Leaving Sussex for London

Sept 13th, 2014

We headed to the village after breakfast for one more look around.  When we got back, Lin had a video of the history of Billingshurst.  Of course she has lived here all of her life, so she could pick out a few errors in the more modern history.  It was interesting hearing about the village, built on the Roman Road of Stane Street. The oldest building is St. Mary’s Church where my ancestors worshiped, early documentary evidence begins in the 1100s!


St Mary’s Church

There are many timber framed buildings throughout the village dating from the Middle Ages to the 1700s.  There is a wonderful old pub there called “The Six Bells”, which I think I’ve visited on each of my holidays here.

The Six Bells-Billingshurst

It really is a fun and interesting village to check out.  It’s close to Horsham which is also worth the visit.  After a very nice home cooked lunch and visit with Lin’s daughter and grandson, Claire and Warren, we had to walk down to the station and say our goodbyes.


Saying goodbye at the Billingshurst Station

The Billingshurst Train station is a great building in it’s own right.  Many of my predecessors worked for the railroad in Billingshurst so I’m very interested in the history.  The last time I visited,  2 years ago, the signal box was here.   The Grade II listed structure is thought to be one of the country’s oldest working signal boxes dating back to 1876.  The signal box was moved to Amberley Museum and can be seen as you come into the second station.

Billingshurst Signal Box


It’s time to get it all together and head north to London.  It’s been a great visit and I know when I’m home thinking about all of the things that we did and saw, the laughter, the hugs, I’ll again start longing to return.  This is always when my next plan starts to form.  Right now though, I’m anxious to get to London, as I love it as well.  London is the world in one place and I just like to be there.

It takes about an hour to get to the station where our friend Tim will pick us up.  This night we’ll be having dinner and catching up with our good friends and then planning our time here in London.





September in Sussex


This was the longest flight I’ve had so far going to England.  It may have just felt that way.  After the usual chaos and panic of getting ready and a two hour flight to L.A., we had a three and half hour layover.  We started our trip off with dinner at Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza.  I should not eat gluten, but that didn’t stop me.  I’m on vacation dammit and I’m going to eat all of the lovely things I’ve been craving for the last couple of years.  I find out later why that was a really bad mistake, but I digress….

Neil and I were  very excited about going together on this trip, it’s been an emotional year, both good and bad and we really need this time away.  Going to a place that I’m very familiar with but he’s never been to is kind of weird for both of us.  He, because I usually wait for him to take the lead and me, because what if he doesn’t see it the way I do?

Of course travel is always an iffy venture.  I was certain I booked the tickets through British Air, which I have always had a good experience with.  Instead it was through American Airlines which I have not.  Honestly it was fine except that the seats were the smallest I’ve ever sat in for a ten hour  international flight.  The movies were great, the food was fine for airplane fare.

Billingshurst Station

We arrived at two the following afternoon, got through customs with me warning my husband not to joke around with the officer asking questions.  They are known not to have a sense of humor. However, the woman that checked us through was awesome and it all went off without a hitch.  We bought our ticket on the Gatwick Express and headed south to Sussex to meet our cousins.  They were waiting there and it’s so nice to have those hugs and catch up time with people that you know and love.  They took us straight back to their lovely, comfortable very British home and a great home cooked meal, then it was time for some much needed sleep.

Linda and Richard are my fifth cousins who I met doing genealogical research in 2001.  They are really, really amazing hosts, much better than I can ever hope to be.  They have taken such good care of me on five other occasions and this was no exception.   They cooked us nice food, drove us around, gave us gifts and even gave up their own bed for our comfort.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for that!  Here is a beautiful watercolor that Lin made for me as a gift.  I will cherish it always!

There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see in Sussex! I love just walking around the villages, stopping in at shops, maybe picking up a few things that are different than I can get in America.  It was nice to show Neil where my family originated, walk in the church yard, see the WW1 memorial that has one of my ancestors name engraved on it.  I love the hardware store there in Billingshurst and go in it on every visit just to  see what interesting things they have that Home Depot does not.

