A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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The parish of Steyning (fn. 1) lies mostly north of the South Downs, in low, rolling country just west of the river Adur. Steyning town was once one of the most important places in the county, and has grown rapidly again during the 20th century. The ancient parish comprised 3,414 a., including a detached part of 3½ a. lying north-east of Bramber castle. (fn. 2) In 1933 that part was transferred to Upper Beeding parish, and a detached part of Ashurst parish (83 a.) was added to Steyning. (fn. 3) In 1971 the area of the parish was 3,494 a. (1,414 ha.). (fn. 4)
The landscape of the parish, like the underlying geology, is very varied. The south part stretches up to the crest of the downs over 600 ft. high, and there are deep coombes in the scarp slope. The site of Steyning town is also on the chalk, which is followed successively northwards by alternate outcrops of sandstone and clay, an outcrop of sandstone forming a marked ridge between the former settlements of Wappingthorn and Wyckham. Much of the land in the east part of the parish comprises alluvial deposits. (fn. 5) The level of the river Adur was much higher in early times than in 1976, forming a wide tidal estuary; salt was extracted near Bramber castle in the Middle Ages, and large deposits of shingle were said to have been visible at one time as far north as King's Barn in Beeding. There was a port at Steyning in the 11th century, sited apparently on an inlet which then stretched up to the church. (fn. 6) Later, as a result of the silting and reclamation of the estuary, the inlet disappeared. The Adur valley, however, remained liable to flood in later centuries, (fn. 7) despite the embankment of the river after 1807; (fn. 8) on one occasion in 1924 or 1925 a wide creek was formed north of the station at the presumed site of the medieval port. (fn. 9) The river was still tidal throughout the parish in 1970. (fn. 10)
Part of the north-east boundary of the parish follows either the river Adur or what was presumably its former course, (fn. 11) but further south the land lying west of the river is in Upper Beeding, being the former demesne lands of King's Barns manor in that parish. (fn. 12) Parts of the north, west, and south boundaries of the parish follow tracks which are presumably ancient. (fn. 13)
In 1976 land use was divided roughly equally between arable and pasture, and the small amount of woodland was chiefly confined to the clay outcrops and the scarp slope of the downs, as it had been in 1875. (fn. 14)
The original settlement at Steyning, presumably a village, seems from the second element of the place-name to belong to fairly early Saxon times. It already existed when, according to the legend, St. Cuthman founded a church there, perhaps in the late 8th or early 9th century. (fn. 15) Steyning's position on the boundary between downland and Weald, and its nearness to navigable water, made it a centre of trade; moreover St. Cuthman's remains, buried in the church, are said to have attracted pilgrims. (fn. 16) The place seems to have acquired some importance by the mid 9th century, when King Ethelwulf was interred there, (fn. 17) but there is no definite indication of an urban character before the early 11th century. A mint was recorded at Steyning at the end of Cnut's reign, perhaps the successor to the mints of Burpham and Cissbury; (fn. 18) it continued in use until the time of William II. (fn. 19) Had the town existed a century before, it would presumably have been incorporated in the defence-system of Edward the Elder recorded in the 'Burghal Hidage'; (fn. 20) in fact that system included no fortified position at the vulnerable estuary of the river Adur. In 1066 there were 118 burgages in the town, (fn. 21) and during Edward the Confessor's reign four moneyers are known at the mint, (fn. 22) Steyning at that time being evidently the centre of the thickly populated surrounding area. In 1086 there were 123 burgages. (fn. 23) During the succeeding centuries Steyning was eclipsed as the chief town of the region by the new town of New Shoreham, (fn. 24) but it was considered important enough to send representatives to Parliament from 1295.
