Worldviews and Wildlife

Deep Roots of the NHS


By David E P Dennis, FCIPD LCGI RAF


Despite all the controversy about Covid-19 pandemic politics, cancer and other huge waiting lists, insufficient PPE, we in Britain at least, seem to pass slowly through the fire though not unscathed, Now, we have to deal with the utter sadness of so many deaths and help the world itself to recover. At the time of writing scientists warn us to be wary of the so-called Third Wave Indian Variant. Here in Britain, our salvation has been science and the great help and selfless care and dedication of the NHS and their wonderful staff.

But how did the staff know what to do? Where did the medical practices come from?

You can imagine the dreadful episodes of disease and infection 100,000 years ago. Maybe even then those far-off people, who are us, knew about the plant salves and how to treat their wounds. Perhaps there were ‘nurses’ back then – people who others turned to in desperation, as some sore or bone break caused agony after the hunt.

We use palaeontology and archaeology to seek answers from times before written history. Then, as writing began, evidence emerged that the Sumerians used medicine and cared for the sick (Teall, 2021). Later, the Greeks attempted to rationalise disease into simple categorical causes and thinkers in Arab lands of the Middle East and North Africa took these ideas up. But to what extent were Greek medical ideas changed by translation into Arabic and Latin – and how did they eventually reach UK medical practice and the NHS? This fascinating question requires an examination of Greek medical ideas in historical, geographical, and ideological contexts, as they flowed through translation, in diluted, damaged, or enhanced forms, to Arabic and Latin cultures.

Historians agree that Ancient Greek civilisation began in the Bronze Age, ending when Romans conquered Greece in 146 BCE. During that long period, Greek became the common language for intellectuals across Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Greeks (Mycenaean, Macedonian, Hellenistic, and Greco-Roman) had developed and accepted a naturalistic view that the universe was composed of earth, air, fire, and water. Superimposed upon that matrix was a four-part common-sense medical concept of humorism, attributed primarily to Hippocrates, in which the effects of illness on wellbeing were obvious. For example, we know that vomiting produces a caramel yellow substance called in Latin – chyme and in Greek – khumos, which is partly digested food. To the Greeks, this together with the products of diarrhoea, was a covariant warm substance called ‘yellow bile’. Other body products often seen in illness and seldom in wellbeing were phlegm (cold), blood and black bile. The latter might be external wound-dried blood or dark ‘coffee-grounds’ digestion third-stage vomiting. These four ‘humors’ were linked imaginatively to the seasons. Humoral imbalances were ‘controlled’ by medicinal, often herbal, drugs and by ‘vomiting, purging, or the production of urine’ or ‘bloodletting’. The Hellenes, Arabs and European Latins easily understood this human concept. Yet, how was it vectored, changed or intact, from culture to culture?

While Greece and Egypt were being overwhelmed by Latin-speaking armies and Greek medical knowledge was being centralised in Rome and Alexandria, the diverse tribal sheikdoms of Arabia were still using speculative folk medicine and worshipping desert stone navigation markers, for understandable reasons. Only in 622 AD did the founder of Islam, Muhammad, begin unifying conquests of the Arabian tribes. After Muhammad passed, the Arabic-speaking Moors invaded Christian Spain in 711 AD and stayed in dominant or weaker states for the next 800 years. Roman Latins absorbed Greek medical ideas, eventually passing to Islam where they found their way back to the Latin world through many pathways, in a partly changed form, effected by intellectuals and translators. The problems they faced were these.

The root of the Greek language is a unique 3,400-year-old stem of the earlier Indo-European language group, yet with a Phoenician originated alphabet via Linear B. Arabic has a central Semitic Iron Age root coming out of the Anti-Lebanon mountains and Mesopotamia, yet its script is directly formed from Nabbatean Aramaic. The root of Latin is also Indo-European but heavily altered by Etruscan Iron Age peoples – the original occupants of Europe post-Africa. Written Latin is a combination of Etruscan and Greek scripts. Each verbal language is not linked to its written language by origin – a translational nightmare. People conversed, but few could write. Higher learning was still developing. Critical to the question, educated translators might not be medically trained and therefore in danger of mistranslating vital concepts. There were also religious objections. Overall, effective translators were hard to find.

Ancient societies bound populations to farm estates. Only upper echelon rulers or the professions could cross state/tribal boundaries. For example, warriors (Alexander’s army), doctors of medicine like Galen, a Greek employed by emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus in Rome, Rhazes, ibn Sina, ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Benzi. Travelling academics including translators, Dioscorides, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Al-Ghazali (the Persian Arabic-speaker Algazel), al-Ghafiqi and sailor-traders, could take medical knowledge and pass it on, provided language was not a barrier. Sometimes it was possible to use semiotic hand-pointing and diagrams (Hunayn’s eye diagrams), to enhance understanding between people of different cultures but the overwhelming method of transmission was through writing – books and parchments. Though never error-free, Greek medical texts were read across the known world.

Yes, skilled translators with medical knowledge were needed but here it is necessary to examine the word ‘translation’. This can have two meanings, the common one of changing the coded signs or phonemes of language to new understandable equivalents – but also the ‘cloud-movement’ of ideas – almost a transubstantiation from an old concept to a new state of knowledge. Nowadays Christians talk of the ‘translation of the Host’ in Communion. This essay on the deep roots of the NHS, is more about the latter kind of translation – did something fundamentally new come out of the old during the communion of cultures? Was medical knowledge enhanced by both types of translation? In what order did this occur?

Conduits for the flow of Greek medical ideas into Arabic culture, with minor deliberate or inadvertent alteration, were mediated partly by Syriac translators of Greek into Arabic, by Nestorian Christians (via Abbasid patronage) and by wise Arabs both pre/post Islam. ‘Certainly, no Islamic author attempted to fundamentally revise humoral medicine’ (Ullmann, 1978, p.24). However, ‘translated texts provided the basis for a distinctive Islamic culture of medicine which continued and developed Greek ideas’. So, if Greek ideas were altered or enhanced by Islam, then to what extent?

First, it was necessary for translators to recognise a disease, but ‘there were no Arabic words for many of the diseases and symptoms described in Greek texts’. So, Greek ‘lethargos’ (inactive through forgetfulness) was changed to ‘litharghus’ (fatigue), thus changing the original meaning. Epilepsy, which Greeks knew as a ‘sacred disease’ (worshipful), became altered erroneously to Arabic ‘divine disease’ (God-given).  I translated treatments for snakebites verbatim despite a lack of such snakes in Islamic territories. Common words in each language for colours like red were used to describe inflammation. Errors crept in when the Greek for meningitis was altered twice into ‘quaranitis’. Therefore, ‘consciously or unconsciously’, the Arabs altered Greek medicine in a minor way. It was partly weakened because of religious bars on using pigs and alcohol in remedies, and ‘not all Hippocratic works were translated’. Greek medical knowledge was ‘subtly reshaped’. If Greek medical knowledge was reshaped by translation, transubstantiation, and omission by Arabic sources, then what effect did this have when Greek medical ideas were re-routed via the Middle East into Europe?

The high esteem Arabic translators had for Greek learning, embedded as it was in the burgeoning Islamic religion, meant that the warriors invading Spain, a Latin country, would bring in their train, people with Greek medical knowledge, partly altered or enhanced by Arab scholars. ‘Historians now agree that the greatest achievement of Islamic medical writers was to systematise Greek medicine’. Introducing Greek medical ideas into Latin cultures had intellectual cogency – it was not just common-sense or folk medicine but had a deep flavour of emerging science. Huge numbers of books, for example, the 10-volume Mansurian Book of Medicine, were organised by methods developed in Greek culture. Islamic wisdom improved these into remedial tools and sources of some power, aiding understanding of diet, hygiene, anatomy, and other aspects key to medical practice, like diagnosis, therapy, and surgery. Islamic medical knowledge was more detailed and systematic than the earlier Hippocratic ‘first attempts’. It had been stabilised, albeit filtered through religious precepts which removed aspects unacceptable to Islam.

As Islam moved into Latin Europe via Spain, Italy, Sardinia, and Sicily so the Islamic books of newly systemised knowledge were seen by Latin scholars. The problems began again with the need to transliterate where there were no Latin terms for Arabic medical knowledge. The obvious opportunity for any similarity in Greek to Latin roots (scripted in Etruscan) via Indo-European ancient language groups was missing because Greek ideas had already become Arabic ideas expressed in Semitic Nabbatean symbols, quite different to the Greek Phoenician script. Understandably, mistakes were made in translation and thus the already altered ‘qaranitis’, became ‘karabitus’. ‘European practitioners complained that the transliterated names of drugs were quite incomprehensible’.

In a breakthrough, at Monte Cassino, the Saracen monk Constantine Africanus, an Islamic convert to Christianity, began to translate Galen, Majusi, al-Jazzar and ibn Ishaq, without altering systematised Greek medical theories. Then Gerard of Cremona based at Toledo, capital of the Caliphate of Cordoba, worked on Ibn Sina (Avicenna – often a source of error and obscurities) and al-Qasim’s surgery texts. These and others found their way into the emerging universities employing competent remedial translators such as Leoniceno who graduated from the University of Padua and taught at the University of Ferrara. Niccolo Leoniceno was a brilliant man, whose work should be better celebrated. He was the first academic to write a science paper on syphilis. He wrote or accumulated hundreds of books, pointing the way to the academic route of textual evidence for learning. He had read Pliny’s Natural History and conducted a detailed criticism of his work, pointing out errors in understanding and especially in translation.

There was also an echo of Greek humorism still sounding from Roman times, not translated but absorbed practically into folk medicine treatments. Latin scholars, by then ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ (Bernard, Newton) both Greek and Arabic, realised Greek medical knowledge was valuable and translated it directly, as well translating the great surge of coherent knowledge coming from Arab contact with Latin cultures. Gradually this massive effort in understanding diverse medical information assembled by different cultures, developed into a science.

In conclusion, the extent to which Greek medical ideas were diluted, damaged, or enhanced by translation into Arabic and Latin can be expressed as follows. For the minor meaning of ‘translation’ – converting symbols into meaning, there were several errors from Greek to Arabic. Basic concepts were preserved although there was less focus on body fluids. When Islamic scholars had systematised the knowledge base in Phoenician script, then Latin scholars made few errors because they had Arabic language roots or knowledge. For the major meaning of ‘translation’ as transubstantiation, Greek humoral theory was taken without significant error into Arab and then Islamic culture. This major transubstantiation reached its apogee when the Arabs systematized and enhanced the Greek medical knowledge onto a platform of great significance including surgery and diagnostics, albeit filtered by Islamic law. Latin practitioners refined this corpus further. Then western and middle eastern cultures continued to build a modern scientific medical system of remarkable excellence. So, overall, Greek medical ideas were not ‘changed’ for the worse by translation (of either type) but were positively changed by coherent preservation of knowledge and enhanced into the lifesaving systems we have today.

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Copyright: David E P Dennis FCIPD LCGI RAF June 2021

References / Bibliography

Ullman, M. (1978) Islamic Medicine, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Quotation: ‘…standing on the shoulders of giants.

