On Sunday we took the train to Sussex again. This time our destination was a village you will almost certainly never have heard of. If I mentioned its name in conversation, you would think I was referring to a district of London that is home to a famous football team, though it is spelt slightly differently.
Railway staff systematically pronounce the name of this village “West’m”, presumably to distinguish it from its better known namesake, but I was always taught to pronounce it “Westham”, with the emphasis on the second syllable. That seems to be what the inhabitants call it too.
Westham forms a pair with Pevensey. These two villages are joined by the castle that sits between them. The castle was originally built as a fort by the Romans and after the Anglo-Saxons invaded and settled the area, it was allowed to decay. It is generally believed that William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey and he gave the fort to one of his henchmen who built it up again, keeping as much of the Roman walls as still remained in solid condition.
So much for the history lesson. What was our purpose in going there? Westham has the distinction of being my birthplace. I was born in a bungalow of whose whereabouts I am ignorant but whose name is known to me. I saw it once while I was still a schoolboy and thus retain a vague visual memory of it. Our purpose on this trip was to visit the village and, if possible, locate the bungalow.
As it was a Sunday, and a bank holiday weekend to boot, most shops were closed but in the main street we found a most intriguing antiques shop and spent some time happily browsing. Tigger asked the lady in the shop if she knew the whereabouts of the bungalow. We were told exactly where to find a bungalow of that name, attached to a farm. This association seemed strange to me because no farm was ever mentioned in connection with the bungalow.
Before taking a look, however, we repaired to The Heron public house for lunch. When we went in, the place seemed a typical village pub. Customers and staff knew one another and were all chatting away cheerfully. We were ignored. However, when I went to the counter to order lunch, I was served politely and amiably enough.
When the barmaid came to clear away the plates I asked her whether she lived in the area. No, she said, but if I asked those two gentlemen there, they would certainly be able to answer my questions. I approached the two gentlemen who passed me to a third, by the name of Bob.
“I was born here,” I began, adding “though that was some time ago.” “Yes, it would be,” riposted Bob, looking me up and down. Cheeky sod. Anyway, I posed my question and received the same answer as that given by the antiques lady. So, we set out.
We found the bungalow easily enough. It was, as they had said, part of a farm. It didn’t look anything like my memory of it. Neither the location nor the shape looked right. I don’t think it was my birthplace despite the coincidence of the name. Perhaps “my” bungalow has been replaced or perhaps its subsequent owners dispensed with the name. There are so many possibilities and it would take a lot of research to find the true answer.
Sunday wasn’t the best of days for an outing. The sky was cloudy and threatening rain and the temperature was far from balmy. Had the weather been more welcoming, we might have explored the twin villages and taken a look at the castle. We might do so on another day. On this occasion, however, the sensible thing was to return to London.