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1928 - A Pilgrimage from Brighton to Haywards Heath

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 10 July 1928


Mr. R. Thurston Hopkins, the well known writer, who has made his home at Brighton, sends us the following racy account of his recent pilgrimage to Haywards Heath:—

Some years ago I had occasion to engage an ancient barouche at Brighton station to drive me a long journey into the country. At the end of the journey the jehu and I differed over the fare. Strange to say, he placed a higher value on his services than did. We both said deep and bitter things to each other, and to wind up matters he cast my horoscope. It ran something like this: “Blimey, Sir, you don’t ought to be out alone. What do you call this? Tain’t half my legal fare. But there, I don't suppose you can help it. You’ll find yourself at Haywards Heath with the rest of the snivelling barmies before long. Blimey, Sir.”

Although his prophecy was cryptic at the time, I received illumination later. I found out that Haywards Heath was the stopping-place for a famous and efficient Mental Hospital. No need to say more!

Having been so irrevocably bracketed with those who "snivel and dwell in Bedlam", it was only natural that I should one day endeavour to bring the jehu’s prophecy to fulfilment. Thus, during this year’s sudden burst of summer weather, something floating at the back of my mind urged me to


I wrote to my friend Palmer and told him I was off walking in Sussex and requested his company. He arrived at Brighton, and I related the refreshing episode of the taxi-driver.

“Then off to Haywards Heath,” said Palmer. “There’s a train......

“No, no” I objected. You treat the matter too prosaically. This is a pilgrimage. One does not take a train in a casual way. One walks, my dear chap, walks and begs with a bowl, after the manner of the old pilgrims.”

“Ah”, drawled Palmer, you go that way, and I’ll wait for you at the other end.”

In the end Palmer consented to do the pilgrimage in a taxi, and early next morning I was sent out to seek for a suitable cab while he tarried in the smoking room at the hotel. It was then that I thought of a small garage which had been recommended to me by a friend. The proprietor, Mr. Twells, was an owner-driver - a stout old Sussex fellow who had driven a local carrier’s cart for many years. I had been told that be was down on his luck and thought I would give him a turn.

The garage proved to in an ancient mews, and the owner-driver looked something like a Father Time who had forgotten his scythe. Peering into the cavernous coach-house, I beheld a vast and mighty chariot. It looked like a cross between a fire-engine and the Lord Mayor’s coach. It dated back to good Queen Victoria, and was heavy and majestic with solid brass fittings. The moment I looked upon its Gargantuan magnitude, I loved it. To set the gilded cap on all its other fittings, the car was fitted with a serpent horn - a long winding brass serpent—which Mr. Twells sounded for my benefit. It gave out a thin, quavering bugle note.


I accepted Mr. Twells and the chariot into the "wheel of things," and drove back to pick up Palmer at the hotel. Palmer, I regret to say, was peevish. He stood on the steps of the hotel and pretended not to know me. But I was not going to allow such petulant behaviour. I waved lo him gaily, and in the end jumped out and dragged him into the back seat.

“I won't sit in this thing and look like an advertisement for the circus!” he exclaimed.

But his protests were muffled as Mr. Twells sorted out his gears and gave his engine a bit of head. We shot off with much more spirit than expected, and before we had covered five or six miles we discovered that Mr. Twells knew how to handle his car, and the car knew how to go. To use a vigorous phrase. Mr. Twells “hopped it like old Nick.” Near Patcham we encountered a battery of artillery and half-a-dozen Rolls-Royce armoured cars. Twells saluted them with an extravagant fanfare on his motor-horn and roared into them. Guns rumbled and swayed, and we repeatedly missed them by inches. Then of a sudden two gun horses reared and side-stepped across the road . . . . “Cr-r-ri-key!” said Palmer. But Twells flung an amazing loop around the horses, took the ditch, and jumped out again, and then whooped up the next hill with a branchlet of wild roses giddily twined around his radiator cap. On we surged. The grand old Sussex charioteer settled into a ding-dong pace, and his motor sang like the wind in telegraph wires.

