‘So many attractions’: A Nineteenth Century Excursion

Source: Sturt, Nick. “’So many attractions’: A Nineteenth Century Excursion.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 52 (May 2001). http://sussexflora.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Newsletter_May_2001.pdf.


In their decision to make an excursion to Bramber Castle in1885 the committee members of the none too concisely named Chichester and West Sussex Natural History and Microscopical Society were doubtless heavily influenced by one among them, a cleric who combined his botany with a passion for antiquarianism. Under the leadership of Rev Frederick Arnold, therefore, together with a certain Mr William Jeffrey, the expedition travelled by train to Shoreham on August 10th: ‘predicted storms and a morning abounding with rain clouds deterred most of the intending excursionists…. Some few, however, ventured, and these were repaid for so doing.’

Established members of our own society may well feel all too familiar with the Reverend Arnold, of course, but a brief word on William Jeffrey M.Conch.S. may possibly be appreciated. As the initials suggest, he was primarily a snail man and he lived at Ratham, part of the settlement of West Ashling which lies some four miles west of Chichester. A postscript on the gasteropods observed which is attached to the account of this field meeting is surely his, although the report itself is equally surely Arnold’s. Jeffrey did not confine himself to snails, however: he is noted as having exhibited ‘an extremely rare crab’ (Dromia vulgaris) at one of the Chichester society’s indoor meetings; and he appears in Arnold’s flora notably for Water Avens (Geum rivale) near Ratham. (I believe that the site – rediscovered by Howard Matcham – is now entirely populated by the hybrid with G. urbanum.)

Meanwhile, back on the excursion, the weather cleared soon after reaching Shoreham, whence a walk up the Adur valley investigating the ditches. ‘In these grew the Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, with unusually large leaves, and the Brook Weed, Samolus valerandi, was very luxuriant.’ Growing on a bank a large umbellifer in fruit caused problems, the eventual determination being Alexanders. It could be deduced from this hesitation that the plant was not as common then as it is along the coast today. Arnold mentions that it occurred near Chichester and suggests it to be ‘an outcast from old gardens.’ Was he aware that it had probably been brought to Britain by the Romans?

Lunch was taken opposite the Shoreham Cement Works. On that far off day it was not the roar of motor traffic that made the stop uncomfortable: ‘…. While eating our sandwiches on the grassy slope of the declivity, so many attractions presented themselves that we could scarcely enjoy our meal.’ The reference to the six-spot burnets and chalk hill blues ‘in profusion’ fills one with sad imaginings to consider how much chemicals and habitat loss have done to deplete our native insect fauna in 115 years. A selection of chalk-loving plants follows, including Round-headed Rampion and a white flowered Greater Knapweed.

‘It was a dusty and rather toilsome walk thence to Bramber….’ If Arnold ventured into the Kings Arms for something to lay the dust of the road, he omits to mention the fact, confining himself to comment on the inn’s connection with the flight of King Charles II. After surveying the remains of the castle it was back to Shoreham by LBSCR well in time for the supper ordered in advance at ‘a quaint old inn’. So ‘having an hour to spare [and, I feel, phenomenal energy!]…. We walked to the shingle beach which we only had time to study hurriedly.’ Alas, Starry Clover was not encountered but the party was pleased to find ‘Rough-podded Yellow Vetch Vicia lutea, in the place where it is recorded as having been found by Borrer more than fifty years ago.’ Also ‘faded examples’ of Spring Vetch Vicia lathyroides and Geranium purpureum, then treated as a variety of Herb Robert: we should be inclined to trust the identification since Arnold, as well as being by nature a meticulous observer, knew it on Hayling.

Best let the good Rector of Racton conclude this item in his own words: ‘The long walks and the sea breezes having sharpened our appetites, we repaired to our hostelry and did full justice to the beef and other viands placed before us. We reached Chichester by the 8 o’clock train, and although rather tired after the exertions of the day, agreed that the outing to Bramber had been both a successful and a pleasant one.’


Reference: Proceedings of the Chichester and West Sussex Natural History and Microscopical Society, 1885 and 1886.