The Story of Finches

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The name Finches as in Finches Park Road, Finches Gardens and Finches Lane does not derive from a Victorian country mansion, like The Welkin as featured in last month’s article.  It is much older in origin dating back to a farm that existed in medieval times, with perhaps the land being farmed a thousand years ago.

Finches Farm has appeared in the historic record since the 16th century when it was occupied by the Fairhall family, and its land ran southwards from Finches Lane.  In 1583 Richard Fairhall was described as one of the ‘chiefest men’ of Lindfield.  The farm must have been of sufficient importance as in 1723 it was one of the four properties in Lindfield parish shown by name on Budgen’s Sussex map.  Described in 1829 as a ‘Messuage, barns and lands called Finches, Tilts and Cocks containing 32 acres’ it was held by Jane Knight.  A Mr Riddle subsequently farmed the land, as a tenant of Edward Duke, and is recorded as operating a brickyard in the area of Kiln Wood and Town Wood; both woods still remain.

Around 1870 the farm was bought by James Proctor, a retired silk manufacturer from Manchester.  He demolished the farmhouse and buildings that stood on the west side of Finches Lane, approximately where Arthur Bliss House is today.  In their place he built a country mansion of brick and stone.  An impression of the grandness and architectural style can be seen in the imposing range of estate office, coach house and stables he built further up Finches Lane; now attractive residences.  To complete the estate, lodges were placed at the southern and northern end of Finches Lane, again both survive [see then/now photos here].  The lower section of Finches Gardens follows the line of the drive.

Following his death in 1884 the estate was sold for £17,000 to Walter Savill.  Finches became the main family home for Walter, his wife Matilda and their ten children.  By the time of his death in 1911, most of their children had grown up and moved away, leaving the house to be lived in by his widow and their unmarried daughter Maud.  They maintained it as their main residence until the beginning of WW11 when it was requisitioned by the Army for officer accommodation.

Mrs Matilda Savill died in 1941.  At the end of the war the house was returned to Maud Savill and in 1946 the entire estate was put up for sale.  Sale particulars described the house as containing 12 principal bedrooms, seven staff bedrooms, five bathrooms, four reception rooms and domestic offices, plus garages and stabling set in 45 acres of gardens and parkland.  Also in the sale were the two lodges and four modern semi detached cottages, built for estate workers in Sunte Avenue.

The house with its grounds were acquired and converted in the County Hotel, opening in November 1947.  It provided accommodation for 80 guests with a ‘Tudor Lounge and Buttery’ and ‘Georgian Restaurant’.  Dinner dances were held on Saturday nights, which proved popular with guests and local residents alike.

As Lindfield started a major period of expansion in the decades following WW11 there was considerable demand for building land.  Between 1955 and 1961 parcels of Finches land were sold for building.  This resulted in the first sections of Savill Road, Finches Park Road and the adjoining section of Hickmans Lane being built.

The hotel closed and was demolished in the early 1960s, with all remaining land being sold and built upon as we see today.

Today it is the Savills who are most closely associated with Finches.  Who were they and what was their impact on Lindfield?

Walter Savill aged 15 joined Wallis Gann & Co. a firm of London shipbrokers, as a junior clerk in 1851.  Seven years later together with a  fellow employee, Robert Shaw, he left Wallis Gann and as partners set up their own shipping business, Shaw Savill & Co.  Initially using chartered ships they specialised in carrying cargo, emigrants and Government mail to New Zealand.

Through great courage, persistence, hard work and shrewdness the business prospered, owning 15 ships in 1865.  It merged in 1882 with Albion, a competitor on the New Zealand route, to form Shaw Savill & Albion Co Ltd.  In that year one of their ships carried the first refrigerated cargo to New Zealand lamb to Britain.  Following this merger, Walter Savill established a fleet of sailing vessels under the Shaw Savill Flag; one of these ships, a four mast steel barque, he named ‘Lindfield’.

Despite having lived in Lindfield for 27 years, Walter Savill took no active part in local affairs.  He died aged 76 at Finches in May 1911, leaving over £1.5m, a vast fortune in those days.  Early on the morning of the funeral, his oak coffin was conveyed to the parish church in an ivy-clad farm wagon drawn by three horses. After the service ‘the body rested in the church until the afternoon’ to allow ‘persons in all positions of life’ to pay their respects before being taken to Walstead for burial.

In contrast, his daughter Maud Savill, who live din Lindfield until her death in 1962 aged 96, was an active participant and major benefactor in the village.  She was at the forefront of supporting and giving to very many charitable good causes.  For example, during the Great War Maud gave generously to the Red Cross Hospital in the King Edward Hall and funded the building of the miniature rifle range in Alma Lane.  Throughout her life Maud Savill was a prominent member of the All Saints’ congregation.

Particularly noteworthy was her preservation of buildings that to this day enhance the High Street.  Firstly, in 1917 she purchased the dilapidated Barnlands with its two shops and restored it as two dwellings.  similarly in 1930, she purchased the ‘department store’ latterly run by Mr & Mrs Funnell converting it to housing and restored the adjoining cottage, today Truffle House, Caldicote and Limes Cottage.  Priory Cottage followed in 1935, Maud Savill removed the shop extension that reached the pavement and restored it to solely residential purposes.  Three years later she bought and renovated the Sewell Memorial Hall and St John’s Lodge, living in the latter during the war years before moving to St Lawrence on Blackhill.

After WW11, land in Hickmans Lane was given to the District council for the building of the 12 semi-detached ‘St John’s Cottages’ for men who served in WW11 and their families.  It is Maud Savill that residents have to thank for also providing land to the District council that subsequently became the Hickmans Lane Recreation Ground.

Whilst finches has long disappeared, Maud Savill’s work to preserve and improve High Street properties, together with her kindness in facilitating a much enjoyed sports field and playground, are a commendable legacy.

 

Published in Lindfield Life November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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