Surviving buildings indicate prosperity in the late Middle Ages, though some burgages were tenantless or paid reduced rents in 1445. (fn. 25) In 1595 the town was described, possibly with exaggeration, as 'much decayed'. (fn. 26) Between the 16th and 18th centuries Steyning was one of the lesser towns of the county. In the 1520s it appears to have been largely populated by labourers, (fn. 27) and in 1705 only thirty parishioners had the county franchise whereas in Petworth 64 and in Horsham over 90 had it. (fn. 28) As New Shoreham declined, however, Steyning regained its place as the chief town of the area, and during the same period it acquired a modest importance in county affairs. In 1555 it was the scene of a Marian martyrdom, (fn. 29) and in 1569 of a meeting of all the Sussex justices to subscribe the order for uniformity of public worship. (fn. 30) In 1586 (fn. 31) and 1626 (fn. 32) it was made a store for military supplies, on the second occasion as one of only four towns in the county. Quarter sessions were held at Steyning 22 times between 1667 and 1743, most frequently between 1696 and 1721, and adjourned sessions were held 10 times between 1774 and 1860. (fn. 33) In 1792 it was stated that most of the new houses in the borough had been built within the last ten years. (fn. 34) Early-19th-century writers however continued to remark on the mean appearance of the town. (fn. 35) In the early 19th century Steyning again served as a military centre; a large infantry barracks was built c. 1804, (fn. 36) but had been demolished by 1819. (fn. 37)
The town of Steyning lies on a low spur between two streams which provided water and power. The origin of the place-name is obscure. A suggested explanation is 'dwellers by a prominent stone', but no such stone has been found. (fn. 38) Alternatively the name might mean 'dwellers in a stony place', referring either to an outcrop of the underlying sandstone, (fn. 39) or perhaps to the existence of sea shingle nearby.
The original focus of the town was apparently near the church, Gatewick House and mill, and the presumed site of the port. There may have been early medieval settlement within the churchyard, to the north and west of the church. (fn. 40) Remains of streets and buildings, some datable between the 10th and 12th centuries, have been found over a wide area south and west of the church. (fn. 41) On both sides of Church Street the lines of streets and property boundaries suggest a rectangular grid which might represent a planned town with Church Street as its central thoroughfare, (fn. 42) in much the same relative position to the church as is the case at other planned Saxon towns. (fn. 43) With the decline of the port and the construction of Bramber bridge the focus of the town shifted south to the road which later became High Street. The town as it afterwards existed until the early 19th century clustered around the cross-roads formed by High Street (called the high, chief, or market street in 1622), (fn. 44) and Church Street (so called by 1344) (fn. 45) and its south-westerly continuation, White Horse Lane (formerly Sheep Pen Street), (fn. 46) extending along High Street as far as the two streams to north-west and south-east. As the focus of the town shifted the area round the church ceased to be occupied, so that in 1791 the church, the vicarage, and Gatewick House were separate from the rest of the town; (fn. 47) the separation was still perceptible in 1976. Except for Chantry Green (recorded in 1478) (fn. 48) and Mouse Lane leading to Wiston (noted in 1581), (fn. 49) most of the other street-names of Steyning are relatively modern. The part of High Street south-east of the crossroads was called Singwell Street until at least 1791. (fn. 50) Tanyard Lane was called Castle Street in 1791, probably mistakenly, (fn. 51) but its original name is unknown. Elm Grove Lane, north of High Street, was the Back Lane in 1791 (fn. 52) and Newman's Lane in 1911, (fn. 53) and Bank Passage was Brewers Lane in 1791. (fn. 54) Castle Lane, the old road to Bramber, was for a time called Barrack Lane from the adjacent barracks. (fn. 55) Among unidentified medieval streetnames are Sopers Lane (1445), (fn. 56) Little Lane (1462), Cob or Coppe Street (1468–79), Bromeholmes Lane (1468), (fn. 57) and Lordford Street (1541). (fn. 58)
There are many late-medieval timber-framed domestic buildings in the town, mostly in High and Church streets. (fn. 59) Many have been cased, in various materials including brick, flint, weatherboarding, and hung tiles, and the antiquity of some is completely disguised externally. Roofing materials include tiles, slates, thatch, and Horsham stone slabs; the use of the latter is apparently recorded in 1344. (fn. 60) A building at the corner of Church Street and High Street is of 'Wealden' type, as is The Old Workhouse in Mouse Lane. The latter, which is probably 15th-century, was formerly less regular in appearance than in 1978; (fn. 61) its name derives from the fact that it was used as the parish workhouse from the early 18th century until c. 1836. (fn. 62) Nine further open-hall houses have been identified, including two more 'Wealdens'. There are also several houses with continuous jetties, including Holland Cottage in Church Street and nos. 61–3 High Street. (fn. 63)
Gatewick House and The Old Priory are described elsewhere. (fn. 64) Three other medieval houses deserve special mention. The Stone House, on the corner of High Street and White Horse Lane, consists of a timber-framed main range parallel to High Street with an 18th-century brick front, and a west cross-wing. The latter is of flint rubble with sandstone dressings and was presumably built as the solar block in the 15th century. It has a large western chimney-stack and a possible garderobe on the south, and a timber-framed and gabled upper storey overhangs on the north side. The thickness of the walls has led to the belief that the building was the prison of the abbess of Syon, but the 'Prison House' mentioned in 1476 cannot be The Stone House. (fn. 65) In view of the building's position, however, and since it was apparently the only medieval building in the town apart from the church to be built of stone, it was evidently of importance, and was perhaps the residence of the borough bailiff. The oldest part of Newham House, Newham Lane, is probably the range parallel to the street, which is timber-framed. The building was altered in the 18th century and again in the 20th. Chantry Green House, perhaps the residence of the chantry priest, comprises a 16th-century timberframed east range with an extra bay added on the west in the 18th century when the brick south façade was built.