Original idea or concept from Bernard of Chartres (12th century) and paraphrased by Sir Isaac Newton in 1675 as, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’

What happened before the Greeks? To go further back to Sumerian times you can read the superb essay by Emily K. Teall, Honors College Graduate, Grand Valley State University: via the Brewminate Website.

Roman Might: Etruscan Plight


During the early formation of Italy, how did tiny Rome come to dominate and then totally absorb established Etruria? Why is it that we now speak of the ‘mighty Roman Empire’ and not the ‘invincible Etruscan hegemony’? This short essay cannot resolve all the fierce debates as academics strive to discern kernels of truth embedded in the mythic origin of Rome. Instead, it sets out to show that a single factor made the final difference between faltering Etruscan expansion and Roman domination: who had the greater grip on reality?

To reach a resolution, we have to move from a time of myth – a cloud of unknowing in early development, called the orientalising period, to a time of fact. Near East farming cultures permeated the Mediterranean. Greeks (Graikoi) came to the Italian peninsula, bringing with them the implacable militaristic world of Homer. Yet facts are scarce, sources conflicting, – if we cannot tease truth from myth, then we have to look at products.

Etruscans and Romans were humans, and being human, then to verify purported facts from early writers, we may legitimately use our knowledge of the way people think, their customs and religions, and by archaeology – of settlements, weapons, writings and tomb DNA.

Evolution, disease, aggression, and famine have thinned our ancestors down to a single species – homo sapiens. Yet within the species culturally, humans are extremely diverse in outlook and belief. Caution is needed: the views of men rather than women predominate; Roman rhetoric might not be the best guide to Etruscan thought; purported ‘history’ turns out to be myth. A dry list of battles cannot reveal thoughts and motivations, so using primary and secondary sources, this essay looks at evidence for likely mindsets on both sides of the Roman/Etruscan psychodrama to discover the psychological tipping point that enabled Rome to rise, leaving Etruria quiescent?

The fate of cultural groups is traced directly to decisions by men and women. Hills, forests, rivers and farmland plains of the Italian peninsula are merely the landscape stage on which the acts of the ‘play’ are revealed. No civilisation has a right to eternal dominance. However, for readers new to this part of world history, it is necessary to explain that the core of Etruscan civilisation emerged gradually from the Stone Age through to the Villanovan Iron Age of ninth century BCE, in what is now northern Italy. By the fifth century, Italy was patterned with many cultures, languages and beliefs. Intergroup expansionist wars and disruption by foreign invaders reached a crux in which the highly effective army of Rome began to dominate and extinguish Etruscan identity. Instead of coalescing from city states into a nation, the Etruscans fought each other, city vying with city. Fatally, Etruscans also partnered with the enemies of Rome, including the Samnites and Carthaginians.

Etruria was never a nation, it was a language and landscape-linked social structure, formed by a collective group of hill villages and Tyrrhenian coastal settlements, whose people shared common gods and rituals, partly copied from the Greeks. Etruria existed before Romans began to build their own tiny village group on the volcanic hills above Tiberian malarial marshes. Etruscans developed a fundamentally religious and artistic culture led by priests (cepen), expanding their control further south in what is now Italy and also began foreign adventures, becoming rich in the process.  

As the Etruscans expanded, so tiny Rome also grew. In between the two cultures was a dark, almost impenetrable Ciminian forest (Silva Ciminia). Myths and legends echo the acceptance of Sabine and Etruscan kings, then Romans banished them and became an efficient militaristic Republic. It is key to the evolution of Rome and the decline of Etruscan power, that the Romans and Etruscans had different languages (Latin/Oscan), gods and beliefs. It is the contention of this essay that the fate of Etruria was inevitable because Etruscans misunderstood reality to a dangerous degree.

Understanding reality

Reality is what happens whether you like it or not. To protect yourself from harsh truth about the world, life and death, you can use the mental protection salve of myth and religion.  Or, because the legendary past does not exist, you can face up to reality. In some societies, children are not given that choice.

When you wake up, you hope your parents will still be there. They will give you breakfast and show you how to behave. They will explain their own view of the universe to you and encourage you to believe it. Only later might you discover an independence of mind. However, if the religious teaching is so fervently intense, it may be almost impossible for you to emerge from it unscathed. Your mindset will have become possessed by the gods of your parents and ancestors.

As primary sources reveal, so it was with the Etruscans – their beliefs were exclusive and permanent. They had derived from the spreading cultural and religious memes of the pre-Babylonians. Humans had no idea how the universe was formed, so they made up stories. The forces of nature were said to have godlike powers – perhaps they were really anthropomorphic gods – a sun god, wind, lightning and harvest gods.

Once farming began, animals were domesticated, bred and used as food. Hens, sheep, cattle and goats were butchered to fill the pot every day. The livers of these animals, although of normal shape for each species, seemed to the Etruscans to have variable marks which might help to show the will of the gods. Etruscan priests reshaped and renamed the natures and characteristics of Greek gods. Despite Etruscan religion appearing like Greek religion to outsiders, it was very different to Greek and Roman belief.

To understand Etruscan religious thinking, we need to consider two central elements: animism and teleology. The Etruscans, and many other peoples in early times, believed that the universe had a spiritual essence or soul and that, for example, rivers, forests and thunderstorms were not inanimate but alive with an essence of the gods – things that are plainly inanimate to us, were animate to them. The Etruscans gathered together observations about their animistic world and placed them in sacred books (Etrusca disciplina). All these books have been lost, but Etruscan tomb carvings show them held lovingly, or used as pillows. We can glimpse the partial content of these lost books through the works of later writers who had access to some of them. Key to the animistic beliefs in these books was that the liver, where blood was thought to originate, was the seat of the soul.

We now turn from animism to teleology. Current scientific theories derived from the physics of the early universe, are accepted by many as showing an inanimate and undirected path to evolution of our world. If we even use the phrase ‘we are here because of an amazing series of accidents which refined the nuclear fine structure constant to be perfect for our existence’ then we immediately fall into the animism and teleological trap. There is no previously planned direction to the evolution of the universe. This is not to infer that religious belief is an intellectual crime, nor to deny the efficacy of religious belief in giving succour in an implacable universe. Many millions love their religion and find it a great comfort. However, it has been shown that there is a space in the brain for religious thinking and that humans naturally default toward teleological explanations for aspects of the world that are totally without direction. Important here is the early discussion of Darwinian evolution in which Man is said to be the ultimate goal – a stupor mundi – wonder of creation. Whereas in truth anything alive is just as wonderful. There is no evidence to show that Man is more or less important to evolution that an ichneumon parasitic wasp. Life exists, but it does not have a purpose. However, to the Etruscans this philosophical stance would be sacrilege. The animistic goal-directed purpose of the liver was, teleologically, to reveal the future.

When Christianity began to take hold, the early fathers of the church condemned pagan superstition and animism, making martyrs of those who resisted. This at the same time as they accepted the miracles of the virgin birth, walking on water, water into wine, feeding the five thousand, rising from the dead and the truly phantasmagorical doctrine of chiliasm, in which trillions of dead would finally rise up at the command of an angel’s trumpet, to sit with God for eternity. It was from this fantastic yet supervening religious stance that the Berber Christian writer Arnobius (in Haynes, 2000, p.270) was able to say:

Etruria is the begetter and mother of superstition. (Arnobius, Adv. Nat. 7.26.)

Even before Christianity embedded, the Roman writer Livy declared:

Etruria is a nation devoted beyond all others to religious rites – and all the more because it excelled in the art of observing them. (Livy (5.1.6)

Like crossing your fingers, avoiding the cracks in the pavement and not walking under ladders, Etruscans were convinced that they were enmeshed in a mythic landscape which required them to behave in certain ways or be damned by the gods. They believed that gods had powers and that fate could be revealed by divining meaning from entrails in a practice called haruspice.

Learned academics and every other reader of early history will know that the Romans too were superstitious, worshipped various gods derived from the Greeks, and used not their own but Etruscan haruspice.

So what was the fundamental difference between the beliefs of the Etruscans and those of the Romans? This is revealed in the most important and deeply analytical quote by Seneca the Younger (Sen Q. nat 2.32.2 in Haynes, 2000, p.270) and it gives a major clue to why Roman might led to Etruscan plight:

This is the difference between us and the Etruscans, who have consummate skill in interpreting lightning: we (Romans) think that because clouds collide, lightning is emitted. They (the Etruscans) believe that clouds collide in order that lightning may be emitted.

Seneca goes on to say:

Since they attribute everything to divine agency, they are of the opinion that things do not reveal the future because they have occurred, but that they occur because they are meant to reveal the future.

Even accepting the hold which animism and teleology had on early thinkers, this is such a remarkable reworking of the way the universe operates in reality, that it ensures that fervent Etruscans lived in a helpless dream perpetuated by haruspicing priests. For the practical common-sense Romans, B (lightning) happens because of A (clouds colliding). A is the action and B the product. For the myth-sodden Etruscans – B (clouds) think, animistically conspire and plan to make A (lightning) happen. B is the action and A is the product.  

The Roman view is concessionary yet pragmatic: Gods might exist so we will nod to them while we continue our inexorable progress – building roads and winning battles.  The Etruscan view is passively animistic and teleological. If Romans lose a battle, then they try to understand why. If Etruscans lose a battle, it was the will of the gods and nothing can be done about it.

Raphael (1483-1520 CE) caught the essence of this dilemma of possibilities in his famous ‘Academy’ painting The School of Athens, with two Latin putti inscriptions – ‘seek knowledge of causes’ and ‘knowledge of things divine’. At the top of the steps, Plato points heavenward and Aristotle to earth. In this painting almost all the thinkers are men – and in Roman society women found it difficult to promote their own world view of ideas. There is no evidence that Etruscan women fared better. In fact, the rejected academic efforts of Momigliano to prove Tanaquil as a matriarch example, leave us with a picture only of what Romans thought of Etruscan women, not what they really believed. The work of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus effectively parodies Etruscan women as people who ‘perita ut volgo etrusci, prodigiorum mulier’ – knew how to interpret prodigies – including the eagle and cap incident and the head of a boy bursting into flames (Cantarella, 1987, p.102). Etruscan women could come and go as they pleased, reclining on banqueting couches with men – not slaves, yet not matriarchs either, and certainly not capable of realising the folly of liver divination. Etruscan men and women alike, were trapped in their culture and their time, far more than the Romans, who gave their nods to what might be, whilst attending to what is.

The Romans, with their practical and militaristic mindset, realised that though the entrails might theoretically predict victory or defeat, it was up to them to overturn fate. To the Etruscans, the idea of overturning fate was impossible. Nothing can be done if the face of the gods is turned against us – and how will we know? The priests will tell us. The fact that the priests were just ordinary men, and that one pile of goat entrails is very like another, seems to have escaped the Etruscans.

