East Grinstead is a West Sussex town that started life as a village in Saxon Times. The meaning of Grinstead is “green place”. It lives up to its name, given that it's surrounded by beautiful Sussex countryside and forest.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, East Grinstead was by then quite a large village by the standards of the day and in the 13th century it became a town, with a charter being granted in 1247. The charter allowed East Grinstead to hold a market every week and also conferred the right to hold an annual fair. By 1516 the town was becoming more important and held two fairs a year, attracting traders and visitors from miles around.
In the early days of the town, East Grinstead boasted a population of a few hundred, which was a reasonable size in Medieval England. In the early 1300s the town gained its first MP in parliament, a right which lasted until 1832. The population grew over the centuries until it reached about 1,500 by the early 1700s.
The mid-Sussex town prospered in early times because it was a stopping post on the main route between London and Lewes – the important County Town of Sussex. Later stagecoaches would pass through the town and take advantage of the local inns to rest and water their horses as they stopped to refresh passengers on the way to Brighton, which was becoming a popular resort.
By 1800 the population of East Grinstead had grown but it was still considered a small town with 2,700 residents. But that proved to be a tipping point as the population grew rapidly to 4,000 by the middle of the century and by 1900 it had grown to 6,000.
Today the town is home to around 24,000 people, so considerable further growth over the last 117 years. With pressures for housing in Sussex, it’s probable that the increase in population will continue for some time to come.
One of the reasons for growth during the 19th century was the arrival of the railway. It must have meant a big change to the town as stage coaches gradually disappeared, to be replaced by the iron monsters of the day. It meant that East Grinstead started to become a commuter town.
Other modern inventions like gas lights, sewers and piped water reached the town during the 19th century, no doubt making life a lot more pleasant for the residents. The first cinema was built in the town in 1913, bringing a new form of entertainment.
You can still see a lot of the history of East Grinstead in its beautiful old buildings, particularly in the High Street where there are many wonderful timber-framed buildings dating back to the 14th century. The area is difficult to observe from a car because the traffic is pretty continuous but it’s well worth getting out and strolling around the centre of the town to appreciate the special architecture and breath in the history.
There are other historical buildings to notice, including the sandstone almshouse, built in the early 17th century, famous for being where John Mason Neale wrote “Good King Wenceslas”. And visit St Swithun’s Church, which dominates the landscape since its imposing building was built on the highest point in East Grinstead. John Mason Neale is buried in the graveyard at the church.
The Town Council is housed at East Court Mansion, which is notable as an historic building in a lovely parkland setting, through which runs the Greenwich Meridian.
During WWII East Grinstead became famous for its burns unit, formed at the Victoria Hospital to treat aircrew and use pioneering plastic surgery to aid their recovery. The Guinea Pig club was formed to support these burns victims. Also during the War a tragedy occurred when a Luftwaffe bomber dropped 7 bombs on the town. One hit the local cinema where hundreds were watching a film and 108 sadly died, including many children and 20 Canadian troops who were stationed in the town. This was a devastating event for a small town and the fallen are remembered to this day.
A previous famous resident of the town who isn’t always remembered with fondness was Dr Beeching, who oversaw the massacre of the UK’s railway lines in the 1960s. He even axed the line from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells, which is why East Grinstead is now a terminus.
East Grinstead is beloved by its population for its rural situation, closeness to London and the proximity of Ashdown Forest and country parks. At the north-east corner of West Sussex, it’s off the beaten track yet not cut off from the City.
Maybe that’s why EG has become the centre for a number of unusual religions, including Ron Hubbard’s Scientologists, who have their headquarters on the edge of town, and Opus Dei who have their conference centre at Wickenden Manor. There are also other little-known religions housed in the town, which led Channel 4 to produce a documentary to explain the phenomenon. They seemed to come to no worthwhile conclusion, but in any case East Grinstead has become known for its high number of religious centres.
Haywards Heath is a lovely town situated in Mid-Sussex and ideally placed for a commute to London. Naturally this means it has become popular with those who take the daily train ride into town. It’s also close to the towns of Crawley, Horsham, East Grinstead, Burgess Hill and not far from the coast at Brighton.
In the 1850s, not long after the railway arrived, the town population was around 200. Today the town is home to many new housing estates and the latest population census counted 22,800 residents, though that must have increased somewhat over the last few years.
The name Haywards Heath originates from the old English meaning of a local official tasked with ensuring the protection of hedged enclosures. Apparently there was danger from wandering livestock! But there are also romantic tales of a highway named Jack Hayward who may have lent his name to the town.