Many other buildings in the town were refronted in brick in the 18th century, including the east range of The Stone House and the Chequer inn. (fn. 66) At Newham House additions apparently of 1705 (fn. 67) included a panelled room on the east side. There are many other 18th-century houses in the town, mostly of brick, and including both cottages, for instance in High and Church streets and in White Horse Lane, and also larger houses. Of the latter two fine examples are Charlton House in High Street and Chantry House at Chantry Green, both of five bays and dating respectively from the early 18th century and from c. 1740.
The 19th-century residential growth of the town was chiefly towards the north-west and south-east, since the open fields which came right up to the town on the south-west side remained partly uninclosed until the late 19th century, while the Gatewick estate to the north did not come on the market until the 20th century. A row of cottages (New Row, later Norfolk Cottages) was built, presumably by the duke of Norfolk, at the southeast end of the town before 1792, (fn. 68) and part of Jarvis Lane was built up between 1791 and 1817. (fn. 69) Part of the north-west end of the town was called Mount Pleasant in 1790, (fn. 70) and a terrace of cottages, called New Row in 1976, had been built in Tanyard Lane by c. 1841. (fn. 71) Two other terraces near by, Sir George's Place of 1852 and Pompey's Terrace in Mouse Lane of 1845, (fn. 72) were apparently built by G. T. Breach for the employees in his tanyard. (fn. 73) Charlton Street, which had previously divided the backs of the houses on the south-west side of High Street from the open fields, (fn. 74) was built up with terraces of small cottages on its south-western side c. 1850; and other terraces were built about the same time in Elm Grove Lane.
The building of the railway in 1861 accelerated the residential development of the east end of the town. Some houses were built by the railway contractor west of the station, (fn. 75) and the development of that area and of Jarvis Lane was continued during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (fn. 76) The land east of Jarvis Lane, part of which belonged to the school trustees until c. 1883, (fn. 77) was developed from the late 19th century onwards. In 1909 the former school lands were half built over and the area to the north had been laid out for building. The whole area was nearly filled, with wide avenues and large villas, by 1932. Meanwhile in the town centre some houses were built or altered in a revived vernacular style, and at the west end Mill Road was laid out by 1909 and was almost completely built up by 1932. (fn. 78) In the 1920s and 1930s the northern and southern outskirts of the town began to be colonized, (fn. 79) and much land was offered for sale as building plots. (fn. 80) The greatest expansion happened after 1945, as the supply of building land along the coast declined. A large estate of council houses north of the town was mostly completed by 1957. On the south side private estates were developed between the 1950s and 1970s, entirely covering the former open field called Brewhouse Laine, though perpetuating the outline of its furlongs. There was also some infilling of the previously built-up area. (fn. 81) In 1975 it was stated that 150 or 200 houses had been built in the last eight years. (fn. 82)
The low-lying areas along the streams to the north and south-east of the town seem to have had a partly industrial character from early times. The town's two water-mills were in the former area; they were joined in the 19th century by Breach's tannery and the gas-works. In 1976 none of those activities survived, but the area remained industrial, with a large garage business and two timber firms. In the south-east part of the town there were a tannery, a brewery, and a fellmonger's premises in 1791. (fn. 83) In the 19th century there were two breweries there; a garage occupied part of the site of one, in Jarvis Lane, in 1976, but the surroundings of the other, on the south-west side of High Street, had become residential. The workshops built by the railway contractor near the railway station were later used as industrial premises until their demolition after 1953. (fn. 84)
In the centre of the town the pattern of back lanes and yards survived in 1976, though many formerly residential buildings in High Street had become shops or offices. Much of the area in the eastern angle of High Street and Church Street had come to belong to the grammar school by the same date, some former dwellings being converted for school use.
