Took up my quarters at Lewes, at the Crown Inn, not one of the
largest; the accommodations however were very good and moderately
cheap : the Star is generally reckoned the first Inn.
Lewes is rather a large town: it is situated just on the confines of
the Downs, and is entered by a chasm apparently broke thro' the
exterior ridge of hills. When viewed from the top of the downs, it is
seen to lie in a hollow bason, surrounded on all sides, from which
circumstance in approaching it by the London Road, it is scarce
observed till you are almost on it. It consists for the most part of
one long street, of about a mile, which runs nearly from E. to W.
crossing the Ouse in its progress which is a small river or canal
affording a good navigation down to Newhaven which is about 7 miles
south of the town.
The London half of Lewes lies very low; the Brighton half is much higher, overlooking the adjoining village of Southover: consequently there is a steep ascent in the middle of the town, which the stage coaches and other carriages of heavy burthen are obliged to avoid by going round. The houses are generally speaking good; some of them are coated over on the outside with a sort of black glazed cement which adds much to their appearance of neatness. Instead of flag-pavements the footways are mostly brick.
Some of the land about Lewes is very good, especially that which lies to the left of the London Road a little way out of the town, where it lets for 5 [pounds] an acre, though liable to be often overflowed. It consists chiefly of rich grazing pastures, which are stocked well with cattle. These I observed to be of two sorts, the great Red Devonshire bullock, and the little black Scot: the former are by far the most abundant, and are largely employed in husbandry for the draught, instead of horses which scarce seem to be used at all by the farmers of this district.
In fastening these animals to the carriage they do not make use of traces or collar, but the waggons are all furnished with poles at the extremity of which there are two cross beams horizontally parallel one of which passes over and the other under the necks of the beats, exactly similar to Virgils description of the jigum of the ancients: the following sketch will give some idea of it.
I was more pleased at seeing this mode of harnessing the cattle, as I
had never observed it before in other counties where they are employed
instead of horses. About Windsor they use oxen in great quantities in
agriculture, but there they adopt the usual method of harnessing by
collar and trace.
These oxen are strong, bear a good deal of work, and on the whole are perhaps better adapted than horses to an uneven hilly country like Sussex. When they have done their days work, they frequently turn them out to pasture without removing the yoke,so that it is not unusual to see them feeding in pairs, and occasionally, one lying down while the other is standing, it which case it must prove no small inconvenience to both parties. The waggons which the farmers use for carting their hay etc. are all furnished with four long upright poles at its four corners, by which contrivance the load is greatly steadied upon the carriage. This is another peculiarity in their mode of farming, which I never observed elsewhere.
Near one end of the town of Lewes, is a large leather tanning yard, which, according to the direction of the wind, fills the streets occasionally with a most vile smell.
Dedicated this day to an examination of the Downs lying between Lewes
and Brighton. Left Lewes at 10 a.m. on foot, and took the Brighton
Road as far as Falmer a very small village distant about three and a
half miles from the former place : from thence struck off to the left
across the Downs, and blundered my way to Rottingdean which I should
have had some difficulty in finding without a pocket compass, as there
is nothing to direct one's way; this might perhaps be three miles and
a half more : from Rottingdean, followed the coast eastward to
Newhaven a distance of five miles; from Newhaven I took the direct
road back to Lewes which was seven more. Got home at half past six
much fatigued in consequence of the unevenness of the ground over
which I had passed.
The Downs constitute a large open and barren tract of country, whose
soil is entirely chalk. They are bounded to the North by a range of
hills, which appear to run from S.S.E. to N.N.W.. They much resemble
on the whole, in their general features, Newmarket Heath, except in
the unevenness of the ground. In this respect, however, they are
widely different, being exceedingly undulated, sometimes ascending up
to a considerable height, at other times falling into hollows.