Our next adventure was with a pig, a parishioner and a perambulator. The parishioner (a very ancient dame) was pushing the pram and driving the pig on the end of a length of rope.


up the hill disturbed the pig, and tugged he the ancient dame so that she lost her grip on the pram (empty), which sailed under its own power down the hill to meet us. Three times the pram changed her course in front us, but somehow Twells dodged it. With a whoop we sheered onward like a “strong-winged” eagle."Makes your heart beat bit fast,” I said to Palmer. He was sitting bolt upright with the detached hauteur of a Roman Emperor, but I knew that his body and wandering spirit had not meshed since we passed out of Brighton.

“Heart!” jerked Palmer over his shoulder. "Heart ….my heart stopped dead an hour ago.”

We arrived at Haywards Heath at 10:30 a.m,, and after crossing ourselves, bid good-bye to Twells, who, with glistening forehead, retired into an inn to flirt with pint of ale.

Palmer walked on to Cuckfleld to visit Dick Snow at the old “King’s Head,” and left me to loiter In Haywards Heath. People will tell you that there is nothing of interest in the town —information that is completely mistaken. The town lies in the heart of history; every footpath leads into history, and for those who care to look there is much of interest on the road between Muster Green and Butler’s Green. Follow Boltro Road from the station and take a turn on


One feels that this wedge-shaped space has a history, and one is entitled to feel so. It must have been named from the fact that soldiers who were recruited and impressed mustered at this spot. Probably it was used as a central camp for Mid-Sussex when Henry V was rounding up men to fight in France.

Or again it might also have been depot for guns which were being manufactured by the ironworks for Henry V., in view of the fact that he was the first king to build a Royal fleet since the conquest and the first king to use guns and gunpowder on a large scale. To the north of Haywards Heath, around Tilgate Forest and Ashdown Forest, something like twenty forges were working; and the guns would be dragged by horses to a convenient spot to await the King's waggons to carry them down to his ships. That spot, we may hazard, may have been Muster Green. Once it became a “depot" an inn would be required, thus we expect to find the “Sergison Arms” exactly where it is. The Inn itself goes back a good five hundred years, we may be sure, but it was certainly rebuilt and re-christened by the Sergison family at the close of the 17th century when they came into possession of Cuckfield Park.

It is hard to reduce an old inn like


to words. It has the charm and atmosphere of age, which adds grace to every timber and tile in it, and even the later additions take on a mellow flavour, like brandy laid down to mature in the casks of older vintages. Mr. P. J. Warren, the host, made me welcome there. He is a gentleman who has retired from the roaring printing presses of Fleet Street to revel in all the joys of country life. The oak door of the Sergison Arms is possibly, in parts, the original Elizabethan one, and under the kitchen there is a deep well lined with red Tudor brickwork. In old days Dolphin Fair was held Muster Green, and here pigs and cattle were sold. I understand the fair was held in November, and hundreds of male and female farm servants, in their best attire, flocked in from the villages around to hire themselves for their next year’s service. Each servant who obtained a situation bedecked his hat with ribbons and celebrated the occasion at the Sergison Arms.

Fun and dissipation became fast and furious, and all the bad blood which had been brewed over quarrels during the past year on outlying farms was whipped up to froth at the fair. Mr. A. R. Pannett (to whom I am greatly indebted for much of the history of Haywards Heath) says that


was celebrated for another thing, for it was here that the farmhands settled their disputes during the year. Quarrels concluded with the remark “All right ‘met’, I'll see ye at Dolphin fair,” and one could always be sure of seeing some fights there. The fair eventually resolved itself into drunken blackguardism, and it was very properly suppressed. Another interesting event at the Sergison arms was the annual venison feast, it being the custom of the Lord of the Manor to give the landlord a fat buck to feed his customers with. This continued until the Sergison family sold the house. The venison feast was always preceded by a hare hunt and hares then could be found in the neighbourhood of Muster Green.

I paid a visit to Mr A. R. Pannett at his old oak lined Sussex residence at New England Road.

“Many of the old place names have degenerated into modern names which are quite meaningless,” said Mr Pannett. “Take Boltro road, which leads up to Muster Green. In this name we find all that is left of Bull Trough Farm. The farmstead, now The Old House, still stands at the corner of Muster Green.”

