July 1850, all but the poorest recipients of charity were expected to pay a contribution of between 1/- and 2/6 for the blanket allotted to them that year. This clearly caused some consternation. “Those marked with X objected to receive the blanket by paying the amount allotted them by the Committee.” Even those in receipt of benefits were obviously becoming more vociferous – there were 27 crosses!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wiston School in the 1890s

Can you name any of the children on these Wiston School photos? We know some pupils’ names, but there are several gaps, so perhaps you can help us? If so, please let us know on

See my previous post about the Worsfold family, some of whom are shown in these pictures.

Boys c1899
Left to right, back row: Mr John Henry Isted, born 1836/7, Schoolmaster.
Pupils: E Allen, unknown, ? Allen, Alfred Merritt, Thomas Worsfold, unknown, Frank Merritt.
Middle row: Ernest King, ? Allen, unknown, (probably Thomas) Meetens, (probably Alfred) Meetens, Alfred Blunden, unknown, T Hedger, unknown, ? Allen, unknown.
Front row: (probably James) Meetens, (probably Alfred) Meetens, Herbert (Bert) Carter, ? Maple, unknown, William (Bill) Clements, unknown, Peter Clements, Frank Heath, Albert (Bert) Clements, unknown.

Girls c1899 (with three little boys)
Back row: Left, Miss Emily Isted, born c1871, Assistant Schoolmistress. Right: Mrs Sarah Ann Isted, born early 1847, Schoolmistress.
Pupils, left to right: Unknown, (probably Dorcas) Allen, unknown, unknown, unknown, unknown, E Holland, Ruth Holland, Effie Short, Alice Knight, unknown, (possibly Mary) Madgewick, unknown.
Middle row: Unknown, unknown, (probably Edith) Allen, May Holland, unknown, unknown, Rosa Hoad, Nora King, unknown, Eliza Worsfold, unknown, A Hoad, unknown, Minnie Stiles.
Front row: Unknown, Mabel Carter, Fred Carter, David King, Elizabeth (Lizzie) King, Emily (Emmy) Clements, B Field, Bertha King, Aggie Madgewick, unknown, unknown, unknown, unknown.

Mixed c1902
Back row: left, Mr John Henry Isted, born c1837, Schoolmaster. Right: Miss Emily Isted, born c1871, Assistant Schoolmistress.
Pupils, left to right: Peter Clements, William (Bill) Clements, unknown, Sydney Pelling, unknown.
Next to back row: Edgar Dumas, Edward (Ted) Terry, ? Meetens, Frank Heath, Herbert (Bert) Carter, Alfred Merritt.
Next to front row: Unknown, unknown, (possibly Ellen) Meetens, unknown, Emily Clements, unknown, Hilda Heath, unknown.
Front row: Arthur Francis, Ernest Merritt, unknown, unknown, Raymond Carter, Edward Meetens, Frederick Carter.

Jacquie Buttriss

From Samplers to Family History!

We have recently acquired some Victorian samplers embroidered by pupils at the old Wiston school (long since closed.) The samplers had their names on them, Alice and Eliza Worsfold, together with dates from 1889 to 1903 and the name of the school. As a keen family historian, I immediately set about researching the girls and their wider family.

I began by exploring down a rural track and found the old school, now converted into two private houses. Both owners were very helpful and lent me photos of the school and its pupils during the 1890s and 1900s. Some of the children in these photos were named on the back, including Eliza Worsfold and one of her brothers.

Back at the museum I delved into our archives. I used censuses to establish approximate birth dates. I then looked up Worsfold baptisms, marriages and burials in our copies of the parish registers at around this time. I found the seven brothers and sisters and their parents. As you can see in the Worsfold family tree, I was then able to trace backwards through other parish registers and civil registrations online. At this stage, I also discovered more about some of the other children on the photos.

Next, I made a visit to the West Sussex County Record Office in Chichester to read the school log book that spanned this period and I also checked through the school admissions register, which had some of the children’s birth dates as well as when they started at the school. This valuable information enabled me to date each of the photos and add more names, which was a great help.

When Alice Worsfold and her two elder siblings were born, and for the preceding two generations, this Worsfold family lived in Partridge Green (within the West Grinstead registration area).

