Along the Lane to America

by Richard Bryant

Gravelye Lane for centuries was merely a track providing access to a couple of farmsteads and Northlands Wood; then in the nineteen century it became the route from Lindfield to America! There are more points of historic interest along the lane than you might think.

Almost immediately after turning from Lewes Road into Gravelye Lane, on land now Grey Alder and Kidbrook, the Dowager Countess of Tankerville while living at The Welkin, opened a laundry in 1902. It was run on charitable lines, to provide work and a home for women in difficult circumstances, struggling to regain their character through honest labour. The laundry home called ‘Quinta’ provided accommodation for thirty female workers. The laundry was taken over by the Salvation Army in 1912 until 1922, when it became a business trading as the Mid Sussex Steam Laundry. A particular feature of the laundry was its 74ft high chimney. Not only was this a local landmark it also housed the ‘start and stop work’ hooter. Many villagers used to set their watches by the hooter such was the accuracy of the time signal. On closing in 1972 the buildings were demolished and the houses built.

Further up Gravelye Lane on the left-hand side are small property sign bearing the name Criplands. The first identified mention of the name is in the Will of William Neave dated 1625, in which he leaves lands and a house called Cripses, later known as Cripland, to his brother, John Neale. On his death the land is inherited by his second son Nycholas Neale. The Neale family had a lengthy connection with Lindfield as butchers and Farmers. Cripland Farm passed through several generations before eventually leaving the family.

In 1742, it was purchased by Nicholas Tanner, a mariner from Brighton and his wife, a co heiress. At this time the farm comprised a house, two barns, two gardens, an orchard and 30 acres of land and ws rented by a Ralph Comber. A series of complex transactions followed until October 1744, when Cripland was purchased by John Dutton and his wife. At this point the Cripland story takes a twist.

In the eighteenth century there was no effective treatment for smallpox which often resulted in death. At best an outbreak could be contained through isolating sufferers in a pest house. In 1716 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, recently recovered from smallpox accompanied her husband to Constantinople, where she discovered that in Turkey healthy people were deliberately being infected with smallpox. They were inoculated with a small amount of pus and then kept in isolation and to avoid the risk of spreading the disease. She introduced the concept of inoculation as protection against smallpox to Britain. Gradually the procedure was adopted by a number of pioneering doctors.

One such doctor was John Dutton who practiced in Lindfield in the late 1720s and is thought to have lived at Bower House. He may have been using part of the premises as a Pest House. In Easter 1741 ‘John Dutton, Churgeon’ (surgeon) had agreed with the Parish Overseers to ‘supply the Poor (of Lindfield) with physic and Chyrurgery’ for a year, and in May 1742 entered into a longer-term agreement to do the same for £4. 4s. per year, and “£1. 1s. extra ‘in case smallpox should happen to break out.’

In March 1744, John Dutton and his wife Elizabeth purchased Cripland and established it as a Pest House. Around this time he started to inoculate people in the village with smallpox pus. This caused great consternation with the inhabitants of Lindfield. As a consequence, Dr Dutton was required to stop this practice and enter into a £600 bond with a term of 60 years payable should he recommence inoculations.

It is understood that Dr Dutton complied with the undertaking and subsequently sold the Pest House and accompanying land to John Verrall in February 1757. However the property continued to be known as Pest House Farm until the late 1880s, when it reverted to Cripland Farm when sold by John Verrall.

In 1898, Henry and Ellen Howorth purchased part of the farm’s land on which they built Cripland Court in 1905, a spacious 12 bed roomed country house with colonial style balconies to the rear together with staff accommodation, a range of stables, and outbuildings.

Following the death of her husband in 1907, the property was put up for sale. A tenancy agreement with option to purchase dated 15th November 1911 was entered into with Alexander Howden, a Ship Broker in the City of London. the purchase was completed in 1913. Following Alexander Howden’s death in 1914 and his widow eight years later, the property was sold in 1922 to Granville Bevan. It remained in the ownership of Mr & Mrs Bevan for some thirty years.

Granville Bevan died in November 1950 and Cripland Court was placed on the market in 1952, being sold to Bishop & Sons Depositories Ltd in December 1953 who used it as a furniture store until the main house was demolished in the 1960s.

Almost opposite Cripland Court stood Gravelye Farm, continuing up the lane and shortly before the junction with Lyoth Lane stands Gravelye House.

In the early decades of the 1800s across the country there was much poverty amongst agricultural labourers, many were in fact paupers, placing great demand on a parish’s poor relief. William Allen, an eminent chemist Quaker philanthropist and social reformer, thought it would be possible to reduce poverty by providing them with an independent means of support, thus reducing their reliance onto the parish. His solution was to establish colonies of cottages with allotments. In the late 1820s, Lindfield was chosen as worthy for this experiment, as poverty was rife. William Allen was helped by his friend, John Smith M.P. of Madehurst, who purchased 100 acres in the Gravelye area and placed some of this land at Allen’s disposal for creation of a trial colony. Smith also built Gravelye House for William Allen’s use when visiting Lindfield. At around the same time, Allen established the School of Industry to educate boys and girls from poor families on Blackhill.

The land selected by William Allen was down a track beside Gravelye House, close to today’s Hanbury Stadium, where he built 12 dwellings, six modest single storey thatched cottages each with an acre and a quarter of land, rented at 2s weekly. Adjacent were six larger cottages with the same amount of land at 2s. 6d. weekly. Additionally in Gravelye Lane he built three pairs of semi detached two storey houses with supporting land at 3s. a week.

The cottages immediately became known by some as The Colony and by others as America, thought to have derived from the idea of a land of promise for settlers; and as later Gravelye Cottages. the America name endured for the area and appears on old Ordnance Survey maps and the track beside Gravelye House to the cottages took the name America Lane. America is reflected in other road names today. Hanbury Stadium is named after William Allen’s business partner, the business growing into the pharmaceutical manufacturer Allan & Hanbury Ltd. now absorbed with GlaxoSmithKline.

William Allen required tenants to be industrious men with large families. Additional land could be rented if needed and guidance and small loans were provided for the purchase of seeds, fertiliser and a pig or cow. The expectation was the labourer would cultivate his allotment in addition to working for a local farmer. Locally in the short term it was a success, as no family went on parish relief after moving to The Colony. However, the colony concept did not provide a feasible national solution. After William Allen’s death in 1843 the Gravelye estate was sold and the colony concept ceased. All the dwellings were condemned and demolished in 1940s and 1950s.

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