During the 1950’s when roads were much quieter we would occasionally cycle up to West Grinstead railway station where one of my predecessors served as stationmaster there in the 1880’s. Rather than returning on the busier road we would drop down to pick up the B2135 to Partridge Green and on to Shoreham.
The first part of the route took us past the catholic church ‘Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation’ at West Grinstead, resting place of the much loved Sussex writer and historian Hilaire Belloc and his wife, then continued along a pretty, meandering switchback of a road with occasional views in the distance to the South Downs.
On under the old railway bridge that once carried the wonderful, variously named ‘Horsham Puffer/Flyer,’ ‘Steyning Stinker’ etc., steam train on the Shoreham to Horsham branch line. Many still fondly remember the engines that once hissed, puffed and wheezed through the glorious wealden countryside pulling, sometimes pushing, little more than one or two ancient, creaking victorian carriages wrapped in their own personal cloud of steam and smoke.
Just past the bridge on the roadside of the quaintly named Needs Hill is a cross-shaped stone monument that during one ride we took the time to stop and look more closely. I remember there was an inscription that seemed to suggest a horse riding accident in Victorian times but the passing of the years has blurred any further recollection of names and dates.
Occasional pilgrimages to the station in the meantime have witnessed its closure and gradual deterioration although the decayed and overgrown state of the place still managed to convey an almost haunting appeal. Eventually though, even this disappeared when most everything was torn down and removed leaving just the station house as a reminder of the area’s earlier purpose in life. The stone too seemed to have been constantly under threat of obscurity from the surrounding undergrowth. Somehow it had fought off the tendrils of nature to keep its message alive – albeit with a little help from the Council’s regular roadside maintenance!
Driving past that spot just recently we pulled over to remind ourselves of the inscription. The Maltese Cross-shaped head is centered with the Star of David, the inscription is chiseled into the body of the monument and reads:- “ERECTED IN LOVING MEMORY OF WHWR BURRELL SECOND SON OF SIR WW BURRELL BT WHO THROUGH AN ACCIDENT THAT BEFELL HIM AT THIS SPOT WAS CALLED TO THE PRESENCE OF HIS CREATOR 19 JULY 1883 AGE 26 YEARS. BE YE THEREFORE READY ALSO.”
Members of the Burrell family had represented Shoreham as MPs during the 19thcentury – was this the same family? Intrigued to find out more I was fortunate to make contact with Dorothy Banks of the West Grinstead Local History Group who kindly provided me with a copy of the research carried out some years before by local residents David and Marion Webb.
It transpired that twenty-six year old Walter Henry Wyndham Raymond Burrell had, at 7pm on that day, just finished playing in a cricket match at nearby Jolesfield Common, Partridge Green and was on his way home to the family seat at Knepp Castle. He must have been a fit young man as, in addition to the exertions of the day’s cricket, his chosen mode of conveyance was neither a horse nor pony and trap but a tricycle!
Further investigation by the Webbs unearthed a report of the subsequent inquest in the Horsham Advertiser of 21stJuly 1883 of which this is an extract:- “Edwin Jupp (one of the witnesses) found the deceased at the bottom of Needs Hill between 6 and 7 o’clock on Thursday last. The deceased was lying on the embankment at the side of the road and his cap was close to a post. The deceased was on the south side of the post from the railway bridge. The tricycle was a little away from him and he was foaming at the mouth.
Dr.Gravely, a duly qualified medical practitioner living at Cowfold said he was called to the deceased about 8 o’clock on last Thursday evening. He was entirely unconscious and he remained so until he died at 4.57 on Friday morning. Witness remained with the deceased until he died and in his opinion the cause of death was concussion of the brain. The doctor said that the deceased must have struck something very hard but could not have struck the ground first as there was no dirt on him.”
The jury returned a verdict in accordance with medical evidence and the deceased’s remains were interred in the family vault in the churchyard at Shipley.
Successive generations of the Burrell family had been Members of Parliament for Shoreham for 79 years and the name had, until recent years, been remembered through The Burrell Arms (now the Brio restaurant) near the station in Brunswick Road. As it turned out the deceased’s father was in fact Sir Walter Wyndham Burrell, Baronet, JP and High Sheriff of Sussex, the last of the Shoreham MP’s before the Borough, as it was then, was disenfranchised. He died in 1885 and only outlived his unfortunate son by a few years.
Roger Bateman ©
Shoreham by Sea