The Fatted Calf

As the Etrurian cities became richer, so Etruscans realised the need for defence. Italy was a dangerous place, with three types of conflict: fighting between aristocratic families, conflict caused by the migratory impulsion of peoples, such as Greeks and Phoenicians, to move into the territories of others, and marauding Celtic tribes from the north, expanding their territories through raids. Initially, both the Roman Army and the Etruscans had adopted the Greek hoplite style of heavily-armed spearmen.

The significant evolutionary difference between the Roman Army and Etruscan fighting troops was that the Romans adopted the deep phalanx. In a narrow phalanx those at front facing a terrifying enemy could easily flee and the thin phalanx would then collapse, perhaps losing the battle. In the deep phalanx, it was harder for the front rank to run. Adrian Goldsworthy in his book The Complete Roman Army (2018), points to this moment in which practical decisions about fighting changed Rome from a set of hill villages into an inexorable force: the development of the deep phalanx marked the growth of Roman’s population and was also a sign that a significant part of that population owned land. With the deep phalanx, the Romans could easily win battles when fighting in open country, but initially it meant winning in local squabbles, tactical rather than strategic. It is a tradition rather than pure myth, that early Roman commanders adopted the phalanx after they had encountered Etruscan hoplites. Once again, we have our prime sources in Livy and Dionysius. They describe the Comitia Centuriata and Servian Reforms in full detail. The wealthy Romans had a greater say in the formation and structure of a sound defence (of their property). So, in one inspirational decision not produced by haruspice, but by practical knowledge of what works in battle, the deep phalanxes of the Roman Army gave the Roman aristocratic families a way of gaining even more wealth from the rich fatted lands of Etruria.

The End is Nigh

Polybius (Walbank and Scott-Kilvert 1979), detailed how the Roman Army had improved so much by the second century despite being a temporary militia subject to ‘farmer call-up’. The consular army, with its cavalry on the wings and the triarii, principes and hastati triple formation of the legions, produced a fearless and inexorable fighting force. Key to this was the deep phalanx method of putting the triarii of most experienced soldiers at the rear. Since the youngest – the hastati, even if they panicked, turned and ran could not get past the calming and wise triarii at the back, then warfighting with legions became Rome’s greatest acquisitive weapon.

It is easy to see from this that military wisdom was deeply practical and that the deeply false rationale of Etruscan thinking would fail. The Etruscan religion preached that armies lost because the gods made them lose. Roman commanders prayed to the gods but reorganised their deep phalanxes in perfect arrangement for winning, without the help of any gods. Interpreting spots on liver is not going to give you an advantage in war. Instead you need to watch when the fresh-faced young understandably try to run and how to overcome that fear. Etruscans feared their gods. The Roman Army was its own invincible god and it understood the psychology of fear in war. It had a victory mindset.


The critical state of Italy in the fifth through third centuries, with social unrest and political strife, called for a sense of purpose. The clearheaded purpose of the single city of Rome was to dominate through the use of its well-constructed army. The religiously oversaturated Etruscans, with their aristocratic rivalries – city against city and their failure to strive for a national identity, made them an easy prey. The Etruscans, poking hopefully at their animal livers, must have thought the gods were against them as their major trading partner, Sybaris, was destroyed, wrecking trade with the Greeks in the south of Italy. A Cumaean-Latin alliance beat the Etruscans at the Battle of Aricia and then the Cumaeans with the help of the Syracusans, defeated the Etruscan Navy. The Etruscans lost their coastline supply routes. The desperately unwise attack on Sutrium, not far from Rome in 311 BCE, caused the Romans to attack several Etrurian cities through a series of battles, forcing Etruria into a thirty-year truce. A rebound on Rome by Etruscans and Umbrians was defeated by Quintus Fabius Maximus. Desperate Etruscans then allied with Samnites and invading Gauls. The superb Roman Army of some 36,000 men, did occasionally lose, but once Samnites and Gauls were defeated, the Etruscan cities saw in their goat entrails that it was time to join Rome as allies, just in time to help Rome fight the Greeks. Etruscans faded, not because their gods failed them, but because their gods never existed, yet reality certainly did.

Words: 3,000 or less.


Cantarella, E. (1993) Pandora’s Daughters – The Role and Status of Women in Greek & Roman Antiquity, trans. M. Fant (1981) Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press.

Goldsworthy. A. (2018) The Complete Roman Army, London, Thames & Hudson.

Haynes, S. (2000) Etruscan Civilization – A Cultural History, London, The British Museum Press.

Livy, The History of Rome, Books 1-5, trans. V. Warrior (2006) Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing.

Walbank, F. and Scott-Kilvert, I. (1979). The Rise of the Roman Empire, London, Penguin Classics. 

Background Reading

Campbell, B. (2011) The Romans and their World – a Short Introduction, Yale, Yale University Press.

Swaddling, J. and Bonfante, L. (2006) Etruscan Myths, London, The British Museum Press.

This is my own unaided work.


The Story behind the Bulverhythe Liberator Crash of December 1943


David E P Dennis LCGI RAF


After many hours of research I have found the crash site of the famous United States Army Air Force Liberator Bomber called ‘Unstable Mabel.

The town of St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex, England, is located between the towns of Hastings and Bexhill. The road joining the two, is called Bexhill Road and has been given the road number A259. As the A259 goes past Glyne Gap, the entrance to the ancient harbour of Bulverhythe, it then passes the remains of the medieval chapel of St Mary’s at Abbey Drive and within a few yards comes to a road called Freshfields.

Stretching from Freshfields to the Combe Haven River (formerly the Asten) is a large area of open fields and marshes know as Combe Valley. In 1928, the local council decided to make a recreation ground at the backs of the houses on Bexhill Road. In early 1927, the field was bulldozed flat and became known as Bulverhythe Recreation Ground.

On the 6th April 1927, Edward, Prince of Wales (later to fall for Wallis Simpson, to shake hands with Adolf Hitler, to become King Edward VIII and finally to abdicate), came to Hastings to open the new White Rock Pavilion. He then witnessed the handing-over ceremony of the area called the Firehills (now Hastings Country Park) which the council had purchased to prevent housing development from spreading from Fairlight Cove.

Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson: Source: Wikimedia Commons

Prince Edward was then asked to travel from Hastings to Bulverhythe where he officially opened the long rectangle of the newly flattened recreation ground. It had two football pitches on its south side which had been provided for Hastings Rangers Football Club. The pitch to the west became the home for Hastings Rangers as they entered the County League. They moved their team HQ to the recreation ground in 1928.

To the north of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground (considered to be in the district of Pebsham), and now called Tier 1 in the Hastings Planning Department) was an extensive area of scrubland and marsh in the valley of the Combe Haven which had already been used to build a railway viaduct taking trains from Sidley, Bexhill’s second station – officially called Bexhill (West) to Crowhurst and on to London.

The viaduct – a low-level approach air hazard – especially at night.

Bluebell Railway Archive – John J Smith Collection

The immediate area of land to the north of the flattened recreation ground (now called Tier 2) was seen by air ace Sir Alan Cobham, a member of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, who wrote to Hastings Council in 1930 suggesting that it be used as an airfield to convey fruit and vegetables from markets in France and to export English goods.

Instead of acting immediately, the council prevaricated and decided instead to use some of the waste ground by the river as an uncontrolled waste tip. In those days, councils were being advised by the government that they should find areas with cracked bedrock so that the leachate would flow away ‘harmlessly’ into local rivers. This was eventually stopped by the Sunday Times scoop revealing the damage to the environment and a new preventative Act of Parliament quickly followed.

Nevertheless, some ‘self-help’ air activity did begin in the 1930s on Tier 2. The area immediately to the north of Tier 2 (now called Tier 3) became a rubbish dump.

In early September 1939 the United Kingdom and France both declared war on Germany after the Nazis invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun.

Bexhill Road and Combe Valley 1940: Source Bexhill Musuem

An aerial photograph taken from an RAF bomber in 1940 shows Bulverhythe recreation ground which by then also had a cricket pitch and a pavilion. The photo also shows that a fence line ran from north to south across Tier 2 which eventually became Pebsham aerodrome. This fence is significant to our story.

Air enthusiasts continued to push the council for an aerodrome. So the council kindly said that they would bulldoze the uncontrolled rubbish tip material so far accumulated, over the area of Tier 2 so that an aerodrome could be built on the flattened rubbish overlain with earth and concrete.

Remarkably, during the 1932 to 1934 period when bulldozing took place, a Norman Longboat with Dacian Wolfhead prow was unearthed. But the digger driver was instructed by Hastings Council managers, to quickly bury it again rather than delay the airfield’s completion. It is still there to this day.

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a Norman Longboat with Dacian Wolfshead Prow : Source Wikimedia Commons

The Pebsham aerodrome of the Hastings and East Sussex Air Service was eventually officially opened on 27th August 1948. It was rough and ready and looked like this in 1952:

Pebsham Aerodrome 1952: Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, during the Second World War, Tier 1 remained a sports ground and Tier 2 was only partly flat with a fence line across it. It was not yet an official landing strip specified for use in wartime.

On 7th December 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, thus bringing the United States of America into the war. US forces moved into England.

In 1942 an RAF Station was newly-built seven miles south-west of Norwich in Norfolk, England and given the number Station 114 (ICAO EGSK). It was handed over on completion to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).

RAF Hethel: Source US Air Museum

As the war became a struggle for the survival of democratic civilisation, on 14th September 1943, RAF Hethel became the headquarters of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the 2nd Bombardment Division.

With the completion of the airfield facility, RAF Hethel was assigned to several Bomb Groups. The Group we are interested in is the 389th Bombardment Group (Heavy), known as the ‘Sky Scorpions’ arriving from Lowry AAF, Colorado on 11 June 1943. The 389th was assigned to the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a “Circle-C”.

Its operational squadrons were:

564th Bombardment Squadron (YO)

565th Bombardment Squadron (EE)

566th Bombardment Squadron (RR)

567th Bombardment Squadron (HP)

The group flew Consolidated B-24 Liberators as part of the Eighth Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign. Because the aircraft were required to fly on long missions, their normal range of 800 miles was boosted to 2,000 miles by the additional fitting of extra aircraft fuel tanks, called Tokyo Tanks in July 1943. These extra fuel tanks did not have fuel gauges.

DAYTON, Ohio — Consolidated B-24D Liberator at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for the detachment’s participation in the famed low-level attack against oil refineries at Ploesti on 1 August 1943.

The group was frequently detached overseas and took part in some remarkable attacks on the enemy. However, the group resumed operations from England in October 1943 concentrating primarily on strategic objectives in France, the Low Countries, and Germany.

Significantly, in October 1943, the 564th Bombardment Squadron (YO) squadron was assigned to very long-range strategic bombardment operations over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany. Targets included industrial facilities, oil production facilities and refineries, rail and other transportation centres, enemy military airfields and garrisons.

Because of their outstanding bravery, their morale was high. Many Liberator bombers had images painted on their sides. The 564th Bomb Squadron aircraft we are most interested in, had this illustration – called ‘Unstable Mabel’, despite the aircraft really being called ‘John the Baptist’. Unstable Mabel was one of the famous aircraft paintings of women in a state of undress.

