Dr Janet Pennington

Diploma: English Local History
MA: Regional History
PhD: Inn and Tavern History

  • I give illustrated talks about Sussex history and more general talks covering the south-east of England.

  • I travel anywhere in West and East Sussex. However, travelling by Zoom, I can reach anywhere in the country.

  • I am happy to do talks at short notice.

Join us online

All Talks can be facilitated on-line via Zoom

Illustrated Talks in Person or via Zoom


The Story of a Sussex Landmark

Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs has been an iconic landmark for Sussex inhabitants and visitors for over two hundred years. However, the ring of trees, most of which were destroyedChanctonbury Ring talk Dr Janet Pennington by the great storm of 1987 and replanted in 1990, covers another ring, the  c.750 BC (Late Bronze Age) earthwork, or hillfort. This earlier Ring, which contains the remains of a Romano-Celtic and Romano-British temple complex, has a very special atmosphere that draws people to it. Set within a much older landscape, it also attracted the sixteen-year-old Charles Goring of Wiston House, who planted Ploughing under Chanctonbury, at Washington. 1934 Garland photo, p.71 Across Sussex with Belloc, by Bob Copperhis beeches and other trees around the perimeter in 1760, ‘on some auspicious day’, as his poem of 1828 reveals. This richly illustrated talk reveals the history of the area, a murder on the hill in 1330, the tree species involved over the centuries and a spate of literary outpourings about Chanctonbury Ring by nineteenth and twentieth century novelists, poets and travel writers.

Dr Janet Pennington on Chanctonbury Ring


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The extraordinary story of its Elizabethan owner, Sir Thomas Sherley, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1573. His raised social status soon had him thinking about a new stone house to replace the medieval timber-framed home of his ancestors. 

Sherley was appointed Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex for a year in 1577, when he was about 35 years of age, and he also became a very fair local Justice of the Peace. Ten years later he was appointed Treasurer-at-War in the Netherlands, reckoned to be the most lucrative in the army due to the ‘perks’ available. Fraud and corruption were rife and Sherley was spending at a great rate, particularly on luxurious possessions for his newly-built house.


The story of his fall from grace is a fascinating one that will be illustrated with photographs of Wiston House, portraits and contemporary quotations. As a Member of Parliament for Steyning in 1604, Sir Thomas Sherley played a role in constitutional history. 



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Wiston House, to the west of Steyning, is a handsome manor house, built c.1575 by Sir Thomas Sherley, an Elizabethan courtier and Member of Parliament. This is the story of some of the women who lived at Wiston over the next two centuries. Dame Anne Sherley, his widow, left a fascinating will, full of delights, in 1623.

The house had been sold to Lionel Cranfield, the Lord Treasurer of England, the year before that, when Dame Anne had to leave her home of 63 years. His tenant and friend, newly-widowed Frances, Countess of Exeter, wrote excitable letters to him about the garden and the new water supply.

Women of Wiston talk Janet Penningtonwomen of wiston

A later owner, Robert Fagge, married Christian Bishop of Parham in 1696 and they had seven children in nine years, during which time Robert set up home with another woman.

The story of his ‘other family’ and Christian’s fight to save her marriage are the stuff of romantic fiction. In 1743 widower Sir Charles Goring of Highden, Washington, a neighbouring estate, married the then heiress, Elizabeth Fagge, a 40 year old spinster.

Their son Charles planted the trees on Chanctonbury Ring in 1760 when he was just sixteen. The Goring family still own the Wiston Estate today.

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THE WISTON ESTATE: A Thousand Years of History

One thousand years ago the Wiston Estate comprised about 1,500 acres, a quarter of its land holdings today. The DomWiston Estate, 1000 years of history Dr Janet Penningtonesday Book entry of 1086 lists 24 tenants at Wistanestun, as well as five ‘slaves’. These were bondsmen – farm workers tied to their manorial lord. In the early 1300s there were 53 tenants, but only eight were left after the Black Death (1348-50), a grim time for the estate and its owners. From the 1440s the Sherley family were in possession and in the 1570s courtier Sir Thomas Sherley built much of the Wiston House that remains today. From 1622 there was a new estate owner, the Lord Treasurer of England, and he was followed by a royalist supporter in the English Civil War. In 1649, just three months after Charles I was beheaded, a young parliamentarian, John Fagge of East Hoathly, purchased the estate.

