(Photograph © Jamie Kitson 2006)
[aerial photograph / map]
Dominating the hilltop above Washington
[aerial photograph / map] are the
earthworks of Chanctonbury Ring, in the heart of the South Downs National Park.
Originally a small hillfort in a commanding position. Pottery found and
carbon dating on an animal bone suggest the fort was built in the early
Iron Age. It was later used by the Romans
as a religious site.
Over 3,500 years ago a young woman with a bronze dagger was buried near
there. Bronze Age is a technological
stage between the Stone Age and Iron
Age, beginning in the Middle East about 4500 BC and lasting
in Britain from about 2000 to 500 BC, during which weapons and tools
were made of bronze and there was intensive trading.
A thousand years later an Iron
Age hillfort was built on the prominent spur giving superb
views of the area. Iron Age is the period following
the Bronze Age characterized by the
extremely rapid spread of iron tools and weapons, which began in the
Middle East about 1100 BC.
The hillfort was abandoned about 50 AD, after the Roman invasion. Some three hundred
years later, a temple was built inside the earthworks. The excavations
showed the temple had been used for a mixture of Roman and British
beliefs. Julius Caesar landed in Sussex
during 55 and 54 BC. The Atrebates
tribe which occupied this part of Britain quickly accepted Roman
influence. There is evidence of farming within the derelict ramparts of
Cissbury Ring during the period of
Roman Britain between AD 43 and
In 1588, beacons were sited at Chantonbury Ring to warn of the Spanish Armada. The Spanish Armada was the great fleet
sent by Philip II of Spain against England
in 1588: defeated in the Channel by the English fleets and almost
completely destroyed by storms off the Hebrides.
In the 18th Century the Gorings of Wiston Park planted a ring of trees
at the centre of the earthworks. This was decimated by the Great Storm of 1987, but replanted
by Richard Harry Goring, descendant of the original ring's creator.
The trees at Chanctonbury Ring dominate the skyline from
all directions. A prehistoric trail runs from the hill to the gap at
North End, Findon Village. The Ring is the
site of one of the lesser Iron Age hill forts in the area and the track
was used for many centuries linking Chanctonbury with the Findon area.
The view from West Hill, Findon Village, across to
Chanctonbury in the distance, as it was pre-1913.
The hill was called Chankbury
until the late 18th century and remained treeless until the year 1760.
The name Ring refers to the circular earthwork on the eminence, not the
beeches. The trees at Chanctonbury were the inspiration of an
enterprising 20 year old young man named Charles Goring, the heir to
the Wiston Estate. There was a public outcry by local people when he
started to plant them. They feared he was foolhardy and the line of the
beautiful Downs would be spoilt for future generations. After planting
the saplings, Charles Goring arranged for water to be transported up
the 779 foot high hill until the young trees had taken root and were
well established. Charles Goring died in 1829, having lived to be 85
years old and, fortunately, witnessed some of his trees in their
maturity. In his old age he wrote a simple and moving poem about the
venture he had seen come to fruition...
Oh! Could I live to see thy top
In all its beauty dress'd
That time's arrived; I've had my wish,
and lived to eighty-five.
I'll thank my God who gave such grace,
as long as e'er I live.
As the beeches grew they disturbed the ruins of a
Romano-British temple buried on the site. This was excavated in the
early years of this century and showed it to be a sunken temple with a
The many Roman coins discovered on and around the
location prove that the temple was functional for some three hundred
years. A labourer by the name of John Butcher, who died in his eighties
in 1967, spent his working life on the Goring Estate. He had many
stories to relate on the subject of Roman coins dug up in the area of
Chanctonbury. He was the grandson of "Mas" Butcher of Locks Farm below
the Ring. His grandfather had often recounted the story of how during a
hard day's work for Mr Goring, he had discovered coins when planting
the outside ring of trees on the summit. John Butcher also remembered
another workman, around the year 1910, who had discovered by chance a
hoard of coins. He had been toiling on the breezy heights and carting
flints from a location just below one of the dew ponds, when to his
amazement he unearthed the coins. Being an astute character, he
pocketed the treasure-trove. He later bragged to his incredulous fellow
workers how he had received the princely sum of fourteen pounds for
just one of the coins. Roman coinage recovered over the years dated
from Nero (54-68 AD) to Gratian (375-383 AD). Anglo-Saxon coins have
been also found. It is indeed surprising how many coins came to be lost
on the hillside over the years. What else lies buried on the lofty
summit awaiting discovery?
