Communicating the South Downs

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Memories of a carpenter

‘The main features of the village, however, were the hills, the acres of beech forest and the underwood coppices. The whole of Singleton and Charlton forest, apart from a few ash, oak and sycamore, were beech. Massive beech they were, reaching up to a hundred and a hundred and twenty feet or more. It was beautiful timber and underneath these great trees there was nothing but fallen leaves.’

Extract from the Memoirs of Les West, used by kind permission of Peter West

Earlier this year we met up with Peter West who lives and works in East Dean and shares a business, Wests of East Dean, with his brother where they make a huge range of wooden products.

He told us about his family’s business came to exist and the kind of products that they make:

“Our motto is ‘Worked with timber since 1809’… my grandfather employed up to 20 people at one time just doing hurdles, spars and underwood products.”

“We’ll make whatever you want, whether it be a bit of furniture, a window, door, staircase. I tend to stick to the turning and I got the lad who works with me, he’s the cabinet maker.”

He shared some of his childhood memories of growing up in the woods:

“Dinner was always at one o’clock but of course none of us had a watch, did we? I think I got home at four. I got a right ticking off from the old lady.”

“You’d go up and see where they’d ploughed the fields and you’d find all these mortar fins and things like that.”

“End of the summer holidays, before you’d go back to school, you’d start a village bonfire. Always. Always.”

And shared his knowledge about the wood from different species of tree:

“Hazel really thrives on being cut”

On sycamore: “It grows like a weed, I’m sure it was never planted.”

“Most of it that came out of here used to be beech.”

“that’s becoming more popular, chestnut”

Thank you to Peter for sharing his memories with us.

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