Three subsidiary settlements in Steyning parish were represented in 1976 by single farms or groups of two or three scattered houses. Charlton, called a vill in 1316, (fn. 85) was perhaps a subsidiary settlement of free peasants or 'ceorls', like other settlements of the same name; (fn. 86) it was closely related to Steyning, Charlton manor and Steyning borough being originally one manor, and tenements of the former existing within the town in later times. (fn. 87) A few houses remained in 1639. (fn. 88) Disturbances in the ground, perhaps representing house sites, were visible in 1976 north and east of Charlton Court. Wyckham, in the north-east part of the parish, perhaps originally a Roman settlement, (fn. 89) was taxed as a vill in 1296 (fn. 90) and remained a separate tithing in 1651. (fn. 91) The numerous footpaths (fn. 92) and the disturbances in the ground in the surrounding area seem to indicate a settlement of some size, which may in the late 14th century have extended as far as Huddlestone Farm. (fn. 93) Buildings surviving in 1976 included the two manor-houses of Wyckham manor, (fn. 94) and Shelleys, a 19th-century farmhouse. A pair of brick and timber-framed houses recorded in 1800 (fn. 95) had however disappeared. Wappingthorn, long part of Wyckham tithing, (fn. 96) may still have been more than a single farm in the mid 16th century. (fn. 97) The place called Southbrook, mentioned between 1316 and 1651, (fn. 98) apparently lay in the south-east part of the parish, for a tenement at the south-east end of the town was described as in Southbrook tithing in the 16th century. (fn. 99) There are also several isolated farmhouses in the centre and north of the parish which date from the 17th century or earlier.
The medieval population of Steyning is difficult to estimate, because the figures refer to different areas of uncertain boundaries. In 1086 Steyning town had 123 burgages, an increase of five since 1066. Two hundred and fifty tenants and servi were also recorded on the abbot of Fécamp's estate in Steyning, but it is likely that that also included Ashurst and Warminghurst at least. (fn. 100) In addition 22 tenants were recorded at Wappingthorn. The estate of William de Braose described as being in Steyning seems to comprise King's Barns (in Beeding) and Bidlington (in Bramber), but some tenants of that estate presumably lived within the area of the modern Steyning parish in 1086, (fn. 101) as tenants of its successor manors did later. (fn. 102) In 1327 41 taxpayers were recorded in Steyning borough, and 44 others in the tithings of Charlton, Southbrook, and Wyckham which apparently comprised the rest of the parish. (fn. 103) In addition, some of those listed under Bramber presumably lived in Steyning, both at that period and later. (fn. 104) Seventy-two taxpayers were recorded in 1378 in the boroughs of Bramber and Steyning assessed together, and 40 and 12 respectively in Charlton and Southbrook. (fn. 105) In 1524 63 persons were assessed to the subsidy in Steyning town, and in 1525 67; at Charlton and Southbrook the corresponding totals were c. 25 and c. 32. At Wyckham 17 persons were assessed in 1524. (fn. 106) Both in the late 14th century and in the early 16th many of the tenements of Charlton and Southbrook probably lay within the urban area, as they did later. In 1539 43 men were mustered from the borough, and 25 from the rest of the parish. (fn. 107) In 1642 199 adult male inhabitants of the parish were enumerated; (fn. 108) the number would have been higher if Steyning had not recently suffered four years' plague. (fn. 109) Three hundred adults were recorded in 1676, (fn. 110) fewer than in many rural villages, and c. 140 families in 1724. (fn. 111) By 1801 the population of the parish had reached 1,174, and thereafter it rose steadily during the 19th century, though Steyning remained one of the smaller towns of western Sussex. After 1931 the population increased more rapidly; from 1,885 in that year it had reached 2,500 by 1951 and 3,284 by 1971. (fn. 112) In addition the very large 20th-century residential development in Upper Beeding parish east of the old railway belonged physically to Steyning town.
