A recreation ground may seem like an unusual choice for a place for me to go walking, but I had been looking for something to do on Saturday morning before the start of the SFHG Annual Conference and had come across a mention of the recreation ground and decided it might be interesting to take a closer look.
Black’s Guide to Sussex for 1898 gives the recreation ground a brief mention:
The building of many scattered villas and bits of streets has much cut up the heath, part of which will be found, to the east of the station, laid out as a pleasure-ground with paths and seats.
The idea that the recreation ground was the last trace of the heath from which the town got its name was what attracted me to it. I knew from the Ordnance Survey map that there wasn’t much left of it, but it would still be interesting to have a look around.
The recreation ground is divided into two parts, the northern part largely consists of a well maintained cricket pitch and the southern part is a wild area of woodland, divided in two by the cricket pavilion and a children’s playground.
To be honest there wasn’t really much walking to be done, I could probably have walked around the perimeter of the recreation ground in fifteen minutes if I had really wanted to, but I had time to kill so I took my time, wandering at random around the paths.
The cricket pitch is quite interesting in that it looks like the ground has hollowed out, leaving a flat cricket pitch and an embankment on the eastern side, with a couple of paths running across the embankment which are dotted with benches. It is this cricket pitch which I had seen many times from within Clair Hall, but had never stepped outside to take a closer look.
The southern part was really what I was here for though. Given that it is surrounded by buildings on three sides (and a cricket pitch on the other) it is surprising rural in appearance. You are never far from a tarmac path but it didn’t seem to be overly managed, there are a few patches of daffodils and bluebells but it is mainly just scrubby ground with a mixture of trees.
I was really surprised to very little sign of human activity, I had expected to find more litter, but perhaps it has not really been the weather for sitting in the woods and leaving your rubbish behind, perhaps that is more of a summer activity.
It is hard to say whether this patch of woodland is typical of the landscape of the original heath, it wasn’t really what I imagine heathland to be like and I suspect it owes more to the victorian pleasure ground than the earlier heath.
It is however an interesting reminder of an earlier time, before the railways and enclosure caused the heath to be torn up. I feel sure that someone must have studied the history of the heath in detail before but my limited research so far has failed to turn up much information.
I really must make an effort to take a stroll around the recreation ground again in the summer when there are more leaves on the trees and the surrounding buildings will be less visible.