Legend has it that in the first century AD a man called Cuthmann was driven to begging. Incredibly, in his state of desperation, Cuthmann proceeded to push his paralysed mother across the countryside in a wheelbarrow, as they travelled from door-to-door in need of relief. In order to support the weight of his mother, he tied the rope handles of the barrow over his shoulders. Unfortunately, during an excursion to the east, the rope snapped. It was in this moment, and at this place, the settlement of Steyning, that Cuthmann was inspired to build a church. And, with the assistance of supportive locals, he soon succeeded in his mission. As with all legends, the element of truth in this tale is a point of dispute. However, it feels like the ideal way to begin a post about a museum that chronicles the history of Steyning, from Cuthmann’s time, to the present day.
Steyning Museum charts local history using fascinating exhibits on farming, construction, different periods in the town’s history, and archaeological finds. As I walked through the museum, I frequently stumbled across unusual objects – objects that I had not expected to find in such a small space. For instance, amongst the usual dug-up finds, like clay pipes and antique bottles, lay the mummified remains of a rat with woodworm, found in the wattle and daub of an old house. Then, just around the corner, in a section that focuses on Wartime Steyning, appeared the large faces of Gert and Daisy – a wartime comedy duo, famous for their appearances on BBC Radio’s Workers’ Playtime. The pair moved to Steyning before the war, and remained there for the rest of their lives. The museum is consequently home to a large collection of Gert and Daisy artefacts.
Just as I began to settle into reading about the history of the local fire brigade, the museum curator guided me over to a mysterious dark box on the ground. After peering into the box with a frown, a switch was pressed and, to my astonishment, a whole human skeleton revealed. Not much is known about this one thousand year old ‘Steyning Man’. His remains were found on land that was referred to as ‘Heathen Burial’, suggesting that he may have been sentenced to death after committing a crime – a grim tale indeed. It was reassuring to then discover, in the display case opposite, Steyning’s longest-running light bulb, which had shone brightly for sixty years!
Just as the museum website says: “Steyning, Bramber and Upper Beeding are full of surprises – just take a look.”