The London and Brighton railway arrived in 1841, triggering a rapid expansion of the population and growth of the local areas. Initially the line terminated at Haywards Heath, until the rest of the route was completed down to Brighton later that year. One can only imagine how people must have flocked from the surrounding areas to commute to the City. By the end of the century, housing was being built specifically for commuters.
The surrounding countryside is still pretty rural, housing lots of farms and attractive villages and hamlets. The busy A272 is the main east-west road route across mid Sussex and it used to run down the main high street in Haywards Heath, taking one from Bolney to the west, past Cuckfield on to Scaynes Hill and Newick.
In the early 2000s, a new village was created on a greenfield site to the south of the town and named Bolnore Village. A number of builders have contributed to the growth of Bolnore and one of the conditions of planning permission was that a bypass was built around the Haywards Heath. Although the development caused a lot of controversy, the new road now removes much of the traffic from the centre of the town and brings much appreciated peace to the locals. Whether it affects the businesses along the High Street remains to be seen.
There are some great places around the area, including the South of England Showground in Ardingly. Every year the South of England Show is held at the beginning of June. It’s a huge event encompassing livestock shows, equine classes and hundreds upon hundreds of stands. You can get everything from a deluxe organic burger to the latest model of combine harvester. It makes a great day out for the family; there’s plenty of and you certainly won’t go hungry – but prepared for a lot of walking as you explore the vast area!
Several times a year the showground is host to massive antique fairs which run over a couple of days. These are well worth a visit if you enjoy poking around looking for a bargain. Although largely set outside, there are numerous tarmacked walkways, so there’s no need to get your feet covered in the local Sussex clay! The Ardingly antique fair is one of the major such events in the country so you’ll often see TV programmes like Bargain Hunt filming as their experts scour stalls for the bargain of the day.
As well as these big events, the showground features dog and smallholder shows on a regular basis; in fact you can probably find all sorts of events if you visit their website.
On the way to Ardingly you pass Borde Hill, which is home to one of the South’s great annual one-day events. Although not as large or scary as the better-known Badminton and Burghley cross-country courses, Borde Hill serves as a training ground for many of our top eventers. It’s a beautiful setting and holds all sorts of other events throughout the year, including concerts and picnics.
And when there’s nothing special on the agenda, you can visit Borde Hill Gardens and wander their 200 acres of parkland and woodland and enjoy wonderful views over the surrounding Sussex High Weald. Why not stop for lunch or tea in their café before continuing your explorations. A glorious way to pass a peaceful day away from the stresses of the daily commute!
Not far away in Horsted Keynes is the famous Bluebell Railway Line where you can take a steam train ride up to East Grinstead. It’s the setting for many famous films and passes through typical Sussex scenery.
You can even have a meal onboard special trips or take a cream tea. The world-famous Flying Scotsman is paying a visit during the summer of 2017, so it’s a great opportunity to take a nostalgic journey to remember.
On a more practical level, Haywards Heath is home to the Princess Royal Hospital, which houses the main accident and emergency department for Mid-Sussex.
There are some interesting events in the history of Haywards Heath, one of them being the housing of the Sussex County Lunatic Asylum in 1859. This later became known as St Francis Hospital, which seems a much kinder title!
Due to political disagreements between the East and West administrations, Sussex was the last county to fulfil their obligations under the County Asylums Act of 1845. This required every county to provide adequate accommodation for penniless “lunatics”. Since Haywards Heath is just about in the centre of the district, it was chosen as the venue and the asylum was housed at Hurst House Farm. The farm comprised 120 acres and cost the council £5,750. I wonder how much it would be worth today.
Back in 1642 Haywards Heath gained notoriety as Sir Edward Ford, who was the High Sheriff of Sussex, led a troop of Royalists from Chichester towards Lewis. Local Parliamentarians intercepted and defeated the troops in the town, an event that is recorded in the English Civil War official records.
If you’re visiting Sussex, take time to check out the Haywards Heath area, with its beautiful planted gardens and vibrant shopping centre.
Our Haywards Heath tree surgeons are proud to be associated with the town.
Learn about the history of East Grinstead, another Mid-Sussex town
Trees and hedges are very important to the balance of the ecosystem. A single 100-foot tree can absorb about 50 lbs of carbon dioxide in a year. The same tree will produce approximately 6000 pounds of oxygen in a year, which is enough to support at least two people.
Trees are also very good for wild life. The popular English Oak can support about 284 species of insects. These insects in turn provides food for numerous birds. The acorns of oak trees are food for a variety of animals which includes pigeons, mice, deer, pigs, although they can be poisonous to others, including humans and horses.
