November 2017


LATEST ON THE TIMELINE : From Bridge Farm to Westham, the untold story of Pevensey School


Members of the Pevensey Timeline Association were celebrating today with news that the community organisation has been awarded a grant of £1,000 by Wealden Council to begin a pilot promotion of the story of the Pevensey Whale .

The Pevensey Whale was washed up on the shores of the Pevensey Haven (now Normans Bay) in November 1865.

The finback whale (one of the largest in the world to be washed up on any beach) was 71ft long.

The skeleton of the whale is to become the star attraction in a new museum which is to open in Cambridge later this year. The £19.8 million development is to see the Pevensey Whale suspended over two floors of a new annexe that has been built specifically designed to display the skeleton of the magnificent animal, with views from below and above of the specimen from a guide walkway.

The Pevensey Timeline Association sees an opportunity to promote the locality with regard to telling the story of the whale.

Chair of the association, Dianne Dear said today “we have always seen the possibility of telling the story of the Pevensey Whale as being an opportunity to promote the locality”.

“We do not have the skeleton of the Pevensey Whale as a possible visitor destination to attract people from all over the country, but what we do have is a claim to being the place as the origin of the story and that is where we intend to focus our attentions, to see that the story of the Pevensey Whale is added back to local folklore, legend, mystery and history”.

“Apart from a set of posters and the story told in a local public house, now discarded, we identified that the story seemed to have got lost in the mists of time. Along with Kevin Gordon, a historian based in Seaford, who published a very good account in the pages of the Sussex Express and an accurate and full report published in 1961, we did not see the story as being part of the local visitor history experience at all, which we found surprising.

“In the case of the Pevensey Whale of course, we are not talking about legend and myth, we are talking about real history. Upwards of 20,000 people came to see the beached ‘monster’ as the whale was described, many by the newly established train network which brought people from London and many locations West and East of Pevensey”.

“In fact Normans Bay got the name from the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company, founded in 1846, 9 years before the whale was washed up here.

“Story has it that the name Normans Bay first appeared on a railway poster to advertise trips to see the Pevensey Whale, although there is no evidence that such a poster was printed. It seems more likely that in newspapers of the time, word quickly got round, both in London and locally and the company paid for advertising which included their ‘invented name’ for where the whale was to be ‘witnessed’.

The Pevensey Timeline Association plans to seek funding for the siting of a sculpture of some description in the Sea Road Car park to mark the arrival of the Pevensey Whale on these shores in November 1865, a facsimile edition of the original report written by Sir William Henry Flower, which was written here in Pevensey at the time and various other initiatives.

Dianne Dear said,”we want the community to be able to celebrate our unique place in the national story of the Pevensey Whale and the unique place that the Whale occupies in the 2,000 year story of Pevensey and our rich history”.

The initial funding for the development of work with the Pevensey Whale project to establish the story in the community as a ‘visitor attraction’ is coming from Wealden Council to test a pilot part of the project.

This part of the project will see a dramatic interpretation of the story enacted by a local theatre company.

This part of the ‘Pevensey Whale’ project is to be set as a ‘mummers play’.

Mummers plays were local theatrical productions, that according to The Golden Bow, by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer, probably have pagan or more commonly called now ‘wicca’origins. From the Middle Ages onwards, variations of mummers plays re-emerged in localities all over the country.

Travelling players moved from public houses and village greens, much in the same way as Morris Men, telling fantastical tales, often inspired by life and death themes, with elements of the Christian story interwoven into their fabric.

Mummers plays were particularly visible in rural communities. Thomas Hardy, the famous Dorset based late Victorian novelist and poet, utilises a mummers play as part of his novel, ‘The Return of the Native’.

The dramatic enactment will see the story of the arrival of Sir William Henry Flower KCB FRCS FRS, the anatomist and surgeon, whose report on the scene here in Pevensey in November 1865, led to the start of the journey of the Pevensey Whale to Cambridge, where once again, this summer in 2016, the whale will be centre stage in the affections of the country.

One of the themes for the mummers play, many of which were recited in rhyming couplets, will be the skipping rhyme discovered by the Pevensey Timeline Association, about the beaching of the whale, recorded in a newspaper in a letter in 1932, that unlocked from history the words of the rhyme. The skipping rhyme is comprised of two couplets.

The skipping rhyme was sung by schoolchildren in playgrounds all over Sussex at the time in 1865 and beyond the year of the beached whale, possibly for at least another generation, until apparently ‘lost’ as part of an oral tradition passed on by local children.

The rhyme was chanted again, 150 years later, as part of the anniversary of the beaching of the whale, by schoolchildren at Pevensey and Westham Church of England Primary School, recorded for the BBC programme, South East Today, in November 2015.

Initial funding for the Pevensey Whale project will see Wealden Council supporting the pre-production and performance of the mummers play locally, which is planned to be performed in the Sea Road car park and in local public houses as a seasonal ‘tourist attraction’.

The Pevensey Timeline Association will be talking to local theatre groups about the possibility of a commission with regard to telling the story of the arrival of the Pevensey Whale in the form of a mummers play later this year.

It is hoped that the first production of the mummers play will be performed in late summer on the day of the planned opening of Whale Hall in Cambridge.

Talking about the award of £1,000 to support the development of the Pevensey Whale project with the production of the mummers play, Dianne Dear said, “I am delighted that we have been offered this initial pilot grant, because it puts the story of the Pevensey Whale back on the local history map in an original and interesting way”.

“I think we are going to be hearing much more about the Pevensey Whale this year and in subsequent years in the locality, where the story began”.

Dianne Dear would appear to be on the right track with her view. The Pevensey Whale, as part of the preparations for the launch of Whale Hall, has featured on the BBC World at One, BBC South Today and BBC Look East. The launch of Whale Hall in the summer this year is likely to see national publicity.

Dianne Dear added, “I can not think of a better way to celebrate the importance and potential value of the Pevensey Whale story to the locality than being recognised, by the local authority.

“The funding will support a part of the project that is local, exciting and original, and I hope the mummers play will bring screams of delight and fun to visiting families and residents when the play is first performed”.

IMAGE CREDIT: South East Today
150th anniversary of beaching of Pevensey Whale (November 2015), part of the vertebrae of the whale returning to the scene, where the beaching took place, for the first time since November 1865.