Down by the River, Part 2

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Last month’s article looked at the River Ouse and Deans Mill, this month’s explores more nearby features along the river.

Did you know Lindfield has a castle? If Historic England’s Monuments Schedule is to be believed, on the northern bank some 500m downstream from Lindfield Bridge, on strictly private land, stand the remains of earth works described as a motte and bailey, dated to Norman times. Named Lindfield Castle it is also marked on Ordnance Survey maps as motte and bailey, although all that remains today are a series of humps covered by bushes and trees. Historic England’s record says the motte at the centre measures about 40m across and stands some 1.5m high. This was surrounded by a broad moat which joined to the river through gaps in the outer earthworks. North-west of the motte is a crescent shaped bailey 45m long. Outside a ditch linked to a stream entirely surrounded the castle. Such defensive structures were constructed in towns and on open land. The listing describes its position as ‘strong yet strategic location for policing of traffic crossing the Ouse’. However their papers do indicate an element of doubt as to its origin and suggest it might have been a system of fish ponds. This is plausible as in 1175 a nunnery was established somewhere close to the castle site. Fish ponds were a feature of religious houses in medieval times Another suggestion is the remains of a moated farmhouse.

Interestingly, on the 1845 Tithe Map, the earthworks are labelled ‘site of priory’. The adjoining two fields carried the names Nunnery Pond and Nunnery Plot, while standing close by is a wood which to this day is called Nunnery Wood. This small nunnery was no doubt closed on the orders of Henry VIII and quickly became a ruin. Since that time all traces of the stonework have disappeared.

As an aside, hanging on the wall in the Library Room, King Edward Hall is a copy 1840 map. Although difficult to see, in the top right hand corner is a small drawing that purports to show ‘The Ruins of Lindfield Nunnery as they appeared in 1601’ with a pond in the foreground.

Without an archaeological survey the precise location of the nunnery and the true origin of the earthworks will remain undiscovered, but it is pleasing to think Lindfield might have had a Norman castle.

A fact beyond doubt is that the Ouse did have an important strategic defensive role during World War Two. Early in the war, in the event of a German Invasion breaching the Sussex coastal defences, ‘stop lines’ were created along natural features to halt or at least slow any advance. One of the most important lines ran west to east along the Rivers Arun and Ouse with an anti-tank ditch joining them between Handcross and Slaugham.

The northern riverbank at Lindfield was revetted with vertical tree trunks making it difficult for tanks to mount the bank, so forcing them towards Lindfield Bridge which was heavily defended with anti-tank blocks, barbed wire and a pillbox. It was the responsibility of the Lindfield Home Guard to man this Type 28 pillbox, which still exists today just north of the bridge. There were similar defensive positions at the other local bridges. Home Guard member Sid Cross recounted several years ago being equipped with a Lee Enfield rifle and ten rounds of ammunition and ‘that was enough to kill 12 of the enemy – ten with bullets, one with the bayonet and the last with the rifle butt’. An anti-tank gun was not received until later in the war. Thankfully, the invasion threat soon receded! A short distance along the road is the southern entrance to Paxhill, which during the war was a Canadian Army camp.

There were similar invasion fears in the mid-19th century arising from the French, resulting in the Sussex Rifle Volunteer Corps being formed to defend the county. It was essential for these part-time soldiers to be able to shoot accurately. For 25 years, the men of the Lindfield unit had ‘been subjected to the inconvenience of having to walk to Cuckfield for target practice’. To correct this unsatisfactory situation, Colonel Dudley Sampson, the owner of Buxshalls, made land available upstream of Lindfield Bridge for use as a firing range. In August 1886, the 300 yard range was opened with much ceremony and a mock battle defending a nearby foot bridge. Two years later the range was extended to 600 yards and it was hoped this facility would encourage more Lindfield men to join the volunteers.

A more peaceful pursuit, also on Buxshalls Estate’s land, was established about 200m upstream from Lindfield Bridge, when in May 1906 the Lindfield Swimming Club was formed. Colonel Dudley Sampson agreed to grant the club permission to use a section of his riverbank, provided everything was conducted in a proper manner and all non-costumed bathers treated as trespassers. Accordingly, the club rules were established, and approved by the Colonel, prohibiting card playing, gambling and other improper conduct and requiring all bathers to wear full ‘University costumes’ in the club’s colour of navy blue. From the annual subscription rates it would appear membership was initially only open to men and boys.

The bathing place, as it was known, was soon set up with a changing hut and the land fenced off. Arrangements were made with the miller at Dean’s Mill to shut the sluice gates during Friday evenings to allow water to build up for the weekend. This allowed members to dive from low boards.

The club thrived, women were permitted to join and facilities constantly improved including men’s and women’s changing huts; a newspaper report also mentions ‘a clubhouse’. In 1924 the club had 229 members made up of 156 gentlemen and 73 ladies. It was decided to construct a new diving stage spanning the river, with platforms at 6ft, 10ft, 14ft and 18ft, and room ‘for ten persons to dive off the stage at once’. Permission was given to deepen the centre of the river to allow safe diving from the new higher top platform. Arrangements to blast the riverbed were duly made!

Swimming galas and diving competitions were regularly arranged for members and matches against other local clubs, with cups and medals duly awarded. The bathing place provided much enjoyment for villagers and many children learnt to swim and dive in the river. Sadly the facility was closed in 1938 due to a polio scare in Lindfield.

On this section of the Ouse, historic records for the 1500s and 1600s suggest a fulling mill stood, unfortunately little information is available, although its one time existence appears to be reflected in the names of the nearby farm and derelict river lock. Finally, adjacent to Lindfield Bridge, for many years during the 19th century, was a wharf, mainly for coal carried up the river from Lewes. The facility to transport coal in bulk by barge allowed Lindfield residents to enjoy cheaper coal and increased its usage in the village.

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