Aldingbourne Parish covers 1252 hectares and has an approximate population of 3850 ( WSCC Structure Plan estimates 2006).
Most of the population is centered in Westergate, astride the A29 and mid way north to south in the parish, other smaller hamlets include Norton, Nyton, Woodgate, Lidsey and Aldingbourne itself. Apart from these settlements there are also dwellings scattered across the rural areas.
The Parish ranges from Slindon Woods ( National Trust) in the north to near Bersted in the south, bordering Tangmere airfield in the west and Eastergate in the east.
The A27 Trunk road cuts across west/east from Crockerhill central gap junction to Fontwell roundabout at the A29 junction. The large area to the north of the A27 is in the South Downs National Park and is effectively cut off from the rest of the parish by the dual carriageway A27 ( T ).
Alongside the A29, west of Fontwell Avenue is the Fontwell Park racecourse.
In the southern sector is the Lidsey landfill, stretching from the historic, disused Arun to Chichester canal to the South coast railway line at Woodgate,covering an area of roughly 80 hectares.
The B2233 secondary road also traverses the parish from the A27 at Crockerhill (gap junction) to the A29, continuing through Eastergate, Barnham and Yapton to the A259 at Clymping. ( refer to parish map )The smaller settlements are accessed via narrow winding lanes. North of the railway, the western side is well served by public footpaths, but no bridleways.
The majority of farm land in the parish is arable, there is some temporary and permanent pasture, but no dairy farms and little in the way of livestock
In the past many smallholdings and nurseries existed, mostly in close proximity to Westergate, although a few still remain as businesses, most are either disused or have already been developed. ( refer ’ Down my Way,’ Bertha Watson p.56).
In recent years there has been an increase in small parcels of land being used for equestrian purposes, in addition to the establishment of several unauthorised mobile home/caravan sites in rural parts of the parish.
History of the Parish of Aldingbourne.
A bourne is a stream or small river.
The name derives from either; Alding (old) or Elda’s (a Saxon chieftan), burne or bourne.
In Roman times the settlement was based around an area close to the Rife (bourne) on the western boundary.
The evidence for this was the finding during cleaning of the Rife in 1942, a large deposit of oyster shells, these were a staple food in ancient times. In the same area close to Park Farm a Roman’s toga pin was found. (refer ’Around Aldingbourne 900 years’ by Cliff Mewett & Vivienne Salmon p.2,3).
Later, in early Norman times(11thc), a fortified look out tower was built on a mound by the Rife for the security of the adjacent Bishop of Chichester’s summer palace, it’s farm and watermill, now in ruins, it is called Tote Copse(Mewett’s ’900 years of Aldingbourne’ p. 3, 11).
St Mary’s, the parish church (since 1086) is close by and it was here that the settlement grew initially.
The Black plague of 1348 and attendant pollution of the Aldingbourne Rife forced the population to move eastward to the next rife, hence creating the new settlement of Westergate next to Eastergate.
This happened again during the plague of the 17th century with small farms and crofts beginning to appear in linear form following the rife southwards towards Lidsey.
Hook Lane was the meandering cattle track joining the two settlements, with ponds for watering en route, various footpaths also connected Westergate with it’s parish Church.
Over centuries this rife was dammed to create ponds to serve the numerous, small dairy farms along the main street, starting at Nyton and ending at Woodgate.
These ponds disappeared and the Rife was piped underground to allow development of the unviable farms (Mewett’s 900 years,p.1) (’ Down my Way’ p56)
This got the attention of the newer residents when Westergate Street was flooded in 1975, 1994 and 2000 with some homes inundated, it had though, been happening for centuries.
Park Farm, south of Hook Lane had been part of a large hunting park visited by both King John and Edward 1st, it served the Bishop’s palace and was still shown on the more accurate maps such as Budgen’s of 1724.
This park stretched from Nyton to beyond the current Park Farm and was bounded by a wooden paling fence.
A major hindrance to development in Westergate had been the lack of sewer drains, most homes had outside soil toilets. Main drainage was installed in 1975, this allowed several in fill developments to go ahead.
However, many houses are still on cesspits as the high winter ground water levels prevent installation of mains sewers.
The Brighton to Portsmouth South Coast railway was built in 1846, there was a station at Woodgate, which served as Bognor’s station until the opening of the branch line from Barnham junction to Bognor in 1864,Woodgate was then closed.
