Lindfield and the B2028

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Lindfield has often been described as possessing an ‘historic High Street’, due to the attractive and varied architectural styles of buildings lining the road, but what is the history of the road itself? This north-south route has existed for millennia and appears to predate the Romans. Initially it would have been little more than a track running from the coast northwards. Following the Roman invasion it is well known that they started building roads across the country. One road went from London towards the coast at Brighton, taking a similar line to the old trackway, but Romans constructed a new road rather than develop the old trackway; this continued to be used by local people.

The Roman road passed to the west of today’s Lindfield High Street, taking a line through Sugworth Farm and the old Haywards Heath Sixth Form College grounds. Interestingly, when the Romans left Britain their road fell out of use and into disrepair, while the old trackway continued and over several centuries Lindfield gradually gew up along its route. For Lindfield it was an important route, serving as a droveway connecting the manorial lands that stretched from Stanmer to Crawley Down.

As centuries passed this trackway became a road, part of one of the routes through Sussex that radiated from London down to the coast. Richard Budgen’s 1723 map, the first Sussex map to show roads, identified the road from London running from New Chapel, north of East Grinstead, through turners Hill, Ardingly, Lindfield and Ditchling as a primary route: today the B2028.

The road deteriorated as usage increased. the surface changed with the seasons, from deep ruts baked hard to quagmire to frozen, which often became impassable in the wet. Maintenance within the parish boundary was a parish responsibility, but residents had little interest in paying to repair roads outside of the village to benefit through travellers. By the 1700s road conditions across the country had become so bad that drastic action was required. Parliament decided the solution was the introduction of tolled turnpike roads for major roads with each Turnpike. Trust responsible for maintenance and toll collection. Parishes remained responsible for the other roads.

The Act of Parliament, authorising the setting up of a Turnpike Trust for the road from New Chapel through Lindfield to Ditchling was passed in 1770. However, the Lindfield toll gate was not erected until around 1803. The road was subsequently extended into Brighton.

Toll gates were placed every few miles, locally at Turners Hill, Ardingly, and near Wivelsfield. Lindfield had two tollhouses and gates, Lindfield Gate across the High Street in front of the now aptly named Toll House and Side gate across the entrance to Hickmans Lane. Its toll house is now Doodie Stark. Consequently it was not possible to travel north-south through Lindfield or the length of the High Street without paying a toll. Needless to say, this was extremely unpopular and tradespeople were especially enraged. It is reported a life-threatening letter was received in 1803 by a Turnpike Commissioner following the erection of the Lindfield Gate! Throughout their existence they were regarded as ‘a most intolerable nuisance’.

The toll varied according to the type and size of wagon or carriage, or the size of the herd or flock being driven. There were various exemptions, notably carriages carrying people to attend church on a Sunday. Residents walking in the High Street were not required to pay a toll.

Non-payment of tolls was not uncommon and if caught led to a prosecution, as in the case of Henry Hoadley of Lindfield being fined 10s (50p) in 1865 for evading a 3d (1p) toll. Interestingly, a case was brought against a Mrs Nicholson of Clayton, who on travelling from Haywards Heath direction got their coachman to park the carriage in Lewes Road while she walked through the gate to collect a parcel and returned to her carriage. This was deemed non-payment and she was convicted of defrauding a toll gate and fined 6d. the amount of toll evaded, with 18s. 6d (95p) costs. The gatekeepers had to be ever watchful.

The gatekeeper’s job was not held in high esteem, although one benefit was the provision of accommodation at the toll house. Few details exist of the gatekeepers, but the Census returns for the Toll House in the High Street show George Nye as the keeper in 1851 and George Robina with his wife. Derinda, in 1871, Harriet Heasman kept the Side Gate in 1871 and 1881.

The right to operate the various gates on the turnpike were auctioned yearly in accordance with the Act. An announcement in the Surrey Advertiser in 1830 state ‘Tolls arising at the several Toll Gates on the Turnpike leading from New Chapel through Lindfield and Ditchling to the top of Bost Hill and hence to the the town of Brighton will be let by auction’ to be held at the Tiger Inn, Lindfield. Lot Four comprised the Lindfield Gate and Side Gate which had, in the previous year, ‘produced (clear of all expenses of collection) the sum of £119.12s.6d (£119.62p).

During the second half of the nineteenth century, faced with competition from the railways, tolls no longer generated enough income to maintain the road and make the Turnpike viable. In 1881, the Trust had insufficient money to maintain the Lindfield section and the Justices ordered £386.14s. (£386.70p) be levied by Lindfield Parish and paid to the Trustees for repairs. Turnpikes across Sussex had gradually closed, but New Chapel to Brighton Trustees soldiered on to the bitter end. The Trustees exercised their right to collect tolls for a further 12 months beyond their Deeds expiry date in November 1883. This greatly angered Lindfield tradesmen who regarded tolls as ‘a great block to progress’ and a ‘tax on townspeople using their vehicles for pleasure only’.

At noon on the 31st October 1884 the right to collect tolls expired. A few minutes earlier the assembled crowd had encouraged a brewer’s drayman to pass through without paying: ‘This he did, amid much laughter, but was pursued by the female (‘Heavenly’) gate-keeper, demanding the toll, which he eventually paid’. As the church clock struck, the gates were lifted off. The honour of the first free passage was given to the respected fly proprietor, Mr George Mason’, who living at Wickham House (near top of High Street), had paid the most tolls. that evening Lindfield tradesmen and others assembled at the Red Lion Hotel for a celebratory dinner. After the meal, Amon Anscombe proposed the toast ‘Success to Lindfield without the gates’. the following week George Mason was advertising a revised fare of 2 shillings (10p) from ‘Lindfield Town to Haywards Heath Station’.

Following the traditional 5th November bonfire on the Common the ‘fun of the evening’ moved to the High Street. Having started their merriment at the Red Lion, a crowd gathered outside the Bent Hotel. ‘Where in the street, quite a large fire formed of tar barrels, was blazing merrily’, and the fire boys hurled the ‘old pike’ on the fire. The fun continued ‘fast and furious’ until midnight watched over by Sergeant Smith and several policemen. A plaque on the wall outside the Toll House commemorates the removal of the gates.

When next driving on the B2028 be thankful you don’t have to pay every few miles.

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