The Ghosts of the Fair
Before I begin, I just wanted to let you know there’s FREE shipping this weekend on all Papaver orders! So if you’ve been eyeing up a cosy pumpkin hoodie or a spooky tote for Samhain, this is your sign to treat yourself…
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We all have our weird interests and hobbies. The sort of thing you get stuck reading about on Wikipedia, following link after link down a rabbit hole of wonder at the collective strangeness of the world. Well, one of my weird interests is industrial archaeology, which can loosely be described as the history, evolution and heritage of industry and postindustrial spaces. More specifically, I love any kind of manmade relic that has been reclaimed by the landscape; old signs, railway tracks, bits of building, concrete footings, empty tunnels. (I’ve written more about it here if you’re intrigued!)
One Monday morning a few weeks ago, when the last of the summer sun was still burning, I took the kids and the dogs on a mini adventure to the Devil’s Dyke, a large chalk combe in Sussex, just north of Brighton. Despite living in the South Downs almost all my life, I had never visited the Dyke, famed for its beauty and spectacular views. So we drove for an hour, grabbing a couple of doughnuts from Greggs on the way, and enjoyed a two hour walk around the valley, Olive on foot, Ash in his pram, and the dogs hurtling hither and thither like buffoons, high on fresh air and meadow grass.
The reason I decided to visit was because I had just read a piece in the National Trust magazine about the South Downs, and in it they mentioned something about an abandoned Victorian funfair. An abandoned Victorian funfair?! As you can imagine, I was mighty intrigued. After some Googling, I worked out they were referring to an old amusement park that once stood on the summit of Devil’s Dyke, which boasted band stands, swing boats, a switchback railway, merry-go-round and Hotchkiss bicycle railroad - this English Heritage video shows some great footage. None of the fairground itself is still there (although apparently you can still trace the bicycle railroad track if you know where to look) but there are still treasures to find, including the remains of the funicular railway and the cable cars that once ran across the valley.
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Behold! Below you’ll see one of the concrete slabs I was most looking forward to finding. As far as I can tell, this is the base of one of the cast metal supports that pulled visitors across the valley. Built in 1894, the cable railway was made from 1,200 feet of cable suspended 230 ft above the valley floor, with two cars each carrying four passengers back and forth, powered by an oil engine. Its popularity was short-lived and it closed in 1909, but the foundations are still there, slowly blending back into the hillscape.
The second relic I wanted to see was also a shapeless stone slab (don’t say I don’t treat you guys), but this time it was the foundation stone of the funicular railway station, which sent visitors down the hill into the village of Poynings, where apparently you could get a banging cream tea. This steep grade railway opened on 1897 and closed around ten years later, another short-lived attraction on the Dyke, but luckily for us you can still enjoy the view from the station. There’s even a bit of circular metal in the bottom right quadrant of the photo but I’m not sure what it was. Such mystery! Such intrigue!
There is something about standing in the shadows of historical objects that feels deliciously eerie, like they are still reverberating with the ghosts of their past, the lives soaked up by their presence, the voices that once echoed off their walls. It’s something I’m exploring as I gear myself up to start crafting my first novel. (I say crafting rather than writing because I’ll obviously spend a long time
procrastinating researching before a single word is penned). I’m fascinated by the remnants we leave in the landscape, particularly the ‘ugly’ stuff that often gets overlooked, the ghosts of industry coarsely grafted onto the earth.
The Devil’s Dyke did not disappoint, but I’d love to know if you have anything similar to recommend. Any abandoned places you love to visit? Any old bits of machinery left to rust in the corner of an old quarry? Any closed railway lines turned into walking routes? Send me your recommendos, I beg!
Something I Made - Old Bones Recycled Art Print
A skeletal salute to seven extinct species sent to their graves at the hands of mankind, either through hunting, persecution, habitat loss, climate change or other factors. The species featured and their last confirmed sightings are: Great auk (1844) Dodo (1662) Passenger pigeon (1914) Thylacine (1936) Quagga (1883) Broad-faced potoroo (1875) and Golden toad (1989). Also available on tees, sweats and totes!
Something I Like - The Handmade Grimoire by Laura Derbyshire
Following on from last week’s witchy newsletter, this is such a wonderful book for the cosy descent into autumn. I’ve been following Laura on Instagram for a while now and love following her practice of ‘magickal journaling’. Her first book was published in July and takes you through the process of putting together your own ‘grimoire’ or creative journal. It’s a treasure trove of ideas if you love journaling and scrapbooking with a few witchy vibes sprinkled in for good measure, and it also includes 80 pages of illustrated papers you can cut out and use yourself.
Recipe of the Week - Corn Cobs with Honey Butter
We had an emergency ice cream stop in Waitrose on the way home from town yesterday, and while I was there I picked up the latest Waitrose Weekend magazine which is always full of really lovely ideas. We had a couple of corn cobs leftover from our last Riverford box so I made this delicious honey butter. We don’t have a griddle pan so I just oven-baked the cobs and it tasted great!