“You remember Bull Trough Farm when it stood in the middle of its own cornfields and pastureland?” I ventured

“Ye-es. When I was a boy Haywards Heath was a heath from Ashenground Road to Sydney Road, and the lands of


reached right round Perrymount road, Lucas Grange and the Sergison Arms. The railway was built before my time, about 1841.”

I asked Mr Pannett his opinion about Steeple cottage, which stands on the Cuckfield road, near Butlers Green. This building is something of an architectural mystery, for the west Wall seems to have once belonged to chapel, the doorway and oval lights still being marked out in the brickwork.

“I should hazard that it was a private chapel for Butlers Green house,” he replied “and perhaps the cottage was the residence of the priest.”

I had been told of a ghost that's haunted Butlers Green House, but Mr Pannett informed me that my ghost was an intruder and had no right there. As far back as he could remember no authentic spook had belonged to Butlers Green.

From Haywards Heath I walked to the delightful old town of Cuckfield and lunched at the “Kings Head.” Dick Snow, the genial host, afterwards accompanied me on a motor expedition to Worth Forest. Balcombe lake on Lord Denman’s estate stretches like a sheet of green darkness up to the wooded slopes of Paddockhurst, a spot seldom visited by the tourist and yet a perfect microcosm of the varied Sussex landscape. The lake flows into Balcombe mill pond, which is another little patch of unknown Sussex. The present writer did not dream that such


It was still clucking and grinding in this out of the way hollow. The mill is no new thing, as one may easily decide from the monstrous water worn stones of the sluice and the slabbed-in recesses below the mill-dam. As we turned from the mill towards the road to Worth the silence of a June afternoon was over everything, and the mill house, standing above the pond, weather-tiled down to the smooth emerald lawns, took on a mellow, dreamy appearance. Pigeons cooed with soft, murmuring calls, and pecked at the five hundred red-years-old chimneys; bees droned in the eaves, and from the garden came the authentic savour of Sussex—the smell of box trees, roses, wood-smoke and moist earth. A scene full of beauty and meaning. Let others pack up and make long, wearisome journeys to the South of France, but this Sussex—the gathering-place of English ghosts —is good enough for me.

Forward, once more! We journey to the “Cowdray Arms”, and, on foot, take a forest track opposite which leads through Worth Forest to the source of two rivers near the Cinder Banks. At this spot a small brook forks and produces the first waters of the River Mole flowing towards London, and the River Ouse flowing south.

Worth Church stands up picturesquely on a knoll, encircled trees, and is the only perfect specimen of an Anglo-Saxon ground plan that remains to us. Some Saxon earl who built his home on the borders of Worth Forest for the sake of the


probably built the church just before the lands came Into the hands of the Warrennes. The Saxon peculiarities of the church should be studied with the aid of a specialist’s book on the subject, but one might specify the following minor points of interest;—The pulpit, with a text in Dutch from St. John’s Gospel, and the date 1577; the oak chancel rails with carvings of the altar of sacrifice, table shewbread, and other emblems from the Pentateuch; the memorial stone to Sir John Smith, of Crabbet Park (1662), a late instance of the inscription “On whose souls Jesus have mercy”; and the arches to the N. and S. transepts.

In the window over the west door are the arms of De Warrenne. In the nave are three very curious Norman windows. The font is remarkable, and formed of two basins, one above the other; why so placed is uncertain.

We were back in Cuckfield before sundown, and filled the remaining hour or so of light with a visit to Cuckfield Park, which dates from the end of the 16th century and is the “Rookwood Hall” of Ainsworth’s romance. “The general features of the venerable structure, several of its chambers, the old garden, and, in particular, the noble park with its spreading prospects, its picturesque views of the hall, ‘like bits of Mrs. Radcliffe’ (as the poet Shelley once observed of the same scene), its deep glades through which deer come lightly tripping down, its uplands, slopes, brooks, brakes, coverts and groves are carefully delineated,” wrote Ainsworth.