Interesting facts about trees don't end here, sometimes they are specific to a particular community, region or country. Here are some points you might find intriguing:
1. In Athens, Georgia, there is a tree that is owned by itself. It pays no property taxes and the ownership rights have never been questioned. The tree was initially owned by Professor William Jackson, who campaigned and secured self-ownership rights for the tree. The Athens community recognizes the rights of this tree and have taken measures to protect it. In 1942, the tree was blown down by wind and another tree was regrown from the parts of the original tree. The ownership rights of the tree still exist today.
2. The Venice Islands in Italy were built on a foundation of tree trunks about 1200 years ago. Up till today, these tree trunks still support almost all of central Venice. They remain submerged in water, so they will be there for thousands of years. They are not exposed to oxygen hence they do not rot.
3. California is home to several record breaking trees including the tallest tree in the world which is a giant redwood located somewhere in Redwood National Park. The exact location of this tree is kept secret due to the concern of vandalism from a surge of tourists.
4. The widest tree in the world is located in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is named Arbol del tule and is 38.1 feet in diameter.
5. Jadav Molai Payeng, a 47 years old Indian man, began planting trees at the age of 16 on a very barren piece of land with no shrubs, hedges or vegetation. Today, his trees have become a 1360-acre jungle that is now inhabited by tigers, lions and other wild animals. What a wonderful legacy.
6. There are Eucalyptus trees with natural rainbow colours. They are usually referred to as the Rainbow Eucalyptus. The multi-colour characteristic of the tree trunks occur as a result of patches of the outer bark that are shed at different times of the year. These trees grow naturally in the Northern Hemisphere and can be found in New Britain, New Guinea, Sulawesi and Mindanao.
7. Justin Timberlake, American musician and celebrity, once commissioned a company to figure out his concert's carbon footprints and paid to have trees and hedges planted in the cities he toured to offset the carbon impact of his tour.
8. In America, tree growth has exceeded harvest by over 50% since 1940. Now there are more trees than any time in the last 100 years.
9. Only 1% of a mature tree is biologically alive, the rest is made up of non-living structural wood cells. The living portions of a tree are the leaves, buds, roots and the cambium, a thin film of cells under the bark.
10. Columbia University has developed an artificial tree that passively absorbs carbon(iv) oxide from the air using artificial leaves that are 1000 times more efficient that natural leaves.
11. There is an entire forest in Utah that is made up of one single species of trees. All the trees are virtually the same height and of the same colour.
12. In the year 1976, North Korean Soldiers murdered two American Soldiers who were trying to cut down an overgrown tree in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. America responded with a 813-man task force, jet bombers capable of deploying nuclear weapons and 27 helicopters and cut down the poplar tree in a show of force to intimidate the North Koreans and make them back down.
13. Every citizen of China from the age of 11 years is encouraged to plant at least three trees per year.
14. In the year 2012, Sarah Barnes a meth addict climbed into the trunk of the fifth oldest tree in the world in Florida to smoke meth. An accident occurred when she wanted to light a fire to inhale the drug. The tree named "The Senator" caught fire and burnt to the ground.
15. According to scientific discovery, older trees share nutrients with smaller trees. This symbiotic web of connection helps the ecosystem to develop and flourish.
16. 96% of ancient redwoods, some of the tallest and oldest trees on earth have been cut down and destroyed.
17. There is a hotel in Sweden called the Treehouse. This hotel is situated in the midst of unspoiled nature. All the rooms in this hotel are up on trees. The experience in this hotel is awesome as visitors are given the chance to experience nature among tree-tops.
18. The sandbox tree is one of the most dangerous trees in the world. Not only is it covered in poisonous spikes, it also has fruits that can explode and propel seeds at 160 mph.
19. Trees receive 90% of their nutrients from the atmosphere above it while only 10% come from the soil.
20. No tree dies of old age. They are usually killed by animals, insects and disease. That’s why timely tree surgery can help trees by removing diseased and infected limbs to give the rest of the plant a chance to thrive.
21. There are about 20,000 tree species in the world. India has the highest number of tree species while America has the second highest number of diverse tree species.
22. Trees are part of the ecosystem factors that induce rainfall by cooling the land and transpiring water from their leaves into the atmosphere. An acre of maple trees can put as much as 20,000 gallons of water into the air on a daily basis.
23. In California, a tree still stands till today bearing the legible inscription carved into it in 1849 by a group of people exploring California. The inscription reads "49 Road"
24. Aspirin was originally made from the bark of a tree known as 'Willow Bark"
25. Julia Hill a tree protection activist fought for the preservation of the trees in California by having a tree sit for 738 days.
26. Trees planted near buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30%
Those of us who call Horsham home have a special affection for this old market town. Of course it’s been modernised and changed over the years and some of those have been improvements, whilst some, it has to be said, have not!
But overall we think that the inevitable growth of the town has been done in a reasonable way and has often enhanced Horsham.
