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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
6 - Dunroamin, a causewayed camp (and cannibals?), and Prince Regent at the races
I don't wish to dawdle along Whitehawk Way. A 1a bus passes me, and I pass some modern red brick two storey houses and an older property called Old School House, before cutting through to Lower Chalvington Place by way of a mini-playground, where four boys are kicking a ball around. To the side is St David's Hall, with wire netting on the windows (presumably to protect the glass from being broken by balls). It's the venue for Whitehawk Boxing Club (or, at least, was in 2003). From Lower Chalvington Place, I take steps leading up the steep west side of Whitehawk Valley. On my left are several modern blocks of flats. To my right is wasteground with lots of rubbish lying around, and, in the distance, school buildings, one with a turquoise turret. Higher up, of course, the racecourse is visible, as it is from much of the Whitehawk area. I pass a picture of a dog pinned to a tree trunk: 'Lost. A much loved family pet. Terrier cross black and tan with red collar.' A broken multi-coloured umbrella lies on the ground. The aerial mast I've been keeping in sight is getting nearer. A few more steps and a few more puffs, and I arrive at a tiny triangle of green on Manor Hill. Here are some shops, a general store, and Manor Fish and Chips.
I walk northwest along Manor Hill, semi-detached bungalows on my right, all with neat gardens. One of them is called - I tell no lies - Dunroamin and has gnomes out front. On my left, the houses end, and give way to scrub land. I am now heading directly to the racecourse grandstand, and the aerial mast is very close. Looking down to my right into Whitehawk Bottom, it seems like one huge arena partially ringed by the racecourse above. I see the buildings of Whitehawk Primary School and the Wellsbourne Centre and four large pinkish modern blocks of flats.
As I reach the top of Manor Hill and the racecourse I approach what used to be (until disrupted by building work) part of an archeological site called Whitehawk Hill Camp. It is thought to date from around 2,700 BC and to be one of only 12 known causewayed camps from the Windmill Hill Culture period. According to the magazine British Archaeology, the term Windmill Hill culture was defined by Stuart Piggott on the basis of excavations in the 1920s made at Windmill Hill on Salisbury Plain. Typical of the culture were causewayed enclosures and long barrows, leaf-shaped arrowheads, and flint axes. However, archaeologists have since defined more specific societies, characterised by what they are calling the Hembury culture and the Abingdon culture, for example, and now consider the idea of a Windmill Hill culture as too general. Pots and tools were found at Whitehawk Hill Camp, but also some charred human remains which led to speculation that the inhabitants might have been cannibals.
The fence guarding the grassy area on my left ends abruptly, and there seems to be a footpath directly west. Since I am already further north of the 450 northing than I would like, I leave Manor Hill, and take the path, very close in fact to the aerial mast. Nearing the ridge of the hill, a wind from the west suddenly hits me, and then, a second or two later, all of Brighton appears - a mass of urban splendour. But, the view is spoilt by eight modern houses, rectangular blocks of brick, in my sightline. The sun is trying to shine, to glint off the white elevations in the city, and I can see the coast line running down to Shoreham, and a big chimney there. Glancing back to the east, I try, unsuccessfully, to spot any sign of Woodingdean or the trig point or the golf course. After a few metres, the path is blocked so I must make my way back to the road. This takes me to a crossing of the racecourse. Gates, like those to be found on old railway level crossings, leave the road open to cars and closed to the racecourse. On race days, though, the gates are swivelled through 90 degrees to close off the road, and the tarmac is covered with enough coconut matting and grass cuttings so horses can thunder past unimpeded.
What a fantastic racecourse this is, running, as it does, along the ridge of the old Whitehawk Down (now Race Hill) with such splendid views in every direction. A large sign says: 'Welcome to Brighton Racecourse'. The grandstand in front of me is painted a colour halfway between green and turquoise. It dates from 1965, but some of the surrounding enclosures were built before the war. The course itself, though, dates back at least to the 18th century when officers of the army militia, stationed in the town, raced their horses. The Prince Regent (later George IV) appears to have been interested in the sport when he first visited Brighton in 1783. Within five years, a first viewing stand was put up, but then ran into trouble: robbers stole the roof lead, and then burnt down. A great little book called 'A Guide to the Buildings of Brighton' written by the (un-named) staff and students of Brighton Polytechnic School of Architecture and Interior Design, says the fire, seen from miles away, led to rumours that Napoleon's men had landed and were sacking the town. It also tells how the Prince Regent would be carried to the races in a barouche drawn by six grey mares, and would present prizes and trophies. The course remained under royal patronage for around 30 years, but then went into decline until the railway line opened in in the early 1840s.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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