Lin was keen on showing us St Botoph’s Church in Hardham in the Horsham District of West Sussex.  Built about 1050, it has wall paintings from about 1100.  A really interesting and important church, amazing!

Inside of St Botolph’s Church

Lin and Richard then drove us around the gorgeous country here.  We stopped at the town of Petworth which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.  We walked around the town and stopped in at a few antique shops and St Mary’s Catholic Church.  Petworth was bombed in World War ll in Septemberof 1942, when a lone German plane tried to bomb Petworth House.  It missed the house and landed on the Petworth Boys’ School in North Street. Twenty eight boys died along with the headmaster and assistant teacher. So sad.  I think most of us relate the Blitz only to London, but they also bombed much of the rest of England.

The parish church of St Mary, Petworth

We then drove past the Goodwood Estate which was having a car event of some kind and we got to see lots of vintage cars.  Just up the road is a Rolls Royce factory and there were dozens of new cars lined up outside.  Apparently they were heading for the car show at Goodwood as well.

Richard treated us all to delicious fish & chips, Neil’s first authentic English!  The place was called Andy’s Fish Bar, in Chichester.  The portions were so huge I don’t think anyone actually finished the whole meal.  I find it amusing because whenever I’ve had a conversation with anyone from the UK about food, they will mention the large portions in America.

Arundel Castle

We stopped at Arundel Castle on the way back and walked around the town a little bit.  I had always wanted to see this castle because while doing genealogy, I remember seeing the name “Arundel” in my mother’s family history.  I later found out that what I remembered was “Arundel, Maryland”.  Big let down, thought it meant that we came from royalty!   It was too late to go into the castle by this time so we went in to a little tea shop and had a dessert.

Back home for nice dinner and conversation, talking about all of the lovely things we got to see today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

Coming To You Through a Nice Haze of Jet Lag

It’s always nice to come home after a vacation with lovely memories to tide you over until the next trip.   We did and saw so many things and many of our plans did not happen.  We never made it to the Tate Modern or the Tower Bridge Experience.   The things we did do though were spontaneous and enriching.

Leaving for England (2)

The best part of this particular trip over to England was sharing it, finally, with my husband.  There were things that he didn’t appreciate, like the crowds of people in London.  However, there was much more that he really appreciated.  He actually told me that he now understands my passion better!  Happy day, he’s already talking about our next trip over!

Of course the time passed too quickly.  I will be writing about all of the wonderful things we got to see and do.  The most important of which were the people we know and love and the complete strangers that we got to interact with.  Neil started conversations with people on the train, on the street and wherever we went. Unusual for my normally private husband, but like I said before “traveling changes you”.

My next trip to Blighty

It’s happening, I’m finally planning another visit to England and I couldn’t be happier! This one was actually my husband, Neil’s idea.  He asked me if I would like to go with him, he figured that since I wasn’t going to grow out of this obsession with England phase, he should check it out as well.  I am ecstatic, especially since he’s never shown any interest in going before now.

We have been married for almost 39 years and the last time we took a real vacation, just the 2 of us, was our honeymoon. We went skiing at Mammoth Mountain in Southern California.  I had to take lessons because I had never been, he had raced the cornice there.  I was more interested in the food, Burger’s Burger’s (is that place still there?)  yum.  It just seemed that after that, we started a life together, had 3 daughters, and then it was kids and dogs, and going on trips with other families.  When our kids got big enough to leave, we either went away with other couples or separately.  You see, I like history and food and culture, he lives and breathes auto racing. You can see my surprise here.  But he really does seem interested in going this time and I aim to show him all of the things that make me long to be there.

Billingshurst print by Patricia Hall, it hangs in my living room to remind me of where my family hale from.

So, we will spend a few days visiting cousins and friends and London, then just take off, the two of us.  We are not making a firm plan, but waking up and just seeing which direction we feel like taking that day and then heading that way.  We’ll use the excellent Information Service that seemingly, every city, town and village has.

