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The Trundle

by Pat Saunders

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at The Novium Museum

At a height of 676 feet Saint Roche's hill, known to locals as The Trundle (from the Old English word Tryndel, meaning "circle") is a prominent peak on the western end of the South Downs. It is one of four Neolithic causeway enclosures, man-made banks of earth, found along the Downs. In 250 BC Iron Age ramparts were built, most likely by a tribe known as the Regni who were living in the area. These ramparts were abandoned two centuries later when the Regni moved south, to the area that became the city of Chichester, just prior to the arrival of the Romans to the area.

In 1475 a plague chapel was built on the top of The Trundle for a priest to say prayers to deliver the city of Chichester from the pestilence (the fatal epidemic disease). It was dedicated to Saint Roche, a Medieval French saint. It was reputed that praying to his bones would spare people from the disease. This is remembered on St Roche Day (16 August) with a pilgrimage to the site of the chapel where a service of healing is held, although the chapel itself had disappeared by the 18th century most likely during the Reformation.  This is where the Trundle's alternative name of Saint Roche Hill originates.

During the English Civil War on 18th September 1645, around one thousand locals climbed the hill to protest against demands made by the soldiers for both the Royalists and Parliamentarians. These locals were part of a political movement known as the Clubmen, found all over England, and they used the hill as a military base. It was also used as a beacon to warn against attack from the French, and in 1745 widespread panic was caused among the locals after the beacon was lit. During the 18th and 19th centuries there was a masonic lodge and gibbet, or gallows, situated on the hill. During the Second World War the Trundle had a strategic position due to the radio shack built there which was manned by soldiers. There is also evidence of fox holes and slit trenches cut into the ramparts.

Close to The Trundle is Goodwood racecourse which opened in 1801. Up until the 1920s the side of The Trundle facing the racecourse was unenclosed, and people could gather there to watch the races. In between races people could wander down the course to the Royal box to see George V and Queen Mary. In 1933 British Pathé released a short film entitled "'The New Goodwood!' Trundle Hill - famous for picnics and free view - enclosed for the first time - course kept clear & ladies admitted."

In 2016 the South Downs National Park Authority published the results of a project titled 'Secrets of the High Woods'. The project, largely carried out by volunteers and funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, used airborne laser scanning (LIDAR) technology to map woodland areas. This map also covered the area of the Trundle and clearly showed the earth works.