The South Downs Harness Club ran for 40 years, from 1978 to 2018. The driving world changed completely over this time and so in many ways did the Club. The Club, initially affiliated to the British Driving Society moved to British Carriagedriving, grew to cover West Sussex and Hampshire and changed the balance of its activities. However, two events, the Lisa Joyce ODE and the Open Show ran throughout. Most importantly, the Club’s friendly atmosphere, encouraging all types of carriage driving at all levels, remained unchanged over the 40 years.
(This is adapted from “South Downs Harness Club celebrates 40 years” by Lynne Hamill that appeared in Carriage Driving in December 2018.)
The Club was founded in 1978. It was an offshoot from a local riding club, supported by the British Driving Society and initially had around 200 members. Founder members included Shirley and Frank Alderson, Helen and Don Baldwin, Mike Camp, Bob and Mona Joyce, Dr Donald King, Keith and Grace Randall and Bill Vine. Lady March helped get the Club started.
Below is a photo of the Club’s first rally at Goodwood House. There were 15 turnouts in total, who enjoyed a seven mile drive.
The Club’s first chairman was Vernon Forster. Here he is, probably at an early Lisa Joyce event:
An extract from the Committee’s minutes dated November 1982 gives a snapshot of the early days of the Club. The Committee then comprised: Chris Zeuner (Chairman), Helen Baldwin, Keith Barnard, Mike Camp, Mike de Jong Smith, Zeta Good, Grace Randall, Diana Read, Ron Warner and his daughter, Teresa .
Initially, the Club mostly organised social drives, or rallies as they were then called. They took place nearly every summer Sunday and some weekday evenings. Members usually parked in laybys and drove along lanes and byways. There were bluebell drives, spider drives and pub drives and even drives on the beach and into the sea, often followed by picnics. Drives were reported by local papers: one “was supported by 15 horsedrawn vehicles, many of them with new owners turning out for the first time, and got away to a good start after a stirrup cup”; and on another occasion, “many local people came out of their homes to wave to the procession”.
Because of this emphasis on drives through the countryside, the Club has always been very active on Rights of Way: from clearing the byways to attending meetings with local Councils to ensure the needs of carriage drivers are not forgotten, dealing with access and parking – and even taking Councillors out for a drive to show them what it was all about.
Lisa Joyce ODE
Lisa was the daughter of founder members Bob and Mona Joyce. Lisa was tragically killed in a riding accident in 1979 and her parents decided to establish a one day event in her name, to be held around October each year to mark Lisa’s birthday.
This was quite different to the kind of event we know today.
– People often drove traditional carriages such as dog carts, spindle back gigs – and even a London trolley, as shown in the photos below!
– For the marathon, grooms were given a map
– The ‘hazards’, as obstacles were then known, followed the marathon, rather than being integrated. They usually made use of natural features.
– There were no hard hats, let alone body protectors! There were mishaps of course and sometimes these were filmed and used to entertain members on winter evenings!
The event was initially confined to members. Yet a local paper reported in the early 1980s that there were 20 entries, including 10 pairs!
The first event was held in 1980 at Stansted Park, West Sussex and continued there until 1993. After a year at South Harting, it moved to Dounhurst, a specialised carriage driving centre near Wisborough Green, West Sussex. But the sale of Dounhurst in 2004 meant the event had to move on again, this time into Hampshire: first to Durley and since 2010 at Grayswood Carriages at Fisher’s Pond.
(A fuller history of the Lisa Joyce ODE by Carole Brewster appeared in the January 2014 issue of Carriage Driving magazine.)
The Club also ran a popular ODE near Liphook courtesy of Club member Beverley Mellstrom. In the mid-1990s this evolved into a two-day Novice Qualifier which ran until 2007 when the land was sold. At the early events, competitors and their friends and families helped set up, run and clear up. Later events were run by just a few people such as Sue Bushell, Jane Stuart and Steve Lucas.
From its earliest days, the Club ran an annual Open Show. Showing was much more popular than now, and founder member Keith Randall recalls “The first show went on for hours because there were so many classes”. Even in the early 2000s, there were enough entries to support two rings at its Open Show; by 2017 there was only one.
Initially, these shows were held at West Dean College, as in the photos below. By 1984, the Show had moved to the Weald and Downland Museum. The schedule for the 1984 Show shows that Grace Randall was the secretary. There were 13 classes and five judges! Spectators were charged and there was a licensed bar.
This Show always catered for everyone: with classes ranging from BDS championship qualifiers to those for novices with exercise carts. But the Show also reflected the social drive tradition: the 1984 schedule included the Road Safety Test class that involved negotiating a course representing traffic lights, road junctions and a roundabout judged by “Police from the Traffic Department”.
(Click on the thumbnails to see larger photos.)
Sophie Adkins remembered (in 2015) “These shows used to be great…my favourite. Used to catch the 4am ferry with the cattle lorry full of ponies and carriages and picnic!” (In those days, lorries were usually just that – no fancy “living”.)
The Show continued at the Museum until 2016 after which it moved to Tismans Farm, near Rudgwick.
Until 2013, a members-only show was also held on Hayling Island, courtesy of founder member Mike Camp. Reflecting the Club’s emphasis on social drives, this traditionally included a class for whips who had completed at least two drives in the previous year.
The Club always ran fun events too and the number of these grew as driving on the roads became increasingly difficult: dressage and cones, “inside-outs”, “World Cup”, trec and an attelage-type competition.
From 2004 to 2013, the Club held a popular weekend summer camp in the New Forest organised by Louise Nicholson, who put on a full schedule of driving activities, dog agility, a quiz and plenty of food!
Social activities were always important, often combined with talks from guest speakers about carriage driving and harness making and horse care.
Thanks to Sophie Adkins, Carole Brewster, Helen Baldwin, Lynne Hamill, Sue Norriss, Keith Randall and Penny Richmond.