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