Women of Wiston talk

John’s grandson Robert married Christian Bishop of Parham in 1696 – their stormy marriage is a tale in itself – and he took over the estate in 1715. One of their daughters, the 37-year-old spinster Elizabeth Fagge, inherited Wiston in 1740. She married widower Sir Charles Goring of Highden, Washington three years later and their only son Charles planted the trees on Chanctonbury Ring in 1760. Harry Goring, the present owner of the Wiston Estate, is the Ring-planter’s great-great grandson.

This illustrated talk encompasses some of the ups and downs of the estate ownership over the last millennium.

From 1634 to 1649 Wiston House and its Estate was owned by Sir John Tufton, the second earl of Thanet (1608-1664).

An active royalist, joining Charles I at Nottingham in August 1642, Thanet soon found himself in financial trouble. Probably the richest man in Kent, with land and properties at Hothfield and Rainham, he became a target for sequestration by the parliamentary side and was hit with enormous fines. He also owned land in north-east Sussex. His father Nicholas, the first earl, had purchased the manor of Bodiam and its castle in 1623; his grandfather had owned the manor of Northiam with interests in the iron industry of the area.

This illustrated talk reveals the problems of royalist landowners in Sussex and Kent, the pillaging of Wiston House by royalist troops, then its occupation by parliamentarian soldiers who plundered the sequestrated estate over a period of eighteen months. Tufton’s wife Margaret, from the rich Sackville family of Knole House, had a sister-in-law at nearby Parham House who probably gave her and her children shelter.

Documentary evidence gives an intimate picture of one family and their troubles during these turbulent times, ending with the sale of Wiston House to parliamentarian John Fagge of East Hoathly just three months after the execution of Charles I.

WALTER GIBRALTAR: from Sussex to the Bishop’s Palace, Malta

Walter Trower (1804-1877) was born in London the year before the Battle of Trafalgar, in the reign of George III. When he was about 15, his father leased Muntham Court, at Findon in Sussex and through this connection he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Goring (1799-1876) of nearby Wiston House. They married in 1829, a month after Walter was ordained into the Church of England by the Bishop of Chichester, and thereupon began a busy life of travel and adventure.

After several curacies in Sussex, Walter was ordained Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, a huge diocese in western Scotland – but he was going even further than that.

In 1863, now as Bishop of Gibraltar, Walter and Elizabeth, with their daughters Jane, Frances and Mary, spent five years in the Mediterranean, when he became Bishop of Gibraltar.

Valletta, Grand Harbour, Malta 1859

Walter was based in the Bishop’s Palace on Malta, where the three girls, by now in their twenties, had a most interesting time. The ships of Queen Victoria’s Navy were frequently moored in Valetta Harbour, and various Army Regiments were also quartered on the Island.


There were visits to Gibraltar, travel from Malta to Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain and France. Numerous letters written to and from Wiston sent news and, of course, gossip. This was the time of the British Empire, so politics and worries about war took up almost as much time as religious affairs.

Cannons at Grand Harbour, Malta



This talk reveals the delights and hardships, as well as a heart-breaking tragedy, of a 19th century Bishop’s life during a turbulent period of British history.

Do visit the following site for more detail:



The Secrets of a Sussex Market Town, 1547-1947

Discover who did what, where and with whom! Steyning’s attractive timber-framed buildings and flint cottages hide many secrets from the past – come and discover some of them if you dare. We will be exploring the streets and twittens of Steyning with many scandalous stories, all illustrated and researched through local documentary sources. If you are easily shocked, this is not the talk for you.

The Secrets of a Sussex Market Town, 1547-1947

Parnell's plaque

This talk is NOT suitable for children.
 It can also be done as a walk.

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This talk explores half a millenium of Steyning’s liquid history. See where malthouses, breweries, inns and public houses were situated in the past and whether any trace of them can be found today.











The White Horse, the Chequer and the Star are still trading – see and hear something of their history, all set within the background of drinking establishments in Sussex.





This talk can also be done as a walk around the town, with plenty of stops

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A Sussex Market Town and its History

This is a chance to browse the streets, lanes and twittens of a small country town with a history that goes back well over a thousand years. This walk leads you through Steyning’s fascinating history – beginning with the town’s foundation legend of St Cuthman and his Steyning Grammar School Janet Penningtonwheelbarrow, moving on to the beautiful Norman church, the story of the Grammar School and its beginnings as a cloth hall. We take in the burning of a Protestant martyr in the reign of ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary, the smelly former tanyard, the marriage of Charles Parnell to Kitty O’Shea at the town’s registry office in 1891, and hear about the many artists and writers who enjoyed coming to the town once the railway arrived in 1861.

