Tag Archives: haywards heath

Wandering: High Weald Landscape Trail – Cuckfield to Haywards Heath

1 May

Conditions were less than favourable when my friend Chris and I decided to walk the next section of the High Weald Landscape Trail. Our previous walk many months ago had left us in Cuckfield, West Sussex and despite the promise of more rain, on top of a week of heavy rain, we hoped that we could make it from Cuckfield to Ardingly.

Our delay in continuing this walk was in part due to the complexities of getting back to Cuckfield by bus. That all changed in mid-April when Metrobus changed the times of their bus from Horsham to Haywards Heath, meaning I was able to jump from my bus at the wonderfully named Pronger’s Corner and onto the Haywards Heath bus, without having to wait a couple of hours.

It was fairly obvious from the outset that we were in for a wet walk. The walk north from Cuckfield was nice enough and would have provided some wonderful views had they not been obscured by misty rain. The conditions underfoot were also less than ideal.

I was surprised how undulating the ground was, hills and valleys were the order of the day, we didn’t rise to any great heights but enough for there to be some potentially decent views across the Weald. Some of the slopes, however gentle, were made a little tricky due to the wet conditions and in a couple of places the paths were almost impassable due to the expanse of mud and water.

Heading north from Cuckfield we clipped the edge of Whiteman’s Green before turning east, passing through Brook Street and continuing on to Borde Hill just north of Haywards Heath. We had half hoped that we would be able to catch a bus into Haywards Heath from Borde Hill, however there was no sign of a bus stop so we had to make our way on foot following the road south into town.

Without really thinking about it we had decided to call it a day, the light rain and squelching conditions underfoot taking its toll on us. It was such a disappointment, I sense that in better conditions it would have been one of the best sections of the whole trail. I may have to return again in the summer when the sun is shining.

Looking west from Borde Hill, West Sussex (28th April 2012)

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Haywards Heath Recreation Ground

19 Apr

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.

Looking south across the cricket pitch

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.

Amongst the trees at Haywards Heath Recreation Ground

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.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference

14 Apr

Today was the Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference and AGM at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. The location and format were the same as previous years; three presentations and a handful of stalls providing a complete contrast to Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex

The three presentations were a good mix of subjects:

  • Jayne Shrimpton: Understanding and dating old photographs – Although I have attended a couple of her presentations before and have a couple of her books, I never fail to learn something new and to be inspired to get my own photographs sorted and dated.
  • Jean Hopkins: Brighton’s Chain Pier – Some excellent historic images and some superb 3D modeling of this long-lost attraction, although the presentation was a little erratic and disjointed with some technical issues.
  • Lars Tharp: The Foundling Museum of London – This was an excellent presentation, I have heard about the Foundling Hospital on several occasions, but this talk really showed just how little I really knew. It was a fascinating talk and even after the talk it felt like we had still only scraped the surface of the history of this remarkable institution and the people involved.

Attendance appeared to be down slightly on previous years and despite my fast approaching fortieth birthday it seemed to me that I was still the youngest one there, which was a little surprising (and another contrast to WDYTYA? Live) although something I have got used to over the years. I know there are younger family historians out there, but I wonder where they were today?

Another great conference and I can’t wait for next year when the SFHG marks it’s fortieth birthday, apparently special events are being planned to mark the occasion.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Picture Postcard Parade: Haywards Heath, Railway from Rocky Lane Bridge

13 Apr

I like railways, the older the better (it is just a coincidence that today is the 240th birthday of Richard Trevithick). The postcard below is of one of the oldest railway lines in Sussex, the London to Brighton Railway.

I assume that this view is looking north from Rocky Lane Bridge towards Haywards Heath, there are some shapes in the distance that are probably meant to be the buildings of Haywards Heath. I particularly like the colouring of the trees, although I am not sure how realistic it was.

I also love the fact that despite their being a train steaming towards them there are two figures wandering across the railway lines, in fact it looks like one of them is bending over.

This is the stretch of line on which George MITCHELL (probably my 4x great-grandfather) was killed after being struck by a train. I am not sure if it was on this particular section of the line, or further south.

Either way it was several decades before this postcard was published. This card was sent to Mrs B. Wadey of Station Road, Horley, Surrey on the 10th August 1909.