The Chanctonbury landmark was ideal as a beacon station
in 1805, as it had been during the time of the threatened Spanish
Armada in 1588 when King Philip II sent a fleet against England. By
1814, all was quiet at the Ring and it had become a venue for
picnickers who could sit on sunny days on the southern slopes looking
towards Findon in the south-west.
Richard Tritton Ade was born in 1836. He worked as a
master bricklayer and mason on the Wiston Estate and in 1872
constructed the dew pond on the south-east of Chanctonbury Ring. In his
later years he lodged with Mrs Farrell at the Mill Cottages and died
there in 1914.
Two ancient dew ponds are situated on the Chanctonbury
hillside. The one to the west of the Ring was restored by the Society
of Sussex Downsmen in 1970, and is now managed and maintained by them.
The other lies to the south-east of the Ring. Richard Tritton Ade, (who
at one time lived in a cottage on the site of The Well House at
Nepcote), was a master bricklayer and mason on the Wiston Park Estate.
He was instrumental in constructing the original dew pond in 1872. Gone
are the times when heavy horses pulled their wide-wheeled carts,
trudging round and round on the base "to puddle the dew pond". The clay
was carted from the Ashurst area and the flints were supplied by
Short's Farm in Findon. In later life, Richard Tritton Ade resided at
one of the old Mill Cottages, (now demolished), within view of
Chanctonbury, and he died there in 1914 at the age of 78.
Early photographs of Chanctonbury depict the trees in
all their 'beauty dress'd', before the most devastating meteorological
occurrence of the century - a storm driven by hurricane-force winds in
excess of 100 mph which came ashore on an October night in 1987. The
Ring above Findon was devastated and would be quite unrecognisable to
Charles Goring. It now stands as a shadow of its former self having
lost its crowning glory, in spite of much replanting to replace those
trees lost in the gale on that wild night.
(Article © Valerie Martin
Washington was once at the heart of a huge Anglo-Saxon
estate that stretched 15 miles northwards to Horsham and Rusper. After
the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror gave this estate to his
trusted friend William de Braose. Later, William de Braose moved the centre
of power from Washington to the castle he built at Bramber. William de Braose died at Findon Village on 6th January
1291. The English composer John Ireland, known for his songs and his
programmatic orchestral works, composed his music in the windmill and
died at Washington on 12th June 1962.
grid reference X coordinate
grid reference Y coordinate
Latitude (WGS 84)
Longitude (WGS 84)
50o 53' 47" (50.896258o)
0o 22' 54" (-0.381773o)
Chanctonbury Ring is further from Findon Village than Cissbury
Ring. It is located about two miles to the northeast of the
village and about two miles due north of Cissbury Ring.
Being more secluded than Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring
is often not shown on maps and hence is frequently missed by visitors
to the area. However, it is well worth a visit as the hill provides
fine commanding views of the surrounding downland countryside. It can
be reached on foot quite easily if you are fit, either from Findon Village, Findon Valley or Washington
On foot from Findon Village
Walk up Nepcote Lane, past Convent Gardens, then continue
eastwards keeping Nepcote Green on the right [aerial photograph / map].
On foot from the Cissbury Ring car park
Stand with Cissbury Ring behind you, facing
north, and walk past the car park on the left [aerial photograph / map]. Continue
walking along the track which leads across open downland, then through
some woods and eventually to Chanctonbury Ring.
On foot from the Chanctonbury Ring car park
Walk to the end of Chanctonbury Ring Road [aerial photograph / map]. A
pleasant ramble up through through the woods on the north-facing
escarpment eventually leads to open downland. When you reach the top [aerial photograph / map], turn
right and follow the track that leads on up to Chanctonbury Ring.
There are two car parks within walking distance of
Whenever you visit the countryside, please just take
photographs and only leave footprints, so other people who follow later
may enjoy the wild flowers and litter free surroundings. Also, please
leave all gates as you found them, ensure that any dogs are kept under
control and keep footpaths clear. Thank you.