This is a slow ramble round AN ILLUSTRATED WALK AROUND OLD STEYNING A Sussex Market Town and its History Dr Janet Penningtonthe town, with numerous stops for looking and listening. There are many lovely coffee/tea shops in the High Street, and four pubs to choose from for suitable refreshment at the end of your walk – which can be arranged in the morning, afternoon, or evening  at any time of the year.
This talk can also be done as a REAL WALK!

view video

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To most people driving along the A27 the words ‘Adur valley’ mean a good view of Lancing College chapel, Shoreham Airport, Old Shoreham Toll Bridge and, to the north, perhaps a glimpse of the ruins of Bramber Castle – but there is much more to it than that. The Adur valley, with its tidal river, was once a broad sea estuary where coarse brown salt was made in medieval times. Ships made their way on the tide as far as Steyning, bringing wine and other goods from overseas.

Lancing College across river Adur from Mill Hill, Shoreham

Smuggling was rife, the proximity of Brighton in Regency times encouraging the illegal importation of  coffee, opera glasses musical boxes and leather gloves, as well as the more commonly perceived tea, spirits, wines and tobacco. Come and hear about the ‘Stone-Age doughnuts’ of Old Erringham and the lack of wild oats at Applesham Farm. Find out what some of the Coombes’ church wall paintings mean and something about St. Botolph.

Bramber Castle had been a ruin for at least a hundred years by the time the Royalists and Roundheads clashed at Bramber bridge in 1643, but the uncrowned Charles II did pass that way in 1651 on his flight from the Battle of Worcester.


I lived at Botolphs in the Adur valley for some years, worked on several archaeological excavations in the area, was archivist at Lancing College, and prior to 1968 handed over many sixpences in order to pass over Old Shoreham Toll Bridge on the former A27 route. Luckily I was not on the Southdown double-decker bus that plunged into the river on 1st January 1949, but this story does have a happy ending.


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This talk uncovers a lost industry of the Adur valley – the making of salt. Salt is something we probably all take for granted, sprinkling it on our roast potatoes or adding it to our salads. Or even, perhaps, trying to eat less of it nowadays.

In earlier times it was so valuable that it was heavily taxed. The French undercut our local market in 14thC by importing their far superior ‘Fleur de Sel’, a very pure white salt, usually called Bay salt, through the port of New Shoreham. Salt was produced by sun evaporation in the Bay of Bourgneuf in southern Brittany, and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay, but the Adur valley salt, known locally as ‘brown salt’ was made in a very different way, by boiling.

There are still traces of the salt-making in the valley today, if you know where to look. This talk will explain how the industry flourished, then faded. When we open our refrigerator door or put food into our freezer, we perhaps forget that our ancestors would have been using salt for the same purpose, to stop their fish and meat from going bad. Rents were sometimes paid in salt, it was such a valuable commodity. The farmers of the Adur valley would have known all about it.

So, don’t take all this with a pinch of salt, discover it for yourself!



This is the story of an extraordinary man, the Revd Nathaniel Woodard (1811-1891) who founded not only the school that became Lancing College, but Hurstpierpoint and Ardingly Colleges in Sussex. He founded eleven schools in his lifetime, and the Woodard CorporationLANCING COLLEGE, SUSSEX, AND ITS LOCAL HISTORY today has 50 schools under its umbrella. A warm-hearted family man, Woodard’s Sussex connections began in 1847 when he was appointed curate to St Mary de Haura in the port of New Shoreham. He lived in Brighton for some time, then in 1862 moved to Henfield where he died, aged 80, nearly 30 years later. For 40 years he kept up an enormous correspondence, much of it connected with fund-raising for his schools – but his sons wrote to him about personal matters, his wife worried about his lack of shirts, and from 1868 he had the enormous burden of organising the building of Lancing College ChapelRevd Nathaniel Woodard with little money but sustained by his Christian faith.


I was the archivist at Lancing College for nearly 20 years. This talk uses material from the College Archives to go behind the scenes of the history of this well-known independent school with its landmark chapel on the South Downs.

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The research for my doctoral thesis, The Inns and Taverns of Western Sussex, 1550-1700: A Regional Study of Their Architectural and Social History, (2003), took me to pubs all over Sussex and in many other counties. If you think you know your White Horse from your Red Lion, or your Kings Head from your Royal Oak, come along and learn something new.

Royal Oak inn sign, Newick
Royal Oak inn sign, Newick, East Sussex







Inn signs were, and still are, much more than external advertising for food, drink and possibly accommodation nowadays. The signs and their brackets reveal patronage, land ownership, social status,  local personalities and events, opening a window on to the past. Sussex inn signs are a colourful addition to our urban and rural surroundings and they are still full of meaning in the twenty-first century.


