LINDFIELD HISTORY Lindfield Vicarages

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By Richard Bryant, John Mills and Janet Bishop

At the beginning of September, the Rev Dr Stephen Nichols takes up his duties as the Vicar of All Saints church.  He and his family will make their home at The Vicarage, situated behind Bower House beside the lane and footpath leading from the High Street to Hickmans Lane.  The house’s history will be explored later in the article, but first in centuries past where have the clergy resided.

In medieval times the Dean and Canons of the College of Canons, St. Michaels, South Malling held the parish and manors in Lindfield on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Dean was required to reside in Lindfield for 90 days a year and the Canons for 40 days.  It has been suggested that four of the oldest surviving houses in the village were built by the Canons in the 14th and early 15th century.  It is reputed that Bower House, built circa 1330, was the Dean’s residence but evidence to support this assertion is lacking.  Similarly evidence the Canons resided at Thatched Cottage and Clock House is difficult to find, consequently it is not possible to positively identify their residences.  There is little doubt, however, that Church Cottage was the clergy’s dwelling in medieval times and is referred to in old records over the years as the Parsonage.

In the 1530s and 1540s, with Henry VIII on the throne seeking a divorce which led to the English Reformation, establishment of the Church of England and the dissolution of religious houses.  In March 1545 an order for the dissolution of the College of Canons was issued and all their possessions, land and tithes were taken by the Crown before passing into lay ownership.  Only a fraction of the tithes were given to the church.  Tithe income was intended to fund the church.  Lindfield parish became a poor living unable to provide dwellings for incumbents and the clergy had to fund housing from their own resources. 

Rev Francis Killingbeck is recorded in 1580 as living at ‘Tyes’, where Martins and Abbots now stand.  He appears to have preferred to buy his own house rather than pay rent to Church Cottage’s new owners.  This marked the end of the use of Church Cottage.

During the next couple of centuries the clergy lived at various properties in the village.  Notable among these was Rev Humphrey Everynden who in the 1620s built his ‘parsonage,’ in upper High Street, that carries his name today.  Rev Henry Barwick also lived at Everyndens in the 1790s before having to downsize to either 111 or 113 High Street.

Following his arrival, Rev Francis Sewell in 1841 leased Pear Tree House, junction of Lewes Road and High Street, until 1849 when he accepted a living in Lancashire moving away from Lindfield for seven years.  For Sewell’s return to Lindfield he planned a grand mansion as his vicarage to be financed by a complex funding arrangement to which he would contribute £1500 towards the £3000 cost.  The intention being that on receipt of the balance from parishioners and other subscribers the property would be transferred into the ownership of the church for the benefit of future vicars.  He returned in 1856 on completion of his mansion which he named The Welkin, meaning Vault of Heaven.  On his death in 1862 insufficient money had been subscribed, no doubt due to being very grand in substantial grounds with two long drives.  Ownership of The Welkin remained in Sewell’s estate before being sold.  The church continued to remain without its own vicarage for future incumbents.

In contrast, Sewell’s replacement, Rev Frederick Mills had to rent Townlands until circumstances required him to vacate the house. Unable to fund alternative accommodation he and his family became homeless and had to ‘squat’ in the abandoned National School room on the Common until evicted.  A parishioner took pity on him and provided a home.

Moving on from this low point, Miss A H Davis of Walstead Place bequeathed a £3,000 trust fund to the church for the sole purpose of providing a vicarage.  This came to fruition in July 1902 with the completion of a vicarage house, Glebe House, in Denmans Lane.  It was built by Messrs Anscombe & Hedgecock to a design by Walter Millard of Grays Inn, London, on a two acre site given by William Sturdy of Paxhill.  The impressive house comprised an inner hall, three sitting rooms, a drawing room, 6 bedrooms and a dressing room, plus servant’s accommodation.  Stone from the Paxhill quarry was used in the construction.

The first minister to reside at the new vicarage was Rev Edward d’Auvergne.  On his retirement Rev Arthur Mead took up residence for a short while.  The high cost of living in and maintaining this large house was quickly realised, a parishioner commented ‘it would take a rich man to continue living in the house’.  The Parochial Church Council decided it was no longer suitable accommodation for the clergy and in 1917 leased it to tenants to supplement the parish stipend; it was later sold.  Rev Mead moved to Church Cottage initially leased before being purchased in 1926, by the Church Council, from Walter Tower of Old Place.  Thus reuniting Church Cottage with the church for the first time since medieval times.  The cottage ceased being the vicarage in 1933 when the newly arrived Rev Sidney Swann and his wife Lady Theodosia Bagot wanted a house of their own and bought Bower House.  At that time it was two cottages which he reconverted to one house and extensively renovated.

Upon Rev Swann’s retirement, the Church Council again faced having to acquire a suitable house for the new incumbent Rev Richard Daunton-Fear.  In 1937 the Church Council bought the Mission Hall from the County Towns Mission following their move to Chaloner Road.  The plan was to demolish the hall and build a new vicarage on the site.  Due to problems in agreeing a suitable design and lack of money the scheme was abandoned in August 1938 and the property sold to Miss Maud Savill.

Shortly afterwards, Little Townlands was acquired as the new vicarage and remains so to this day.  The land on which the vicarage stands was just a field, belonging to Townlands, until the 1880s.  Plans were drawn up for a cottage, stable and coach house to be constructed at the bottom, southern end, of the paddock.  When built in 1888 the buildings had been realigned and moved towards the northern end.  They are described in the 1910 property survey, commissioned by David Lloyd George for proposed tax purposes, as ‘brick and tile, 3 stall stable with loft, 4 horse coach house and a 4 roomed adjoining cottage’.  The coachman initially occupied the cottage and later the head gardener at Townlands.

The property was purchased by Mr & Mrs Arthur Hooper previously of Nash House, High Street, during the late 1920s, to create a ‘holiday home’.  In February 1930, Cuckfield Rural District Council gave permission to alter and make additions to Little Townlands.  These involved considerably altering the two storey square cottage, at the back of today’s vicarage, altering the one storey stable, adding a one storey glazed passage along the north side of the stables and adding a new front section to create the property as seen today.

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