We walked up the historic avenue of tall lime trees which leads from


to the quaint entrance gateway of James I.’s reign. This gate was not built for ornament; it was a point of defence and guardroom built in times of rebellion and civil war. The courtyard within the gate was at one time a paved enclosure shut in with high walls, but long ago the walls were demolished, leaving the gatehouse “in the air,” to use a military phrase. The central archway is flanked by four octagon turrets, three of them flat-topped, and the remaining one having a lead cupola under which a clock is bedded in oak beams. The clock must date from about 1700, and possesses stone weights. Over the central doorway is the guardroom, with chimney and andirons, just it was used by the men who were posted there to keep watch over the house. It will be noted that two towers in the rear are not provided with windows for the use the arquebuss and swivelgun, but the towers commanding the drive are very noticeably furnished with central windows, deep-slotted and admirably suited for the use of firearms in the event of attack.

The earlier manor house we may assume was built of mighty oak timbers and weather-boarded with elm battens, but it was rebuilt in stone in 1574, as the date on the dining-room fireplace suggests, and again in1581, when the highly finished carved screen was fixed in the hall. Mr. E. M. Preston, a great authority on old manor houses, writes ; “This rebuilding took place when the Bowyers were in possession, Henry Bowyer, the son of John, a wealthy ‘ironmaister,' having acquired the park and house by purchase from Henry, fourth Lord Bergavenny, in 1564, and in 1573 a moiety of one-fourth of the manor from Henry, fourth Earl of Derby. Thus he seems soon to have begun the rebuilding of the great house in the park. He died on September, 1588, not long after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and is commemorated by two monuments in the south chancel aisle of Cuckfield Church, with some elaborate heraldry wrought in marble, framed in which is a brass showing husband and wife kneeling at a double desk, vis-a-vis, three sons in tabards kneeling behind the father, and behind the mother two daughters.



‘Henry Bowyer' had to wyfe Elizabeth Vaux, daughter and heir to Thomas Vaux of Kater (len Hall), Clarke Controller to King Henry the Eighth, by whom had three sons, Thomas, Francis and Henry, and two daughters, Anne and Mary.’

The other, upright against the east wall, shows Henry Bowyer, senior, in a tabard with a shield of arms right and left of his head. The house that Henry. Bowyer built was E-shaped in plan, and so remained until 1848-51, when its then owner, Mr. Sergison, enclosed the open side of the E, turning the plan into parallelogram, with a court or well in the centre. Most of the old windows were altered at the same time; two storeyed bow windows were introduced, conservatories were built on, chimneys and gables rebuilt,-and the whole house much modernised inside and out. The entrance front, to the east, with its quaint dormers and Horsham slab roof, preserves most of the old.”

People often look for the famous “Doom Tree”, which has been represented as a lime in the Great Avenue which is supposed to shed a branch when the death of heir to the property takes place. Moreover, people generally find it, or rather, imagine they do! As a matter of fact, it does not exist, and no such tradition exists In the family records of the Bowyers and the Sergisons. It Is “all my eye and Betty Martin!”


says that it was popular superstition regarding an estate in the southern counties, and backs up his shadowy evidence with eleven stanzas in the spirit of our old minstrelsy, which tells how a former head of Cuckfield Place, or rather Rookwood, hunted a witch to death with his blood-hounds and buried her before the courtyard :

And while as yet the soil was wet with that poor witch’s gore,

A lime-tree stake did Ranulph take, and pierced her bosom’s core;

And, strange to tell, what next befell!

that branch at once took root.

And richly fed, within its bed, strong

suckers forth did shoot.

From year to year fresh boughs appear

—it waxes huge in size;

And, with wild glee, this prodigy Sir

Ranulph grim espies.

One day, when he, beneath that tree,

reclined in joy and pride,

A branch was found upon the ground -

the next, Sir Ranulph died!

“And from that hour fatal power has ruled that Wizard Tree,

To Ranulph's line a warning sign of doom and destiny;

For when a bough is found, I trow,

beneath its shade to lie.

E'er suns shall rise thrice in the skies a

Rookwood sure shall die!”

Well, then, the legend remains.- It has acquired what we may call “a prescriptive right,” or shall we say a “squatters right.” in the history of Cuckfield Park. But it is an intruder in Sussex folk-lore.

I am rather proud to be the first member of the great legion of Sussex writers to make this point, but am afraid the legend will survive my attack, which should by rights be absolutely destructive.


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