Unstable Mabel artwork: Source Imperial War Museum

It had the serial number B-24D/63957/YO:E. The full serial was 42-63957 with the year designator abbreviated on the airframe, resulting in 263957.

It was piloted by Captain Frank Wilby Ellis Jr. and had a crew of ten. It was fitted with long range Tokyo Tanks.

On the early morning of 31st December 1943, Captain Ellis, who had been commissioned on the 25th May 1938, (Service number 34843) – was tasked to fly Unstable Mabel on what might be called the Brandy and Cheese Run – with bomb load of between 5,000lbs (tactical) and 12,800lbs (max) to destroy a target somewhat north east of a line drawn between Cognac and Rochefort, south-western France. He was given the following attack co-ordinates:

45°53’59″N 0°27’27″W

His aircraft was fully fuelled to maintain a forward air speed of 220 mph using 200 US gallons per hour. He was to strike the target between 12.11 and 12.35 hours.

Cognac is in the Charente Department, Nouvelle Aquitaine, situated between Angouleme and Saintes – a very long way from RAF Hethel in East Anglia.

The specific target near Cognac was Saint-Jean d’Angély-Fontenet airfield (French: Aèrodrome Saint-Jean d’Angély-Fontenet) an airfield 390 kilometres southwest of Paris. See an article on this target here:

The airfield was built by the French Ministry of War in 1937. In 1939 the barrack buildings for radio-telegraphists were installed. In 1940 Jagdgeschwader 53 was stationed at the airfield. 

Jagdgeschwader 53 crews on standby: Source Wikimedia Commons

Through World War 2, the airfield served as a Luftwaffe fighter base, for which the Germans added dispersal areas, taxi tracks and asphalt roads. Just before the arrival of the Allies in 1944, the Germans destroyed their remaining equipment, which had already been hard hit because of Allied bombing.

Unstable Mabel was part of a huge bombing strategy in which 94 bombers were assigned to carry to multiple targets, some 181,850 tonnes of bombs (this works out to 3870lb or bombs per aircraft in short tonnes and 4333lb per aircraft in long tonnes.)

The normal mission profile would be to gain high altitude for a long-range mission. This used up fuel and further fuel was needed to maintain airspeed in the thin high atmosphere. You can imagine the roar of the engines and the shaking of the fuselage, as minute by tense minute these brave men pursued their mission.

B-24 airplane suitable for long, over-water missions: Source USAAF Air Museum

After perhaps five or six-hours flying time, Unstable Mabel reached the Cognac area, a journey of some 1,000 miles from RAF Hethel, and bombed its airfield target.

Having bombed his primary, then Captain Ellis decided to go for a target of opportunity – the Nazi submarine pens on the French coast at La Rochelle, some 50 miles to the north west of Cognac. La Rochelle is a major seaport and capital of Charente-Maritime and contained the la Pallice Nazi wolfpack submarine base in massive concrete housings.

La Pallice Wolfpack Installation La Rochelle: Source Wikimedia Commons

The aircraft turned, flew on for maybe 20 minutes and having dropped all its bombs near Cognac and La Rochelle, Unstable Mabel turned for home – yet taking a direct bearing on RAF Hethel would be a risky thing because of German air activity over France.

Unstable Mabel had to fly back for another five or six hours. But this time it was lighter with no bombs so made faster progress until it hit fuel problems.

Nevertheless, Unstable Mabel with her crew of ten made it to the edge of the English Channel, but either the fuel flow from the Tokyo Tanks became totally restricted or the whole fuel tanks system was almost empty. Then running out of fuel, not surprisingly, considering its massive mission, the aircraft descended and then – according to some eyewitnesses, burst into flames.

Captain Ellis gave the order to the crew to bale out over the coast of England at Pebsham (a parachute pack has been found on a house roof), but he heroically stayed with the aircraft.

Cockpit of the Consolidated B-24D Liberator “Strawberry Bitch.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Coming much lower, he avoided striking the railway aqueduct. Then looking round over Pebsham, using only the light of the moon in its waxing crescent and the downward glare of the fire from his burning aircraft, he sought a possible landing ground – a dark patch of ground, maybe glistening with recent rain. He lined up parallel to the blacked-out houses of Bexhill Road. He could see that the Tier 2 fence line would impact with the aircraft if he chose the rough ground to the north of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground, so he alone put the aircraft down on the rain-soaked and frequently flooded Bulverhythe Recreation Ground, in the dark of the winter evening – the sun having set on 31st December at 16.02 hours.

The burning airframe slewed across the grass, struck the sports pavilion, totally destroying it down to the foundation brickwork, then shot across the drainage ditch at the back of the houses on Bexhill Road and landed up in the gardens of three houses, destroying some property including a greenhouse. Captain Ellis and his crew all survived. Unstable Mabel burned.

Then the bureaucracy of wartime Britain took over. The assessment of damage did not take place until 13th May 1944, some five months later – understandable in this dreadful war. D. W. Jackson of The Borough of Hastings, Town Clerk’s Department logged the damage in the Register of Damage to Property Directly Consequent upon Bombardment or Attack from the Air – Folder BDR 24 Report 117A states:

“31st December 1943 Bulverhythe Recreation Ground, Bexhill Road – USA Bomber Impact.”

It has not missed my notice that ‘Bulverhythe’ means ‘the landing place of the people’. It was once the harbour of the ancient Saxon settlement of Bullington, mentioned in the Domesday Book.


The 389th Bomb Group flew its last combat mission late in April 1945. It returned to Charleston AAF, South Carolina on 30 May 1945 and was inactivated on 13 September 1945.

Brave Liberator-24 pilot Frank Wilby Ellis Jr. earned many medals:

  • Air Force Longevity Service Award with 3 oak leaf clusters
  • Air Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters
  • American Campaign Medal
  • American Defence Medal
  • Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 oak leaf cluster
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  • National Defence Service Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal

He was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

In a deeply sad incident, he was killed in crash of TB-47B “Stratojet” #50-0076 on 18 December 1957 while serving as its pilot. Also killed were Maj. Thomas M. Esmond (Aircraft Commander) and Capt. Frank F. Harradine (Flight Surgeon).

The Stratojet pilot, Colonel Ellis was trying to land in thick fog at March Air Force Base near the Mount Palomar Giant Telescope in California. However, it veered and struck the mountain and exploded.

Stratojet using rocket assisted take-off: Source: USAF Air Library


In this Liberator-24 crash at Bulverhythe, it was a miracle that no-one was killed. The exceptional determination of Captain Ellis to save his crew and then to try and save his aircraft reveals exemplary courage.


The following aspects of this incident need to be resolved:

1. The bomb load and fuel upload are all estimates based on typical Liberator operations and need further clarification to ensure accurate historical records.

2. It is not clear if the submarine pens were a target of opportunity or a planned secondary target, so the logbook is needed. I have written to the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom to ask for help in finding the logbook.

3. Possible espionage. Although using Occam’s Razor, it would make sense to assume that there were 10 crew members, all of whom survived, some Liberators did have 11 crew spaces due to having 4 waist gunner spaces. Also some Liberators carried ‘Joe’ and ‘Jane’ spies to drop into France. There is a very outside chance that:

A spy who did not drop over France then was lost from the Liberator over Pebsham and the matter was covered up. However, the parachute pack was almost certainly ‘dumped’ to save weight in our opinion. Once again, the logbook would resolve this matter.

To learn about how the Liberator 24D bombers were used in espionage – go here:

4. What exactly did Captain Ellis write in his logbook to detail the remarkable escape he and his crew had in this crash?

5. Although we can see a note in the Liberator mission records saying ‘10RTD’ (ten returned to duty), because Bexhill Hospital wartime records are no longer extant, we cannot find out if any crew members were injured in the crash or if anyone died later from wounds. Help by US authorities is needed here to check with crew relatives.

6. How was the airframe removed from the crash site, was any of it preserved elsewhere, or were part of it recycled to other airframes?

7. Is part of the undercarriage still in the water-filled ditch? The crash site is on a flood plain in a naturally winter-flooded valley.

8. Was the waterlogged nature of the recreation ground so wet that the quarter moon reflection enabled the pilot to see the ground despite the national blackout regulations? The weather records for the area in 1943 show that it had rained several times in December 1943, including one day of 28mm on the 19th December. Since the water table rises in winter on this flood plain, the ground is often totally flooded or saturated.

9. How did the remaining 9 (or 10) crew get rescued after they para-dropped from the burning aircraft? Did they walk to a police station or were they found and helped by the local population and air raid wardens?

10. How (and when) did the crew get back to RAF Hethel?

11. Exact state of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground at the time of crash landing? Here are some photos showing photos of the varying water levels on this natural flood plain of the Combe Haven in a winter-flooded valley.

If you have any information about this air crash or the pilot, please email me at:


1. War diaries

2. Photographs:

Aerial 1940

My own crash site photos

Picture of the nose cone end of Unstable Mable with naked woman illustration.

3. Eyewitness accounts

Photo examples of Liberators.

4. The Hastings Borough Council signed damage report documents for the crash of an ‘American Bomber’ on Bulverhythe Recreation Ground on 31st December 1943.

5. Certification acceptance of the key facts and emails from and to:

Tom Fullam, Library and Information Assistant

Second Air Division Memorial Library

Tel: 01603 774747

Second Air Division Memorial Library, The Forum, Norwich, NR2 1AW

6. Email conversations with Imperial War Museum and Air Museum Duxford.

7. Advice on the law and preservation of air crash wrecks: Sussex Police PCSO Daryl Holter, Sussex Police Heritage Officer.

8. UK Ministry of Defence MOD War Detectives – the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre Commemorations Team: JCCC
Innsworth House
Imjin Barracks

Legal Aspects

The aircraft crashed at what is now part of Combe Valley Countryside Park, land owned by Hastings Borough Council, which they call ‘Tier 1’.

I have applied to MOD for permission to excavate the site because I think some parts of the airframe may be in a water-filled ditch which runs at the back of the three houses affected by the crash. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defence has specified me as the ‘named person’ for this crash excavation application in accordance with the Protection of Military Remains Act (1986). .

Key Importance of Conservation and Commemoration:

As English Heritage and Historic England both state: ‘The majority of aircraft losses in the 20th century have been related to military activity, and therefore they are automatically protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act (1986). Therefore, the records of aircraft crash sites across the Study Area are of interest; although the records appear to indicate Recorded Losses rather than known remains on the seabed, if these aircraft were to be found they would be of high importance.

Non-designated aircraft crash sites are also important, because they provide a tangible reminder of the development of the aviation industry in the UK throughout the 20th century. Because aircraft crash sites belong to recent history, they can also have significance; survivors and relatives may exist, and the sites can be important for remembrance and commemoration. Aircraft crash sites also have importance through their cultural value as historic artefacts and for the information they contain about the aircraft itself and its circumstances of loss (English Heritage 2002a; Wessex Archaeology 2008b). These can be considered important for remembrance and commemoration.’

