The Next 500 Years – Lindfield from 1500


In last month’s article we looked at how Lindfield developed from its earliest days through to the time of the Reformation in the 1500s.  For eight hundred years much of the land in and around Lindfield formed the Manor of South Malling Lindfield held by the College of Canon, South Malling on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Henry VIII in seeking a divorce and the establishment of the Church of England led to the dissolution of religious houses.

In March 1545 an order for the dissolution of the College of Canons was issued and subsequently all possessions and lands were granted by the Crown to Sir Thomas Palmer of Angmering, a gentleman of the Privy Council.  After a couple of years the manorial estate was surrendered to the Crown.  Between 1574 and 1618 ownership changed six times, before being acquired by William Newton of East Mascalls in 1618.  Fifteen years later Thomas Chaloner of Kenwards bought the manor, becoming Lord of the Manor, until it was acquired in 1689 by the Pelhams, subsequently ennobled as the Earls of Chichester.  These names can be recognised today around the village.  The transfer of the manor to secular owners and the frequent changes in ownership lost the stability and stewardship long enjoyed under the Canon’s control.

Another major impact was the church tithes, paid to the Rector as his ‘living’ and for church upkeep, also passed into lay ownership.  After being acquired by William Newton the tithes descended through his family to John Nainsby.  Only £30 from the annual £600 tithes were given to the church. This led to difficulties in retaining a vicar and the church falling into disrepair.

Many of the houses lining the High Street, built in medieval times, needed replacement or at least renovation and modernisation, such as installing chimneys.  A good number ere re-fronted and it is for this reason that very few of Lindfield’s 41 timber framed houses have exposed timbers when viewed from the street.  From the late 1500s onwards for the next two centuries Lindfield saw a period of renewal and construction along the High Street, although apart from some encroachment on the Town Common, the village remained a one street community.  The 1600s and 1700s provided much of the architectural heritage prized today, for example Pierpoint House, Malling Priory, Nash House, Manor House, Everyndens, Froyles.  Lindfield House and Rosemary Cottage to name but a few.  A feature no longer existing, which stood for some three hundred years until the early 1800s in the middle of the High Street, opposite Doodie Stark, was a blacksmith forge and adjoining shop, both with a room above.  Horse-drawn traffic had to pass on either side of this ‘middle row’; it was probably longer in earlier times.

Just as ancient communication links had formed a key element in Lindfield’s earliest developments, so they would be an important factor in its later periods of growth.  Roads across Wealden Sussex were notoriously poor and the nor-south route through Lindfield was no exception until becoming a turnpike road in the 1770s operated by the Newchapel and Brightelston Turnpike Trust.  As the name indicates it went from north of East Grinstead down to Brighton and became a minor coaching route from London to Brighton, with the Bent Arms and Red Lion inns used as horse change stops.

Across the country in the 18th century canal building was at its height and following an Act of Parliament in 1790 the Ouse Navigation was established.  Modifications to the river allowed barges, 45 feet long., 14 feet wide, carrying up to 30 tons of mainly agricultural cargo and coal, to sail between Lewes, Lindfield and Balcombe.  the canal did not have a significant impact on Lindfield and its opening coincided with a period of economic depression.

The agricultural economy that had provided wealth and stability to Sussex steadily weakened during the late 1700s creating much poverty. Following the Napoleonic Wars and a succession of poor harvests, the social conditions deteriorated rapidly during the early decades of the 17800s.  By 1820 Lindfield was an extremely depressed parish, leading to it being chosen by William Allen, the Quaker philanthropist, as a suitable location for his experimental colony, off Gravely Lane, to aid impoverished agricultural labourers.  he also established an industrial school for boys and girls, on Black Hill, to educate children from poor families.  Universal free education was not available until the ‘Board’ school in Lewes Road was opened in 1881.

As the 1800s progressed the economy steadily improved and Britain was gripped by railway mania.  Neither Lindfield nor Cuckfield wanted the London to Brighton railway to pass close to their communities, so the line was routed along the parish’s western edge.  The line opened in 1841 with the station one mile from the village and initially called for the ‘Towns of Cuckfield and Lindfield’.  At that time Haywards Heath comprised little more than a couple of farmsteads and a few cottages whereas Lindfield had a population of over 1750 residents. The coming of the railway created Haywards Heath.  Some twenty years later, Lindfield was to have a station on the northern edge of the village on the planned Haywards Heath to Hailsham route.  The line was not completed but the remains of an embankment are still visible at the entrance to Lindfield, looking south by the 30mph limit sign.

Nevertheless the opening of the London to Brighton line led to a period of growth, and as Haywards Heath developed so did Lindfield.  A particular feature during the Victorian era was the building of fine villas on Black Hill and mansions around the outer edges, Summerhill, Finches, The Welkin, Old Place, Walstead Place, Beckworth, Oathall and a little later Barrington House.  Together with the existing large houses such as Paxhill, Bedales and Sunte they became major employers.  In the central section of the High Street old buildings were demolished and replaced by new shops in Victoria Terrace and Albert Terrace.

Reliance on agriculture for employment reduced as village businesses flourished, such as Lindfield Brewery, Durrant’s piano factory which employed ’25 hands’, Julius Guy’s coachwork, plus many jobs in the building trade and on the railways.   Lindfield’s commercial importance waned.

However, throughout the 1800s, Lindfield remained basically a ‘one street’ community.  It was not until the new century that new roads started to appear, such as Compton Road, Luxford Road and Eastern Road.  Following the tragic years of the Great War, the interwar years saw some growth, but it was not until after World War II that the expansion of Lindfield really took off and continues to this day.


Published in Lindfield Life January 2018


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