Meet our members: Jan and Stan Abrahams

, 21 April 2024
Meet our members: Jan and Stan Abrahams
Jan and Stan Abrahams © Emma Chaplin

I went along to their Ditchling home to meet Jan and Stan Abrahams, who have (remarkably) been members since 1967. Jan is answering the questions, unless otherwise stated.

Tell me a bit about yourselves.

We met at University College and got married in 1964, moving to Sussex in 1966 - Hassocks initially. Stan commuted to London and was a statistician - and always interested in nature. I worked for founding Professor of Plant Physiology, James (Jim) Sutcliffe at the University of Sussex. Jim lived in Woodmancote, very close to Woods Mill, which was given to what was then called the Sussex Naturalists' Trust in 1966 by the Smith family - and this had a huge impact on the development of the Trust.

It was Jim who got me involved with Sussex Wildlife Trust in its early days. An early Trust pioneer, David Streeter, was then an academic at the University of Sussex too (later pro-vice chancellor), and Stan knew David from their Queen Mary College days ('You can't be at college with David Streeter and not know him!').

There were no paid staff back then. Primarily my volunteer work with the Trust was secretarial - typing minutes and the early Woods Mill guides.

I then became involved with the Trust's committees. 

We also felt that the Trust should sell books and other related wildlife items including gramophone records. Stan set all of this up and the Trust became one of the biggest Sussex sellers of natural history books. Stan would buy the records from the BBC. We got complaints one time after what was packaged as birdsong turned out to be the sounds of planes and trains!.

The person who turned things around at Woods Mill was the first paid staff member, Charlie Coleman, after his appointment as (live in) Warden. He was a brilliant naturalist and communicator, especially with children. He had previously been a shepherd on the Romney Marshes. He was a very fine cartoonist as well. He and his wife Dorothy brought Woods Mill to life. 

When Woods Mill opened properly as a visitor centre, there was a sales area in The Mill with a counter (initially a table then a beautifully carved counter, made by a member Frank Castle). The Trust used to hold sales weekends, particularly around Christmas time [in what's now the Woods Mill Hot Desk room]. The Warden would light a fire and people would come and buy things and have a glass of wine or coffee. There were art exhibitions as well. 

At one point I was elected to the Council, and I enjoyed it immensely. I served a total of two terms with a gap in the middle. There were about 15 men and two women back then - myself and Dame Ruth Buckley. I was somewhat in awe of her. 

Norma Platts was appointed as paid Head of Publicity in the early 1980s, which meant the Trust took on a professional hue. She developed a glossy newsletter. Before then newsletters were less glossy, but still beautifully illustrated by Wendy Crane, wife of Robin Crane. 

Sussex Wildlife Trust was a huge part of our lives. My car knew its way down to Woods Mill, which was fortunate because some Council meetings went on until 1am! The people running the Trust were high-powered businesspeople and professionals - many fine naturalists and everything had to be done outside working hours.

Woods Mill lake © Emma Chaplin
Woods Mill lake © Emma Chaplin

What's your favourite reserve?

Woods Mill. We have a huge emotional attachment to it. We were very fond of the Borrer garden [named for a botanist from Henfield]. We called it the Borogrove.

Stan: I love the big lake and the different parts of it where you can sit. The reeds, the birds. The fact you can go for a walk all around it and it's not too long and you can see the downs. 

What's your favourite time of year?

(Both). Spring. The arrival of spring flowers, such as Bluebells. The orchids below Ditchling Beacon are a wonderous sight.

Marsh Fragrant Orchid at Ditchling © Glenn Norris
Marsh-fragrant Orchid at Ditchling © Glenn Norris
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