The town lies at an important junction between north–south and east–west routes. The principal north–south route in former times followed the line of Newham Lane and Church Street, leading past Gatewick House to Wyckham and Upper Northover farms, and thence to Henfield. (fn. 113) It was clearly important from an early date, for the terraceway by which it originally climbed the downland scarp is Roman. (fn. 114) In the late 15th century the part of the road south of the town was apparently called the Portway, (fn. 115) indicating its destination as a market town; an adjacent division of the open fields was called Portway furlong between the 15th century and the 17th. The section of the road between Steyning and Wyckham was still called Portway Lane c. 1841. (fn. 116) Other roads descended the downs by way of the north-western end of the town and Charlton hamlet, and another north-south road led from King's Barn in Upper Beeding to Greenfields and Nash Farm. (fn. 117) A road from Steyning to Horsham was mentioned in 1463. (fn. 118) The medieval route seems to have differed from the modern one, and two alternatives can be traced: one via Huddlestone Farm, and another via Staplefields and Calcot Farm, (fn. 119) the name of which probably indicates a roadside site. (fn. 120) By 1724 the road had assumed its present course. (fn. 121) It was turnpiked in 1764, (fn. 122) together with its south-eastern continuation towards Bramber and a branch leading up Round Hill from the boundary between the two parishes, which superseded the other ascents of the downs. Both roads were disturnpiked in 1885. (fn. 123) The original east–west road through the town seems to have followed the line of Tanyard Lane, continuing past the church to King's Barn and Beeding church, and to have been replaced by High Street as a result of the construction of Bramber bridge. An even earlier east-west route was the Roman road which followed the sandstone ridge by Wappingthorn and Wyckham, (fn. 124) and over which a right of way was still claimed in the late 14th century. (fn. 125) The Steyning–Pulborough road was a turnpike from 1810 (fn. 126) to 1877. (fn. 127)
Steyning remained a centre of communications until c. 1800. Traffic along the great downland route from east Sussex to Arundel and Chichester passed through the town, (fn. 128) and because of the lack of a reliable river crossing below Bramber bridge most traffic between Brighton or Shoreham and Midhurst or Petworth did the same. (fn. 129) In the late 18th century the Horsham–Steyning road formed an alternative route from London to Brighton, (fn. 130) and it was the main road from London and Horsham to Worthing until the direct Worthing road was made in 1804. (fn. 131) Wagons plied between Steyning and Horsham in the early 18th century, (fn. 132) a carrier being recorded in the parish in 1726, (fn. 133) and between Steyning and London in 1827. (fn. 134) A coach service to Horsham was in operation in 1776, (fn. 135) and one to London in 1780. (fn. 136) The Brighton–Winchester coach passed through Steyning in 1845. In 1855 there were carriers to London (once a week) and to Brighton and Shoreham (three times a week), the London service being withdrawn after the railway was opened, but the other surviving into the 20th century. A horse bus plied daily between Steyning and Shoreham in 1855; (fn. 137) in 1915 a motor bus service was introduced. (fn. 138) In 1976 there was an hourly service to Shoreham and a less frequent one to Horsham.
Following unsuccessful projects of 1846 (fn. 139) and 1856 (fn. 140) for a branch railway from Shoreham to Steyning, the Shoreham–Horsham railway line, with a station in Steyning, was opened in 1861. (fn. 141) The line closed in 1966, (fn. 142) and the station was later demolished. The former railway warehouse was used in 1976 as a sale-room.
