Latest News On The Bourne River Project Blog

About the project

Man with beard and glasses smiling at the camera. Jo Seaman from the Bourne River Project

Listen to project leader Jo Seaman’s overview of the Bourne Stream, Eastbourne, project.

This community project will bring the Bourne’s story alive through a range of activities: archaeology, creative writing, folklore, memory and local history. We’ll be using sound recording to capture and share our experiences and discoveries.

Understanding how water moves in the area is key to helping Eastbourne and south Wealden become more resilient to flooding and in managing water more sustainably.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook (both @blueheartsussex) for all the latest information.

We’ll also be adding to this blog as the project proceeds.

A Slice of History – Easter Bank Holiday in Motcombe Gardens


A woman prepares art materials standing underneath a gazebo in a public garden
Ellie Fryer – illustrator and muralist (@elliefryer)

April showers may have kept some visitors inside on Easter Bank Holiday, but those who did drop in to Motcombe Gardens were treated to creative writing, art and a look at some of the stunning archaological artefacts found in the area.

Annalie Seaman ran a writers’ workshop using the Gardens’ historic and much-loved features as prompts, while Jo Seaman displayed some of the unusual finds found in the pond and surrounding areas.

A wonderful art project led by Ellie Fryer, under the Blue Heart gazebo, encouraged visitors of all ages to draw, paint or sketch the tree of life – representing the oldest tree in the Gardens and younger ones loved the hula hoops and games laid out on the grass.

Naturally, the famous Dove Cote was open to the public and local historians were on hand to share some of the fascinating stories that make up this unique part of Old Town.

Here we go round the Mulberry

03/03/24 – Annalie Seaman

Old tree which is growing at an angle to the right, in a park, surrounded by puddles.

“On a cold and frosty morning…”
We’re not short of memories of cold mornings in this part of the world, those days when your toes curl in, all frost-nipped, and your fingers need blowing on to keep warm, when your nose reddens like a shy blush and your eyes water with the sting of icy winds.

Thankfully we’re stepping out of winter now and the weather is on the up (we hope!) I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on a bitterly cold morning is dance around a bush – or a tree – I just don’t fancy it. So why did we sing about doing just that when we were children?

“Here we go round the mulberry bush,
the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
on a cold and frosty morning.”

Did you ever dance around in a circle, miming face-washing, hair-combing and teeth-brushing? The popular lyrics were set down on paper in the mid-1800s by James Orchard Halliwell, leaning on an earlier folk version of the rhyme which had people dancing round a blackberry bush. The tune that accompanied the lyrics had been used in ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ and was borrowed for ‘Nuts in May’ and later ‘The Wheels on the Bus’.

Rumour has it that while the silk trade was booming along the Maritime Silk Road, elevating China’s role in the global export trade, us Brits were trying to produce silk for ourselves, to get in on a bit of that silk wealth. Silkworms love a mulberry tree. But our cold and frosty mornings proved too harsh for the mulberries – and the worms – so our silk hopes were dashed by our winter climate. Perhaps. This is not the only origin story for the Mulberry Bush song in circulation.

Our Mulberry Tree in Motcombe Gardens has been propped up to make sure its low branches stay attached to its trunk, as legions of children climb its low-lying limbs. It’s been supporting the children of Old Town for the last seventy years, offering a perch, a hiding spot, and a precarious leg-up for reaching juicy berries.

Writing Prompt:
Have you got any memories of the Motcombe Mulberry? Have you danced round it? Washed your face by it? Climbed it? Fed the ducks by it? If not this mulberry, have you got any other mulberry memories you’d like to write about? Or perhaps you’d like to invent an origin story for the children’s rhyme.

Please send your entries into by Monday April, 1st (this is not a joke!).

While you’re here, check out these FREE writing events that will be held in Motcombe Gardens on this coming Monday 4th March (Bowls Clubhouse), and Monday 1st April (gazebo in the gardens). There will be archaeological artefacts and a dovecote to explore after the workshops and an additional art workshop to get involved with throughout April Fool’s Day (not funny!)


27/02/2024 – by Annalie Seaman

Old fashioned colour postcard of Motcombe Gardens with children playing

Nostalgia (noun): from the Greek nostos for ‘return home’ and algos for ‘pain’. By the 18th century, the word had come to mean ‘a sense of acute homesickness’.

What is it about nostalgia that gives us that bittersweet twang of emotions? Is it a wistful longing to return to the past overlaid with a sense of loss that the past is out of reach? Is nostalgia heightened by a collective memory of our shared history?

This scene from Motcombe Gardens in the early 1900s focuses on a group of neatly dressed children lingering by the pond. They all look very well-behaved! Do you think their parents or nannies are nearby?

One of the children walking away from the pond is carrying a small dog, one child walking towards the pond is carrying a basket. This contained moment-in-time seems the very essence of decorum, all the figures are upright, or gently leaning on the railings. The children are sun-hatted and trim-jacketed, prettily-frocked and smartly-shirted. Can those clothes stay neat and clean?

We’re looking towards the South Downs, the Bourne stream is descending underground just to our left. The trees and shrubs are thriving in the Gardens, and the headwaters of the Bourne remain contained, yet healthy. Our Witness Tree is just out of frame and has been growing steadily for the last sixty-seventy years.

