Posted 14 February 2014 by Andrew Gardner
An enterprising friend recently held her birthday party at the Churchill War Rooms in London, a fascinating, atmospheric and highly interactive museum. With no shortage of train connections to London from our county, it occurred to me that this would be a terrific family day out during your half-term holiday in Sussex.
It also set me to thinking about Sussex in terms of Churchill, and I was tickled to recall the mural at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, by Churchill's nephew John Spencer Churchill that features a caricature of the man as a capuchin monkey. While Churchill's famous country home was at Westerham in Kent - also an easy day out from your Sussex holiday cottage - the main connections with this county involve wartime relics.
I've just been reading about the decoy airfield at Slindon, a few miles north of the former real one at Tangmere (now an excellent museum, which this month reopens its doors for the visitor season). Decoy airfields, military installations and even towns were built at various locations throughout Britain, ingeniously designed with the help of leading technicians from the burgeoning film industry. Pretty much everything, from aircraft and vehicles to buildings and bomb dumps, was made of wood and canvas; the only things likely to be real were anti-aircraft guns. Poignantly though, they were so convincing that friendly aircraft in trouble occasionally tried to land on them, with unhappy results. At Slindon apparently the shell of the old generator building remains and the airfield was adjacent to the Roman road (Stane Street). I bet this, as well as the Tangmere museum itself, would make a great excursion for anyone interested in military or aviation history. To me, though, it's as much about the people and places that were affected as the actual events.
Another aviation magnet in Sussex, the volunteer-run Wings Museum at Balcombe, will open its doors in March. Going back further in history, Slindon was the site of one of the few Sussex sieges of the Civil War - the others being at Arundel and Chichester - and did you know that Charles II escaped to France on a boat from Shoreham? If you've walked any sections of the Monarch's Way as it passes through the South Downs you may have been following in his footsteps, and it's no surprise that much of that trail passes hidden through woodland and valleys. There's so much to explore and discover down here once you start delving - so if a one-week holiday isn't enough, we look forward to aiding your research on a repeat visit, click here to browse our selection of Sussex cottages.