When John Ireland first took to visiting Sussex, a figure he might well have come across striding or riding over the South Downs was the writer John Galsworthy (1867-1933), who owned a fine country home close to Amberley, Bury House (right). Galsworthy was passionate about this landscape, trying to pin down what it was about the Downs that distinguished them from all other hills and stamped them as peculiarly English. He moved to Bury in 1926, remaining there for the last seven years of his life, at exactly the time when Ireland was immersing himself in Sussex.
According to Galsworthy’s nephew, ‘you might see him go forth any morning at a quarter to eight…Walking his horse beneath the dappled, flickering light of the beechwood, he would become so much at one with beast and tree, and air and sun and shadow, moving, as it were, in a world remote, that a mood of ecstasy, very nearly approaching religious exaltation, would come over his face’ (quoted in Goldsworthy, 1950, 241).
A few lines by the writer capture his intense and personal relationship with the Downs:
Oh! the Downs high to the cool sky;
And the feel of the sun-warmed moss;
And each Cardoon, like a full moon,
Fairy-spun of the thistle floss;
And the beech grove, and a wood-dove,
And the trail where the shepherds pass;
And the lark’s song, and the wind-song,
And the scent of the parching grass!
Source: Margaret Goldsworthy, ed. (1950). The Sussex Bedside Anthology, Bognor Regis, The Arundel Press.