Historical and archaeological features of great importance in Aldingbourne
The Church of St Mary and the site of the Bishop’s Palace look out tower (Tote Copse) are found to the west of Westergate in the same area as Park Farm, within the former Aldingbourne hunting park which was established in the 11thc., lasting into the 17thc. when it reverted to common ground, followed by Enclosure, which was completed by 1779, so transforming the area into the field pattern bounded by hedges and fences with small lanes, crofts and cottages, some of which remain today. ( Mewett, ’ 900 years around Aldingbourne’ p.4, 26 )
Hook Lane was an ancient highway route joining Westergate with Aldingbourne and the church.
It is possible this area was inhabited in Palaeolithic times ( Boxgrove Man was discovered 3.5 kms north of here).
Park Farm had Cromwell’s soldiers camped here during the Civil War where there were skirmishes, musket balls have been found and a nearby field is named Oliver’s Meadow. The Parliamentarian soldiers sacked and levelled the Bishop’s Palace in 1642. (Mewett p. 11,72)
The Mill and pond ( still existing) in Park Lane date from Norman times, it provided flour until 1914 and was converted into a private residence in the 1950’s.
Consideration should be given to the potential for archaeological remains of importance in the general area of Park Farm and Hook Lane.
An historical feature of importance to the industrial archaeology of West Sussex is the remainder of the Arun to Chichester Canal, opened in 1823 and closed to commercial traffic in 1856.(Mewett p.30,31)
The section crossing through Aldingbourne Parish at Lidsey should be retained and restored as part of our pre railway transport history.
Of particular interest is the aqueduct crossing of the Rife.
Chichester DC have protected the section to the west in their LDF documents.
Topography of the Parish of Aldingbourne
Most of Aldingbourne Parish below the A27 is low-lying, being at or below the 10m. contour, however it rises in the north to the 40m contour ( above mean sea level), the fall towards the sea at Bognor is slight and gradual.
The agricultural land comprises mostly grade 2, the upper half being gravelly, there is some grade 3 on the rife embankments.
There is very little woodland in the parish,but due to the necessity for land drainage, many ditches remain, these are usually lined with hedgerows containing mature hedgerow trees, often of oak and ash.
There are a few copses, for example at Nyton, north of Level Mare Lane (formerly Mount Pleasant) and in Hook Lane,these, together with hedgerows form an important wildlife "corridor" from north to south through the parish.(parish map)
The rifes and smaller streams between Barnham and Aldingbourne are an important part of the land drainage network (Mewett chapter 13).
They are now part of the Environment Agency’s "Critical Watercourse system" for this part of the Coastal Plain.
Most of the parish could be described as rural in character, apart from the main Westergate settlement.
In the south, the Lidsey landfill covers an area of approximately 80 hectares. As it is a land raising facility, it rises to around 20 metres creating a hill in an otherwise flat landscape. It’s western edge borders the Aldingbourne Rife.
Westergate/Woodgate is a distinct settlement separate from it’s neighbour Eastergate.
It is the western end of what are called the Five Villages, which also include Barnham, Walberton and Yapton.
Westergate is characterised by a diversity of housing types, including small apartment blocks, Edwardian terraces, semi and detached houses from Victorian to modern, small modern estates and former Council housing. This is intermingled with old farmhouses and thatched cottages from the original dairy farming era (some are of Tudor origin).
Despite some cramming Westergate still has a village "feel"to it.
The dispersed settlements of the hamlets and rural areas have strong ties with the main settlement and are well connected to it by public footpaths.
Geology of the Parish of Aldingbourne
The higher land, mainly north of the A27 overlies chalk, this is the dip slope of the South Downs which continue northwards for 9 kms. Waltham Down at 255 metres is one of the Downs’ highest points, being directly north of Westergate.
In the area between Aldingbourne and the Downs lie raised beach formations of shingle and sand, these are former coastlines. For example Norton and Slindon raised beaches ( within one near Eartham, Boxgrove Man was found).
They roughly follow a line above the A27 and are 500,000 years old.
The springs which flow into the rifes have their source in these beaches, as water from the deep chalk aquifers flows southwards towards the coast.
Much of the silty-loam gravel bearing soils on the lower plain have areas of water-bearing shifting sand strata.
These areas are characterised by high winter ground water levels, evidence of this is seen in Hook Lane, Church Road and Oving Road where surface flooding is persistent throughout the winter.
South of the railway, there is a unique strata of plasticene London clay, underlying the loam topsoil, this stretches to the Rife bank.
This has been excavated since 1990 to create a void for the Lidsey landfill.
Some of this clay will be used to cap over the waste mound and will be topped off with grade 2 soil from the overburden, enabling the establishment of pasture land for grazing.
The landfill is due to close in 2012.