Red Lion, Lindfield, West Sussex





Inns Taverns and alehouses talk
Star inn sign, Alfriston, East Sussex.

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Inn signs are an important part of our cultural history, and many are,English Inn signs talk Dr Janet Pennington
fortunately, still with us. We often use them to find our way around and any stranger asking the way in town or country will be told to turn left at the White Horse, or go straight on at the Red Lion.
This talk looks at many rural and urban inn signs across England, and explains much of their local and regional significance.

Red Lion, High Wycombe


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We rather take inn signs for granted. They are part of our urban street scene and we can direct strangers by using their names. They are often a welcome flash of colour amongst the rural landscape at the end of a country walk. Do we ever wonder who painted them and why? Did a local blacksmith fashion the wrought iron support and the local carpenter/joiner make the bracket and post?

Chequer Inn, Steyning

However, inn signs were, and still are, much more than external advertising for food, drink and often accommodation. The signs, and their wrought iron brackets, reveal patronage, land ownership, social status and much more, opening a window to the past. Inn signs, pub signs, call them what you will, are a colourful addition to our urban and rural surroundings and are still full of meaning in the 21st century.

Henry VIII Coat of Arms


This talk will include artists such as William Hogarth, Myles Birket Foster and Ralph Ellis. It will open your eyes to the art of the inn sign.


CAKES and ALE: a ‘full English’ in your 17thC local?

Are we still enjoying what our ancestors ate in the morning in inns and alehouses? What were they having in 1600?








This talk will cover much of Sussex, as well as surrounding counties. The differences between the types of drinking establishments from 1550 to 1750 will be explained and illustrated, while documentary and other sources will provide evidence for the food and drink retailed and consumed within them, showing how these provisions were supplied. We will hear the reactions from travellers (not always good!) and local customers to what was on offer, together with the lifestyles of the innkeepers, both male and female.



The Problems and Pleasures of the Journey

Travel in the past was not easy, and Sussex was notorious for its bad roads, particularly in the clay regions of the Weald.Jumping the Toll It was not until the mid-eighteenth century, when Turnpike Acts improved the county’s roads, that journeys became less of a problem. This talk, taking in regions around London and further afield, looks at horses, coaches and plenty of Sussex mud. It will make you glad that you have a car, or can catch a bus or a train. Even walking could be better than coach travel in the 17th century.

Coming down Cuckfield Hill 1876 Janet Pennington










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Celia Fiennes was an independent-minded lady, probably born at Newton Toney Manor, Wiltshire, in 1662. She travelled around England on horseback, seated on a sidesaddle,  – including a couple of trips into Sussex – between c.1685-1712, from her early twenties to the age of about fifty. She was very keen on visiting the English spa towns (she liked Tunbridge Wells) though some of the waters were very much not to her taste, nor did her horse enjoy the smells! She noted the industries of each area and the meals she ate, enjoying her beer and wine. She stayed with relatives and friends, often at inns, and sometimes with complete strangers. She usually took a servant or two with her, and always had her own sheets. This is a very different travelogue, seen from the female perspective, at a time when coaching was uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.

Was she the ‘…fine [?Fiennes] lady upon a white horse’ of Banbury Cross? Or not?

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ON YOUR FEET: Boots & Shoes in History

This talk was inspired by the wonderful shoe exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, 13 June 2015 – 31 January 2016.


Have you ever looked at the shoes that Henry VIII was wearing for his Holbein portrait? And did you wear stilettos in the sixties, like me? Would you gentlemen have stuffed the toes of your very pointed leather shoes with moss in the 14th century?

This talk will reveal all, especially your coloured stockings and naughty ankles.

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sussex history talks
sussex history talks


Janet grew up in the post-World War II years looking at the ground – daughter of Sussex archaeologists Eric and Hilda Holden. Most of her early memories are of Sussex history, field-walking with her parents and observing, later taking part in, archaeological excavations all over Sussex. A vivid early memory is going into a Neolithic flint mine on Church Hill, Findon, with her father and crawling into a gallery, clutching a red deer antler pick and a shoulder blade shovel, pretending to be a flint miner.


Revising for her Latin ‘O’Level in the 1950s in the windy Adur valley while her parents conducted a rescue dig on a farm site meant that one of the resulting skeletons
(c. AD 1000) had to be stepped over carefully for a while, in their home in Hove, in order to reach the piano for her daily practice.  Jigsaws were done with medieval pottery pieces, in trays of sand, and there were always pieces missing.