Sussex Family History Group 2011 Conference

26 Mar

Today I spent a wonderfully relaxed day at the Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. The reason it was so relaxing was because there was none of the rushing around from talk to talk like at an event like Who Do You Think You Are? Live or the wandering around from stall to stall at some of the other family history fairs.

There were only a few stalls and the three talks took place in the main hall. One of the stalls was a postcard dealer so my wallet didn’t come away completely unscathed, but there was certainly less to buy than other family history events (although there are some new data CDs that I need look into).

The three speakers were excellent and provided a varied mix of topics.

  • Ian Gledhill – Transport of the masses

The title of this talk didn’t really explain what it was going to be about, but it turned out to be about trams. Now trams are not something I have ever given much consideration, but I found this talk more interesting and enjoyable than I initially expected. It was mainly about the rise and fall (and rise again) of the tram, with a few examples of trams and similar transport vehicles from Sussex. Really enjoyable and well illustrated.

  • Jackie Marsh-Hobbs – Palmeira Mansions: the history of the house and family – the Nouveau Riche

I wasn’t quite sure how interesting this talk was going to be, after all it was not really family history but more like house history, but I found it totally fascinating. I had never heard about Palmeira Mansions before (although I have passed by it many times). Even though it is now an education centre some fantastic architectural features still remain in-situ. The good news is that there are guided tours available on selected days. Another place added to my to-visit list.

  • John Titford – Barking up the wrong tree

Now this talk was pure genealogy. It consisted of several cautionary, informative and entertaining case studies based around the idea of making sure you are researching your family tree and not someone else’s ancestors. It also served as a useful reminder of how genealogy used to be done before the arrival of the internet. I have recently been wondering if am a bit over-cautious in my research, but now I am not sure that it is possible to be too cautious.

Unplugged: Swapping the hills for postcards

5 Feb

I should have been out walking on the South Downs today, but the weather was so miserable that we (my wife and I) decided not to bother. The weather here was nothing compared to the weather recently experienced around the world, just some light drizzle and strong wind, but it just wasn’t worth getting cold and wet when there will be plenty of opportunities later in the year to get out on the hills and hopefully enjoy the experience.

Instead of heading for the hills I headed for Haywards Heath, West Sussex and the Postcard and Collectors Fair at Clair Hall. The main reason I wanted to go was to get some storage supplies to house my growing collection of postcards. I need to have a bit of a sort out of my existing postcard albums to make their contents more logical and consistent, and also provide a new home for those postcards that don’t fit into any of my main collections and any modern postcards that I buy during my travels.

I had already decided that a cardboard box (like the ones the dealers use to hold their stock) would probably be the best bet for the odd historic and modern postcards, so I bought one of these along with a supply of protective plastic sleeves in two different sizes and a few plastic dividers. Now I am ready to spend some time organising my collections.

Of course I couldn’t come away without any postcards, although as you can see in the image above I didn’t buy that many. The postcard I bought were quite a cross-section in both age and subject, but there were a couple of real gems in there as well, which I am really pleased with (and will no doubt be showing off in due course). Time to get my scanner going again!

Unplugged: “He did not appear to be a bit worse for what he had to drink…”

4 Dec

I mentioned on my Ancestral Profile post on Monday that I thought my 4x great-grandfather George MITCHELL might have been killed in an accident on the London to Brighton Railway, well today I had chance to try and find out more with a visit to the Brighton History Centre.

Once again a local newspaper has proved itself to be an invaluable source, the report below was published in the Sussex Advertiser on Tuesday 5th November 1844. As usual there is not enough detail for me to be 100% certain that this is my man, but I am pretty confident. It is another tragic story, I don’t know why my relations (or in this case a direct ancestor) seem to get themselves in the newspapers so frequently.

FATAL ACCIDENT ON THE LONDON AND BRIGHTON RAILWAY.

An inquest was held on Tuesday last, at the Station Inn Hayward’s Heath, by Alfred Gell, Esq., Deputy Coroner, on the body of George Mitchell, a labourer, on the above railway, who met his death on Saturday, the 26th, in the awful manner shown in the following evidence given at the inquest.

