Family History



As the 1880s continued a new life opened for William. 1881 census taken on 3 April records him ais living with his parents-in-law Edwin and Eliza Hornsby and Edwinís brother John in Madehurst. He is described as a labourer in wood man. His obituary says Ď He knew every inch of the Downs and the woods for miles aroundí. However this household was soon to break up as Edwin died in 1882 and John in 1884. After the loss of Fanny happiness came again. On Valentineís day 1885 in Madehurst he married a Madehurst woman Ellen Downer. Ellen was born 1850 in Madehurst the only daughter of William and Jane Downer to reach adulthood, although five brothers did so. William was a gardener at Dale Park House and several of his sons worked there, both in and outside the house before leaving the area. By 1881 only the youngest brother Henry was still living in Madehurst, and he was a gardener at Dale Park like his father. Ellen was particularly close to him; her eldest son was to have Henry as his middle name and throughout his life he was good to her daughter Nellie. As a young woman Ellen had worked in service in West Street Chichester as a general servant to Thomas Brown, Vicar of St Paulís but by 1881 she had returned home to be her familyís housekeeper at Stag Lodge, one of the lodges for Dale Park. Jane Downer died in 1881 of smallpox. William and Ellenís marriage was witnessed by James and Mary Downer. James was Ellenís brother, a railway ticket collector living in Croydon but Mary Downer is a mystery. Jamesís first wife was called Mary but it appears she had died in 1879. There was an unmarried Mary Downer born and living in Arundel at the time with her older, unmarried sister Frances, a school matron. Could they have been Ellenís cousins? The newly weds would have lived with William in Stag Lodge after they married, but not for long as William died 23 June 1885 cause of death being an embolism and moist gangarine. Stag Lodge is now rented out as luxurious self-catering accommodation, consisting of a spacious sitting room, kitchen, double bedroom and bathroom. From a photo on the Internet it looks as though extensions have been built. When William and Ellen liver there it would have consisted of a kitchen and two other rooms, none of them very spacious! .

At some point in the next few months, perhaps because they had to leave the Lodge after William died, the couple moved to Walberton where their first child Nellie Jane was born 6 December 1885. This must have been a difficult time for Ellen, as she had neither mother nor sisters and had moved from the village where she grew up. Nellie was baptised Valentineís day 1886, her parentís first wedding anniversary, in Madehurst church. She was named Nellie after her mother and Jane after her grandmother (two Downer cousins were also called Nellie Jane). By the time the eldest son William Henry Blunden, known as Harry was born on 23 April 1887 the family had settled into Bittleside Farm on Slindon Common. Until the 1860s Slindon Common was just that Ė a sparsely populated Common, used by villager copyholders (a kind of perpetual tenancy) to graze animals. The Common was "eliminated" under the Enclosure Acts in the 1860s and the copyholders were compensated under the Slindon Enclosure Award with plots of land on Slindon Common. The majority of new holdings were eventually sold, mainly as building plots. Jimmy Dean the well known Slindon diarist lived next door and recorded how Harry Cooper an elderly carpenter and wheelwright was thrown out of Bittleside by Colonel Leslie the owner of Slindon Estate so that the Blundens could move in. With nowhere to go Harry lived with the Deans (Jimmy, his wife Harriet, mother Theresa and several children) for several months without giving them any money. He eventually enteresd the Westhampnett workhouse where he died. Jimmy and Ellen Blunden were distantly related though he didnít mention this. His grandmother Mary Dean born Saxby was the sister of Ellenís grandfather Thomas Saxby.

On 12 November 1888 Martha died from a cerebral haemorrhage in Madehurst and William notified the death the following day. Although her death certificate describes her as wife of Robert Beazley estate labourer it is likely the marriage had fallen apart. On the 1881 census Martha was living in the Market Square Midhurst with her widowed sister-in-law Rhoda Bennett and working as a charwoman. She must have moved to Madehurst, with or without Robert, and could have lived with either William and Ellen or else her son Dick who by this time was living in Chichester Lodge. A happier event was the birth on 3 September 1889 of William and Ellenís third child Charles Henry Blunden.

Jimmy Dean describes Harry Cooperís house (as he names it) as being a large thatched house with stable, cowsheds, pig pens, large orchard and meadow. The original house had been burnt down by a chimney fire in 1865 and rebuilt by Harry Cooper. He sold it to the Slindon estate in 1881. Local legend (first passed onto me by my grandmother) says there were tunnels used by smugglers running from the site of the farm to the Dog and Partridge. This extract is from a document on ĎDuring the 18th and early 19th centuries, Slindon was a centre of smuggling and the old Dog and Partridge Inn on Slindon Common was a regular rendezvous of the smugglers. The Inn had capacious cellars Ė far larger than normally needed by a small country inn! Ė which extended northwards under the A29 to the fields opposite (and the gibbet from which smugglers were hanged stood at the former crossroads on Slindon Common, situated slightly to the north of Mill Farm)í. A more prosaic explanation of this legend is that the Ďtunnelsí were drainage pipes from the Common.

Williamís children were playmates with those of the Deans, and must have walked to school together. Harry was a comparable age with Arthur and Jack Dean and Charlie with Jack and Herbert Dean. My grandmother Nellie Jane remained lifelong friends with Tizzy, Theresa born 1887.

On the other side of Bittleside was the Sir George Thomas Arms. Apparently William would go to the pub to have a glass of beer at 6 in the morning before starting work Ė it could well have been here.