All Hail Hailsham
by Peter d’Aguilar
Peter d’Aguilar paid a visit to Hailsham to find out all about its rich history and sample the beautiful area for himself. With lots to see and do, he found a vibrant town worth investigating
The busy rural market town of Hailsham sits seven miles inland from the south coast, overlooking the marshland of the Pevensey Levels and bordered by the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is the largest town in the Wealden district of East Sussex, with a population of over twenty thousand.
Referenced in the Domesday Book of 1086, the town’s roots stretch back as far as Neolithic times and its proximity to the sea attracted Ancient Briton, Anglo Saxon, Roman and Norman settlers. The Parish Church in High Street and many of its other buildings date back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1252 Henry III granted the town a Market Charter. Today, there is a monthly farmers’ market featuring local food and craftwork, a stall market every Friday, a street market every Saturday and a weekly livestock market – the only one still operating in Sussex.
The town’s architecture is a harmonious mixture of ancient and modern. Hailsham Museum and Heritage Centre in Blackman’s Yard is run by members of the Hailsham Historical and Natural History Society and offers a snapshot of the town’s past through photographs, artefacts and memorabilia. Rope-making is Hailsham’s traditional industry. As well as nautical ropes, local manufacturers supplied ropes for public hangings in Britain and its colonies. Hailsham now has a brand-new, purpose built rope factory and warehouse on a site that has been used for rope-making for over two hundred years.
Hailsham has a variety of local and national shops, restaurants and supermarkets. The High Street, George Street and St Mary’s Walk are the main retail areas. The Quintins shopping centre near the Vicarage Field precinct opened in the late 1980’s and is named after the eminent Tory politician Quintin Hogg – who later became Lord Hailsham. Following a government-commissioned report compiled by Mary Portas, TV’s Queen of Shops, Hailsham’s Town Council and Chamber of Commerce set up the Hailsham Forward Town Team to come up with initiatives for revitalising the town centre. Its main aims are to boost the local economy, protect the environment, improve infrastructure and safeguard health, wellbeing and quality of life. Hailsham Forward has recently been accepted as a Community Interest Company.
Hailsham is a vibrant centre for sport, arts, culture and leisure activities. Hailsham Active was set up in 1995 to unite sports clubs and societies within the district, provide support for member clubs and to promote sport within the town. Hailsham Town Football Club, known as The Stringers because of the town’s rope-making history, plays in the first division of the Southern Combination Football League. Established in 1871, Hailsham Cricket Club is one of the oldest in East Sussex.
Maurice Thornton Playing Field provides additional facilities for junior and senior football, as well as stoolball and athletics. There is a leisure centre which has facilities that include a gym, ten-pin bowling and a swimming pool with a flume and water slide, with an outdoor bowling club based at the rear of the complex. Hailsham also has an adventure park which offers a range of activities including a ski and snowboard centre, birds of prey, tractor and trailer rides, crazy golf and a boating lake. Arlington Stadium, on the outskirts of Hailsham, has hosted speedway racing for more than fifty years. The Cuckoo Trail, which offers safe cycling, walking and riding along the disused railway line, passes through Hailsham on its way from Heathfield to Eastbourne. Hailsham Country Park incorporates woodland, an open field area, two ponds and a lake – where fishing is available in season. A water course skirts the open field area and there are all-weather footpaths throughout the park. The Country Park’s wild flower meadow received South & South East in Bloom Silver Awards in 2009 and 2010. The Common Pond in Bellbanks Road has been a focal point and jewel in Hailsham’s crown for many years. The Dennis King Memorial Orchard and Sensory Garden opened in 2010 as a response to the loss of traditional English orchards and to create a fully accessible community garden for local residents. For walkers and ramblers there are numerous footpaths, woodlands, riverside and eld walks in and around the Hailsham district.
Hailsham Pavilion is a Grade II listed cinema and concert hall built in 1921. It closed as a cinema in 1965 and served as a bingo hall until 1987. Refurbishment began in 1993 and it opened again in 2000. Summerheath Hall is home to Hailsham Theatres, a group of amateur dramatic players who have been staging musical and drama productions since the early 1930s. Since opening in 2004, Gallery North in North Street has showcased the work of over two hundred artists; as well as hosting art workshops, courses and events – including Hailsham’s first Arts Festival.
Hailsham has a number of historically and architecturally interesting buildings. The Stone in Vicarage Road was originally built in 1320 and was once owned by Cardinal Wolsey. Others include the Old Brewery, Fleur de Lys, Inglenook, The Grange, Cortlandt, in George Street and the much-loved Michelham Priory.
Three of Hailsham’s pubs are situated in the three streets that make up the triangle of the town centre, which also features several members’ clubs. The other two traditional pubs are located in Station Road and South Road. Each October around three thousand people attend the town’s Guy Fawkes celebrations, organised by the Hailsham Bonfire Society. Hailsham also holds a range of popular Christmas markets.