Writing Prompt:
Does this spot in time stir some sense of nostalgia in you? Can you place your childhood self in the gardens a hundred years ago and imagine what happens next? Perhaps you could explore the idea of childhood then-and-now, or you might want to imagine what dreams the children have for their futures. See if you can weave in elements of the environment – the water, the clouds, the trees, the downs. You could create a piece of poetry, produce some prose, or try your hand at some creative history-telling, anything goes!

Please send your entries into by Monday April, 1st (this is not a joke!).

While you’re here, check out these FREE writing events that will be held in Motcombe Gardens on this coming Monday 4th March, and Monday 1st April. There will be archaeological artefacts and a dovecote to explore after the workshops and an additional art workshop to get involved with throughout April Fool’s Day (not funny!)

Get writing, with this prompt from historical Motcombe Gardens

21/02/2024 – by Annalie Seaman

black and white postcard of Edwardian gentlemen playing bowls at Motcombe Gardens bowling green

This scene from the the early 1900’s gives us an insight into the development of Motcombe Gardens. The old farmland has been converted into a small pleasure garden and the sporty types are having a (casual) blast on the well-groomed bowling green.

We’re looking from a raised bank at the back of the green towards Motcombe Lane. From this perspective, the Old Town church of St. Mary’s is behind us, the Downs are in the distance to the left and much nearer to our left, the head of the Bourne Stream, Eastbourne, has been blocked into a square, brick-lined pond. The stream now gushes underground, beneath the bowling green towards Terminus Road and eventually out to sea.

The Tree as Old as Eastbourne, or the ‘Witness Tree’ as we’re calling it this year, is standing just next to us (out of frame), also on the left. At the time of this scene, it’s a sixty/seventy-year-old beech tree whose roots have been hedged on all sides by paved paths and bricks. For now, it’s growing straight and tall, but the intervening years are going to make their mark on that smooth, grey bark. As the game of bowls continues, the weighted woods rolling over the short grass towards a bright white jack, the bowlers are having a chat about this and that, adding a new dimension of history to the time-layers of the Gardens. This point in time, captured so clearly in this still frame, is rich in detail. A bowler is striding towards the jack, inspecting the latest bowl. Do you think he’ll be satisfied with what he finds?

Writing Prompt:
Can you take this point in time as a creative starting-point for your own piece of writing centred around the Gardens? You could explore the history of lawn bowls, the fashion of the bowlers, the changing nature of Motcombe Gardens or the action of the scene itself – what’s going to happen next?

You could prepare a poem, bowl us a lawn full of puns, get in depth with some prose or try your hand at a creative historical narrative. Anything goes!

Please send your entries into by Monday April, 1st (this is not a joke!).
As part of the Blue Heart Bourne River Project, exploring historical flooding in Eastbourne, we’ll be looking at the history of the Witness Tree and the history of the town in two upcoming Creative Writing Workshops on Monday 4 th March – A Tree as Old as Eastbourne, and Monday 1 st April – A Slice of History.

Please visit our Eventbrite page (through the links above) to book your FREE place on one of these workshops.

Have a ball with your writing!

Picture of a tree with its brances extending down and light coming through the green leaves. Bourne River project logo in top right corner

Creative events coming soon!

A Tree as Old as Eastbourne

Monday 4 March, 10am-4pm in Motcombe Gardens
Drop-in creative activities for all ages and a bookable creative writing workshop for adults.
more information

A Slice of History

Monday 1 April, 10am-4pm in Motcombe Gardens
Drop-in creative activities for all ages and a bookable creative writing workshop for adults.  
more information

Man with a beard (Jo Seaman) and others kneeling down digging mud out of an archaeological test pit

Bourne Project digs in!

February 26th – March 2nd

Our project to investigate the history and route of the Bourne stream, Eastbourne, has reached its next stage. We’ve done the geophysics and are now ready to venture below the surface to investigate areas of interest in the Parsonage Garden at St Mary’s Church and Manor Gardens, Eastbourne.

We’re working with Heritage Eastbourne, Changing Chalk and a team of volunteers led by Jo Seaman, to investigate the history of the Bourne settlement and stream. They’ll be excavating test pits (small areas of investigation), looking for evidence of wells, gardens and houses that may have been preserved underground.

Visitors can attend the excavation in Manor Gardens on Monday and Tuesday 26 and 27 February between 10am-4pm and at The Parsonage from Monday 26 February – Saturday 2 March from 10am-4pm.

Project-related public event:

Open Day at the Parsonage nr St Mary’s Church Eastbourne
Saturday 2 March, 10am-4pm
Find out more about the archaeology and story of the area, see some of the excavation finds and have a tour of St Mary’s Church.

Woman in a purple jacket operating a yellow geophysics scanner on open grassland in Manor Gardens, Eastbourne

Geophysics in Manor Gardens and St Mary’s Church Parsonage


Volunteers from the National Trust joined Jo and East Sussex County Council’s Heritage Engagement Officer Katherine Buckland for the geophys element of the Bourne Project. Two sites were surveyed ahead of the digs in February.