Of course, he’ll have to see London Tower, take the bus tour and, keeping my fingers crossed, The Garden Museum.  If these things don’t entertain him, there is always this:

We are going in September, but he will have a good time looking out for this sort of thing!  I’m hoping there is a tour of the Goodwood Estate and that we can prevail upon my cousins to take us:)  At any rate, I have a fantastic holiday to look forward to, people to see and places to go.  New ideas to write about and a completely different perspective.  Going with someone that has absolutely no idea what to expect will help me see my beloved island through new eyes,  from someone that I love and admire, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Ahh, to be in England

Where most of my roots started

Love the countryside

Quaint and lovely

St. Mary’s Church-Billingshurst

The boats of St. Ives

Yummy Cream Tea

Market Day in Ludlow

Thames & Big Ben


I will end this post with a quirky British phrase that I just found online,  it made me smile as I’ve been watching a marathon of “Land Girls”:

                        “Good grief, man. What are you waiting for? Stop acting like a big girls blouse and put some welly into it”!


Family Reunion in Sussex 2002

One year after our first visit to England there was another family reunion, this one in the town where our family came from, Billingshurst.  Marcie and I decided we couldn’t miss it so we planned a short trip of one week.  We would be staying with our cousin Linda and her husband Richard, but did fly into London for a night or two at Fox Hill B&B to renew our friendship with the Haigh’s.

It is really great to get to know our family of 5th generation cousins.  We’ve been talking via internet and letters for the past year and here we are visiting in person.   The only way to learn about another culture is to stay in homes and B&Bs rather than big chain hotels.  This was going to be great!

Linda and Richard are amazing hosts and couldn’t do enough to welcome us.  They gave us a lovely tea with lots of little cakes, in fact this is where the previous story of Marcie and I expectantly waiting while Linda made tea, so we could learn how to make an “authentic cuppa”.  So funny how you get these notions from TV and movies.

Linda’s daughter Claire planned the entire reunion.  Claire is the one that has really done the family research.  She is the one that posted on all of the genealogy sites, looking for ancestors.  She really did a terrific job and found from the parish records, the internet and good old fashioned sleuthing many of our families homes, farms, work places and graves.  And so “The First Gravett Tour”, as this reunion was called, was born.

But for the first day Linda had acquired a hall close to her home in Billingshurst for all of us to meet.  Claire had made up a family tree that wrapped around the room and it was fun and interesting to follow the lines and meet the others that connected a few hundred years ago.  Claire and Linda made masses of food and Claire even did a cooking demonstration of some of the old English food that our people would have eaten way back when.  She actually made mead, a beer made from honey, a bit sweet for me, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste!

If I kept a journal of this trip I can not find it.  However, I do have the itinerary and it was a lofty plan.  So for the second day we loaded ourselves into cars and hit the road in search of family haunts.   In Billingshurst we visited no less than 9 places where Gravetts lived, a plaque in St Mary’s church with our name on it, and 13 graves in the church yard.  We then moved on to Adversane to see a few houses and a granary that were once owned by the family.  We visited Wisborough Green, Petworth, Chiddingfold, Dunsfold, Cranleigh, Ewhurst, and Rudwick each containing homes, businesses, graves, and places where our ancestors walked, lived, loved and died, fascinating! 

There were over 20 of us in all and we had a grand lunch at The Blacksmith’s Arms pub, talking and laughing and uniting in our quest for the past. There are so many mysteries in my tree that I have yet to find the answers to.  When I retire I plan to put in the time to find them out and leave that knowledge with my children.  I am so grateful for the things I have found out about the people that came before me and indeed gave me the life that I have now.  It’s the stories that have come down through generations.  I love it when I find a connection and I think “yes, this is why I feel about this the way I do, it makes sense now”.  So many parts of your life you think are just random and then you find out another clue and it becomes clearer.  Gotta love that!