Swan Walk is our indoor shopping centre. It’s a pleasant area, although somewhat sprawling considering there aren’t really many shops. That means that one “branch” doesn’t get the traffic it needs. Fortunately there are plans in the pipeline to change all that and we hope it brings prosperity to new shops and restaurants that move in.
When we first moved to Horsham nearly 40 years ago, we could only find one café where we could stop for a cuppa. Goodness, how that has changed! Now every other unit is taken by a coffee shop chain or independent – Costas, Starbucks and numerous others. It’s been one of the most momentous changes in the town in our opinion.
Of course the whole district has grown substantially in that time. Horsham has a district council that encompasses many local villages, including Billingshurst and Southwater which are now substantial communities, probably deserving to become towns. Both are expanding at a rapid rate with house-building on a pretty epic scale considering the original size of these rural communities.
If you want to see what Horsham used to look like, join the Memories of Horsham Facebook group, where residents post photos and postcards on a regular basis. The group now has over 10,000 members from as far afield as Australia and the USA. It seems that those who group up in the district still like to keep in touch and follow what’s going on. Horsham seems to get into your bones!
Talking of building, there have been huge developments in South Horsham around the Tanbridge school area and into Broadbridge Heath. That once historic and small village has been swallowed up by the Greater Horsham area. And now there are plans afoot to expand north towards the urban sprawl that is Crawley. Let’s hope they keep the green gap between the two as the towns have totally different characters.
Horsham was originally just a market town, serving the rural community and villages round about. There was a cattle and sheep market held weekly in the Bishopric (hard to imagine now!) and although there’s still a regular farmers’ market in the Carfax, it’s not quite the same. In fact in the Middle Ages there were apparently two weekly markets and the town was known for its annual fairs.
The name “Horsham” is probably derived from Horse Ham – eg a place where horses were kept. There are different interpretations, but this seems to be the most likely.
Venture beyond the town and you’ll see that this is still an area where horses are kept. Polo is played at Knepp Castle and there are several polo yards around the south of the district. Hickstead isn’t far and eventers, showjumpers, livery yards and horse dealers abound. It’s also hunting country with the Crawley and Horsham being the local hunt and the Lord Leconfield further afield in Petworth.
There are some great places to visit for those who like the outdoor life, including Sumners Ponds in Barns Green with trout fishing, lovely walks, beautiful lakes and fabulous café. It’s a campsite that has won awards and attracts visitors from miles around.
For the children a wonderful playground is Fishers Farm in Wisborough Green. We remember when they just had a few ponies, a couple of goats and calves and did children’s parties in their barn. Nowadays, by all accounts, it’s a much more sophisticated affair and draws families from far afield.
Just two examples of enterprising farmers who’ve turned their farms into profitable businesses.
There are also some wonderful eating places in the district and some great pubs. We’d particularly recommend The Countryman in Shipley and The Queen’s Head in Barns Green, though we’re by no means experts! Try out some of our local hostelries to see for yourself.
But back to Horsham itself. It’s not a huge town, most of the population being in the surrounding areas, but it’s big enough to have some decent, though not large, stores.
Unfortunately BHS was the latest casualty to leave and as far as I know the shop hasn’t been re-let yet. But we have a reasonable sized Marks and Spencer, a nice Sainsbury’s in the town and the latest arrival is Waitrose with its adjoining John Lewis at Home. We also have the usual chains that proliferate everywhere but alongside is a good selection of independents.
That’s what makes Horsham a little more interesting for the casual visitor and resident alike. We don’t venture into town very often these days, but it’s always a pleasant place to stroll around, stop for a coffee and wander along some of the ancient roads and passageways.
One of the big attractions of moving to Horsham is its proximity to London. Far enough to remain properly rural but close enough for a daily commute with direct trains to Victoria and London Bridge. The journey is only 45 minutes if you get the right train – and it’s running! Hopefully the disputes and troubles with Southern Rail will eventually get sorted and a better service will resume.
Crawley is another big employer of Horshamites. With its vast trading estates and Gatwick Airport on the doorstep there seem to be skilled and unskilled jobs always available. Then some commute down to Worthing and over to Brighton, although judging by rush hour traffic on the A24, it looks like far more people come up from the coast to work in Horsham.
That’s the other thing about Horsham. It’s only 20 miles from the coast, just north of the South Downs. Close enough to be able to pop down in 30 minutes, but far enough to miss out on the winds that whip around south of the Downs. We find it’s colder than the coast in the winter but warmer in the summer.
All in all, it’s a lovely area, surrounded as it is by green and lush countryside, festooned with English Oaks and hundreds of miles of ancient hedges. Despite the increase in traffic and non-stop building, it’s hard to find anywhere nicer to live than the heart of Sussex.