Stories from the stones: researching graffiti at Nymans

Published: 01 June 2021

Last update: 01 June 2021

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This blog post is written by Nymans Graffiti Volunteers, Archaeology volunteer team Nymans Graffiti Volunteers Archaeology volunteer team
Graffiti at Nymans

The volunteer graffiti team at Nymans in West Sussex was formed in October 2019 to undertake further research on the historic inscriptions found in the woodlands on the estate. In this blog, team member Steve Greenfield discusses the latest stage of the project, which involves identifying and learning more about those who have left their mark on the rocks.

Following the clues

In his blog entry ‘Written in Stone’, Tom Dommett wrote about the archaeological recording of the sandstone rocks on the Nymans estate which have history written into them; those carvings that hold stories about the life and times of people in the woodlands over the centuries.

Nymans now has a small team of staff and volunteers who are busy trying to identify and translate the carvings into traceable names through searches of historical documents, archives, email, social media and websites. We are known as the ‘Graffiti Team’ and we are starting to see exciting results from our work.

Detail of the 3D ‘point-cloud’ of the rock surface at Nymans
Detail of the 3D ‘point-cloud’ of the rock surface at Nymans
Detail of the 3D ‘point-cloud’ of the rock surface at Nymans

To get started, the team has been focusing on the full names that are carved into the rocks, finding those who are from the 20th century, some who have lived and still live locally, and some who have moved far away from West Sussex. Contact has been made with families and in some cases the actual people who carved their names back in the 1950s.

Tales from the past

Not only have we made contact, we have actually been able to meet some of them. One gentleman and his sister have recently come in to visit Nymans and have met with our team.  They have told us tales of playing in the woods as children; with the boys making bows and arrows and play-fighting the local ‘gangs’ from their camps made deep in the woods. 

They have also told us about their father, who knew Anne Lady Rosse when she lived at Nymans and how he helped to look after some aspects of the house. These are the stories the team are exploring further.

Lady Rosse with her son Lord Snowdon
Lady Rosse with her son Lord Snowdon
Lady Rosse with her son Lord Snowdon

Other families have told us how local lads would meet at the rocks and carve their names into the rock-face to make their mark in history. They have also confirmed a local legend of a preacher who would stand and preach to passers by at the rock formation known locally as ‘Pulpit Rock’.

The team have also traced more details of some local industries. We now know much more about one of the brickworks that was operating in the woods when the Messel family bought the Nymans estate in 1890. We have found the names of people who worked at the brickworks, where they lived and their families, names, jobs, and dates of their births and deaths.

The history trails leading from this work are extending like tentacles and we are starting to see how the lives of people in and around our woods at Nymans have been interlinked over the centuries. Exploring these connections further and delving into the local socio-economic environment will form the basis of ongoing work for this team.

We may never find out exactly who carved all of the initials in our rocks but we will certainly get to know more about what was happening in our woods over the centuries, and more about the lives of the people who lived, worked and played on the Nymans estate.

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