The greater part of what I saw, was wild and uncultivated; still in a few places they had been ploughed over and bore crops of wheat, lucerne, and red clover, the last were remarkably fine. But few roads intersect the Downs, and excepting one good one which skirts the coast from Newhaven to Brighton, passing through Rottingdean, none fit for carriages; what others there are, can scarce be called any thing more than bridleways, and blind ones they are too. The barren parts are fed with sheep, and here we see large flocks of Southdowns ranging with uncontrolled liberty, and adding much to the wildness of the scene, while not a human creature is to be met with, excepting the shepherd stationed here and there, with his three companions, his dog, his wallet, and his crook. The feed is very good, but extremely short; the flocks keep it down so close as to allow no bents to rise. From this cause it was impossible to recognize the different species of grasses which grow on the Downs: the other plants which are intermixed with them, of which I took a list, are very similar to what we find in the open exposed parts of Cambridgeshire, as about the Devil's Ditch.
The following is a catalogue of them, arranged according to the Linnaen System, amounting in number to twenty-nine species.
Corvus monedula...............Jackdaw, in immense flocks
Anthus pratensis...............Tit-pipit........( very abundant)
Saxicola rubetra...............Whin-chat.......( ditto)
-------- rubicola.................Stone-chat.......( ditto)
-------- oenanthe...............Wheatear..........( ditto)
Motacilla alba...............White wagtail
Perdix cinerea...............Partridge........ (sparingly)
Besides the above I heard several individuals of that species, which I
noticed at Bottisham in Cambridgeshire this spring for the first time
whose note resembles the words Wut-wut-wutti repeated several times
together. These were chiefly in the cultivated parts. As before,
they appeared to be sculking among the corn close to me, but I was not
able to get a sight of the bird. * Since the above was written, I have ascertained it to have been the quail,
I was told that Bustards are occasionally met with on the Downs, in the neighbourhood of Brighton.In Conchology, I observed nothing, but,
Helix nemoralis...All the individuals which I saw were of the one banded variety, and much bleached by exposure to the sun.
Helix virgata.....These were all young; I found them collected in immense quantities upon the scattered plants of Carduus lanceolatus.
It is somewhat singular that all the specimens of Helix nemoralis
which occurred should be one-banded, as this fact tends to strengthen
the probability of Shepherd's hypothesis respecting this supposed
variety being a distinct species; (see his paper on the Suffolk
shells, printed in the fourteenth vol. of Linn. Transact).
A few small villages are scattered here and there about the Downs, whose names appear to delight in the termination of -dean, as we find amongst others, Bevendean, Balsdean, Ovingdean, and Rottingdean. The last, which is the most considerable, I visited, and was surprized at finding a place much superior to what I anticipated. Instead of the mean dirty village of fishermen's huts which I had been led to imagine it, we find a nice, clean, commodious little watering place, with houses extremely decent, and a church irreproachably neat: moreover, the gentlemen's carriages which were observable, spoke to the fact of its being resorted to by families of at least pecuniary respectability
Let me here step aside from contemplating the retired village of Rottingdean, to expatiate upon a subject of a far more imposing nature. For the first time in my life, strange as it may appear to the reader, my eyes were now thrown upon the sea !!! Here indeed was the main object of this days excursion: I was anxious to take the earliest opportunity of gratifying a desire which the lapse of more than twenty years had raised to an ungovernable height: I was more than eager to get a sight of that, which all the world had talked of, which everybody had seen but myself. Were I to say only, that in the indulgence of this curiosity, I met with no disappointment, it would be true, but at the same time it would but tamely express those piercing sensations of the most intense delight which gradually swelled within me. I saw it perhaps to great advantage: after a two hour's plodding walk across the Downs, whose undulating top that surrounded me on everyside, excluded the distant view, I suddenly, and almost imperceptibly found myself at the brink of the impending cliff, where a scene the most beautiful, the most imposing, nay the most aweful I ever witnessed burst in a moment upon me. I was not prepared for such a sight. As far as the eye could reach, even to an horizon unclouded by the slightest mist, I could see nothing but one broad expanse of waters, immeasurably stretched on either side, which reflected a thousand colours to the sun which played upon its surface. The air was unusually calm, nor was there a breath of wind to ruffle to curvature of the waves, which rolled majestically on, till a hollow rumbling noise announced at intervals, that they had burst upon the pebbly shore which lay buried at my feet.
