Robbers and trespassers

An hour or so by train from Clapham Junction delivered me to the edge of the South Downs National Park, and the town of Arundel.

There’s a Tarrant Street in Arundel, and it has a tale to tell.

The name itself derives from the Celtic Trisantona, a variant of the Latin Trent, from the word for trespasser, ie a river likely to flood. In Norman times, Tarrant Street was probably a subsidiary street, running along the edge of the higher ground to give access to the frontage of the River Arun.

In 1983, excavations revealed that beneath mediaeval housing was evidence of a very large and luxurious 1st century Roman villa, built between the west end of the street and the river. The majority of the walls were found to be reduced to robber trenches. That is to say, the valuable material for a new mediaeval or Roman building which the foundations offered had been dug out and carried away. (The stain left by the disturbance of the stratigraphy, resulting in a change in soil colour, is the robber trench.)

Around 1420, many believe, John Fitzalan, 13th Earl of Arundel, built a mansion known as Nineveh House in Tarrant Street. Apparently , he feared losing his ownership of Arundel Castle to his relative Thomas Mowbray in an inheritance challenge, though this did not come to pass. One wonders about the name he gave his residence. In the Bible, this historic capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was the popular target of prophetic denunciations, and stood in turn for pride and for repentance (“we can do this the hard way or the easy way”).

About 1833, the mansion was finally demolished to make way for a Congregational Chapel. In 1850, George MacDonald, the Scottish poet and children’s writer, became pastor there. Within two or three years, however, he was ousted by some twenty members of his congregation, who took exception to the tone of his preaching; for example, that Hell might be a metaphorical “refining fire” that was only meant to last as long as was needed to bring about repentance in the sufferer.

The last book for children that MacDonald wrote, “The Princess and Curdie”, ends with the foundations of the kingdom being undermined by the greedy populace, eager for gold and jewels from the mines. His story “The Golden Key”, features a boy whose great aunt tells him of a golden key which may be found at the end of the rainbow. The boy speculates that it may be worth a lot of money. Replies his aunt: “Better never find it than sell it.”.

The church building is known as Nineveh House these days and is devoted to the trade of antiques.

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