Between 1880 and 1882 they moved to Wiston, where they were settled by the time their fourth child Phyllis was born in 1882. In Wiston they lived at ‘Near Smith’s Shop’ and ‘Stocks Cottages’ and also at ‘New Cottages’ (or are these all the same place?). Whilst here, all the children attended Wiston and Buncton Parochial School. Their father, Edward, was one of the two sawyers listed as working at Wiston and a ‘Sawyer’s Wood’ on the Wiston Estate.

After 18 years in Wiston, they moved to Steyning around 1910, probably at about the time when Edward (born 1849) was admitted to the Sussex County Hospital (as it was then known) in Brighton, where he was a patient during the 1911 census. (It’s possible, as often happened, they might have been evicted from their Wiston home when Edward was no longer able to work on the estate.) His death was registered in Brighton rather than Steyning, so perhaps he remained a patient in that hospital, or in a nearby workhouse, until his death.

In the 1911 census, Ellen, his wife, plus daughter Eliza May, now listed simply as May, were residing at the home of elder daughter Ellen Eliza and son-in-law John Groves in Steyning.

I was particularly interested in what might have happened to Alice and Eliza after they left Wiston school. I found that Alice married a sailor, George Divall, in 1913 – the marriage register gives the name of his ship. Other research online showed that he went off to sea again shortly afterwards on a long voyage. On a hunch, I looked at our list of names on the WW1 War Memorial and, sure enough, George Divall’s name was on it. I then looked for him in our list of gravestone inscriptions and found him there, having died in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland. The gravestone also includes a poignant verse, obviously chosen by his devoted young widow, Alice. I looked up the Battle of Jutland on the internet and found out all about the sinking of George’s ship, with the loss of more than 1,000 lives, including rear-admiral Hood, whose flagship it was.

Alice sadly did not marry again. Eliza, the youngest of the family, never married and died a spinster in Worthing, followed many years later by the death of Alice, also in Worthing. Checking Wiston and Steyning parish registers again, I was able to trace their siblings’ marriages and children, some of whose families still remain in the Steyning area today.

If you have any of the names Worsfold, Holden, Groves, Robins, Boynette or Munnery in your family, then you may be related to Alice and Eliza.

As part of this research, a number of other resources from our archives were used, such as Victorian maps to locate where they lived and reference books to find out more about the school and its area in those days. This, like most family trees, is a work in progress and I am keen to widen my research to find out about the other scholars at Wiston School in the 1890s.

In my next post I will publish three school photographs from the period, which include members of the Worsfold family. If you know of anyone who attended the school or have heard any stories about those days, please contact me on

Jacquie Buttriss

A Steyning/Stenning Coincidence?

We are currently helping with queries on a number of different families. However, within two weeks of each other, we have received two separate emails asking for information about the same family name – a great coincidence, since neither knew of the other’s existence. This has led to a further flurry of emails between family members, sharing information and new leads. The family name is Stenning or Stening and we do have a family tree that turns out to be the tree of at least one of these enquirers. We are still trying to establish a definite link for the other family.

An intriguing question was posed by both of these contacts. This was whether Stenning could be a corruption or variation of the Steyning place name and whether it orginated here.

Our family historian did some research to see if we could answer this question. Her findings are quite unexpected. The earliest references she could find to the surname Steyning in England, were nowhere near Steyning in Sussex and had no connection with our town.

The names Stenning, and indeed Stanning, do seem to have their origins in the original surname of Steyning, which is first found in Devon, in the early 1400s. There were no Steynings listed in Steyning, or anywhere in Sussex for another 200 years. By the time the name reached West Sussex, it had become Stanning or Stenning.

Although this seems to have answered the question, do let us know if you can add anything!

Friday, 27 August 2010


Do you have family roots in the Steyning area? If so, we can help you to research your family history. Steyning is a beautiful medieval town nestled in the South Downs of West Sussex. It is a marvellous place to visit, especially for family historians. Steyning Museum has extensive archives and we are keen to help you make the most of them.

Maybe you can't visit us, but we can offer our help in other ways. Our Family Historian can be contacted by email on You might be suprised by the kind of detail she has at her fingertips. We will also add family stories to this blog and news about our family history resources. Look out for familiar names and places, and keep in touch.

There are people all over the world who have personal memories of Steyning and the surrounding area - Wiston, Bramber, Upper Beeding and Ashurst. Please add your comments and share your thoughts. Several important discoveries about Steyning's past have come from a chance comment. Your recognition of people and places in pictures, or memories of events, could improve our archives for generations to come.

Our website will tell you all about Steyning Museum and our other activities. The website can be found at