You can also read about the importance of the site here

I am a Trustee of the national charity called Friends of Combe Valley and I am also fundraiser, historian and warden co-ordinator for Combe Valley.


I would like to acknowledge with thanks the great help of Alexis Markwick of Bexhill Museum support team, David Hatherell, air historian, Tom Fullam at the USAAF Air Library, Norwich and Sussex Police Heritage Officer Daryl Holter – and my dear wife Margaret for putting up with me while I researched it all.

David E P Dennis LCGI RAF

Copyright 2020 All photographs are mine except where stated under the image.

If any errors have been made in Copyright attribution, please let me know and they will be immediately corrected.

The Old Coach Road

This essay is part of the overall History of Combe Valley. The Old Coach Road enabled commerce between Crowhurst and Bulverhythe in East Sussex, England. It has a fascinating history.

Postcard from Wikimedia Commons

In 1756, soldiers were dying, crammed together in the Black Hole of Calcutta. We were at war with France and a massive hurricane struck England. It was a tumultuous year, with George II on the throne and Thomas Pelham-Holles, First Duke of Newcastle about to resign as Prime Minister.

Another Pelham, Colonel Thomas Pelham, the owner of Crowhurst Park was in a bad mood. Some miserable person – an estate tenant no less, called Polhill had ruined his beautiful coach road by carting in bad weather. Pelham had built the road at his own expense just for the locals and now the local ‘peasants’ were wrecking it. He was furious, and wrote to a Mr Collier on 20th May 1756:

‘I am concerned to hear that my private road is almost as bad as the highway, which is very hard – when ’tis chiefly for you gentlemen in the neighbourhood.’

As you can see from this modern photo, not much has changed – the winter weather makes for a muddy morass.

So where was the Old Coach Road and what was it really for?

It started at the Roman Iron Ore mine and Bloomery at Beauport, then found a course along Telham Ridge to Crowhurst Park, down to Upper Wilting Farm and on across the fields right through the middle of Monkham Wood, until it reached the Combe Haven river at a place called Coach Bridge.

Here it crossed over the Combe Haven, and went straight up the hill to Pebsham Farm, down to St Mary’s Church ruins and on to Bulverhythe.

Here’s a section of the modern path from Upper Wilting Farm but the Old Coach Road runs along the hedges on the horizon to the left of this picture.

Shortly after this point things degenerate into the famous morass again.

You can imagine that this Coach Road was used by all the local people – those who worked on Pelham’s estates and those who worked at local communities such as Bexle (Bexhill), Pepplesham (Pebsham), Filsham, Worsham and Bulverhith (Bulverhythe), the ancient harbour of Domesday Bullington that has mostly fallen into the sea due to great storms and coastal erosion.

This was not a mail coach service, but more of a horse and trap or carting service, because at Bulverhythe and Bexhill large quantities of chalk were unloaded from the cliffs at Eastbourne. Beachy Head was being mined for chalk. The chalk was then turned into lime in furnace kilns and spread on the fields to increase crop yields.

The Wagons may have looked like this:

Both images: Wikimedia Commons

When Hasting Area Archaeological Research Group (HAARG) first began to examine Colonel Pelham’s carting road they thought there might be a Roman road underneath it. It turned out to be entirely an 18th century estate road – but it may have followed an earlier pathway to the coast because a broach pin dating to 1400 AD was found by the side of the road.

In the 1700s, the Combe Haven River (formerly the Asten) was tidal to Pebsham (Pepplesham) – at Coach Bridge and Filsham (where the SSSI reed beds are now). There was a landing quay at Coach Bridge where, when the tides were right, goods could be put on boats and taken to Bulverhythe.

As well as chalk for the lime kilns, the type of goods moved by these boats were: cattle being brought to summer pasture on the main marshes, the carting of wood for charcoal and home fires – and dare we say it – smuggling!

You could a take a boat to Bulverhythe or stay on board and row to Bo-peep, as the Combe Haven had two outflows back then. Nowadays one of them is blocked by Ravenside Retail Park and the other by sluice gates. The land was owned by ancient families – the Pelhams, Papillons, Worshams, Peppleshams and the likes – mostly farming landowners who were also into politics.

So what did these people look like? Well here’s one of the Pelhams:

Henry Pelham by John Shackleton – Wikimedia Commons

Crowhurst Park History says: ‘The much coveted symbol of the park is the Pelham Buckle, said to have been awarded to John de Pelham for his part in the capture of King John of France at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. The buckle first appeared on the coat of arms of the Earl of Chichester, originally known as Baron Pelham of Stanmer. The Pelicans which also feature on the coat of arms are a play on the name ‘Pelham’ and the buckles which adorn the coat of arms are said to represent those of the surrendered sword of King John.’

You had to have plenty money to employ people to build a road like this. It seems it was built for heavy use, with turf in the centre and gravel on the outsides and with sandstone curbs. The road had a good camber and the depth of construction was 70cms in four layers.

So where was it built?: Here’s an overview of the road marked in red:

This map with a red line of the Old Coach Road is based on a map of 1813, so not many years after it was built. Nowadays you can walk some sections and not others. For example, the Old Coach Road went straight up the hill from the Coach Bridge Quay (at Waypoints 54, 5, 6 to 58 of the Combe Valley map), so right over where the Tip is now and straight over to Pebsham Lake. So the path we walk now from the top of the Tip down the slope to Pebsham Lake is around 100 ft lower than the Old Coach Road, but when it gets to the latch gate at Pebsham Lane and then goes down to the back of the Bexhill Road Garden Centre – that is part of the Old Coach Road at Waypoints 45 to 44 of the Combe Valley map.

Also, the cut through to the river from the Tip Path (that some of us call ‘Dragonfly Alley) is also part of the Old Coach Road and Coach Bridge is right there. In days gone by, if the tide was right, you could have stepped off the Quay and you could have got onto a boat with your cargo of wood and sailed or rowed to Bulverhythe near St Mary’s Chapel.

For a broader view in relations to Bexhill – see this map:

Back then…maybe more birds singing in the trees – a carter whistling away, quiet landscapes of dragonfly willows and heron reeds, the clip-clop of horses, but the insects would have been mostly the same. So let us treasure what we have – and don’t upset the cart!

Happy Days.

All photographs by David E P Dennis LCGI RAF except where stated. Copyright 2020

Friends of Combe Valley Newsletter No. 3

Spring is on its way – but the wildlife has already sprung a surprise!

Here are two new additions to the the 3,000 other species in the Valley – Egyptian Geese and a White Stork.

Egyptian Goose – Alopochen aegyptiacus
White Stork – Ciconia ciconia
This White Stork has flown in from the Knepp Valley collection – West Sussex
Egyptian Geese were introduced as ornamental birds – and have now gone wild.

The number of wildfowl in the Valley reached 1,000 and 200 Shoveler Ducks (Anas Clypeata) were seen on Crowhurst Lake – a nationally significant amount. Four sea-going Scaup Ducks also landed on our fresh water flood causing Twitchers to twitch!

Local History

Friends of Combe Valley have been very busy indeed, running the Warden Service, staffing the Cafe at the Discovery Centre and reporting pollution. We have also been busy researching local history.

It seems that in the period 1932 to 1934, Sir Alan Cobham, the daring air ace, wrote to Hastings Council asking them to clear an area at Pebsham for an aerodrome to convey fruit and vegetables from France. During the preparations, a digger driver unearthed a Norman Longboat, complete with ‘Dragon’s Head’ prow. Noted historian Kathleen Tyson has pointed out that Flemish traders came to Bulverhythe Harbour in the period 1000 AD to 1100 AD and therefore the ‘Dragon’s Head’ could actually be a Dacian Wolf Head which the Flemish used when copying the Normans. You can see a Dacian Wolf Head in this image from the Bayeux Tapestry.

Bayeux Tapestry by unknown makers – Wikimedia Commons

So what happened to the Longboat? Well, the Council were alarmed that the discovery might delay the building of the aerodrome, so they told the digger driver to re-bury it. It was then reburied, it is estimated – near the join of Tier 1 and Tier 2 of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground. Pebsham aerodrome was then built on Tier 2.

Could this Tier 1 wet site at Bulverhythe be the hiding place of a Longboat?

But the story does not stop there – because firstly, some local residents claim that when Tier 1 floods in winter, the Norman Longboat eerily rises up – its prow can be seen – and then as the spring weather arrives so it sinks back down. To make matters even more complicated, an avid local historian claims that the Longboat was buried under a concrete raft in the car park of the Waterworks near the A259. Plainly if this is true it cannot ‘rise up’. So Friends of Combe Valley asked the County Archaeologist, Neil Griffin, about the best way to preserve it. He replied that Hastings Borough Council would need their permission to build more than 10 houses on the site and so if planning goes ahead for the 192 homes, then a full desk and onsite check has to be made by the ESCC County staff. No planning application has yet been made. Nevertheless, Bulverhythe was an early medieval harbour with tidal fish traps so there may be several heritage boats to be found.

Sad Story of a Spitfire Crash

Upper Wilting – Monkham Wood

We are coming soon to the Victory In Europe Commemoration on 8th May 2020 – VE Day – and we all have seen films showing the sacrifice that so many made to keep us free. During the Battle of Britain, we lost a young pilot who was shot down near Upper Wilting Farm. Here’s the story but with a request to be careful when walking there:

Walkers are reminded that the area of Monkham Wood and Monkham Mead next to Upper Wilting Farm, Crowhurst is sensitive as it is the location of the World War II fatal crash site of a Spitfire shot down by a Nazi fighter on 30th October 1940 at midday. The aircraft was flown by Pilot Officer A. E. Davies. It is legally protected by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and the crash site is monitored by the Ministry of Defence Business Services Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Innsworth House, Gloucester. Full details of this and many other World War II incidents, including fighter and bomber crashes and V1 rocket attacks in the Valley vicinity will be published in the next Friends of Combe Valley charity newsletter. VE Day 75th anniversary is on 8th May 2020.

More background to this incident: A member of the Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group found the following report of wartime memories:

‘Mrs Pelling remembers life as a child at Wilting (called Wilton on 1813 maps) during the war years of the 1940s when air raids were common and almost every farm in the area had its own war incident. In the case of Wilting, a plane crashed at the southern end of Monkham Mead about October 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

The crash was witnessed by many people in the Crowhurst area and although the remains of the aircraft were removed by an Aircraft Historical Society, it has left its mark – a shallow depression.

Spitfire – Wikimedia Commons

Not surprising after this distance of time – not all the recollections tally exactly but it seems that the aircraft, a Spitfire, was shot down by cannon fire from German fighter one Wednesday morning.

The pilot was seen trying to get out of the plane as it fell but was killed by the impact of the crash. The plane itself fell apart during the descent and one of the wings fell off into Hollington Park.

Mr G Drew who lived nearby was one of the first on the scene and pulled the pilot’s body from the stricken aircraft and wrapped it in sacking.

Later the poor man’s family came from Coventry to collect the remains, while the authorities collected some pieces of the Spitfire.’

