In September 1971, the Stanmer Preservation Society held an inaugural meeting in the drawing room of Flat 1 at the top of Stanmer House, where Ann and Jonathan Markwick lived at the time.
The founding members included:
Ann and Jonathan Markwick
Walter and Edna Gorton
Jim and Betty Driver
These highly motivated and dedicated individuals were resolved to do what they could to protect and preserve Stanmer Park and the environs, including the church, donkey wheel, house, village, farm and woodlands within the boundaries defined by the 765AD charter drawn by Charlie Yeates, who was the inspirational first Chairman. Margaret and Naomi shared the role of Secretary and their first purchase was an old Gestetner reproduction machine for about £4.
There was also a desire for Stanmer lovers to come together to campaign against the building of a hospital at the Lower Lodges, the first of many such bitter battles with Brighton’s planning and highways departments as new developments continue to absorb much of Stanmer’s surrounding downland.
The Stanmer Preservation Society was created following a successful community collaboration to enable Stanmer residents to have their own Vicar. Unfortunately, we have yet to establish what happened next, but St Laurence House in Park Street, Falmer, was constructed sometime in the 1970s and has served as the vicarage ever since. The two adjoining parishes were united in 1835, but the Diocese of Chichester, unable to support two small congregations in such close poximity, and decomissioned and declared Stanmer Church redundant in 2008.
The Diocese granted a Lease to the SPS in order to keep the church open to the public and every week, volunteers not only welcomed visitors to admire the interior and learn about the history of Stanmer’s charming church, but raised the funds necessary to pay for the heating and lighting from donations and the sale of secondhand books.
Concerts and musical performances too numerous to mention have filled the space over the intervening years with local choirs returning time and again, but one of the highlights was when the Glyndebourne understudies came in 2009 and gave a fantastic rendition of Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Jacqui Adams spoke in 2011 to SPS founding members Ann Markwick and Naomi Stopps, (whose parents Walter and Edna were also original members). Jacqui started by asking for confirmation of the date the society was created:
JA: Basically you were founded in 1971? NS: In Ann’s flat in Stanmer House. AM: in Ann and Jonathan’s flat… JA: so who came up with the idea, then? AM: Well, we all did, because it rose out of the Georgian Fayre. We had an enormous event in Stanmer Park because we had to raise money to build a Rectory so that we could have our own vicar.