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Victorian Rambles: Whiteman's Green and the Iguanadon find

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 01 November 1887



We have been enjoying what in Canada they term an Indian summer. a sort of interregnum between the heat of August and September and the snow and frost of November, and I, the other day, resumed my saunter by going along the Brewery lane, out of the centre of the not over lively—even in such weather - little town of Cuckfield.

I turned off by the Ockenden stableyard into the Sambourne meadows. Who Sam Bourne was, or might have been, is of no consequence, but I could not avoid lingering few minutes on the brow to admire the beautiful but fading foliage of the noble trees in the Park and the surrounding woodland, with its contrast of colours, not yet swept away by the rude breath of Boreas, showing the appearance of old age in its decline, both soon to lose their summer foliage so bright and gay but only to resume it again, in the spring, when winter has taken its departure. and the others to be resuscitated after having passed over the waters of Lethe in old Charon's boat.

After crossing, or rather catering (ask any ploughman you meet the meaning of the word) a ploughed field and along another snug “little cottage near a wood," with a pretty useful garden, where the inhabitants at sunrise of a spring morning, by opening the bedroom window, can be regaled by the sweet song of the nightingale, the monotonous, but welcome, note of the cuckoo, the crow, the pheasant as it leaves its roost in the oak tree, and the charming melody of the numerous songsters and warblers in the wood below, and witness the gambols of the leverets and rabbits on their feeding ground previous to sinking their forms in the deep woodlands for the day.

But my Pegasus must be checked, he is running restive again; and passing by the cottage and over a stile I come into a pasture field in which is situated a modern and commodious farmyard, with every convenience attached, and windmill for grinding corn and cutting chaff for the cattle and horses on the estate; and turning right past the keeper's house and along by the side of the old stone pits from which so many wonders of Antidiluvian world have been exhumed, and wonder to myself what kind of scene it presented when this spot was in the midst of an estuary, and "where the Iguanodon disported." and it was only a wide waste of waters peopled by gigantic reptiles.

But coming out by Mill Hall to Whiteman's Green I have a tale to relate. Three quarters of century since, or thereabouts, Mrs. Mantell, wife of Sir Gideon, then surgeon at Lewes, being on a visit to her friend, Mrs. Waller, wife of Mr. S. Waller, solicitor, of Cuckfield, the two ladies on walking over the green passed a man by the roadside breaking a lump of stones, when Mrs. Mantell perceiving what appeared to be a fossil on one of the stones, they stayed to examine it, and being satisfied of its nature gave the man gratuity to take it to Mrs. Waller’s house, from whence Mrs. Mantell took it home for her husband's inspection.

Mr. Mantell having done so paid a visit to the pit and examined the rock the men were excavating, being told by them that they often came upon what they called "curiosee" of that kind, and he was lucky enough to secure a few specimens, enjoining them to preserve what they happened to discover until his next visit, and he would remunerate them for doing so.

In consequence, they were careful in boarding up in the roundhouse of the windmill that stood in the grounds whatever fossils they came across, for which he handsomely paid them, until at length they discovered an immense bone, very much larger than any they had previously found, that they took great pains in preserving intact. This was consigned at once to Lewes, and pronounced to have been a rib bone of an immense reptile, or lizard, the Iguanodon, 80 feet in length and of corresponding height, of which other remains were shortly after discovered. The old stone quarry has been filled up, the mill pulled down, and the ground levelled.

The quarrymen of that day are mostly gone the way of all flesh, and so has Sir Gideon Mantell, whose geological discoveries threw so much light on the pre-historic state of the world. But a visitor to Crystal Palace at Sydenham may find on the shore of the lake a full-sized facsimile figure of this gigantic reptile that probably thousands on thousands of years before man, or even any species of Mammalia, inhabited the earth, had been in existence. But no one can tell how, or on what, it existed, or the state of the globe at that time.

Close by is the Beech farm with its modern buildings and its old farmhouse, unpretending in appearance, roomy and airy as such places generally are; once the homestead of the Kelseys, now an opulent family in Surrey, and who keep up the old memorials of their ancestors with care, in the churchyard, that tell that one John Kelsey died in at the age of 77, and his wife Sarah in 1792, aged 92.

Beech Farm and Mill

John is said to have been born at the Beech, which must have been over 200 years ago, but how long before that the family tenanted the farm I cannot say, but it has changed hands at least three times since the Kelseys left, and is now in the hands of the landlord, Major Sergison.

Adjoining is Henmead, a small farm on the same estate, long the residence of the merry and good humoured little Johnny Thornton, whose snug and cosy farmhouse still remains; but a genteel residence in charming and commanding situation has sprang up, and the grounds are laid out park-like—just the spot one would choose if he wished to live out of the world and yet within reach of it. Whiteman's Green, like most outlandish places, has its legend, that will form the subject of a future letter. But I must not call it outlandish, for are there not gentlemen's mansions and genteel cottages and villas in the immediate neighbourhood?

And has it not an inn and beer house, and two shops, and old Tom's who sells lollypops and ginger beer, and Neale's busy wheelrighting manufactory, and Knight's carpentering establishment, a chimney sweep and rat-catcher, and, to crown all, a Dissenting Chapel, and within half-a--mile of the iron church at Brook-street, and on the road from London and Brighton, as cold an eminence as you can find from end to end?

Therefore, leaving it with all its conveniences, its comforts and discomforts, its cold winds and its healthy situation, for the present I finish my saunter.



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