diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 26, 2017

I need to make today's post sound interesting...

Where can you walk a disused railway to the 11th oldest church in England?

...or perhaps this will do it...

The inventor of what weapon is buried here, and what's his connection to The Sound Of Music?

...because if I'd said at the beginning that this was a post about Crawley, I fear you might have switched off.

The Worth Way runs from Three Bridges to East Grinstead in West Sussex, and follows a disused railway track. The line opened in 1855 and initially thrived, but subsequent connections rendered it commercially obsolete and it was closed in 1967. I'd best mention Dr Beeching, or else somebody will in the comments, because he actually lived in East Grinstead but killed off three of its four railway lines.

The trackbed is now bike-and-rambler-friendly, and runs for seven straight-ish miles with stations at both ends, making this a walk it's easy to tackle even in the winter. Here's a website, here's a leaflet, here's a map, here's a Wikpedia page, here's a blogpost and here's a video.

I started at the East Grinstead end so that the walk would end in Crawley, which may not be the optimal direction. The Worth Way starts in a car park, which used to be the station, and heads west in a deep cutting with commuter avenues to either side. A couple of bridges spanning high overhead make it clear you could only be walking along a former railway, and the screen of trees makes it hard to spot when open countryside is reached. Yes, it's a favourite dogwalking route, the number of hounds decreasing as the town slowly recedes.

After a long spell on a woody embankment the Worth Way meets Crawley Down, a village very much disconnected from the town of almost the same name. In the 70s the area around the former railway line was swallowed by housing, obliterating the trackbed, so walkers and cyclists now get to weave through grassy suburban avenues for half a mile instead. A tiny collection of shops has replaced the station, near what used to be the village's only pub but might never be again. And at the top of Old Station Close the footpath suddenly restarts, descending into cutting and out through Hundred Acres Wood.

The only other station on the line was at Rowfant, one of those peculiar halts built solely to appease the original landowner, hence serving almost no population except the manor house of the same name. The station building still stands, but walkers can only divert round the back because a road maintenance company now store machinery on the trackbed and in the former goods yard behind. Then it's on through more woods, dodging the occasional cyclist, and don't worry the Sound Of Music paragraph will be along soon.

At Turners Hill Road the original route disappears, again, because someone built a landfill site, so a diversion is required along the edge of Worthlodge Forest. Another barrier blocking the former railway is the M23, here crossed by a footbridge, and this motorway marks the edge of Crawley proper. A sidetrack finally returns travellers to the railway cutting, then onto an embankment between the new town neighbourhoods of Maidenbower and Pound Hill, ultimate destination Three Bridges station. But if you don't take that sidetrack, and double back into the Worth conservation area, you'll find an unexpected Saxon church.

St Nicholas' has been dated to the mid-10th century, and has a spacious cruciform footprint. It doesn't look its age inside, but that's because of an unfortunate incident in 1986 when workmen repairing the nave accidentally started a fire. The Victorian roof had to be completely replaced, new pews had to be installed, and the walls lengthily redecorated. But the underlying structure remains firm, with glorious stone arches to front and side, and the lofty swoop over the chancel is thought to be one of the largest Saxon arches in existence anywhere.

Look around to find Norman stained glass windows, plaster tombs and a medieval font, plus a Stuart gallery where the organ sits. But this is also very much a working church, its congregation greatly boosted when planners had the forethought to build a new town outside. The rector leads three Sunday morning services - one said, one massy, one messy - and would love to see some fresh blood in the choirstalls. A particularly nice idea is that the parish magazine is printed in handbag size and also enlarged to A4, for those with dodgier eyesight, as are the weekly pewsheets. A full colour history of the church, also in booklet form, is yours for a quid.

And to finally answer my question, that grave outside is the last resting place of Robert Whitehead, inventor of the self-propelled torpedo. In the 1850s he was working in what's now Croatia, on behalf of the Austrian Navy, and impressed everyone with his explosive 11-foot weapon. Without the Whitehead torpedo, early submarines would have had nothing to do. Robert left his fortune to his granddaughter Agathe, who ended up marrying naval officer Georg von Trapp, but she died of scarlet fever and left him rattling around a big house in Salzburg with seven children. 1965's highest-grossing film would never have been made were it not for the man buried by the west door of the 11th oldest church in England.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream