Friday, 31 August 2012

The A-Z of Ashdown

Today we are starting a new feature on the blog, an A-Z of Ashdown covering various aspects historical, geographical, mythical and others that defy categorisation! I did consider doing a reverse alphabet and starting with Z but I think there will probably be a few letters we'll be scraping around to find topics for and Z is probably one of them. So I'll start with A, which has a number of potential Ashdown-related topics.

First there is Ashdown - the physical location, the "down covered in ash trees" which features in the Anglo-Saxon records as the generic name for the entire line of the Downs. This was the site of the Battle of Ashdown and local tradition places the battle on the land between Alfred's Castle and the Bronze Age Barrows to the south (more of them when we get to B!)

Then there is Ashdown House itself and Alfred's Castle, the Iron Age settlement. There is also the historic village of Ashbury, of which Ashdown became the "big house" in 1662. Ashbury has its own 15th century manor house, an ancient church, parts of which go back to the Norman period, and lots of other interesting historical features. It definitely deserves a blog piece.

There is also the airfield. During the Second World War there was an airfield to the north of the Mile Drive, by Red Barn Cottages. It ran east to west and there is still a gap in the trees where it cut through that is visible from the path that runs down from the Ridgeway to Red Barn. Parts of the old metal
interlocking landing strip can apparently be seen in the garden of Old Forge in Ashbury. British, American and Canadian troops were stationed at Ashdown (more on them when we reach W!) and they flew Spitfires and Mustangs out of the airfield (this is attested to by the paintings of Spitfires and Mustangs that were found on the walls of the drawing room after the troops had left. There was also a lifesize painting of Rita Hayworth!) There was a canteen at Red Barn and some of the crockery is still being dug up out of the fields whenever they are ploughed.

Local people remember two plane crashes at Ashdown. The first was a Mustang that caught fire as it was coming in to land. The second was when a plane that was landing at the airfield collided with a motorcyclist on the B4000. There are various memories of the Second World War recorded as part of the Ashbury Living History Project. We don't have much written information on the role of the Ashdown airfield so if anyone knows anything of Ashdown's wartime history, please get in touch!


White Horse Pilgrim said...

That's really interesting - I didn't know about the airfield though there were so many around this area. (Several times I've seen Spitfires and Hurricanes flying over the area lately - most evotive.) Have the wartime paintings that you mentioned been conserved? What a relic of the young men who fought in the war these would be.

Nicola Cornick said...

I'm afraid the paintings weren't conserved as far as I know. Whilst I wince at the wartime graffiti on the chimney stacks and the thought of paintings on the drawing room wall I do agree it's another kind of historical record and worthy of preservation!