Southwick (Sussex) Society: Manor Cottage Heritage Centre opens for the summer season with two very different exhibitions

Two very different exhibitions have opened the summer season at Manor Cottage Heritage Centre in Southwick, one joyously marking the Queen's Platinum Jubilee and one focusing on a 1950s tragedy which remained shrouded in mystery and rumour for many years.

Manor Cottage opens between May and September on Saturday mornings from 10.30am to 12.30pm with free entry. Southwick’s Royal Connections will run throughout the season, Southwick’s Miraculous Escape, about the day a RAF Valiant jet bomber crashed at the height of the Cold War, runs until July 9 and Ted Heasman’s Legacy, a celebration of Southwick’s well-loved local historian, will run from July 16 to August 27.

Marking the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, Southwick's Royal Connections looks at royal visitors to Southwick from the 17th to 21st centuries and how local people have celebrated past coronations and jubilees.

Nigel Divers, Southwick Society secretary, said: "In 1651, King Charles II came to Southwick, not as an honoured monarch but as a fugitive pursued by Parliamentary soldiers following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Capture would probably have meant trial and execution, like his father before him.

Mary Candy, Southwick Society chairman, with top secret documents relating to the Cold War air crash

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"Two centuries later, the creeks and mudbanks remained and to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, Southwick people built the Jubilee Bridge, to give access from the canal towpath to the beach.

"In the 1930s, growing trade at the harbour led to the construction of a new and larger lock. In 1933, HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, visited Southwick to officially open and name the Prince George Lock. A few years later, he died in an air crash during the war.

"Twenty-five years later, in 1958, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited Southwick to open another new and larger still lock, the Prince Philip Lock. These and other visits and celebrations are described in this new exhibition, running to August 27."

An RAF Valiant jet bomber crashed landed on the railway in Southwick, in the path of an oncoming train, at the height of the Cold War

Southwick's Miraculous Escape references the extensive research that has finally revealed what happened on May 11, 1956, when a plane built to carry nuclear bombs crashed in Southwick.

Nigel said: "On that tragic day 66 years ago, so many people had a narrow escape. At the height of the Cold War, an RAF Valiant jet bomber landed on the railway in the path of an oncoming train, narrowly missing the nearby Manor Hall Road Junior Boys School and the houses in Croft Avenue and Whiterock Place.

"Three crew members were killed and burning wreckage was spread over a wide area damaging many houses but, miraculously, no Southwick people died.

"There was an official inquiry but its report was kept secret for decades. Cold War security ensured the tragedy remained shrouded in mystery and rumour for many years. Now, at the exhibition, it is possible to see the once secret report about the tragedy."

To record and mark the event, the Southwick Society has published two books, Southwick’s Miraculous Escape by Mary Candy and Those Valiant Men by John Young. Both are available to purchase at the exhibition or via [email protected]

Manor Cottage, in Southwick Street, is a timber-framed hall house dating from the 15th century or earlier. Restored and managed by the Southwick Society, the cottage stages a variety of exhibitions about local heritage, as well as permanent displays about Southwick's Roman Villa and the history of local schools.