Visit of the Deputy Chief Constable – Jo Shiner

Will Kemp, DCC Jo Shiner and some friends walking their dogs

On 10th January 2020, we were honoured to receive a visit to Combe Valley by DCC Jo Shiner of Sussex Police. She met the Wardens, saw Upper Wilting Farm and the Greenway and Crowhurst Lake. It was a fine sunny day and so lots of walkers were out with their dogs and she and her staff officer Police Sergeant Martyn Waterson were able to stop and chat.

David Dennis, Will Kemp, PCSO Daryl Holter and DCC Jo Shiner

Also accompanying us was PCSO Daryl Holter, the Sussex Heritage and Wildlife Crime officer. We discussed the vandalism and motorcycle theft and burning taking place in the Valley but also the wonderful opportunity to strengthen community metal health by getting people to know and walk in the Valley.

DCC Jo Shiner talks to a budding police officer – maybe!

Crowhurst Footpath

Every winter the section of the 1066 Trail from Crowhurst Cricket Ground near the Plough pub to the open fields and Crowhurst Lake, becomes a morass of mud – and more recently two parts of it began to slip down into the Powdermill Stream, causing someone to fall into the brambles.

Mud, mud – inglorious mud!

Previously, East Sussex County Council had explained that since they had over 2,000 miles of footpaths (the same distance as the roads in East Sussex), they could not afford to repair the very muddy section. However, now that ESCC footpath engineers have studied the path, they agree that action IS required. So, as soon as the path dries sufficiently, then temporary repairs will be made – and then in 2021-2022 financial year, the whole path will be properly and safely repaired.

Natural winter-flooding at Three Bridges on the 1066 Trail in Combe Valley

They did also point out that the 1066 Trail is not part of the national trail network – although it does connect to it – but is in fact a path devised by Rother District Council. In the longer term it may be possible to build a bund across the Valley to permit walkers to cross the Combe Haven in winter. At present the crossover points at Three Bridges are deep in the flood and impassable.

Redundant Power Cables

During the late Spring, Power Network UK engineers will remove the redundant electrical cables, telegraph pole and switch boxes from the Bulverhythe Path – and also the power cable that is hanging from the cliffs at Galley Hill.

The old GEC power unit now owned by Power Networks UK and to be removed soon.

Crime in the Valley

Sadly, there are people in our community who want to wreck the Valley or misuse it in a criminal way. Here are a series of photos showing you the kinds of things that are happening – fly tipping, vandalism, stolen motorbikes and other matters now under police investigation. Please can you report anything suspicious to us via the Warden contact email –

Fly tipping at Pebsham
Fly tipping at Pebsham
Vandalism at the Discovery Centre

Cleaning Up Combe Valley

We were setting up a comprehensive clean-up campaign but Coronavirus has made life complicated – so please follow our Facebook page @CombeValley to see the latest situation. At present, volunteers are called for to help us clean up the Bulverhythe Recreation Ground area on Saturday 4th April at 10.00 ( for two hours) meeting at the Discovery Centre in Freshfields.

Stolen and burned bicycle at Bulverhythe Recreation Ground Tier 2

History and Wildlife Presentations

As soon as we know when the Coronavirus emergency has come to an end, we will be giving local history and wildlife presentations at the Discovery Centre cafe. The first presentation will be The History of Bulverhythe, followed one month later by The History of Crowhurst. Please follow our Facebook page to see when these events can go ahead. Friends of Combe Valley members may come free of charge and non-members will be asked to pay £5.00 including tea/coffee and biscuits. These presentations by David Dennis are likely to start at 7pm and last for around 1 hour to 1.5 hours The scope of the presentation will cover, the origin of the landscape, Ice Age, Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman occupation, Norman invasion, Medieval history and modern history of each area – including World War I and II. The third presentation will be a detailed look at the seasonal wildlife of our lovely Valley.

Woodland Trust Season CheckNature’s Calendar

The Woodland Trust is carrying out research into when seasons start and how much change there is due to global warming, sea level rises and other factors that might affect animals and plants. If you are the kind of naturalist who records the first sighting of a bee, or butterfly, or the dates that flowers open in Spring – then this survey is for you. Here’s the link:

Goodbye for now – and thanks

Thanks for reading this newsletter and supporting our charity which is dedicated to the preservation of landscape, wildlife and education of the public. The next newsletter will give more details of our schools tree-planting and wildlife education programme – and two new websites we are developing.

All the very best to all of you – and please stay safe.

David E P Dennis LCGI RAF

Trustee, Fundraiser and Warden Co-ordinator

Unless otherwise stated under a photo – all images are copyright of David E P Dennis 2020

Friends of Combe Valley Newsletter No. 2


The first Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Combe Valley national charity 1163581 is to take place on Friday December 13th at 18.30 hours in the Discovery Centre, Freshfields Road, Bexhill TN38 8AY

Discovery Centre Cafe, Freshfields Road, Bexhill, TN38 8AY – Free Parking

All members are invited. Voting will take place for the election of the Chair and Trustees. A number of organisations with interest in or responsibility for the Combe Valley Countryside Park, have been invited by letter.

Valley Familiarisation tour for Rother DC Chair

Chair of Rother District Council – Counsellor Terry Byrne visiting Pebsham Lake

The Chair of Rother District Council, Cllr Terry Byrne accompanied me on a tour of Combe Valley on Thursday 5th December. We visited Pebsham Lake, Upper Wilting Farm, the 1066 Trail at Crowhurst and viewed the locations of Little Bog and Decoy Lakes and Adams Farm.

Warden Service

I attended a meeting at the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office in Lewes on Monday 2nd December. I gave a briefing on the Warden Service and met many people who shared our interest in preserving wildlife and landscape and helping the public to be safe. I also met a group patrolling the South Downs National Park on horseback, a group helping people with sight impairment or blindness to receive newsletters by sound recording and another group who were working on a re-wilding project with schools in Hastings. The Police and Crime Commissioner talked to us all and a reporter from the Brighton Argus interviewed us. The meeting was videoed. FoCV thank the PCC and Chief Constable for the £2,500.00 donated to help us keep Combe Valley users safe and wildlife protected.

Warden Service equipment

Part of the police and PCC funding can be used for the purchase of equipment to remove dangerous items such as bags, barrels, shopping trolleys, tins and fly tipping rubbish from valley locations, some of which are difficult to reach. Long telescopic poles (of up to 24 feet) with claw grabber ends are being purchased. We hope now that a major clear-up of the Valley will begin. Wardens will also be issued with waders and first aid kits. A Lone Worker health & safety policy is being established.


Natural annual flooding – the view from the 1066 Trail crossing point at ‘Three Bridges’

It has been difficult for people wanting to become new members or to support our efforts to join or donate. FoCV will be setting up a website with information on our activities and also a payments page for membership and donations, using PayPal and the bank BACS system. Data Protection laws will be implemented in full.


Following a conversation with FoCV members at a meeting last month, I have been discussing a landscaping and re-wilding project with Rother DC Chair and a senior planner. The concept is finding favour and will be further reported on in subsequent newsletters. The next stage is to identify the landowner(s) – that is now underway. The following stage will be to submit the detailed plan with diagrams to the CIC for approval by Cllr Ruby Cox and the CIC contracted management organisation – Groundwork and to the landowner, if it is not Rother DC.

The project will be aimed at volunteers and schools who would like to help to plant trees and shrubs, to develop reed beds in two new lakes, to make a woodland trail feature and sow wild flowers suitable for pollinators. New habitats for butterflies, insects and birds will be developed with specialist advice from Sussex Wildlife Trust. The proposed project sites will be the area surrounding the Discovery Centre and the edges of the woodland at Tier 2 of Bulverhythe Recreation Ground. The existing sports field and facilities will not be affected. The projects will be funded by grants from organisations supporting tree planting and wildlife enhancement.

Crowhurst flooding

You can see from the two pictures above that the Powdermill Stream has burst its banks on occasions and Environment Agency Flood Warnings have been posted for Crowhurst Village three times in the last month (Nov).

I have been to see the Crowhurst Environmental group for 2.5 hours of detailed discussions to elicit their view of the Park development and preservation of wildlife areas and the natural winter-flood landscape. The Crowhurst group wish there to be minimal interference with the ‘wildness’ of the landscape and are not in favour or ‘urbanisation’ into some sort of beautified parkland. During the meeting it was plain that Crowhurst residents have great concerns about flooding. They explained that they were worried that if the Tier 1 housing estate flood plain management scheme went ahead, it would make it even more likely that Crowhurst cricket ground and local housing would become flooded again. This is because the Powdermill stream is slow to drain away, as it has little gradient and the Greenway edges do not prevent the stream from bursting its banks, as can be seen in the photos. No member of the Ambiental flood consultants or any member of Hastings Borough Council has yet been to reassure the Crowhurst Environmental Group or the local residents of Crowhurst.

Flood plain building meeting

There is to be a meeting with Hastings Borough Council on 13th January 2020 at which group representatives from FoCV, Bulverhythe Protectors and Hastings Urban Design Group and others will be invited to put their point of view.  However, it will not be possible for any group to see or comment on the final plans of the flood remediation scheme as they have not been completed. Therefore we do not know where the earth or concrete banks or bunds are to be located, nor we do we know where the balancing lakes and non-return valves are to be placed. However, if the plan is refused by the Environment Agency or by the Secretary of State for the Environment upon Appeal, then what could the Tier 1 site look like? Here is the original concept diagram when HBC pledged to keep a ‘green space’ between Bexhill and St Leonards.

CIC and Groundwork meeting

There is to be a joint meeting of FoCV, the CIC and Groundwork on 21st January 2020 at the Discovery Centre at which the initial overview of the Park development plan will be discussed. More details and timing will be published in the next newsletter.

Seaside clean-up

We hope to organise beach clean-up sessions covering the long shoreline inside the Countryside Park boundary. We will be calling for volunteers.

The CIC and Groundwork have direct responsibility for a very big shoreline (see map below).

Dog waste-powered streetlamps!

It is now possible to buy machines that burn dog-waste and turn it into methane which then powers streetlamps. Smaller burn units might be purchased to place at the end of main footpaths so that dog-walkers could use them to burn the waste bags rather than leaving them hanging in the bushes.

Wildlife seen

Here’s a gallery selection of wildlife seen in the Valley in the past month.

Also seen were Long-tailed Tits, Buzzards, Little Egrets, Pochards, Devil’s Coach-horse beetles, Peacock butterflies and a Grebe. If you would like to report a sighting then you can log it on the board in the Discovery Centre.

Insect identification

The iridescent ground beetle (Carabidae) seen being attacked by rare types of wolf spiders at Three Bridges has been identified as…  Poecilus versicolor 

Invitation to contribute to the Newsletter

Readers of this newsletter are very welcome to submit a relevant article or a letter for publication, following moderation by the newsletter editor.

Leave a light on – security

We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year – and don’t forget to leave a light on when you go out enjoying yourselves.

Kind regards


Rudolph in Lapland

Text and all photos copyright 2019 David E P Dennis LCGI RAF

Fundraiser Friends of Combe Valley National Charity 1163581

Friends of Combe Valley Newsletter No 1.