I’m so grateful to Claire for doing the research and to have the opportunity to go back to the land where part of my family originated.  Just to be where they were and to be able to visualize how they lived.  You can never know really how their life was and I know that.  There is enough story teller in me though to be able to imagine their lives in a fanciful way, not reality I know, but endearing to me just the same.  In this way they are remembered and maybe they go on and are not forgotten.  I sincerely hope that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will keep me alive in the same way:)

Later that day……

Of course, after the reunion, none of us wanted to let go of our new cousins.  They invited us back to stay the night at Marjorie’s house, letting us know that it was far too late to get back to London.  As it turns out, Claire’s mother, Linda, was in the same hospital where we parked our car!  This is why she didn’t make it to the reunion that year.  Claire took us up to her room for a visit.  Her dad, Richard was also there, so we got to meet most of the family.  What warm and gracious people, it blew me away;  considering that we were virtual strangers, except for a few months correspondence.   We followed them back to Billingshurst and the church where our ancestors were married and buried.

St. Mary’s Church is so beautiful.  We are told that it was built in the 1700s.  By the time we got there, it was dusk and the church was locked, but as we looked in the churchyard for the graves of our family, the bells started ringing.  What an amazing feeling, it gave me goosebumps!  Some of the graves here are so old that they’re caved in.  Coming from Southern California where almost everything is post WWII, I had never seen anything like it.  Claire explained that the wooden coffins eventually rot away and they cave in.

She took us to her parents house where Richard and Neil, Claire’s brother, make us a cup of tea before driving us over to Marjorie’s for the night.  While there we check our email and discover that Jean is arriving at Heathrow first thing in the morning.  There is no way to get there in time and I start to get really anxious.  Because of 9/11 Jean’s flight was delayed and we had no way of knowing exactly when she would arrive.  Marcie suggests that we call Sue and Tim and get their advice.  Of course they came through for us and offered to order a car for her to be picked up and taken back to Fox Hill.

With that worry off of our minds, Richard and Neil took us over to Marjorie’s house a few miles away.  We were so glad that one of them drove our rental car and the other one followed because it was dark and the road was winding, we would still be looking for it!

We both really enjoyed our visit there and Marjorie was such a great hostess. We learned all about her husband and children, looked at old photos and just took a little bit of time to get to know each other.   She is so cute, she danced around the kitchen and told us she can still “cut a rug”.  She even did a couple of jumping jacks.  She reminded me of my Aunt Edee who was also a widow.  There was something about the determination to keep going, even though their life partner wasn’t there to go with them.

The next morning we got off to an early start, having a simple breakfast with Marjorie and then heading up to London; hoping that Jean arrived safely and was waiting for us at Fox Hill. It took us about two and a half hours, but miraculously we drove straight to the B&B without a hitch.  Sue explained Jean’s arrival for us and I was very relieved.

I still smile when I think of this story because I can so clearly visualize her coming out of customs and looking around for 2 familiar faces.  She later told me that she looked around and didn’t see me but she saw a sign with her name on it.  She thought it was interesting that someone else had the same name and hoped to catch a glimpse of them. She continued to look for us to no avail, but the man with the sign was still there.  Now,  here is this small Ukrainian woman in her 70s and the driver holding the sign was a rather large African man.  Can you just imagine him standing there probably getting a little frustrated because his passenger isn’t showing up. Finally Jean walked up to him and said that she was looking for her daughter in-law but  noticed that he has a sign with her name on it.  He said the magic words that included “Fox Hill” so she decided it was ok to take the car.

Being from Southern Cali, you tend to be a little apprehensive of every unknown.  Add to that the fact that as you get older you feel more vulnerable, which makes you more cautious.   I once would not get in a New York car service car because it wasn’t marked and how did I know it was a taxi.  My daughter that lived in Brooklyn at the time just shook her head, but really, I didn’t know and I wasn’t taking any chances.  As it turned out, I took a yellow taxi cab that was twice as expensive, the driver was rude and he was eating peanuts all the way to the airport.  You never know…

At any rate, she made it back and Sue gave her a cup of tea and then tucked her up in her room for a nap.  We were really excited to start our next leg of the trip with Jean along.  Not only had she been there 1/2 a dozen times, she has such a great sense of humor we knew it was just going to be fun!

