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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
3 - Roedean Gap, and all about Roedean girls - what they are, and where they have it
I follow the path, upward again, on the south side of the golf course, towards Red Hill. Behind me, I can now see a rather cute circular pond, full of reeds, at the bottom edge of the golf course, and wonder how many golf balls it contains. Close by, on my other side, a tractor is ploughing deep furrows, and making one hell of a racket. The driver smiles at me, but I wish him far away. As I climb further, more views come into sight. Although I'm not as high as the ridge mentioned by the lady with the dogs, this is part of the view she must have been talking about. The sun to the south is glistening across the sea. I can see Roedean Gap (where the cliffs give away between Black Rock and Ovingdean), a line of gaily coloured houses near the sea, and part of Roedean College in silhouette. It has been known as Roedean Gap since at least 1724, according to information in Tim Carder's excellent 'Encyclopaedia of Brighton', and was the site of a tollgate on the Newhaven turnpike. Apparently, there was a windmill at Roedean (which presumably would have been up high and visible from here) in the second half of the 18th century. Most impressive, though, is Roedean College.
The Women of Brighton website gives a lively introduction to the Lawrence sisters (Penelope, Dorothy and Millicent) who founded Roedean School, on a site purchased from the Marquis of Abergavenny, the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex. Today, it is one of the most famous schools for girls in the country - with fees to match: £7,400-8,250 per term for boarders and a little more than half that for day pupils. In 1946, Time Magazine published an article about the school, and the founding sisters. '[They] thought that young English ladies were too delicately nurtured; what they needed was a more robust schooling - the kind Eton gave to boys. On a breeze-bathed seacoast near Brighton, in 1885 [not till 1895 actually!], the sisters built their new Roedean (rhymes with so keen) School. In time the bouncy, bumpy Roedean Girl became a national byword, as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and the butt of music-hall skits.'
There is very little information about the history of Roedean School on its own website, which is odd, but the Royal Navy research archive gives a good account of how and why the building was requisitioned for HMS Vernon, a shore-based training establishment, in the Second World War. The site ensures that the following story, long dismissed as untrue, remains part of naval folklore. A Navy captain, so the story goes, insisted all female pupils should leave the premises before his personnel moved in. But, it was rumoured, some of sixth formers stayed. When confronted, the school mistress in charge of them tapped her head and said: 'My girls will be all right; they've got it up here.' The captain responded: 'Madam, it matters not where your girls have it, rest assured my sailors will find it!'
It's a nice view, but I must press on. I arrive at a junction of paths. Nearby, the tractor is executing a u-turn at the field's end, lifting its massive aggressive-looking curled blades out of the soil for the turn. Before me, the public footpath cuts through East Brighton Golf Course, and, very soon, I am at another junction of paths. Suddenly, there's golfers all around. I stop to circle and look at the activity.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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