Discovering West Common


Today nothing exists of the West Common and you would be forgiven for thinking the area completely lacks historical interest.  Less than two hundred years ago the unfenced common extended from Sunte Avenue down to the stream that runs close to Blackthorns and from Hickmans Lane south to Summerhill Lane and then east along Scrase Stream.  the southern part belonged to the Manor of Ditchling with the remainder by South Malling Lindfield and Framfield Manors.  The land is mainly flat and in parts sloping with good well drained soil.  In early medieval times, could this land have been the ‘west field’ of the Lindfield cultivated in strips by villagers in the open field system?  Perhaps we will never know.

What we do know is that in the 1820s the land was largely unenclosed and contained only a few dwellings.  In the north western corner, at the junction called Pickesgreen Cross, was a small old farmstead dating from at least 1600, part of Framfield Manor, called Wigsel’s Watering, that extended into the area now Oakfield Close. This was replaced by the Bricklayers Arms, now the Witch Inn.  In the 1870s the Bricklayers became a popular venue for ‘bean feasts’; annual works outings travelling by train from as far afield as London and Brighton.

following the arrival of the railway, the road running along the western edge was made up and named Station Road [Sunte Avenue] as it was the most direct route from Lindfield to the station.  The first housing built was Albert Cottages, typical small Victorian houses with shared wells and privies at the bottom of the garden.

Towards the southern end, near Oakbank, stood two cottages known as Golden Nob.  the 1851 Census listed four families, the Beard, Bish, Gorrange and Miles families, totalling 19 men, women and children living in the cottages.  All the adult men were agricultural labourers. the Gold Nob cottages were demolished around 1860, when Summer Hill was built by Charles Catt of the Bishopstone Tide Mills.  The Catt family lived in the house for many years and farmed nearby land.  From the late 1940s it became a school.

In 1835 three acres of unenclosed land held by the Manor of South Malling Lindfield was sold for £56 5s. of to John Elliott, a Lindfield blacksmith.  John Elliott operated the forge in the middle of the High Street [mentioned in last month’s article] and built the forge at Spongs in Brushes Lane.  Perhaps with an eye for a quick profit, John Elliott sold the land to Edward Humphreys in October 1838 for £153.  In today’s terms this is the land of Chestnut close across to the west side of Summerhilll Drive and north to Hickmans Lane.

For a couple of years Humphreys rented the newly enclosed land to James Harding of burnt House Farm, before taking back the land on which he built a house in 1844.  the Poor Rate Valuations in the late 1840s record this house as Westfield Lodge, owned and occupied by Edward Humphreys; no connection with the baker of that name.  It was approached by a long diagonal drive, and when Summer Hill was constructed the drive was extended to this house and entrance lodges built.

By the mid 1850s Humphreys was living at Pear Tree House [junction of High Street and Lewes Road], another fine house he built along with St Annes. Westfield Lodge was rented to tenants before being acquired by William Copeland in c1870 when the property was renamed The Chestnuts.

The Mid Sussex Times in May 1877 carried an advertisement for the letting ‘unfurnished, a well-built detached villa residence, most pleasantly situated, approached by a carriage drive from the high road, and within 15 minutes walk of Haywards Heath Station, and known as The Chestnuts.  There is a large drawing room and dining room, two other sitting rooms, six bedrooms, and a dressing room, kitchen, scullery, cellars etc., also a capital garden with greenhouse and vinery’.  Even in those days easy access to the station was a desirable feature and evidence of Lindfield becoming attractive to commuters.

During the 1880s, The Chestnuts was taken by a Mr Hartland and then by Mrs Gertrude Lysons, the widow of Rev Canon Samuel Lysons, rural dean of Gloucester, a noted antiquarian and an early proponent of British Israelism.  this was the belief that British people are ‘genetically, racially and linguistically the direct descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel’.

The Chestnuts was sole in 1895 for £2,000 and subsequently described as being ‘brick built and cement faced’, with grounds containing a good lean-to-vinery, stables, detached coach house with loft and a small cowshed.  A substantial property but unfortunately we have no photographs of the house and grounds.  {If any readers have a photograph, please do make contact}.  The new owner was Charles Catt of adjacent Summer Hill.

Following a succession of tenants, in 1909 William Lancelot Knowles J.P., a member of the Stock Exchange, and his wife took up residence, having previously lived at Pear Tree House.  A county cricketer, he had played for Kent, Sussex and Gentlemen of England and in 37 first class appearances as a right-handed batsman scored 1439 runs with a highest innings of 127.  He was unstinting in his community service being involved with many clubs and organisations in Lindfield, Cuckfield and Haywards Heath.

In 1933, The chestnuts became the new home for the Parents’ National Educational Union School [PNEU] started 12 months earlier at Plumpton by Mrs Seymour and Mrs Morgan.  Called the Summerhill PNEU School it was the twentieth such school in Sussex and one of a family of about 800 scattered around the world. All the schools worked to a common ethos and curriculum. A notable local example, with its roots in PNEU system, in Burgess Hill Girls School which continues to thrive today.

After two years it ceased being a PNEU school and changed its name to Lindfield Preparatory School under the headship of Miss Arnold.  Education was provided on the ‘Froebel and other modern methods’ for children aged 6 to 12 years, with a kindergarten for younger children.  It advertised ‘Bright, colourful classrooms, Small Classes, Individual attention’ and ‘All general subjects taught’ with a large garden for games, tennis and cricket.  A limited number of places were available for boarders.  The school was short lived and closed in about 1937, the building reverting to a private residence.  There was no connection between this school and the school later established at summer Hill.  The house continued to be occupied as a private residence until being demolished in about 1960 and shortly after replaced by Nos. 1 – 8 The Chestnuts.

Returning to the 19th century, the Common was divided by a section of the New Chapel to Brighton turnpike road, now West Common.  By the 1840s, the Common on both sides of this road had been enclosed with fields, except for an area around Appledore Gardens but this soon became enclosed.  In 1852, at the Red Lion, four acres were auctioned as four building plots fetching £138, £145, £82 and £82.  The first two lots restricted the building of any dwelling of less value than £2900.  None of the plots were built upon at that time.

It was not until the interwar years that the area started to be developed with the building of Haywards Heath Senior School and housing at Oakbank and along West Common and Sunte Avenue plus the creation of a market garden, French Gardens.  Houses started to appear along Summerhill Drive, and although Chestnut Close was constructed by 1937 houses were not built until a few years later.  The remainder of the houses on West common land are predominantly post war.


Published in Lindfield life February 2018



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