Driving in England

September 15, 2001

The day is finally here for us to leave the security of Fox Hill B&B to drive down to Sussex.  After hanging out in London these past 5 days, we were terrified.  Sue and Tim were also worried about us and offered to drive over near Victoria Station to pick up the rental car and then drive us out to the A23 so we don’t get lost in London.  Having never driven the opposite way before, this was a tremendous gift to us!  Marcie gamely took the first turn!

Driving in London seemed very hairy.  Most everything was built long before cars were thought of.  The streets are already narrow and yet cars are parked on both sides of them.  Street signs are either non-existent, they are up on the side of a building, or the street name changes right in the middle.  It moves pretty fast.  Then there are the roundabouts.  If you’ve never negotiated one, it’s a bit confusing.  Somehow people have learned how and when to yield and it all works for them.

Being from Southern California, we are used to very efficient freeways and almost any busy part of a city is four lanes.  We would not blink an eye if, say, we wanted to go shopping or to a restaurant 60 miles away.  You jump on a freeway and you’re there in less than an hour.  We soon discovered that you absolutely cannot gauge the time by the distance you are from something.

We left from the outskirts of London and it was nice getting out on a more open road. It is such beautiful country there.  It really didn’t take us too long before we got to Billingshurst where our ancestors left to go to America in the 1850s.  It is so beautiful and quaint and we both wondered why anyone would leave there.  Me, being the dork that I am made tentative arrangements to meet our cousin Claire.  We had been emailing back and forth for months, but never did we set a place or exchange phone numbers! I guess it runs in the family because she didn’t think of it either!

We went to a pub to try to find the number in a phone book and I couldn’t for the life of me remember anyone’s last name; except her Grandmother’s maiden name, and that only because it was my father’s Granny’s maiden name as well.  We finally gave up and headed down to Little Hampton, which is where Claire and her husband lived at the time.  Unfortunately, they weren’t listed in the phone book.   We then, as only a typical American would,  drove over to Chichester where the actual family reunion would be the next day.  Now this to me was almost as bad as driving in London.  It is a one way system, so all the traffic goes one way and once you get in that loop, it’s hard to get out.  We must have spent a couple of hours trying to find the Bedford Hotel where the reunion was planned.  We passed it once, but couldn’t figure out how to get back to it!  It would have been nice to stay the night there and then relax a bit before the reunion.

By this time it was close to 5 o’clock and we hadn’t had any real food all day.  We were starting to get a little nervous.   It had been really stressful driving all day, not being able to find anyone, in a foreign country and there was no room at the inn.  Apparently there was an old car rally of some kind and everything was full up.  We stopped at a hotel and they kindly called and got us a room in Brighton!  We didn’t know the difference, so we headed over to Brighton.  It was dark and we were tired and we drove around that city for at least 45 minutes before we gave up.

Now it’s around 8 pm, Marcie is exhausted from driving all day but we didn’t dare switch.  I haven’t yet had the pleasure of driving here and now it’s dark with lots of traffic. We thought we would just start driving west and stay away from the coastal towns,  looking  for anything at all.  We halfway joked about having to sleep in the car.  We came to this really cute town called Lewes, pronounced “Lewis”.  Narrow streets, quaint buildings and lots of tourists, but also no vacancies.  They tell us to go to a place called Hayward’s Heath.  It’s pitch black outside, nearly 9 0’clock and we still haven’t eaten anything.  We finally spot a hotel and turn in. It has two singles left, it’s kind of pricey, but at this point we are happy to take it.  Marcie ordered room service, but for once in my life, I’m too tired to care anymore.  A hot bath and sleep are all that’s needed.

Tomorrow is the reunion and I just want to sleep so we don’t look like zombies!