The Tale Of Fox Hill

The Tale Of Fox Hill

by Lisa De Silva

Dedicated to conserving their Harold Turner designed homes, the residents of Fox Hill Village organised the restoration of the village sign. Lisa de Silva tells their story.

When a delivery lorry knocked down the sign at the entrance of Turner-designed Fox Hill Village back in September 2014, nobody realised it would take four years and considerable energy to have it re-instated. We hear the residents’ story and take a closer look at the life and work of Hayward Heath’s most prominent architect, Harold Turner.

For many the sign at the entrance to Fox Hill Village had been a landmark on the old drove road running from Haywards Heath down to Ditching for decades. So, when the sign was effectively demolished by a container lorry in September 2014, the local residents were keen to get it re-instated. Little did they know that the process would throw open a whole host of issues that would take the best part of four years to resolve.

“Unfortunately, the old sign, which we believe had stood there since Fox Hill Village was first designed by Harold Turner in the 1950’s, was damaged beyond repair,” explains local resident Helen Constantine. However, when it became clear the sign would not be replaced like for like, the residents of Fox Hill Village decided to take action. “We’re a close community and thought it was important to retain the character of our road and so we agreed to fund the replacement sign ourselves,” Helen tells me. “We were also granted £250 from Haywards Heath Town Council’s Franklands Ward Budget, which was gratefully received.”

So far, so good. But it soon became a problem because while the council are responsible for the upkeep of the B2112 and the residents are responsible for the upkeep of Fox Hill Village, the small triangle of land along with the sign that had stood there for the best part of half a century, was not owned by anybody. Consequently, ownership of the sign could not be established.

During the lengthy negotiating process, local resident Mr Warwick stripped the old sign of all the metalwork, cleaned and stored it, in the hope that one day it might be incorporated into the new signage. Eventually, after several years brokering an agreement, it was decided that the residents could commission and fund a new sign, as well as paying for a contractor to sink it into the ground to a level that would comply with public highway standards. Once this was completed, the council agreed to take over the ownership and responsibility for the sign.

The residents were fortunate in finding a local contractor sympathetic to conservation who had driven past the original sign for many years. He also felt it was important to retain the character of the area and was happy to use the original metalwork in the new design. Finally, in June 2018, almost four years since the initial accident Fox Hill Village had its new signage.

Whether the original sign had been designed by Harold Turner himself is not known, but what we do know is that after the Second World War, the land where Fox Hill Village now stands had been covered in nurseries and fields. As the urbanisation of Haywards Heath began to take off, this land was ear-marked for development. Buyers chose a plot and then selected from a range of Turner-designed houses. The site gradually took shape during the early 1950’s and many of the local residents still have the original plans.

HAROLD TURNER

An important Sussex architect, Harold Turner was born in 1885 in Ardingly and started his career in Brighton Borough Engineers office in the early 1900’s. During the First World War he joined the family firm, Box & Turner, before setting up his own architectural practise in Boltro Chambers, Haywards Heath in 1920. By the 1930’s, his style had developed and he came to specialise in a Sussex farmhouse ‘vernacular’ with Arts and Crafts influences. Architectural details characteristic of Turner, include tile-hanging, gabled dormers, metal-framed windows with diamond leaded lights, stained glass, tiled window sills, statement chimney stacks, ornately curved black metal gutter brackets, along with oak bannisters, stairs and doors.

Turner designed homes across Sussex and there are many fine examples of his work in Haywards Heath, Cuckfield and Lindfield. Famed for the quality of their interior fixtures and fittings, Turner homes remain extremely sought after today. Along with private homes, Turner was also responsible for designing Franklands Village during the 1930’s, an innovative low-cost housing scheme in Haywards Heath and collaborated with the famous architect, Edwin Lutyens in the development of Mill Hill Close, off the Balcombe Road. This beautiful leafy estate was built to provide homes for engineers returning from the Second World War and the families of civil engineers whose homes had been destroyed during the blitz. Today, the estate provides a safe haven for Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) members and their families.

Along with his signature style, Turner also experimented with Art deco designs. In 1932, he modernised the premises of Hiltons department store which stood in South Road, Haywards Heath. When the Orchards Shopping Centre was developed in the 1980’s, the shop was incorporated, but ceased trading in 1987.

At a time of ambitious development in mid Sussex, it is increasingly important to preserve the history and character of our region and the residents of Fox Hill Village have certainly played a part in this. As Helen says, “It took time and patience, and we were determined to get a result to help retain the character of the area.”