Robert Whaley, sworn-I am an engine driver on the London and Brighton Railway, and live at Croydon. I left Brighton on Saturday night at half-past 11 o’clock with the engine No. 70 of the London and Brighton Railway Company, and arrived at the place where the accident occurred a few minutes before 12. We were in the Folly Hill cutting in the parish of Keymer, [p]roceeding at the rate of 15 miles an hour when I felt a sudden [j]erk of the engine; I said to the fireman that was with me, w[hat] is that, he said we had run over a man, I said that can’t be, he said he was sure of it for he saw a man’s hat fly past the engine, by this time we had stopped the engine and we went back about 30 yards but I could see nothing, my mate said here he is, and I then saw the deceased lying in the ditch which carries the water off from the line; we took him out and placed him by the side of the line, and started off to Hayward’s Heath station for assistance; we then took the body back to the Station Inn; this was about quarter past 12; It was a moonlight night and I could see a long distance before me; I am sure the man was not walking on the line or I must have seen him; my opinion is that he was lying down on the line; it was on the left hand side of the line from
Brighton; the deceased was quite dead when we took him out of the ditch; we had our usual signals on the engine and the deceased must have heard us coming had he not been asleep.

John Wright sworn: I am a fireman or stoker on the London and Brighton Railway; I was with the last witness at the time of the accident, in Folly Hill cutting; I felt the engine jerk and at the same instant saw a man’s hat fly past the engine; I said we have run over a man and Whaley said, “surely not,” we stopped the engine, took the lamp and found the deceased in the ditch.”-This witness corroborated the evidence of the engine-driver in most particulars.

Thomas Spry Byass sworn: I am a surgeon and reside at Cuckfield; about twenty minutes past one, on Sunday morning, I arrived at Hayward’s Heath Station; deceased was quite dead when I got there; I found a large wound in the abdomen, the intestines protruding, which was quite sufficient to cause sudden death; It appeared as if a heavy weight had pressed upon the body; I have no doubt but that deceased was dead in an instant after the accident happened.”

George Pratt sworn: I am a labourer and I live at St. John’s common; I saw deceased at Ellis’s Beer Shop, at Burgess Hill about nine o clock on Saturday night, and we drank together, he had one pint of beer when he first came in and had one glass with me; we then went to another beer shop, the New Anchor, kept by Agate, also at Burgess Hill; we stopped there till ten o’clock, during which time we had three pints of ale between us; I walked with deceased to Cants Bridge, which crosses the Railway; I asked him if he was going home and he said yes, but he did not want to get home till mid-night as there was a warrant out against him for poaching, and he has been away from home some time. He was working on the Line between Burgess Hill and The Hassocks; the deceased’s wife and family live at Balcombe, and I last saw him walking in that direction, on the Line, about two miles from Folly Cutting. He did not appear to be a bit worse for what he had to drink; I have known him for some years.”-

Verdict: that deceased was accidentally killed by the engine No. 70, of the London and Brighton Railway Company, passing over his body, and that there was no evidence to shew in what position deceased was in at the time the engine came up to him. Fine one [shill]ing on the engine.

Im[med]iately after the inquest, a subscription was entered into by the [c]oroner and Jury on behalf of the widow and six orphan children of the deceased, who are left in a most deplorable state of distress. The subscription list is lying at the Station Inn, and Mr. John Bennett, junior, landlord, will be happy to receive donations on behalf of the bereaved family.

This is a wonderfully detailed report of the accident and of the effects of the accident, the “widow and six orphan children” matches with my George MITCHELL’s family. There are so many questions going through my mind: What was the engine like? Where is Folly Cutting? How much was the subscription in the end? Did the family receive any poor relief? What about the warrant for poaching, what was that about? Are the beer shops still in existence? Where is Cants Bridge?

George MITCHELL was buried in Cuckfield (where it is likely he was born) although the family were living in Balcombe. I am guessing the parish of Balcombe washed their hands of him, not wanting to have to support his family financially. There might be some record of that? Does he have a gravestone at Cuckfield? It sounds like his family couldn’t afford one but perhaps the railway company might have done.

So many questions but only handful of answers. If I can find a death certificate for George, then I should have another piece of evidence for his date of birth (the burial record says he was 32 years old). This might enable me to find his baptism, probably in Cuckfield and push that branch of my family tree back another generation.

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