This talk takes us back to a more peaceful time with little traffic, no health and safety, and when every outing seemed to be tinged with excitement and mystery.

We take shopping for granted nowadays, using our local shops (if we still have them) and going to the supermarket. We can even order on-line and have a home delivery at our convenience. How different was it for our ancestors – would we recognise a medieval shopfront in our own High Street and how many have survived? And what about shop signs and shop names – how have they changed? Do you have shopkeeping ancestors? Who really said that the English are a ’nation of shopkeepers’?

Hear the answers to many of these questions, and add your own comments and memories. Do share any family ‘shops and shopping’ photographs or memorabilia.

Worcester, 1991 Janet Pennington

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The Ritual Protection of the Home

We all know about lucky horseshoes (but why are they lucky?) and many people have a special stone, often with a hole through it, that they feel is a useful item to keep on the kitchen window-sill. Do you have a shoe up your chimney or a symbol at the door?

WITCHES horseshoe DR Janet PenningtonOur ancestors used many of these and other objects to protect themselves and their animals from harm, or to bring good luck to their homes and families. Witches were to be feared in earlier times and anyone, male or female, convicted of witchcraft in England would have been hanged (not burnt at the stake – this is a common misconception).


Witches, Warlocks summary talk Dr Janet PenningtonThis talk examines some of the ways people in the past protected themselves and their homes from evil. Protective items will also be on display and can be handled. There will hopefully be no witches or warlocks present, but a wellington may appear.

Do bring your own special object to the talk, if you feel you can leave your home unprotected for a few hours…

Witches talk Janet Pennington

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Have you heard of the Sussex chair – or even  a  Sussex chair? And what is the difference? You will probably have heard of the Arts and Crafts movement. Although it was known by a single name (one that wasn’t in fact used widely until the early 20th century), the Arts and Crafts movement was in fact comprised of a number of different artistic societies, such as the Exhibition Society, the Arts Workers Guild (set up in 1884), and other craftspeople in both small workshops and large manufacturing companies. Many of the people who became involved in the Movement were influenced by the work of the designer William Morris, who by the 1880s had become an internationally renowned and commercially successful designer and manufacturer.

The Morris  Easy Chair
The Sussex Chair

In the spring of 2018 I was invited to speak at a Celebration of the Rush-Seated Chair, a two-day event to be held at Marchmont House, Greenlaw, in the Scottish Borders. This was quite a surprise, as I was asked to talk about ‘Sussex Chairs’ on the basis that I would know all about these due to a small piece of research I undertook, which was published in  Regional Furniture (1995). I realised that this was an opportunity to do some new research on a subject about which I knew far too little. I spent several months researching villages in East Sussex that had chair-making connections. I also learnt more about William Morris and his work. This talk is the result of those researches, plus further knowledge gained from the other twelve speakers at the Celebration. for further details about a new Arts & Crafts movement

Illustrated Talks Available for 2021-2022


I have a digital projector, laptop, remote control/laser pointer and long extension lead, (PAT tested), also a portable screen if required.

I often lead walks around the old market town of Steyning in West Sussex, revealing much of its history, scandalous or otherwise. I usually do these in spring and summer, and advertise them in the local papers and Your Steyning, as well as on this website. Otherwise I am happy to organise a walk with a society or group individually – so do contact me for details.

I am sometimes able to arrange a tour of Wiston House, the beautiful manor house nestling under the South Downs, built by Sir Thomas Sherley in the 1570s after he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.

You will hear about the history of the house and how Sir Thomas made his money. As a Member of Parliament and a Justice of the Peace, he did not, sadly, apply the laws of the land to himself. There are modern echoes in his story, which is set against the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish.

A compulsory cream tea is part of this afternoon, which will not be forgotten in a hurry – neither the tea nor Sir Thomas! A visit to St Marys Church is also part of the tour, and the views from the gardens and terrace to the south of the House are wonderful.


I was born in the county of Sussex. I am an independent researcher with a degree in the architectural and social history of early-modern Sussex inns and taverns (Thesis). I was the archivist at Lancing College, and also taught local history and palaeography for the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex. (Read more)

Contact Janet Pennington –  I am happy to do talks at short notice.

Book about Wiston and the Goring Family  (2017)

Useful Links

Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society

Regional Furniture Society

Steyning Museum

Sussex Archaeological Society

Sussex Family History Group

Sussex Record Society

Sussex School of Archaeology & history

The Keep – East Sussex Record Office

Wealden Buildings Study Group

West Sussex Archives Society

West Sussex Record Office

Wiston House – Wilton Park