Winter on the Downs

Today, between Rackham and Chanctonbury. Mild and breezy.


Musicians in Sussex


John Ireland is one of many English composers drawn to the county of Sussex (both East and West).

In addition to Ireland living at Rock Mill, Washington, others with Sussex associations include:


  • Bax, Arnold: Storrington
  • Brian, Havergal: Brighton
  • Bridge, Frank: Friston
  • Coates, Albert: Selsey
  • Elgar, Edward: Fittleworth
  • Gipps, Ruth: Bexhill-on-Sea
  • Harrison, Julius: Hastings
  • Murdoch, William: Bognor Regis
  • Parry, Hubert: Rustington
  • Reeves, Sims: Worthing
  • Sammons, Albert: Bognor Regis
  • Scott, Cyril: Eastbourne
  • Turnbull, Percy: Pulborough
  • Vaughan Williams, Ralph: Rottingdean

Sussex in words: Across the Weald

This is another in the ‘Sussex in words’ blog series, taking evocative passages to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

Puppeteer Walter Wilkinson’s A Sussex Peep-Show, introduced in a blog post earlier this year, is full of little gems such as this:

A sheltered bay among the bushes invited comfortable camping, and we set the tent, laying our beds over the thick grass and the fragrant thyme. From the tent door, across the edge of the Down, we looked out to the Weald, over all the trees and woods of Sussex, the great plain receding into the misty line of the North Downs. Nothing disturbed the immense serenity; we were in the heavens, looking down on a toy, miniature world that was all beauty, and light, and colour, a world of loveliness in which all men might live had they but the good taste to embrace it.

Galsworthy in the Downs

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.

Sussex in words: ‘Over to Burpham’

This is another in the ‘Sussex in words’ blog series, taking evocative passages to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

Walter Wilkinson’s A Sussex Peep-Show was published in 1933. Wilkinson (1888–1970) was a
puppeteer, writer and artist. He travelled widely, capturing in words much of his life as a wandering entertainer. A Sussex Peep-Show is a marvellous collection of descriptions of Sussex, including this extract, ‘Over to Burpham’, which covers an area well known to the composer at this time:

We headed for a world of green ridges and deep valleys, of long stretches of pasture dotted with wandering sheep. Flowers of blue and gold, and red and white, blazoned our way, and we walked from the great grassy spaces into weird, wild little copses of hawthorn, and elder, and small oaks. We emerged from the mossy woods of stunted trees to the long undulations of the lower Downs, the wide spaces of pasture and large, open tracts of young corn ending with the steep rampart of Arundel Park rising over the valley of the river Arun. The sun poured into this huge basin of grass, casting a spell upon the earth, and we walked a drowsy dreamland, bright with flowers and green grass, odorous with mild herbs, and gently lulled by the passing breeze. We followed the Lepers’ Path, passing old barrows and entrenchments grass-grown and rounded with age, seeming to walk in the primeval times of innocence and beauty…

 A reader of Wilkinson’s A Sussex Peep-Show in 2014 writes:

I have just discovered W.W. and am three quarters of the way through ‘A Sussex Peep-Show’. I am born and bred at the foot of the Sussex Downs and a hiker of these Downs. Such is the writing that I can smell the grass and fields and flowers and see the endless sky and the soft slopes and trees, the sun and wind on my face. If I cannot get onto the Downs then all I have to do is pick up the book and read. Absolutely brilliant.