3rd November 2019

Combe Valley Winter Flood 27th October 2019


Welcome to the first edition of our Valley Newsletter. I will send it out, not monthly or weekly but whenever there is something important to communicate. Please ‘like it’ so that you always get a copy whenever it is published.

Filsham Reed Beds

There is some confusion about the long term maintenance of Sussex Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) Filsham Reed Beds SSSI. Facebook has an article saying that there will be a 10-month long programme of improvements, including the removal of willow, cutting of reeds and restoring the lake in front of what used to be the bird hide but is now a wicker fence.

Filsham Reed Beds – the clogged-up lake – 15th October 2019

However, a senior executive at SWT has written to me telling me that this might not happen after all.

Here is an extract from his letter:

‘With regard to reedbed management, we do not believe a significant increase in resource or effort to create more open water would increase the ecological diversity of the site, as current habitat management is evidentially increasing ecological diversity, and as such we are confident that we have a strong ecological mandate for continued practice.

The aesthetics vs ecological benefit of open water vs reedbed is something that could continue to be communicated through interpretation including education events and literature. The focus on small-scale, sustained and sustainable effort to increase diversity within a manageable area must be set against the disadvantages of short-term capital investment that could achieve short-term visual effects, but could not be maintained over time without long-term input of extra resource and effort.’

I have written back to SWT CEO Tor Lawrence to obtain clarification of the two contrasting pieces of information. Lake or no Lake that is the question?

Solar Panels

Hastings Borough Council has been working to put solar panel farms into Hastings Country Park, and onto farmland it owns at Upper and Lower Wilting Farms. However, there is now a new development in this saga.

Before Amber Rudd MP resigned as an MP during the recent and seemingly everlasting Brexit fiasco, she wrote to the Chair of Hastings Borough Council telling him to stop putting the solar panel farm into Hastings Country Park and instead, put them on top of the Combe Valley Tip site. I managed to get hold of a copy of that letter. It explains that over 1,500 people in Hastings wrote to Amber protesting, so she took the line of least resistance and suggested the panels be dumped onto us and our Valley. However, I am told that this idea is now ‘dead’ and that Upper Wilting and Hastings Country Park are back in the frame.

Rare Creaturesand where to find them

Combe Valley is not well known nationally. It still has many areas where no close examination of the wildlife has taken place. When out walking please do report anything you find which looks unusual. You may have seen the beetle and spiders I found last week. We still don’t have a name for the beetle but we know now that the wolf spiders are fairly rare.

Valley-wide Communications

Conversations with people on the various committees and organisations have revealed the view that a better forum is needed for the Valley. At present we have FoCV, CIC, Groundwork, HBC, Rother DC, ESCC, Crowhurst Environmental, Bulverhythe Protectors, the farming and local social communities and the rural police patrols – but it would surely be better if once in a while we had a Valley-wide conference for the betterment of the Valley, its wildlife and landscape. Please let me know how you feel about it.

Footbridge at Harley Shute

When you walk up from the back of Filsham Reed Beds to Harley Shute Road, you come to a pretty poor patch of land with a gate onto the road right by the very narrow road bridge over the railway. You then have to take your life in your hands to cross over to the other side, to get onto the big metal bridge near the school. I have suggested that a footbridge be built at this point so that those walking up from the bottom of Filsham Road area near Judges Postcards can use the South Saxons path as a route to Filsham Reed Beds without being run over. The bridge would need to curve in an arc from the patch of trees to the scrub land above the Reed Bed path. A HBC counsellor is looking at the idea.

Reedswood Road Footpath

This dangerous path from the housing estate to the Filsham Reed Beds path is in a sorry state. I have asked ESCC if they will repair it but they say it is not a county path so the answer is no. It might be possible for FoCV to raise funds to repair it – but it would need some input from the people who live on the estate who use it as an access point to the Valley.

1066 Trail National Footpath

We now come to an important project – the attempt to make the 1066 Trail into a footpath that can be used by people in wheelchairs. Part of the Trail at Three Bridges is flooded. The path from Crowhurst Cricket Ground is so muddy as to be dangerous. I went to Wales to the Cors Caron National Nature Reserve to study their 40-year life weatherproof trackway (see photo). They have six kilometres of this. To put one kilometre of this track (with passing places) down for wheelchairs from Bulverhythe to Filsham Reed Beds would cost £350,000 inc VAT.

A similar cost would have to be paid for the Crowhurst to Crowhurst Lake greenway track. Ambiental were asked by me on 31 Oct if there was any reason why this track would interfere with their riverside bunds, if the housing development did go ahead – they said no, the concept of a trackway was fine.

To reach Filsham Reed Beds would require a side bridge to the existing river bridge to keep the trackway on the same level.

In the central Valley at Three Bridges the flood water gets to be three to four feet deep. Rother DC Chair Terry Byrne has suggested a stabilised Pontoon Bridge to connect Crowhurst to the southern slope. This type of bridge always stays just above the water level regardless of its depth.

So gradually the idea of connecting up the paths to enable people with disabilities to move about is taking shape. Please let me know what you think about these ideas.

Landscaping Improvements near the Discovery Centre.

The area nearer the Discovery Centre has a lot of fly tipping,

but it also has a woodland corridor with lots of insects including many ichneumon wasps.

We could plant more trees and sow wild flower meadow seeds to encourage more wildlife, especially pollinators. I am asking Rother Environment Department to help us clear away the fly-tipping rubbish (see photos). Please let me know if you would like to help me landscape this area to make it beautiful.

Fishing in the Valley

There is an absolute legal ban on fishing anywhere inside the Valley Park. Of course, if you are on the Caravan Site bank of the Combe Haven then you are not inside the park, but if you are on the Bulverhythe side then you are banned from fishing. The police have been asked to arrest anyone fishing in any lake, stream or river but they also say it is up to ESCC to put up signs telling the public that fishing is banned. Illegal fishing and the leaving of rubbish goes on at Little Bog Lake, Pebsham Lake and Crowhurst Lake (see photos).

The Combe Valley Warden

Because of the damage done in the Valley by vandals – the burning of the reed beds, the cutting of fences, smashing of bat boxes and bird hide panels, the police have begun to take a very close look at what goes on in the Valley. FoCV have been awarded £2,000 by the Police and Crime Commissioner and I have put in a bid to the Police Community Fund for another £500.00 for equipment for the Warden. PCSO Julie Pearce-Martin and PCSO Daryl Holter are the Rural and Heritage patrol officers.

The Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner, her PA and staff officers will be visiting the Valley in November. I am working to set up the Warden Service soon and will be letting you know how to volunteer for the post – which will be a completely volunteer post but with a small monthly allowance. A set of safety equipment will be issued to the chosen warden together with patrol area information. This is entirely a FoCV project not connected to the CIC, groundwork, Sussex Wildlife or any other organisation, so the Warden’s reports will come to us but then be shared where appropriate. The money is ring-fenced and spending will be inspected by the PCC.

Walking for physical and mental health & car parking

The police have asked me why it is that so few people are seen out walking by them when they do their Valley patrols. In a recent tour around by police, only one dog walker was seen during a 2.5 hour trip. People have commented to me that the reason few people walk the Valley trails is that there are no large car parks. The lack of car parks is being discussed by Rother DC and I hope to be able to give you some news about it soon. I also hope that soon we can start to co-ordinate some guided walks for qualified walk leaders so that they can take over and safely increase the footfall.

Tier 1 Housing Development

The anti-flood mechanism final details are not likely to be revealed until at least January and formal planning permission will be sought in the Spring – April or May we think. One puzzle is that if Ambiental put a non-return valve into the river – how will the fish that come through the valve when it is open, be able to get back upstream – they are not leaping salmon?

I am sure that a great deal more about the deeply complex plan to stop flooding on a natural flood plain will come to light over the next weeks, but HBC must remain in ‘purdah’ until after the General Election. Ambiental staff told me that This project is quite a challenge compared to our usual industrial estate flood prevention work – but we will not propose anything which will not work – as if it failed, then our reputation as a company would be ruined.’

Well, that’s the end of the First Edition. I hope you will ‘like’ and ‘follow’ this newsletter. Kind regards and all the very best. David.

Text and photos copyright 2019 David E P Dennis LCGI RAF

Fundraiser Friends of Combe Valley National Charity 1163581

A Wonderful Walk in Dorset

Looking back down to Lulworth Cove from the cliff path to Durdle Door Rock Arch

A Jurassic Coast Walk

Next spring or summer – or if you’re brave enough, in winter – go to Lulworth Cove in Dorset, England and walk over the cliff paths to Durdle Door rock arch and back. It will make you fit and happy. You’ll get to breathe in some clean sea air. Lay down in the clifftop grasses and absorb peace and tranquility. You’ll see kestrels hunting and (in summer) hundreds of butterflies including the beautiful Marbled White. There are huge views to Portland Bill from the clifftops – and good shops and cafes next to the car park in Lulworth Village. In summer – get there early as the roads are jammed later, on sunny days.

Once you’ve parked your car, walk down to the beach. You’ll pass the public toilets – always useful before you start on your walk over the cliffs. There’s a stream to see, ducks and some lovely thatched cottages…

Lulworth Thatched Cottage

Lulworth Cove is part of the Jurassic Coast where dinosaurs hunted each other. Over millions of years, the sea has carved an almost perfect arc out of the chalk, making a beautiful a harbour anchorage for small boats.

Lulworth Cove – Bringing home the Catch

Take a stroll around the water’s edge and look at the Jurassic Cliffs with their amazing geology.

The Jurassic Cliffs at Lulworth Cove

Once you have visited the cove and cliffs, turn back up to the car park at the top of the village and begin your walk to Durdle Door Rock Arch.

Path from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door

Walk up nice and slow – taking in the views and the wildlife. Sit down every now and then to admire the developing landscape view and get your breath back. It’s a good idea to wear walking shoes and to take a drink, a snack – and a rain-cape just in case of a shower.

Once you reach the top of the cliff path, the views are terrific! You’re looking out across the English Channel towards Portland Bill promontory.

The view to Portland Bill

As you climb up and walk down to Durdle Door Rock Arch, you’ll kestrels hunting and lots of butterflies in summer.

Kestrel hunting on Lulworth Cliffs
Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea)

Now it’s time to walk slowly down to Durdle Door. Pace yourself because you will need to come back up the path again to get back to your car – unless you have a friend with a car who can pick you up at the end of the first walk stage down in the dip. But if you do the walk in both directions you will feel proud to be so fit! Go for it!

The side of Durdle Door opposite to the famous rock arch
A Jurassic geological paradise

Have a good look at the remarkable geology of vertical planes in the cliffs. Then walk over the rise to the famous rock arch.

The famous Durdle Door Rock Arch

Now it’s time to walk back over the cliff path to Lulworth and back to your car. You’ll be a little more tired, so have plenty of stops. You’ll see – in spring and summer, lots of boating activity – coastal tours by motor launch – and kayacking.

