Our Roman Heritage
If asked is there a Roman road nearby, many familiar with Pulborough might answer “Of course, Stane Street from Chichester to London”. Far fewer might correctly answer “Yes, the one through the West Sussex course”.
In Roman times, Stane Street was an important road that connected Chichester (Noviomagus Reginorum) to London (Londinium). The modern A29 traces this Roman road at many points on its route including its difficult rise to Codmore Hill through Pulborough. Nearby Hardham was the first Roman posting station northwards where officials could stay and messengers could change horses to continue their gallop onwards with important news.
It took many independent 20th century archaeological investigations across Sussex to eventually lead to the conclusion that the Romano-British also built a west to east road that joined Hardham to Lewes. Ordinance Survey maps from around 1936 onwards record the path of this road, accorded the contemporary name “Sussex Greensand Way” due to the underlying geology.
Here is a 1936 OS map portion that first delineated the path of this Roman road across our golf course - that most fortuitously had been both constructed and played on by then:-
After the departure of the Romans around 400 A.D., their road across Hurston Warren obviously deteriorated (as many did) due to a general lack of maintenance during the Anglo-Saxon period that followed until it became lost to use and entirely buried locally.
Since then, other archaeological, mapping and environmental studies show that Hurston Warren remained totally heathland in character and was mainly used as common land, mostly for sheep grazing and rabbit farming until privatised by enclosure.
So it is highly likely that the first significant working of Hurston Warren since Roman times was when (and possibly for the very first time) horse and plough were introduced to build the West Sussex golf course. It is a fact that our archives fail to mention any difficulties whatsoever due to encounters with the Roman road during the construction of our course. Indeed, it is most likely those responsible as our founders in 1928 had no idea they were trespassing on heritage and history.
A bath nearby
Until 1964, the nearby A283 road from Storrington to Pulborough was quite narrow with many twists and turns, such as the one now forming the lay-by to the north of Golf Club Drive, next to Lickfold Farm on the left, or the other lay-by just beyond on the right, both of which retain the road’s original route.
Archaeological excavation here in 1937-39 led to the discovery of an extensive Romano-British stone bath house comprising seven rooms including a hypocaust. In 1964, just before the road was widened and straightened, further excavation revealed traces of four more buildings and evidence of pottery making. Here is a map record of the excavations:-
This bath house is now under a schedule for protection as an ancient monument of national importance. It lies buried just north of the white communications mast now sited between the lay-by and the A283 road. There does not appear to be any prominent record or notice placed at this site but the relevant ancient monuments schedule can be examined at this link WIGGONHOLT BATH-HOUSE
The bath house was conveniently located adjacent to the River Stor that almost certainly provided its source of water as well as a drainage point. Very old maps show the Stor was crossed here by a footbridge. As this lay over the path of the east to west Roman road, in all probability the bath house front door opened onto it.
The first finds (and losses)
In 1928, Roman coins were found near Hurston Warren at a location recorded as “on the east side of the Stor”. They were coins of the period Titus (69-79AD) and Antonius Pius (138-161 A.D.) possibly similar to these examples of their coinage when Emperor:
From a study of the Ordinance Survey record of the find together with its written description, it is reasonable to conclude it was made in an area now on the right of the West Sussex second hole, about the length of a long drive sliced into the centre of the heather and just a little short of the rights of way path that crosses nearby.
Around 200 A.D., this spot might have offered a pleasant, sunny afternoon’s resting place with a fine, treeless view westward across the River Arun flood plain and onwards to a possible destination, the Roman posting station at Hardham on Stane Street. In any event, clearly it was a place either to misplace a pouch of coins or deliberately to bury them for a future return that never came.
In 1930, a rare fragment of Samian pottery from the Roman period (c.a.140 A.D.) was found nearby at Wiggonholt .
It was documented and sketched by Samuel Edward Winbolt, a British classics and history teacher and amateur archaeologist.
As outlined here, Winbolt recorded the fragment as in the possession of West Sussex Golf Club. Unfortunately, this piece is no longer kept at the Club, nor is there any record of where it went to.
The route of the Roman road across the course
Locally, this Roman road passed the Lickfold Roman bath house, almost at its front door, continued across the River Stor and entered Hurston Warren up the hill cutting left and just short of where the green is now placed on our second hole. From there its path continued straight across the north western part of Hurston Warren to what is now the rear of the 15th green and departed over the River Chilt in the general direction of Monkmead Lane.
Here is a satellite image of the course showing the holes and more exact detail of where it crossed the course:-
The notable points on this route (west to east) are:-
1. The deep cutting just short of the second green where Roman excavation was probably necessary to provide a more gradual slope to the road. There are prominent drainage ditches either side, typical of Roman road construction
2. The further signs of drainage ditches and elevation that now coincide with the first fairway bunker on the third hole
3. The valley and ridges in the fourth fairway where longer drives often come to rest
4. Some slight witnesses to the Roman road where it crosses the forward tees on the 18th hole and passes just behind the 17th green
5. The notable witnesses to the left of the path towards the 6th tees, then across the heather and down the right of the 6th fairway, finally forming the raised mound hazard with its side ditches just short and left of the 7th hole fairway bunker
6. All the way across the quaking bog SSSI area from where it emerges to cross the heather about half way between the forward 16th tees and the 16th fairway
7. Finally across the rear of the 15th green and out of the course to exit over the River Chilt into Monkmead Wood
Knowing what we know now, the 1930’s were probably the best if not one of the very last decades in which a golf course could be built on Hurston Warren without restriction. Planning and environmental considerations were of little constraint then, certainly not protection of heathland nor preservation of floating bogs or conservation of aquifers or rivers and clearly not protection of our archaeological heritage.
In 1954, most of the course was designated as SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) including the quaking bog (well out of bounds right of the 16th hole). In 2010/2011 an Environmental Management Plan plus Higher Level Stewardship was agreed with English Nature, now Natural England.
In 2021, at many of the points the road crossed our course, they had to be cut to a depth of about 1 metre by the equipment used to install our new irrigation system. No notable new evidence of this Roman road was revealed despite possession of the knowledge of exactly where to look. This reinforces our view that our founders never uncovered this evidence in their time either.
Inevitably, this leaves one final and yet unanswered question:-
“What further Roman treasures lie hidden beneath the West Sussex Golf Course?”