Years must pass away in order to efface the impression which was then, I think indelibly, stamped upon my mind. I felt as it were unable to move, and it was not till after a lapse of a considerable time, that I could prevail upon myself to quit a spot, from whence the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding prospect had rooted me in the profoundest admiration! But few persons perhaps, on seeing the sea, have experienced so thrilling a sensation, as I felt on this occasion; but then let them bear in mind the circumstances which should accompany it.
There is nothing particularly striking in seeing the sea, but it is in seeing it for the first time, that the observer finds his attention so called for. Nor is this all which is requisite; but he should be of such an age that the powers of his mind are sufficiently matured, in order to appreciate duly, the sublime beauty of one of Nature's grandest works. How many there are who have been accustomed to this spectacle from their earliest years, others, upon whom the novelty of it has failed to produce its effect, in consequence of the disadvantages under which they saw it; and more still, it is to be feared, who from the original disposition of their minds are of so phlegmatic a cast, as to view with the most callous indifference the sublimest scenery in nature.
The shore at Rottingdean is almost all shingle, beneath which is a fine sand; into this latter I immersed a small pocket thermometer, where it was wet with the salt water, and found the temperature to be 67 at 1.h.p.m. The coast from Rottingdean to Newhaven, along which I bent my march as soon as the first shock of admiration at seeing the sea for the first time, would allow me to proceed, presents the whole way an abrupt cliff of chalk, intersected at intervals by horizontal strata of flints.
In some places it rises to a considerable height, and hangs over the sea in an appalling manner. The edge of the cliff is covered everywhere with the yellow horned poppy (Glaucium luteum), which was then in full flower, but the petals of this plant as so fugacius, that though I gathered several specimens, they were all off before I reached home. Arenaria marina and Plantago coronopus were also in abundance.
Met with a great many men employed on the preventive service, who are constantly stationed there at short distances from one another, for the purpose of opposing and seizing any smugglers which might attempt to land. These persons are all armed with a cutlass and pistols. One of them looked uncommonly hard at me, and I must acknowledge that I was a suspicious looking character from the peculiarity of my dress and botanical box which was slung to my shoulders.
On my arrival at Newhaven, I was not sorry to refresh myself in a public house with bread and cheese and porter, after which I started again at 4 p.m. to return to Lewes. In some ditches to the right and left of the road about half a mile from the former place, I gathered a new Scirpus (S.triqueter! since ascertained to be S. maritimus] in abundance, and also got a curious species of Uloa or Laver which floated in immense quantities upon their surface. The next botanical rarity which occurred was the Carduus tenuiflorus; I met with this growing in profusion in the small village of Piddinghoe, thro' which the road to Lewes passes, and I suppose there were not less than a dozen children assembled at seeing me with the most deliberate gravity cut down a couple of thistles, stow them into my box and walk off, apparently much pleased with the booty.
Near this village some high steep banks afford good natural sections of the chalk, which are full of flints. Proceeded on a little further and fell in with a single specimen of Phyteuma orbiculare, but could not find more though I made a diligent search.
The River Ouse which discharges itself at Newhaven runs by the side of the road nearly the whole way. Shortly however before I got to Southover, I left it to the right, from which place the road becomes more enclosed, by hedges full of Ilex aquifolium, Ligustrum vulgare, Clinopodium vulgare, Clematis vitalba, and others. Got back to Lewes much fatigued and heated by the sun which had burnt intensely bright the whole day, having well earned my dinner of Southdown chops:
The labourer is worthy of his hire. Dried my plants: went to bed, and dreamt of the sea!