Kayak tours below the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth and Durdle Door

If you look back towards Durdle Door and over it, into the distance, from the cliff top, you’ll see the next section of the coast path – to Bat’s Head.

Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – Bat’s Head and Bat’s Hole with Portland in the distance.

Back down you go. In summer hundreds of butterflies will accompany you.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Nyphalis urticae)
Lulworth to Durdle Door – the Jurassic coast path milestone

Then say goodbye to Durdle Door – but keep your fond memories – and photos! Slowly wander down to the village for a meal, or coffee and buns – and do some shopping too. You will notice how the car park has filled up. So the key to this magnificent walk is – start early and leave – either before the rush home – or after they’ve all gone!

Say goodbye to Durdle Door
The car park at Lulworth Cove – enough room for everyone – but narrow roads in and out.

Enjoy! I certainly did. kind regards


Route details:

You can take all day over this route and take a picnic.

There and back it is around 2.6 miles and if you never stop it will take you around 1 hour and 10 minutes there and back – but what’s the rush? Geology – scenery- wildlife – picnic. Slow down and be thrilled by it all.

Photography attributions:

All photos by David E P Dennis – the author, except for:

Durdle Door Sunset and Durdle Door aerial shot:

these two by Saffron Blaze – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Saffron Blaze, via

The Vikings – and the Mystery of Castle Toll

In the year 2000, the publishing house, Tempus released a book by the geologist Jill Eddison titled – Romney Marsh – Survival on a Frontier.

The book contained, in chapter 4, a description of an attack in the year 892 AD in the Marsh area, by a large Viking fleet. These Vikings procured between 230 and 280 ships from Boulogne, so the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says. They sailed up an estuary in the Romney Marsh area and raided ‘a half-built fortress’, containing, ‘a few peasants’.

1. Imaginative concept of Viking Invasion

In her book, Jill Eddison makes a strange statement. She says, ‘It only remains very difficult to identify any possible credible location for the half-built fort.‘ This article explains that the only credible location for this fort is Castle Toll.

2. The remains of the Castle Toll Hill Fort near Newenden in Kent, England

It is a mystery why Jill, a scientist living in the Marsh area as the Secretary of the Romney Marsh Research Group, did not know of its existence in the year 2000. It had already been listed as ancient monument and excavated as far back as 1971 and its history specified in detail by Historic England.

A further and far more complex mystery connects Castle Toll to King Alfred who fought the Vikings. Here’s the background to this mystery.

Castle Toll and the Vikings

The River Rother drains a large part of East Sussex and the Kent border. Its headstreams originate as far away as Crowborough and Wadhurst and it now flows into the sea at Rye Harbour. Before the 13th Century’s great storms, the river complex was much larger and the coast we know now was more of an inland sea, called the Limen, with the Brede Valley tributary flooded to Sedlescombe and Whatlington (King Harold’s manor), near Battle, with a long history of trading with early Europe. There was a ferry across the flood at Newenden.

Back before 890 AD, in the middle of the flood, a developing island burh (fortified settlement), now called Castle Toll, stood proud. It was farmed land and a bastion for the Saxons.

3. Vikings on the move – big trouble ahead!

In the winter of 892 AD, the horizon darkened as 280 ships of the Viking fleet left Boulogne and sailed to Castle Toll. On board were 5,000 heavily-armed Danish Vikings, led by their chieftain Haesten, who quickly killed the farmers on the island, then moved on to Appledore, (known then as ‘Apuldre’), where they captured the population and settled in their Isle of Oxney encampment for the winter, raiding and plundering the nearby farmers and Anglo-Saxon nobles of booty.

4. King Alfred the Great

King Alfred spent much of his life fighting the Vikings. He sent his army to Appledore and after some desperate fighting managed to chase the Viking army into Surrey, where they were defeated at the Battle of Farnham in 893 by Edward the Elder, the king’s son, who recovered the stolen goods. The harried remainder fled to Benfleet in Essex and lost another battle in 894. Haesten’s wife and children were captured with the help of Earl Aethelred of Mercia (Alfred’s son-in-law), but it is said they were ‘returned because they had been baptised as Christians’.

Many Vikings perished, and the rest took what ships they could to flee back to Scandinavian ports. From then on, the coast of England was constantly harried by repeated invasions of large Viking fleets including those of the notorious Jomsviking Thorkill Havi (The Tall), father of Edith Swanneshals (Swan Neck). Eventually England became a Viking kingdom under Canute, in 1016 AD.

5. The Viking Fleet approach the shore.

Yet there is even more to Castle Toll than this. It seems possible, though controversial, that Castle Toll is actually Eorpeburnan, the first Saxon fortified settlement in the long list of Burghal Hidage forts set up by King Alfred. His defensive principle being that each fort would be no more than twenty miles from another, so the local population could flee with their families to a protected encampment and help defend it against the Vikings.

By the mid-10th Century, Rollo and his Vikings had been granted land outside Paris (911 AD), and formed the Dukedom of Normandy. As Viking culture evolved into militaristic Norman Christianity, then Norsemen captured England once more at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. So, in a way England had become a Viking kingdom once again.

The small raised island of rich farming soil at Castle Toll became a real Norman castle then, sitting as it does near the Hexden Channel – ideal for shallow draught shipping to the continent. In 2019 – now in ruins and heavily predated by agriculture, it still consists of a Norman ‘motte and bailey’ but with sparse evidence of former Roman, Saxon and Viking times. Burghal Hidage forts often had the right to strike Saxon coinage, though when the Vikings struck, there was no mint yet formed here.

Much heritage history remains to be discovered at this legally protected and listed ancient monument. It may even have been formed as a raised encampment on the Celtic Regnenses (Regnoi)/Cantiaci tribal border before the Romans arrived in strength at the direction of the Emperor Claudius, in 43 AD.

Those of you who loved to delve into early English history will enjoy reading the many written ‘battles’ as academics try to prove, one way or another, if Castle Toll really is Eorpeburnan. It is said by some, that Kent had its own defensive system and was not part of the Wessex of King Alfred. Certainly, the border between Kent and Sussex once ran down the centre of Pevensey Marshes. Later there are documents which suggest that Sussex was much larger and that what is now part of east Kent is where the county border was. Now in 2019 – the border is further east beyond Rye, so it may well be that Castle Toll was really in Sussex in King Alfred’s time, not Kent for a while, when tribal and administrative border ‘perceptions’ moved back and forth over time. If this could be proved, then Castle Toll probably is Alfred’s Eorpeburnan.

6. The low mound of Castle Toll – full of history and mystery from Roman times to the present day

Newenden itself has fascinating history. In 791 AD, King Offa of Mercia gave the Saxon manor of Newenden to the Prior and Monks of Canterbury. Then in 1242, came the Carmelite monks who settled here. Possibly building St Peter’s Church and installing a very old Norman font from elsewhere – and shortly after this may have invented the game of cricket, first mentioned in 1300 AD. In later days there was a two-room Toll Cottage at Newenden opposite the site of the old fortified encampment – hence the current name – Castle Toll. This cottage was knocked down in 1963.

I hope that one day archaeologists can really study the whole of Castle Toll in much greater detail – including the surrounding land which was once the sea. Who knows what might be buried there?!

Further Reading:

Heritage at Risk: Castle Toll:

The Eorpeburnan Controversy:

Photograph attributions:

 (1) “Normannenfahrt. Nach dem Gemälde von O. Wergeland.

(2) David E P Dennis – the author.


(4) Wikimedia Commons

(5) Slaget fandt sted i 1184. (Christian Blache 1838 – 1920)



(8) By Oast House Archive, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster, Rye Harbour – the Latvian Connection

Commemoration of 15th November 1928

Mary Stanford Disaster Commemoration Window – St Thomas-a-Becket church, Winchelsea

A few days ago, I came across a tweet on my Twitter account in a foreign language. It was a reply to the tweet I made of the image above – the commemoration stained glass window in St Thomas-a-Becket, Winchelsea, East Sussex. All I could understand in the foreign tweet was the name of a ship – Alice. Carrying out further research I found the language was Latvian.

So what is the Latvian connection to this terrible tragedy where the entire lifeboat crew of 17 men were drowned in the sea off Rye?

The Old Lifeboat House, Rye Harbour

In the late evening of the 14th November 1928 it was raining and the wind was howling at over 80 miles per hour. In the early hours of the 15th November, thought to be about 4am, a small steamship called Alice of Riga (Riga is the capital of Latvia) collided in the pitch dark with a much larger German ship – the Smyrna. The collision ripped open a hole in the side of the Alice and took off her rudder. The captain of the Smyrna could see that rescuing the crew of the Alice was impossibly dangerous but he alerted the coastguard and at five minutes to five the first maroon rocket calling out the lifeboat crew was fired.

Despite the utterly appalling weather, the 17 brave men of Rye got up, pulled on their very basic cork life-jackets and launched their lifeboat into the raging surf. Some were as young as 17. To get to the lifeboat they had to walk 1.5 miles in a wind that was so strong that they could hardly stand up – but they were determined to save life if they could.

They finally managed to get the boat into the water and begin to row out into the storm. Unbeknown to them, at 06.50, Rye Coastguard were finally aware of the captain of the Smyrna’s message – that he and his crew had bravely and miraculously managed to save the entire crew of the Alice. The captain had sent his message at 06.12 to Ramsgate Coastguard who were unaware of what was happening at Rye , so did not treat the message as a priority.

So still, the outstandingly brave men of the Rye lifeboat, The Mary Stanford, were rowing towards the rudderless Alice.

Once the coastguard knew that the crew of the Alice of Riga had been rescued, they began to fire the recall flares over and over, but the wind and rain was so bad that their efforts were thwarted.

Then, onshore several people saw the lifeboat tumble in a massive wave. It went over, casting the men into the dark and freezing sea. After much horror and sadness, 15 men’s bodies were recovered along with their lifeboat. The men – a true band of brothers, were buried together in communal grave. One more man was washed up at Eastbourne and he too was eventually interred with his colleagues. One person has never been found. It hit Rye hard and since the relatives of those brave men are still alive – it still is deeply sad.

Wikipedia records the names of the lost heroes: The seventeen men were the coxswain, Herbert Head (47), two sons James Alfred (19) and John S (17); Joseph Stonham (43), 2nd Coxswain; Henry Cutting (39), Bowman and his two brothers Roberts Redvers (28) and Albert Ernest (26); Charles Frederick David (28), Robert Henry (23) and Lewis Alexander (21) Pope, three brothers; William Thomas Albert (27) and Leslie George (24) Clark, brothers; Arthur William (25) (more likely to be Arthur George A) and Morris(s) James (23) Downey, cousins; Albert Ernest Smith (44), Walter Igglesden (38) and Charles Southerden (22).

Because the Alice of Riga was a Latvian vessel, members of the Latvian government came to the funeral of the men of the Mary Stanford. The vessel was a collier carrying a cargo of bricks. It had 14 Latvian seamen on board. So a close bond has developed between Rye and Latvia.

If you want to know what ‘brave’ is – this is it.

You can read more about this disaster here: