Secret Arundel by Eddy Greenfield
The great wooden doors of the cathedral swung open on their iron hinges. Sunlight flooded in, casting long shadows across the stone floor. A gust of wind blasted in, chilling the necks of those seated nearby. Inside, the worshipers – sitting on the pews in neat ranks – turned their heads away from the pulpit to look at the intruder. Hollow footsteps marched slowly down the aisle as the fantastically-dressed gentleman made his way towards the front. His eyes darted hither and thither, scanning the upturned faces staring back at him. Dozens of eyes tracked his progress and then shied away in terror as their gaze met his.
The stranger spied an empty pew near the front; second row in – a good spot. Concealed upon his person is a pair of loaded revolvers, but no one knows this. With his secret safe, he takes his position directly behind the Duchess of Norfolk. Whispers spread through the congregation.
The man looks over his shoulder and grimaces at those behind him. He then looks across at those opposite and contorts his face at them. A few small squeaks – screams struggling to be held behind tightly-closed lips – leak out involuntarily. Others try to ignore this interloper and concentrate on the morning's sermon.
The service comes to its conclusion, and the worshipers file out the main doors and fan out as they each make their way back home. The mysterious gentleman leaves peacefully and makes the short 1.3km journey to Arundel's railway station to catch the late morning train to Littlehampton.
Here, a policeman makes his rounds and sees the gentleman alight from the train. Something rouses his suspicions – he doesn't know why, but his instincts tell him something is not quite right with this scene. He moves in to investigate closer.
"Excuse me, sir," he says.
Still no answer. He approaches closer, unaware that he's putting himself in danger.
The mystery man has so far been peaceable despite his erratic behaviour in the cathedral and his strange outfit. However, something clicks in his mind and he lashes out. The policeman tries to apprehend him, but a violent struggle ensues. Other travellers gawk as the two men grapple with each other in the street. Finally, the policeman gains the upper hand and the man is subdued, restrained and marched at once to the police station. It is now that the firearms are discovered. The policeman issues a sigh of relief – perhaps feeling a bit giddy; thank goodness I tackled him before he could reach for those.
The date is 26 May 1907 and the gentleman is identified as the fifty-two-year-old Captain Wyndham Paulet St John-Mildmay, a former Justice of the Peace, retired army officer and veteran of the Afghan Campaign of 1878-79, Lord of the Manor of Queen Camel in Somerset, son of Reverend Charles Arundell St John-Mildmay, and son-in-law of the 8th Viscount Boyne. This esteemed man is quickly declared insane at trial and removed to Graylingwell Asylum at Chichester. He would go on to live to the age of seventy-nine before falling victim to pneumonia at Ticehurst, and his body taken to his home village in Somerset for burial.
This is but one of the interesting snippets of history that can be found in my latest book from Amberley Publishing, Secret Arundel.
I've always had a soft-spot for Arundel. I mean, who wouldn't? It's got a castle, a neo-gothic cathedral, a boating lake, a wonderful (if exhaustingly steep) high street, and a history that punches far above its modest size. What more do you want?
While the grandeur of the castle and the more tourist-y parts of town have a great deal of interest, the history of these places has already been written about exhaustively. What I wanted to achieve when setting out to write this book was to go beyond the major landmarks and explore the deeper history of the town – the 'real' history of the everyday people that make the town what it is.
I mean, tales of dukes and earls, Grand Halls and banquets are all well and good, but what about the story above? Or what about when the son of the prime minister proposed building a 300-foot high wall along the South Downs behind Arundel? How about a talking parrot with the amusing catchphrase "yes, we have no bananas"? Are these stories not just as interesting and imbued with just as much magic and mystery?
As in my first book with Amberley (A-Z of Horsham, 2019), it was precisely these kinds of unusual and long-forgotten and overlooked tales that particularly fascinate me, and once again I have done my best to unearth as much of the 'secret' history of Arundel as I could pack into the book. As a bonus, I've also included my own Arundel Anomalies history walk in the book, taking the reader on a tour of the strange landmarks that you won't normally find in any other history books or tour guides.
I hope you will find the book to be of interest and enjoy delving deep into the secrets of this fabulous Sussex town.
Eddy Greenfield's book Secret Arundel is available for purchase now.