The playing of tennis is recorded in the town in 1481. (fn. 143) In the 17th and 18th centuries Steyning town was too small to support any active social life or cultural institutions. In 1862 there was a subscription library and reading room. (fn. 144) Other 19thcentury cultural institutions were of an improving kind: a provident and reformation society for young men, which flourished in 1852, (fn. 145) and a temperance coffee-house and reading room founded c. 1880, (fn. 146) a mechanics' institute recorded in 1855, and a working mens' institute mentioned in 1899. (fn. 147) A friendly society which had existed in 1794 had 143 members in 1815. (fn. 148) The town hall built by a private company in 1886 to hold petty sessions also accommodated meetings and other public functions and could seat 400 people. (fn. 149) Part of the building was used by a succession of clubs. (fn. 150) About 1958 it was bought by the county council as a permanent court-house. (fn. 151) St. Andrew's hall in Jarvis Lane, formerly part of Gates's brewery, was used for meetings and public functions from 1928. It was improved c. 1958 to take the place of the town hall (fn. 152) and c. 1964 was bought by the parish council. (fn. 153) The Penfold Institute, or Penfold Church Hall, founded in 1916 in the old National school in Church Street, accommodated public meetings as well as church meetings; (fn. 154) it was extended in the 1960s. (fn. 155)
Several clubs and societies existed in the town during the early 20th century, including a music society which gave concerts in the town hall, an operatic society, and a horticultural society. (fn. 156) A brass band formed c. 1874 still flourished in 1944. (fn. 157) The Steyning Preservation Society, founded in 1933, was very effective in its early years in protecting the aesthetic qualities of the town. (fn. 158) The cricket ground south-west of the town had been laid out by 1896, (fn. 159) its management being taken over by the parish council in 1950. In 1958 the parish council also managed the football ground on the north side of the town. (fn. 160) Annual Easter Monday walking races, succeeding less regular events of the same kind, were begun in 1912, and an athletic club was formed to promote them in 1951. (fn. 161) Clubs and societies proliferated as the town grew after the Second World War, and in 1976 there was a community association and a well-attended evening institute. For many sports and for other entertainment, however, it was necessary to go to Brighton or Worthing. A weekly newspaper, the Steyning Observer, flourished for a short time in the early 20th century. (fn. 162) A lending library at the Penfold Institute was run by volunteers until taken over by the county council in 1948; in 1958 it was open three days a week. (fn. 163) A new library was built in 1968. (fn. 164)
From the late 19th century Steyning became a favoured place of residence for painters. (fn. 165) W. B. Yeats often stayed at Chantry House, (fn. 166) and John Ireland the composer for a time lived at a house in High Street. (fn. 167) A hand-printing press, the Vine Press, in Church Street published poetry in the 1920s. (fn. 168) In 1938 there were an arts and crafts shop and a handloom weaver in the town. (fn. 169)
Three innkeepers were recorded in Steyning in the 1470s (fn. 170) and another in 1579. (fn. 171) In the early 17th century four inns were recorded: the White Horse and the Chequer, both of which survived in 1976, the Rose and Crown, (fn. 172) and the Swan, afterwards the George, which had ceased to be an inn by 1726. (fn. 173) An alehouse was also recorded. (fn. 174) Four other inns were mentioned in the late 17th century: the King's Arms, formerly the Spread Eagle, (fn. 175) the Half Moon, (fn. 176) the Crown, (fn. 177) and the Golden Lion. (fn. 178) During the 18th and 19th centuries there seem usually to have been four or five at any one time. (fn. 179) At the end of the 19th century there were at least seven, including the Railway Hotel near the station. (fn. 180) By 1976 the number had been reduced to five. The principal inn of the town, the White Horse, already existed by 1614. (fn. 181) Its name alludes to the arms of the dukes of Norfolk, and it served intermittently many of the functions of a town hall, being used for borough courts, (fn. 182) quarter sessions, (fn. 183) and public meetings of all kinds. (fn. 184) It was greatly improved shortly before 1790, a room with a music gallery being added which could hold 75 people. (fn. 185) In 1855 the inn was a posting house and an excise and inland revenue office; later it was an agency for the London and Brighton railway, and in the early 20th century motor cars were kept there for hire. (fn. 186) The part of the building facing the street, with a façade of six bays and three storeys refaced in the 19th century, was destroyed by fire in 1949. (fn. 187) The Chequer inn, mentioned in 1622, (fn. 188) accommodated public meetings and functions of all kinds, including the hundred court and the aletasters' trials, (fn. 189) but the inn was always less important than the White Horse. It is a timber-framed building refaced in the 18th century, with a florid projecting sign holder. Three other inns that existed for long periods were the George, mentioned in 1791, (fn. 190) which ceased to be an inn in 1958, (fn. 191) the Star, recorded in 1716, (fn. 192) and the Three Tuns, recorded in 1803; (fn. 193) the last two survived in 1976.