Haywards Heath, Hamlet Of The Weald
by Ruth Lawrence
Located just 36 miles from the centre of London, Haywards Heath is set amid rolling countryside yet has swift road and rail connection to the coast and capital. Ruth Lawrence brings us the highlights of the historic town.
Haywards Heath has become a well loved commuter town which owes its expansion to the railway which arrived in 1841; its history however began in the 13th century when it was first mentioned in deeds as ‘Heyworthe’. Much of the Weald at that time was forested for conserving game and hunting, for the local magnate and we know from the Domesday records that reserves called ‘hays’ were special enclosures for keeping animals for sport. In 1638, during the lordship of the Hardham family, details of tracks, roads, property owners and tenants were recorded to create a survey of the ‘Waste of the Manor of Heyworthe’. The Waste was the part of the manor where land was poor and uncultivated and Nicholas Hardham employed ‘bound treaders’ to help his surveyor record the land. Their efforts are celebrated today in a town walk created by the Hayward’s Heath Society who interpreted the original documents, which retraces the steps of Hardham and his helpers centuries ago. The walk offers an incredibly detailed stroll through the distant past of the town, highlighting places where, although the physical landmarks are long gone, the life of that day is conjured up through the original words that correspond to the locations on the map.
The town was the scene of a fierce battle in the 17th century Civil War. On the 13th November 1642, the main royalist army advanced down the Thames from Oxford and was met at Turnham Green by ‘trained bands’. A second army soon marched into Sussex and after camping at Cuckfield was met by a smaller parliamentarian force at Muster Green in Haywards Heath. After an hour’s brutal fighting, the royalist army had lost 200 troops and the survivors fled across Ditchling Common to the south. The royalist army largely consisted of forcibly recruited locals who were unequipped to deal with the more disciplined parliamentary force and the eventual goal, which had been to capture Lewes for the King was abandoned as the original force retreated back to Chichester.
Franklands Village in Haywards Heath has an interesting history, being originally founded in the 1930s as an initiative by the local Rotary Club as a response to the Depression when low cost rented housing was extremely scarce. The land was originally part of the Birch Estate and was purchased in 1929 for £600. Once completed in 1938, the village became a unique community within the voluntary housing movement. It had its own shop, social club, scout troop and other special interest clubs. Some of the original tenants still reside there and in 1989 the village was designated a conservation area.
Today, Haywards Heath offers a wide variety of clubs and societies for its 22,000 residents. There are a variety of community activities in the town with a choice of eighty groups covering interests as diverse as chess, ukulele playing and bird watching to dressmaking, opera appreciation and philosophy. Many people take up subjects they haven’t touched since school days while others discover activities they always yearned to try but never had the chance to do.
The Haywards Heath Music Society has spent 75 years presenting public concerts and recitals, bringing performers from around the world and new professional talents to Mid Sussex. An annual event is the Young Musicians showcase which offers the best young local performers a chance to demonstrate their talents in public. Many have then gone on to have successful careers as professional musicians including recently Alexis White, Pavlos Carvalho and Caroline Tyler. The next showcase will be held on the 16th March at St Wilfrid’s Church.
The Haywards Heath Movie Makers are a dedicated group of non commercial film makers who were founded in 1949. Their members have won national and international awards and they are delighted to give newcomers advice on shooting and editing footage for their own films. When the club was established, members used cine film which had to be sent to a lab to be processed before editing could begin. Now, digital formats mean that films can be shot in high definition and viewed instantly which means that high quality film making is within the reach of anyone with the creativity to imagine their own projects.
Haywards Heath has the advantage of having three parks; Victoria Park is in the centre of town with expansive views of the South Downs. Sports enthusiasts are well catered for here; there is a skate park, tennis courts, football pitches, table tennis and an outdoor gym. Refreshments and a raised plateau with woodland planting are nearby if relaxation is preferable to exercise and children have their own playground to enjoy.
Beech Hurst is a popular fourteen acre local heritage park at the western edge of town which is home to the bowling club and petanque club and three tennis courts. The Beech Hurst estate has remained intact for over 140 years and while the original house no longer stands, many features remain including a 4ft high Victorian gate in the south east corner which is thought to have formed part of the original iron boundary fence. The clump of trees shown on maps from over a century ago still exists in the far south west corner and a belt of trees near where the old house would have stood, still grows. There is a miniature railway track which now runs to half a mile in length; the track was completed in 1951 after a group of model engineers from various societies in Sussex had been searching for a suitable location for a miniature railway to be constructed. In 1954 passengers were given two laps round the track for sixpence, roughly the same cost as an ice cream. It is regarded to be one of the best tracks in the country, built on aluminium rail fixed to wooden sleepers, which is far kinder to loco wheels. The railway runs every weekend from Good Friday to the end of September, usually running clockwise on Saturdays and anticlockwise on Sundays. The track features a 50 yard tunnel, a footbridge and stunning views of the South Downs.
Runners have the opportunity to take place in a weekly free 5km timed run at 9am on Saturday mornings in Clair Park which is a centrally located green space with woodland walks and a playground. The park has now been designated as a Conservation Area and it is also home to the town’s Cricket Club.
The Scrase Valley Nature Reserve has been preserved as wetland which is ideal for nature walks, bird watching and school trips. The reserve acts as a flood plain for the Scrase Stream, a tributary of the Ouse and it has become a valuable wildlife refuge and a green boundary between Haywards Heath and Lindfield. An active group of volunteers called The Friends of the Scrase Valley help to look after the reserve, carrying out conservation projects such as coppicing, tree planting and stream clearance at monthly working parties. On the north side of the tranquil Western Road Cemetery is a fenced off footpath designated as a nature walk with a boardwalk where rare plants such as Greater Tussock Sedge and Ivy Leafed Bellflower can be seen on the marshy habitat now scarce in Sussex.
In the town centre, Muster Green is a designated Conservation Area with traditional flower beds and an impressive tree lined green bordered by Victorian and Edwardian houses with the War Memorial at its apex. Shoppers can have a relaxing rest in the Jubilee Gardens, a circular garden at the southern entrance to the town, filled with flowers during spring and summer.
Haywards Heath offers something for everyone; a long High Street lined with shops, a bustling shopping centre, numerous green spaces and a surprisingly wide variety of clubs, societies and social activities. People of
all ages find this an inclusive and fulfilling town in which to put down roots and enjoy life in the perfect Sussex commuter town.